Commonplace Book - Summer 2006

Summer

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Photo by Brian Prechtel, USDA

By André Bernard

June 1, 2006


 

 

A bottle of thick English port is a very heavy and a very inflammatory dose. I felt it the last time that I drank it for several days, and this morning it was boiling in my veins. Dempster came and saw me, and said I had better be palsied at eighteen than not keep company with such a man as Johnson.

—James Boswell, Journal, July 15, 1763


The winter sea was a mirror in a cold, half-lighted room; the summer sea is a mirror in a room burning with light. So abundant is the light and so huge the mirror that the whole of a summer day floats reflected in the glass. Colors gather there, sunrise and twilight, cloud shadows and cloud reflexions, the pewter dullness of gathering rain, the blue, burning splendor of space swept free of every cloud. Light transfixes ocean, and some warmth steals in with the light, but the waves that glint in the sun are still a tingling cold.

—Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928


I am very happy here, because I love oranges, and talk bad Latin to the monks, who understand it, as it is like their own, and I goes into society (with my pocket pistols), and I swims in the Tagus all across at once, and I rides an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhoea and bites from mosquitoes. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a-pleasuring.

—George Lord Byron, Letter to Mr. Hodgson, July 16, 1809


In summer the chores were grinding scythes, feeding the animals, chopping stove-wood, and carrying water up the hill from the spring on the edge of the meadow, etc. Then breakfast, and to the harvest or hay-field. I was foolishly ambitious to be first in mowing and cradling, and by the time I was sixteen led all the hired men. An hour was allowed at noon for dinner and more chores. We stayed in the field until dark, then supper, and still more chores, family worship, and to bed; making altogether a hard, sweaty day of about sixteen or seventeen hours. Think of that, ye blessed eight-hour-day laborers!

—John Muir, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, 1913


It was when my mother came out onto the sleeping porch to tell me goodnight that her trial came. The sudden silence in the double bed meant my younger brothers had both keeled over in sleep, and I in the single bed at my end of the porch would be lying electrified, waiting for this to be the night when she’d tell me what she’d promised for so long. Just as she leaned over to kiss me I grabbed her and asked, “Where do babies come from?”

—Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginning, 1984


Sometimes the rains may last only a few weeks in May. After that the summer is a long blazing drying time of brilliant sun and trade winds all night under the steady wheeling of the stars. The great piles of vapor from the Gulf Stream, amazing cumulus clouds that soar higher than tropic mountains from their even bases four thousand feet above the horizon, stand in ranked and glistening splendor in those summer nights; twenty thousand feet or more they tower tremendous, cool-pearl, frosty heights, blue-shadowed in the blue-blazing days.

—Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, The Everglades: River of Grass, 1947


Even in the height of the dog-days, there is a good deal of fun about New York, if you only avoid fluster, and take all the buoyant wholesomeness that offers. More comfort, too, than most people think. A middle-aged man, with plenty of money in his pocket, tells me that he has been off for a month to all the swell places, has disburs’d a small fortune, has been hot and out of kilter everywhere, and has return’d home and lived in New York city the last two weeks quite contented and happy. People forget when it is hot here, it is generally hotter still in other places. New York is so situated, with the great ozonic brine on both sides, it comprises the most favorable health-chances in the world.

—Walt Whitman, Specimen Days and Collect (1882), August 1881


Many times, as we rode across the open prairies, we saw birds perching on wire fences at the exact spots where the shadows of posts cut across them. Later, in northern Texas, a government naturalist told us of coming across a line of fenceposts with a jack rabbit stretched out in the shade of each post. They all pointed outward with their backs against the upright wood, ready for an instant getaway if danger appeared. As the position of the sun slowly altered in the sky, swinging the post shadows over the ground, the animals kept shifting their places so they remained extended exactly within the narrow band of the outstretched shade.

—Edwin Way Teale, Journey into Summer, 1960


I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacks, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods, 1854


And then once in Paris, in June (what a hackneyed but wonderful combination of the somewhat overrated time-and-place motif!), I lunched at Foyot’s, and in the dim room where the hot-house roses stood on all the tables the very month roses climbed crazily outside on every trellis, I watched the headwaiter, as skilled as a magician, dry peas over a flame in a generous pan, add what looked like an equal weight of butter, which almost visibly sent out a cloud of sweet-smelling hay and meadow air, and then swirl the whole. … [Those petit pois] made me think of paraphrasing Sidney Smith’s remark about strawberries and saying, “Doubtless God could have made a better green pea, but doubtless He never did.”

—M. F. K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets, 1949


The work in the vegetables—Gertrude Stein was undertaking for the moment the care of the flowers and box hedges—was a full-time job and more. Later it became a joke, Gertrude Stein asking me what I saw when I closed my eyes, and I answered, Weeds. That, she said, was not the answer, and so weeds were changed to strawberries. … It took me an hour to gather a small basket for Gertrude Stein’s breakfast, and later when there was a plantation of them in the upper garden our young guests were told that if they cared to eat them they should do the picking themselves.

—Alice B. Toklas, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, 1954


I remember nothing that happened worth relating this day. How many such days does mortal man pass!

—James Boswell, Journal, July 21, 1763


André Bernard was the longtime vice president and publisher at Harcourt Trade Publishers. He is now vice president and secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


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