Read Old Man Scanlon

Another Solstice

29 June 2010

It's a week past the summer solstice. There's a sense of a year barely under way suddenly being half gone, but no sense yet of it ending, as there is at the winter solstice. Ubiquitous roadside orange field lilies uniformly lean out into the street, maybe thirty degrees off vertical. Are they heliotropic or just top-heavy? I can't go out into the yard without being buzzed by delta-winged bloodsucking deerflies who tangle in my hair.

I'm forsaking my book and driveway lawn chair for a model rocket launch and Sunday supper with my grandchildren. They are finally out of school, after making up all their snow days. Sunday afternoon is hot. A humid light breeze comes out of the southwest. Jeff and I head to the nearby soccer field launching pad. Our beers sweat profusely. Thanks to our cold adult beverages and easy saunter, we don't. Jord, his energy boundless, runs.

Jord and Grammy walk the dogs in this field, where often enough Jord spots something amazing: a snapping turtle laying eggs, a keening red-tailed hawk, a crow carrying a writhing snake. Recently my own luck has improved. Just last week I discovered a new weed, storksbill. And a great blue heron, her grace belying her immense wingspan, flew in just over the treetops. She circled to her left, flapping and soaring, gaining altitude and about an equal distance downwind. Twenty circles, and a lot of altitude, before I lost her in the sun—the longest I've ever had one in sight.

This afternoon the field is undramatic, barn swallows skimming the ground in the distance. They seem to ignore the deerflies, probably to spite us for disturbing their territory. We set up the rocket to maximize our downwind landing area, and launch it. I see nothing more than the smoke trail. Jord watches the rocket descend and makes a successful recovery, perhaps more gratifying than the successful launch. Our luck holds, and we repeat the cycle three more times.

Jeff has made a batch of turkey chili. Ali peels an English cucumber, carefully paring foot-and-a-half long strips; her twin sister Hunter slices. Jord contributes unsolicited raucous teenage-boy noises. I find it hard to maintain a demeanor of disapproval; my smile muscles twitch. Long suppressed memories return of when my friends and I thought making loud, inappropriate, and obnoxious noises was screamingly funny, as if funny were the ultimate reason for every utterance.

So I chalk up another family dinner. If my experience as a not unfailingly gracious teenage attender of Sunday family dinners serves as a model, it's unlikely the kids will remember or care about this specific meal. But I hope that as it fades from memory as a distinct event it will become one of a long series—part of a tradition drawing its strength and longevity from the power of sharing meals with friends and family.