It’s the end of a long day, at the tail end of what’s been a long week. I’ve been stressed, angry, and forgetful, making mistakes at my job that aren’t characteristic of the way I work, and full of frustration over not being where I had planned to be financially and professionally by halfway through 2018. Something’s been out of balance. Maybe it’s little, maybe it’s huge, could be it’s neither and maybe it only seems like one of the above, the weather has been been hot and humid and somehow only the negative seems real. All of the good things this past week or so don’t feel like they exist outside my imagination.
I’ve gained probably fifteen pounds since the beginning of the year. I’m not sure why, or how; I only know that when I sit at my desk or the car there’s a new roll of fat that bunches up uncomfortably under my ribs. And after a day of pounding the keyboard, trying to get the second volume of “Hello, Beautiful” finished by the due date, I needed a walk.
Summer in rural Minnesota has a scent to it, one that summons out of distant memory your days long past, of running through the waist-tall prairie grasses and biking the gravel roads. It’s a green smell of growth as the corn stretches sunward through the heat of the day, sometimes so fast that if you sit still for long enough, you can see the stalks get taller. And there’s a dampness to the scent as well, as the humidity in the air settles on the ground, bringing forth a subtle kin-cousin to rain-dampened earth. At night as the air cools and the breeze plays with the leaves of the poplars, maples, and cottonwoods, summer adds the dimension of chill dust from the gravel road.
It’s a settling kind of smell, one that spears directly to your brain through your nose, slowing the heartbeat, soothing the stress, lengthening your stride even as your frenetic pace regulates to something more relaxed and even, something you could maintain for miles if you needed to. And then you look up, your eyes searching for familiar stars and planets.
The Milky Way arcs across the sky from Altair in the southwest all the way to the constellation Cassiopeia in the northeast. You don’t often see it so clearly in the summer as it is tonight. And it draws your eye, back and back again, until you stumble on the mixed uneven gravel and roadside grasses underfoot because you’ve wandered away from the track you had been walking.
The breeze is softer, as you set up your tripod and camera. The leaves of the big cottonwood rattle anyway, of course. They can’t help it. But that’s the only sound. The frogs aren’t singing tonight, and neither are the crickets. None of the neighbors’ cows are calling, and everyone’s done lighting off late fireworks. Even the mosquitoes have gone back to wherever it is they stay after they’re done hunting their nightly allotment of blood, and so nothing mars the relative silence of the dark.
You play with the settings for a while, just seeing what you get when you change the ISO or the shutter speed. But then the depth of the sky reaches out with gentle fingers to draw you in, and you set the cable release down to just… look.
Breathing in the scent of summer, you listen to the wind play amongst the branches of the big cottonwood. The earth turns under you, and you move with it, both of you wrapped securely in the warm embrace of the ancient velvet night.