My heart always lightens when the sun tips over the edge of the year, and July fades into the lower, leonine light of August. It’s still summer, but it’s no longer blasted-out, white-sky July. I can’t feel autumn yet, but I can hear its whispers around the edges of the dusk- soon… soon…
It was whispering when I put my kids in the car late in the afternoon, hair still damp and smelling of chlorine and sunscreen, and headed west, where friends had invited us to join them in celebration of Pioneer Day. Tiny towns dot the Virginia countryside, and history drips from the lampposts and roadside markers of this famous battle, or that sanctified soil. We’re not visiting — we live upon it, breathing it in, infused by those who came before us.
The hills of the battlefields roll into valleys and the low old mountains gently rise as we near the West Virginia line. The roads turn from the seething snakes of DC highways into meandering runs, placid and verdant.
The road narrows again, and I tap my GPS to make sure she knows where she’s leading. The canopy of lush trees forms a cathedral over the narrow black ribbon of road, and thick, leaf-laden vines climb the trunks, the telephone poles, the split-rail fences of decades past. My children look up, leave their screens in slack, relaxed hands, laying in their laps. The windows rolls down, and it’s quiet.
The blacktop gives way to gravel crushing beneath our slow wheels, and the earlier cloudburst left eddies and cuts in the earthen driveway. Blackberry and raspberry brambles send tendrils out from their thickets, dangling berries close enough to pluck from the open windows.
In the driveway are the cars of friends. Gathering our potluck contributions from the trunk, we hear the raindrops on the trees, but the leaves are so thick they don’t reach our heads. The kids look up and marvel. This is where the color green was born.
Hugging warm-baked pretzels in an old enamel bowl, the kids follow me up the wooden steps to the screen porch, and we are loudly and jovially welcomed to the celebration. The porch is overflowing with friends and children, and the kids melt into the party before I turn around to make introductions. Abby is already holding hands and skipping with a girl her age, and Bean found some stairs to hide under and chew on a piece of red licorice. He is happy.
The kitchen, like so many kitchens, is full of more welcoming voices and countertops overflowing with Pyrex pots and casseroles and dishes of food. I hug long-missed friends I haven’t seen in a year, and promptly forget the names of new friends freshly introduced. There is laughter everywhere, and little hands on legs, pressed to backs, warm embraces and invitations to sit and chat a spell.
The doors and windows are all screened and open and strung with lights; the earlier rain cooling the August air and bringing a comfortable breeze. On the porch, a fiddle is produced, and the most splendid American music fills the house. From everywhere, people gather to listen. Legs tapping, feet keeping the rhythm, faces smiling and eyes warmly glowing. The children start to dance. The music moves from Irish folk songs, to American bluegrass, to classical and back again, weaving a spell of beautiful enchantment. Laughter punctuates the music. Every soul is smiling- you can’t help it.
Soon, August whispered to me. Soon. I’m learning to listen. Life is pretty close to perfect. Wherever you are.