You can tell it’s fall because what used to be a five-minute commute from home to campus now takes twenty to thirty minutes, since 31,000 University students descended on our fair city. These days if you arrive at the office past 7:45 a.m., you must park on the roof of the garage because all the spaces on the first four levels are taken. If you decide later to take a walk during your morning break, you must make your way through crowds of sorority pledges who stroll four abreast on the sidewalks, wearing their look-alike dresses and non-sensible shoes. And you must dodge the students who careen along the sidewalks on their bicycles, as well as the slow-moving students who text while walking between classes. At lunch time, when you go to meet your friends at Shakespeare’s Pizza, expect to spend most of the hour standing in line waiting for veggie pizza slices to come out of the oven. On the plus side, most of the construction on the steam tunnel that runs underground between the power plant and the hospital has moved on past central campus, so the roads and sidewalks are no longer blocked off as hard-hat areas, and the dump trucks have stopped rumbling past our building.The campus landscape services have replaced the sod between the law school and the alumni building and are making plans for new perennial beds. The gospel choir could be heard singing a capella from the speakers circle the other day, and a man wearing a gorilla suit was playing accordion outside the library. Ah, fall!
Of course, there are other, more conventional signs of fall, as well, such as the yellowing leaves and hard green walnuts raining down on our driveway, the perennials gone to seed in the garden and the flashing goldfinches feasting among them, the bee hives filled with capped honey. And lately when we sit down to our dinner of fresh local vegetables, we wonder what we will find to eat when winter comes. We are already mourning the absence of peaches and cantaloupes and new potatoes, the dwindling supply of green beans and corn on the cob, even as we enjoy vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini and start to look forward to crisp apples and pumpkin pie.
Some people might think I wasted my summer, because I did not go swimming or boating or camping or backpacking, and I bicycled very little. I also did not keep up with the gardens as I had hoped or spend near enough time outdoors or take a real vacation. Mostly I went to work in an office every day and then spent the too-short evenings doing nothing in particular. But this was still a very good summer. For the first time in years I got caught up in the kind of summer reading I used to enjoy so much when I was a child, when I had all the time in the world and could read anything I wanted just for the fun of it, lying on a blanket in the back yard in the sun or curled up in the green branches of a tree, carried away on adventures that took me far from my ordinary life. I also got reacquainted with my local public library, which is a lively place if there ever was one. Over the summer, I read everything I could get my hands on—from good old-fashioned novels with morally upstanding characters and unbelievably happy endings to contemporary action thrillers filled with sex and violence of the most depraved variety. As though I were back in the Busy Bee Summer Reading Club, I read many different kinds of books: real-life adventure, mystery, action thriller, historical novel, romance, spiritual biography, war memoir, science, history. I read old favorites and recent best sellers. I enjoyed them all.
When I was not reading, I poked through family photos and old letters and reminisced about my grandparents. I started a heritage scrapbook, which felt exactly like playing paper dolls when I was a kid. Sitting on the floor for hours with piles of colorful paper, scissors, bits of ribbon, and glue brought back many happy memories. I also continued my yoga practice this summer, with sessions on campus two or three times a week. We watched a couple good movies at Ragtag, our local independent theater, including Winter’s Bones and Cyrus. We went to a few old-time square dances in a small town nearby; attended an Irish concert by our friends Helen Gubbins and Tim Langan; saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops at a street concert outside the Blue Note downtown; played a little piano and banjo; had friends over for dinner; went blueberry picking; and kept watch over a pair of wrens, who nested in the space above our front window, until the babies fledged. We went to the farmers market regularly: the large one on Saturday morning and the smaller ones on Monday and Thursday afternoons.
Earlier in the summer when the Missouri River was exceptionally high, we started a new tradition, which is sure to become a favorite in years to come: nearly every time we drive out of town to check on the bees, we stop at Coopers Landing on the way back to watch the river go by, enjoy a beer and some Thai food, listen to music, visit with friends, and watch the sun set over the water. Once when the river was over the road and we couldn’t make it to the landing, we saw a hawk walking awkwardly along the side of the road stretching its wings, taking awkward little hops but not flying even when we drove up right next to it. At first we thought it had been injured and were trying to figure out how to call the raptor rehabilitation group at the University, until we heard a larger hawk screeching encouragement or warning from the tree above the road and realized this must be a juvenile hawk we were watching.
The high point of the summer was my younger son’s wedding, which took place at Stephens Lake on June 26 and brought friends and family from far away to celebrate. (More about this later.) The low point was when my older son deployed on July 19 for a year in Afghanistan. (More about this later, as well.)
Summer Reading List
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Anthologist: A Novel by Nicholson Baker
- Borderline by Anna Pigeon
- Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
- Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
- Kaboom by Matthew Gallagher
- Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter
- Kentuckians by Janice Holt Giles
- La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
- Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox
- Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Book 3)
- Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith
- The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
- Winter Study by Anna Pigeon
- Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journal Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows by Kent Nerburn
- Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
I am currently reading Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro.
We have promised ourselves a vacation in mid-October.