I'm feeling not-so-bright and cheery these days. Maybe it's the weather we're having--gray and drizzly (don't tell me how much the garden needed it!), or maybe it's all the emails I get from my friend Don about the Gulf oil disaster that only seems to get worse by the minute, and the fascists who seem intent on taking over the world (or at least this little bit), as reinforced by the dozens of campaign signs for the Tea Bag Gubernatorial candidate that I pass every day (I'm hanging my hopes on the gene pool for this one). Or maybe it's that I spent my birthday weekend sick in bed (and am feeling more than a little sorry for myself about it).
I always seem to get sick this time of year. I told C the other day that I'm constitutionally opposed to the end of summer. And I do mean end. While August may be the height of heat and vacation fun in more salubrious climes, in Maine, if you haven't sweat by mid-July, you may as well give up until next summer (or crank the woodstove mighty high this winter).
As happens every year, my inside organs began scrabbling against my chest wall in panic when I drove past the beaver bog up the road last week and saw the red maples living up to their name, and turning crimson. Though it happens every year, it hits me like the acorn on Chicken Little's noggin and I feel sure they're harbingers of the Apocalypse. I begin grasping around me, trying to scoop up last bits of summer--The beach, the beach, we must go to the beach once more; Lemonade! We haven't drunk enough lemonade!; Popsicles! We forgot to make popsicles!--only it's like trying to carry handfuls of water up the beach to your sandcastle near the dunes...by the time you get there, all that's left are a few salty drops on your damp hands. It usually leads to ill-advised behavior, like marathon water-treading in 60-degree ocean water resulting in near-hypothermia. And it never once has slowed the inevitable march of winter, not by one iota.
I feel the same sense of panic whenever I notice one of my boys is a little taller, or a little smarter or a little more mature. Wait! Wait! I want to cry. We haven't done all the things we were going to do while you were little! I try to put on the brakes long enough to read another picture book, make a silly hat, build a fairy house in the woods. But they ignore my pleas and my mad scrambling to Slow. Down. Time. as resoundingly and heartlessly as the autumn wind does.
I know, as a person who has read more than a few issues of The Sun that life is impermanence and that trying to resist change is the source of suffering. That I should practice non-attachment to things like summer, my children's childhood, my very life. That life is like the beach, where the tide comes in and washes it clean twice each day, and no matter how high up you build your sand castle it too will succumb to the ravages or water and wind.
And that is what is so wonderful about the beach. It is never the same two visits in a row, or even from the moment you plop down your towels and beach chair to the time you scoop all the pails and shovels and sunblock and gritty sandwiches up and drag your damp, salty, exhausted charges back home.
But still, after even the most perfect beach day, I feel a tug of regret...we didn't get there early enough or stay long enough; we never made it to the tidepools; we didn't spend enough time in the water or on the sand; I didn't get to read enough chapters of my beach book. Always, always I feel there could have been more, that I could have tried harder, appreciated it more while it was happening, and now that it's over I've missed my chance.
It's a feeling I imagine I'll still be nursing one day, many years from now, creaking in my rocking chair on the deck, replaying my life (wondering why, oh, why, did I not make photo albums before I had 46 years of digital pictures to sort through with arthritic fingers), watching the leaves fall on a late summer morning.