Somewhere, it seems, summer skipped a step

July 07, 2002|By Susan Reimer

Summer was, officially, only hours old when my neighbor Patty declared in a hysterical voice that it was nearly over.

I thought the heat had gotten to her.

She woke her family on the morning of June 21 with a display of joy I am sure they found perplexing, and she almost immediately sank into a funk.

"The summer solstice is my favorite day of the year. But from now on, each day will be shorter and shorter until it is winter and the sun is setting at 4 o'clock," Patty said mournfully.

"Aren't we rushing things?" I asked.

But the truth is, I feel like this season -- this year -- has been rushing past me, and my garden confirms this sensation. Everything seems to be ahead of itself. I feel like I lost a month somewhere.

I blame last winter for this foreshortened summer.

I don't know about where you live, but temperatures in my part of Maryland averaged 42 degrees in December, 12 degrees warmer than they had been the year before. January wasn't much colder: 39 degrees compared with 33 in 2001.

Temperatures started to approach normal in February, but by that time it was too late. The daffodils and narcissus were up and the candytuft had long since bloomed and faded. By the end of that month, the daylilies were up in force, for heaven's sake.

Since then, everything has been so far ahead of itself that I was not surprised to see a cricket in the mulch. The mums are flowering, despite my efforts to pinch them back until the Fourth of July, and the sedum is blushing pink. I am afraid to look at the calendar for fear it is October.

I should not complain, I suppose. I lost nothing to freezing temperatures, because there were none. Everything prospered from the jump start provided by the relative warmth, and my gardens look the best they ever have.

But I would trade all those blossoms for the days that seem to have sped by.

I am of an age -- or should I say, my children are of an age -- when I look back more often than I look forward. I am perpetually nostalgic for the little ones they no longer are, and any sense that they are growing up and away faster is not a welcome one.

He is in a hurry to leave home, and she is in a rush to drive, while their father and I struggle helplessly to hold back the hands of the clock, to slow the days.

So my garden, which has been a refuge from the contentiousness of their teen-age years, betrays me now with its false calendar. The Stella d'Oros are shot, and the black-eyed Susans are out. My garden is trying to bluff me into planting my winter vegetables.

You tell me that we are talking only about a week, or two, or three. That nature does not have a fast-forward button, and I am sure you are correct, global warming notwithstanding.

But I jealously guard each remaining day of my children's childhood, no matter how rancorous, and my garden seems to torment me with the possibility that a bunch of them got past me without my noticing.

I think my garden is trying to teach me something I am too stubborn to learn: that plants, and children, emerge, grow and depart on a timetable of another's devising, and the gardener has no say.

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