Just now, it rained hard and fast enough to flood the garden. I’m sitting at the wide wood table in the kitchen, scene of several crimes that I’ve committed against English in this fortnight, grappling with chapters that never quite cohere. It isn’t raining anymore, but we can hear the aftermath, the draining and the dripping into puddles. A plane takes off somewhere.
Last week we plucked a rose. One past perfect dame we spared from fading on the bush where other roses wilted—low to the front stoop and dripping from the wet. Outside roses turn first watery, then brown. Petals turn to leaves, plop off like raindrops.
We’re still in solstice mode. Morning might as well be noon. On day three of official summer, it was light for fifteen hours straight. At ten pm, the sun had barely, sparely set. Not much changes. Afternoons are all day long; evenings are exposed. There is this bright and bluing shaft of light where night should be. The rhododendrons and the snail-pocked shrub are blooming past their bedtimes. The birds are all confused. Fat pigeons pace the back lawn, hunkering their beaks down to their puffed-up breasts against the periodic rain.
Annie Dillard wrote: we can’t identify the moment winter turns to spring. The arsonist of the sunny woods. We cannot catch the snake who eats his tail, once he’s gone hooping past. Scotland is the same with any season. Summer, winter, autumn. Blossoms come with rain, and fall. When things become too delicate for clinging to a center stem, they die. Meanwhile, the lawn shoots up, weed-high with buttercups and dandelions, thick with clover. It must be cut, and cut, and cut. And yet we do not bring bouquets of lawn into the house, like armloads of late-May lilacs or that one rose, fat and fuschia, which sat in a pint glass on the entry table until yesterday.
Meanwhile, sheep are shorn. We squish across the muddy grass to catch ten minutes of the 18th International Black Face Sheep Shearing Competition in Lochearnhead, watch thick muscle-shouldered men run shavers “up the brisket,” shuck the fleeces off in one wooly go. We’ve caught the quarter final, and the commentary is tremendous. Five minutes on the clock, eight sheep per man, each one patted on the naked rump and scooched back down the chute in turn. They run back leaping, weightless, to the herd.
I think I could now die happy.
It rains on sunny days, and suns on rainy ones. Suddenly a flower you have never seen before looks painted on, like wallpaper. Purple paper, tapered leaves. It also blooms and goes. Trees grow onto the sidewalks, beaded curtains shaking rain.
Can we name the moment when our summer culminates? The human summer, when the gardens grow. When blooms and babies are arranged in rows, and beans all line up for the counting. When we are held accountable for clipping plants and bringing them inside to dry. (A botanist once told me, if you stick your nose into the center of a bloom to smell it, that contact with your skin will ruin it.)
Sometimes I fear growing old. One bursting organ pulled out through my navel and I wonder what else in me pickles, what other petals have started wrinkling within.
But there isn’t any darkness here. The flowers haven’t time to dry. The blue hour, which is pink in winter, shows up tardy, stays until tomorrow. The sky is made of fountain pens, leaking milky ink. In winter, maybe it’s the opposite. Dark for longer, sunless. (The flowers all take sleeping drugs.)
This is summer at its perfect, soggy peak. Some nights I find it hard to sleep, so bright it looks like false dawn through the shades. I turn the yellow pages of a book, brittle from my folding of them; I want to remember this. We don’t catch or name the slide of nights, the moment of increasing speed. The bending stem. Sleep is always winter, even when it isn’t winter.
Tomorrow we will fly to Paris. But right now, this is Glasgow wet and wide awake.