The Day After Summer

For a lover of nature, all tasks are about the journey. Maybe that explains why my son the photographer and I were out at four in the morning to pay the gas bill. Sure, tedious details of my life could explain why I left that chore for the odd hour, but really it was the storm. We wanted to be in it.

The usual thunderstorm things happened: rain blowing in on us, which was a refreshment at first, then a call to close the windows; the asphalt no longer gray, but black as a racer snake; the sudden smudged beauty of ordinary brake lights.

All at once, just as we passed the Catholic cemetery, dozens of yellow leaves leapt out. It was like driving through a swarm of butterflies. We heard them tick hard against the windshield and the grill.

"I guess summer's over," I said.

I realized then that my friends and I have been hinting at that for days now, mentioning the early dusks and the corroded brassy look of the so-called silver maples. But this was decisive, this blast of dead leaves. And I thought of the way it was back in Oklahoma. Nothing there was final. The leavings of a blizzard might melt to a soggy seventy the next day.  There was no need to shovel snow, because winter, like everything else there at the foot of the Rockies except death, was fitful and would undo itself soon enough. Wisconsin has never ceased to amaze me with its precision: here we were on the night of September first, and summer was washing away before our eyes. I'd never quite grasped that there were places in the world where calendars made sense, had something to do with the objective world.

However, the storm wasn't through. We had to pass the cemetery again a few minutes later on our way home, and just after we did, an arthritic strand of lightning dangled from the sky. To me, it seemed as if the sky had turned a pearly blue where nothing existed except that bluer thread. Parker thought, but wasn't certain, that he saw it hit a light pole near the traffic signal we were approaching. I was too blinded to see anything of the sort. For a moment after the strike, the entire sky remained that bright and pearly blue, and then, as if a switch had been thrown, everything was dark. I'm still not sure what the moment of lingering light was; we both saw it, and it didn't feel like that sting of sensation that remains on the retina after brilliance. We saw treetops around us, and the brows of buildings; it was only the sky that seemed replaced with blue. Then the traffic signals, which had been working fine before, began to blink nothing but red.

We'd neglected to bring the camera. Late the next afternoon, however, as Parker and his mother and brothers were on the road for other errands, the weather was indecisive. No two directions seemed to match. Parker snapped away, mostly through the windows of the moving car.



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