Guest Dispatches: Western Massachusetts

Ever since I first came upon asakiyume‘s journal, I’ve loved not only the photographs she shares there, but the way she sees those pictures, and the world she takes them in–ways that remind me that this world and its places are indeed full of magic, if only one doesn’t forget how to see them properly.

Just a few days before the shortest day of the (northern hemispheric) year, she brings us a dispatch from–and reminder of–the year’s longest days.

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Let me tell you about a season in western Massachusetts, because all the seasons—like all the times of day—feel like their own places. And because these days there are lots of people talking about winter, I’ll tell you about summer.

Many people have reservations about summers in western Massachusetts. They don’t like the humidity. It’s true; summer in Massachusetts is humid. The air is full of moisture, and the moisture is full of scents and sounds. Once it’s got hold of the scents, it doesn’t let go—someone’s barbeque, cut grass, wildflowers, peaches ripening (or spoiling) on the counter. The sounds it pulls in from far away. You can hear more on a humid summer night than you can at other times; it’s like you have superpowers. Voices travel. Someone’s music, a television show. Where are the sounds coming from? It’s hard to tell. On a humid summer night, maybe they’re coming from the next state over, or just from next door. Distances are no longer constant. Everything is bendy, melty.

In the daytime, the humid air drapes itself on you like wet gauze, and you sweat. That’s okay, though—it makes you long and loose and limber. You don’t have much energy, can barely breathe, but that’s okay too, because the air will breathe for you. Exhale, long and slow, and let the atmosphere around you be your lungs.

Dawn comes very early in the summer—5 am, at the solstice—and the birds sing their dawn chorus even earlier. They fill the outdoors with song until a little before sunrise, and then grow quiet as the sun comes up. Then the morning advances a bit and the cicadas start to sing as the temperatures rise. Midmorning is a good time to play the game of jumping from shadow puddle to shadow puddle. Each time you plunge into the shade, it’s like cooling off in water—then you must endure another burst of bright sun until the next tree-shadow or building-shadow.

What about noon? How do you survive noon? You can retire to the cool of indoors, or. . . with the air breathing for you and your sweat to lubricate you, you can see what the meadows have to offer at this time of day. Grasshoppers, mainly, springing away as you walk through the queen anne’s lace and the buttercups. I’ll imagine you some water to splash through next, to cool your feet in. I’ll imagine it a fast stream though mossy boulders, such as you see so often around here, and with lacy hemlocks and smooth trunked beeches on either side.

And what about summer thunderstorms? They’re a place all their own. Wild wind whipping up, trees bending low, the leaves showing their white sides, as if in surrender. The sky changing to strange bruise-like shades of yellow, purple, and green. And then sheets of rain, and temporary rivers everywhere. And then the sun comes back out, and steam rises from the streets, and people say, “I thought that storm would cool things off, but it’s as sticky as ever.” And I nod—there’s no denying it—but I’m happy for it, because this is summer.

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