This column seems the very antithesis of the system that passed through the Maritimes earlier this week. Originally published in August of 2007, we have edited slightly for content, and hope you enjoy as always.
As we proceed through another year, dropping metaphorical pebbles along the way to mark where we have been – even though we will never be there again – we’ve come to that centre-point in the summer when the birds that serenaded us a while back have fallen silent. The hay in the fields, thanks to our neighbour, is cut and baled and this year’s bounty of peas from the garden is over – unless, for the first time ever, the late-planted Wandos might surprise us with the late bounty they are apparently famous for. The cicadas, in one of their lesser years, sing in the heat of the day to remind us that Labour Day, the beginning of the school year, and the approach of fall are just over the horizon.
In the evening now, when I go out to close up the chickens and give the dog his last walk before bedtime, the sky is no longer a luminous blue to the west, and Venus, so splendid for the last few months against that velvety blue, has followed the sun down behind the hill. Saturn too has gone after the sun, having appeared for a brief evening or two in July quite close to Venus, a mysterious conjunction with, for once, a vertiginous sense of three dimensions in the sky. Venus – earth-sized and closer – was brilliant; the immense mass of distant Saturn a barely-noticeable pin-prick of dim light in the distance.
Once again this year, as in others, we went out to stand in the yard, heads cranked back to view the heavens on the night of the Perseid meteor showers. We were there at midnight and we watched for a while, but even with the moon being new and the sky satisfactorily dark we only managed to see one bright flash – and a few dim ones.
As the days pass, the skies cloud over and then clear, and then cloud over again, but little in the way of rain reaches us. Just the other evening, as we were having our dinner on the front porch, looking out across the valley at the hills beyond, the drama was all in what wasn’t happening. The wind had dropped, as it often does as the day winds down and evening comes on. But the slightest wind will still stir poplar leaves and set them trembling. That evening, though, we watched in wonder as the leaves on the young poplar between us and the driveway hung motionless and quiet. Not the faintest flutter of a breeze drifted by to set the leaves in motion, to whisper secrets to themselves which we might hear but not interpret.
Over the valley the clouds moved as if they were in a grand formal procession – a coronation perhaps – from left to right. Some clouds, in the summer on a clear, warm day, will drift about the sky like so many sheep on good pasture, small and gentle decorations, making the just noticeable difference between an empty sky and an interesting one. Such clouds, like the sheep in a pasture, serve as visual punctuation (for the viewer if not for the shepherd), more like commas that help to organize a sentence but are hardly noticed in the reading.
The clouds the other night were larger – folded and convoluted, with shadows and highlights and dimension. More like semicolons in a sentence, they had a role to play and marked points to be attended to, lest you read by and miss the division of meaning, and so the sense, entirely. And they made an impression on their surroundings, as the progress of a formal procession will hush the bystanders, as a semicolon will define a pause in the progression of speech.
As we began our meal, the far hills were brightly lit by the setting sun behind us and the air seemed quite clear. Buildings on those hills seemed to pop out of the distance, sharp and clear. We remarked on the clarity and wondered whether the change in humidity betokened a change in the weather, maybe even some rain.
While we were attending to dinner – or settling the dog who wished very much to share in the steak we were enjoying – we watched the clouds making their stately way, above and before us, to see if there might be any sign of their joining forces. But they carried on, oblivious to our hopes and desires while other members of the procession behind us moved across the sun and darkened the landscape.
Regrettably, our hopes remained unrealized, and the only sign of rain we saw that evening was a patch of virga – streaks of rain against another cloud, evaporating long before they hit the ground.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.