July 1999 (Excerpted From The Color of Grace, Tonia Triebwasser/Baker Books
By mid-morning, the sun is a hot kettle. I feel it through the walls. It has sent a blast of steam through the shingles and into the attic. I scurry about the yard looking. Somewhere there is a hidden pot, boiling dry on a red, forgotten burner. A heat storm. That’s what the experts called it last night. Nineteen days (today makes it 20) of 100+ degree weather. I am stuck in a season of heat. A universe of technology and still no one can find the burner and remove the pot.
I hide from the heat as I hid last January from the wind and the cold. The air conditioner runs equal time with last winter’s heater. Both climates smack of a conspiracy. I hose down the garden, hopping from shade patch to shade patch.
Tuberose does well in the heat. Its scent, delicate and far-reaching, bubbles up from a stiff wand of waxy white, clustered petals. I tolerate the heat long enough to breathe in a chest full of its scent.
With the sunset comes the buzz of crickets sounding like errant amperage crackling in a cave. “The coast is clear,” they buzz. “Come out, come out wherever you are.”
How can I resist? I bend close to the base of a climbing rose, digging in with my finger to see if any moisture remains in its hot bed. Nose to nose with a black and yellow racer, I spring back. The snake is calm. It stays fixed, wrapped like a ringlet around the thorny base.
The snake is said to be good for a garden, but I am not pleased by its presence. It has a suspicious persona. No arms, yet it can hang onto an ankle as well as a rose. It skin looks wet and slippery, but it is dry and rough. No legs, but it moves swiftly.
I escape the valley’s heat by visiting a friend on the coast. An old friend. When I arrive, she brings out a thick pile of letters. Letters we’ve exchanged through the years. I begin to read and groan. Much of what concerned me then, concerns me now. I had wished for more progress. I’m beginning to understand my childhood nightmares of going to school naked. They were not Freudian fears at all. They were warnings. Premonitions. This is what it is like to grow up. You have to be willing to show your self. Your whole self.
I once held a notion that a garden reaches a point of self-containment. I could not have been further from the truth. A mature garden needs constant intervention. Whatever I neglect finds me out. Points a finger. But my strength is limited as well as my time. The afternoon sun sits in a position that if I point, draws my arm into a Nazi salute. I refuse. The sun has tyrannized me enough today. I could dead-head the zinnas. Clip back the spirea. I leave it all for another day, go inside and thumb through the old letters.
After two hours, I am still reading, apalled at my own stagnation. The sun has dropped below the crown of the oak across the street. My front yard is immersed in its shade. I love that old oak. It stands on a lot destined for development, surrounded by a protective fence. “Come this far and go no further,” the fence seems to say. “Don’t need no water. Don’t need no spade.” The two things I can’t do without prove fatal to the oak.
Unlike the oak, I need shaking up to grow. My letters thrust my feet to the flames. They show me where I have remained compacted, desolate, unfruitful. Apparently, I am a late bloomer. I have a strong will. A thick skull. I need help. Divine intervention. I must not emulate Eve who at her greatest moment of need hid from God.
“The fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”