The first full week of school finds me not at my laptop at the kitchen table after breakfast, but hosting a dear houseguest. I’ve been itching to sit and focus for the months of summer break. But… on the other hand… If I were in the Rockies, I’d claim “May” my favorite month of the year, or perhaps June, for the Indian paintbrush, the fairy primrose, for pale green aspen leaves. In Indiana, October could last forever and I’d be pleased. On the Massachusetts coast there is no better month than September, warm sunny days and cool night breezes, children waking to claim they are freezing and scrambling to find socks. Then the heat rises to blazing, slowly.
So Emily and I drove children to school then we headed to the beach. Because she is a sojourner from Someplace Else, we ignore the books we packed and climb toward tidepools, where the baby crabs cling to fronds of bright seaweed, and the sea mussels and barnacles vie for space along the rock walls. Tiny fish chase shrimp, and I wonder if I’ve ever really observed the life in these little pools. It’s all new. Hours pass.
I wouldn’t give myself this permission if it were just me. But I have a guest! My excuse! I crave the wind and warmth more than I knew. I will store up these outdoor hours for the long winter ahead.
Emily asks me if I always swim in the ocean and I say noooooo. Often the Atlantic is just too cold, no matter how hot the day. When the water is just barely tolerable, I think of you people who’d love to be at the beach, and I walk in as far as I can bear. Each September visit could be “the last good beach day of the season,” and I remember June will be slow to come.
The morning is not enough. We pick up Madeleine and Brendan from school and return to the beach for the late afternoon. Kids don’t want to go to the beach again, until I announce I’ve invited another family, until we get into the water to play Frisbee, when the complaining stops, as if it never existed, until the sand fort is built. Scott picks up pizza after work, and joins us, and we wrap up in layers, chilled from swimming in the storm-tossed ocean. We drive past another beach full of surfers, and can’t take our eyes off them, except that we are falling apart. Protests about shivers and hunger and tiredness threaten to undo drivers, parents, neighbors within earshot but children finally howl toward bed, bickering, pushed past their limits. The house is full of mushy sand-filled clothes, wet bathing suits, stray sandals.
It seems each day of September begs, “what is this day ‘for’?” I envision what must be completed this grad school quarter, the pages of writing, the stacks of books. (Excellent books! List, soon!) On the other hand is what my favorite Capon names “Kairos,” or “high time.” A Guest in September shifts the weight toward “high time,” and we throw off my list of to-dos and become tourists, meandering narrow streets of shops toward a great ocean view, diving in the water while it’s warm enough that we won’t die, watching surfers until weariness makes it “high time” to go home.
That was Monday. Tuesday brought clouds and errands and window-shopping and car repairs, a delectable pot of chicken soup and a warmed-up batch of chicken-and-noodles, a pot of popcorn, and not much done but the production of happy kids. (Brendan has claimed Emily as The Best Basketball Buddy Ever.)
Today the balance could shift! The coffee is brewed, no errands in sight, my books are right here!
But then the September sun shines so sweetly on the harbor…