Sunday, June 27, 2010

Looking Up

I am lying on a blanket on a tarp on the Great Lawn of Tanglewood. My head is in my wife's lap. To my left, beyond a lot of other people on the lawn with blankets and umbrellas and picnic dinners, is the Koussevitsky Music Shed, where A Prairie Home Companion is broadcasting live. A real-time radio show, just like in the 1940s, except outside.

I am equally interested, maybe more interested, in what's overhead. It's a sycamore tree. The leaves are big—layers of green—and among them is a network of interstices, pieces of white sky, shaped like states, or metropolitan areas, a map of green and white.

Meanwhile, in the white sky to the left of the tree, between the tree and the music, a swallow is dipping and cutting, a small but precise silhouette.

It is this confluence of ingredients—Carol, lawn, tree, sky, music, and swallow—that I will take away as a snow globe of June, a reminder that summer's invitation, and sometimes obligation, is to look up.

The tree canopy was pretty much done in May, but in June it's a settled thing, and not yet tired. It's still an achievement, but well past spring's "ain't-I-the-one!" It's been around for a while, it's the trees' food factory, the birds' condominium. By now, it's what trees look like. At night they rustle like they know it all. In a few months (far away) the idea of losing these leaves will be a losing of companionship. Because of April and May's welcome, yes, but more because of June's status quo. It's shade. It's ambience. It's a cool and canopied walk in the woods.

Then there's the summer sky. Summer sky. Always something going on. Armadas of cumulus, organizing, heating up, into baleful bailiwicks of bilious thunderheads. What's it going to do? Was that thunder? No, it's clearing in the west. Could be a rainbow, a tornado, hail. Or a powder blue, innocent sky striped with jet contrails, manmade vapor-graffiti that does who-knows-what to the atmosphere. Yet I don't have the same asperity toward skywriters, maybe because you seldom see them anymore. The smoke signals of the last century. Summer sky. Swallows and chimney swifts and nighthawks marking it briefly like that disappearing line on the magic slate. Probably more studied than in any other season, if only because we're more apt to be lying on our backs against a grassy or sandy wall, looking up.

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