• Otter Views: The Summer Knows

    Jazz trumpeter Art Farmer’s quartet version of the languorous theme from “Summer of ‘42” glides like a bird through these soft July afternoons, the warm- est and finest of the year.

    I’m spending one of them here in my alley garden, a patch of lettuces and green onions so paltry you could cover it with a baby’s quilt – and probably should. Near the lettuces, a cauliflower plant, some Russian kale and a few broccoli starts compete for cabbage moths and incurable leaf viruses.

    “The Summer Knows” issues from an old phonograph inside my apartment. Luckily, this relic is just far enough from the alley so the vinyl record’s melody can be distinguished above its many pops and ticks. Farmer’s flugelhorn gives the song a soft golden burr, a tone as buttery as corn on the cob.

    It’s a fine song for a summer afternoon, the notes leaving the horn lazily, like bubbles ascending through honey. The song floats me away for a while. Rising through the air like a runaway balloon, I leave the alley, the cabbage moths and the onions and ascend into summer.

    Just off Pacific Grove, a fleet of classic Monterey purse seiners pulls a stupendous catch of squid from the bay. By day, as many as two dozen boats maneuver in tight quarters, laying out buoys and nets in great churning circles. By night, eerie green floodlights mark the positions of boats still at work. In between, Monterey’s commercial wharf greets the incoming catch with an avalanche of chipped ice.

    A long string of bright blue days has populated the beaches with waders, swimmers, sunbathers, sand castle builders and occasional surfers. The summer soundtrack at Lovers Point includes squawking gulls, cawing blackbirds and happy toddlers splashing in the kiddie pool. The beach itself has a score closer to a Broadway musical, as incoming waves send chorus lines of squealing children racing up the wet sand.

    On Monday the children’s voices blew out to sea, as June decided to exit like a lion. In the morning, high white cirrus clouds stroked the blue sky like a painter’s brush, signaling brisk winds to come. By that afternoon, canvas booths were bucking at the farmer’s market. Dry magnolia leaves clattered along the street, and vagrant kettle corn kernels tumbled down the windy gutters like spent blossoms.

    By the time the vendors had gratefully packed up their booths, a chill fog was streaming in overhead, and the morning’s cirrus clouds were just a memory. It was a remarkable turnaround.

    Away from the coast, summer evenings settle over the land like a net of thrown stars. The clear night sky shimmers with constellations, the greatest being Scorpio with its long coiled tail. The Hawaiians saw the same group as a “needle of the sky” (mania a ka lani), placed in the heavens after the demigod Maui had fished Polynesia from the sea.

    Away from fog and city lights, the Milky Way becomes visible. It rolls through the summer heavens like a breaking wave, leaving a foam line of stars on the black sand beach of the sky. Beside the Milky Way fly two star birds – Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the eagle. Nearby, the archer Sagittarius draws his bow. Meanwhile, back in PG, homeowners unfurl the Stars and Stripes and ready patriotic bunting for the Fourth of July. These join chinoiserie displays in resale shops and colorful Chinese lanterns bobbing and dancing from tree limbs along Lighthouse Avenue. Visitors who don’t know about the upcoming Feast of Lanterns are understandably perplexed.

    For the townspeople, summer can be a time to see other sights. Shakespeare Santa Cruz draws some residents northward to enjoy theatrical performances staged in a redwood grove on the university campus. Others drive east to Napa or Sonoma to bask in the wine country’s heat and sample its vintages. To the south, the stately mission architecture of Santa Barbara beckons.

    Those heading for the Sierra stop at Central Valley roadside stands for the freshest and tastiest fruits, nuts, melons, pies and berries California has to offer. Then it’s on to the Gold Country, Lake Tahoe or Yosemite; north to Shasta and Lassen, or south to Sequoia and King’s Canyon.

    During a long-ago military enlistment, I spent two years stationed at a Navy communications station in Stockton, in the heart of the Central Valley. To escape the region’s blast-furnace summer temperatures (“But it’s a dry heat,” residents would console), I’d drive toward the mountains like a man fleeing a demon.

    If there wasn’t time to get from Stockton to Yosemite and back, I’d pull off Highway 120 at a curious little place called Knight’s Ferry. It’s scarcely in the foothills, let alone the mountains, but a cold mountain river runs through it. Swimming in that icy green water, then baking dry on sun-warmed boulders, gave me one glimpse of California summer. May others await.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 4, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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