the first day of summer. ninety degrees and steamy at eleven o'clock in the morning. not a typical maine day, no, not at all. joe cupo on channel 6 predicts three more days of this. i stand in the garden, glance around, shake my head. in addition to the heat, there's something else that's not quite right, something else that's off.
silence. dead silence. not a chirp, not a song, no buzzing of bees or dragonflies or the low hum of an incoming hummingbird over my head, no wind, only the faint burble of the little stream as it meekly shushes and tumbles, seeking its way through the forest.
i stare at them. they are starting to appear defeated, heads drooping low. i know if i don't take some action many of the splendid buds won't bloom properly, and those that do won't last. they will be seared and cooked right on their own stems until they're well done and finished. i mutter to myself this isn't good, not good at all.
it's too much for them. (it's too much for me. i don't know how i would deal with the heat if i lived in the south. james and megan won't see me visiting them in texas in the summer, that's for sure.) they will wilt, wither, waste away, if left alone to fend for themselves against the heat wave that's overpowering everything, myself included. but there's one thing i can do to save them—get the scissors and start cutting.
we don't get a lot of oppressive days like this along the southern maine coast—maybe 3 or 4 of them a year—and by oppressive i mean where there is no reprieve from the heat, no afternoon sea breeze, the humidity staying high and the temperature barely dipping and there's nothing to help air out the house and cool it down in preparation for yet another day of heat. we used to tough it out when there wasn't a breeze—we didn't even have an air conditioner in the bedroom until two years ago—but we've become wimpy. no, not we, me. i'm the wimpy one; ed doesn't mind the heat.
i grab an old pair of slightly rusty scissors i use for the garden out of a terra cotta pot on the porch where i also keep the garden trowels and some string. snip, snip, gather them in before they fall to ruin. i whisper to them, to myself, in reassuring tones, fill the basket, carry them into the cool house and put them in fresh water away from the sun. i have closed the shades and curtains—it is as cool and dark as a crypt. i don't like it; i would much rather be able to leave the shades open and live in the light.
the silky, multi-layered white flowers, with bits of deep pink hidden like little surprises inside their frilly ruffles, are my favorites. they smell particularly sweet—they make the whole room smell sweet. i don't remember its name, but that plant is my most prolific. i am having some trouble with the raspberry/fuchsia/magenta/rose ones—what color are they exactly? i get confused, almost color-blinded by all the names—way too many shades of pink—which are bush-like and exhibit fine green leaves but not many blooms. do they need more manure? more mulch? more love?
the name—peony. i like saying it even if it's just in my head.
what do meteorologists know. the next day a cold front from the north lands on our doorstep and brings with it some clouds and a breeze, and much lower humidity and temperatures. comfortable. shades up, windows open. (we are, as they say, on the leading edge of the front. just 25 miles south of here, and a few miles to the west, it's still sweltering.) my snipping was completely unnecessary; i could have left the peonies alone. but never mind—they keep me company indoors instead, where i see them both night and day.
the inevitable falling of petals, the bottommost ones heart-shaped and crumpled and lying in a heap.