or Moving Right Along
These late summer days have had a rhythm of their own, a slow ostinato of shimmering heat and looming thunderheads, of food flavored with basil and sage and savory, of crickets keeping company with the night. The cantaloupes are in from Rocky Ford, Colorado, the peaches from Palisade—not hard, flavorless, mass-market fruit but the real thing, so ripe that they might as well be perfume. You slice them over a bowl to catch every last drop of nectar; they taste like sweetened sunshine. The wind blows the scent of a distant thunderstorm in through the windows, ruffling the pages of a book. The days, every one so alike, seem endless, timeless.
The honey locust still takes me by surprise; I can't really believe that it's survived. It came out of nowhere, popping up in the microgarden several years ago, and somehow managed to thrive. I've moved it to a bigger pot every year since then, and this summer for the first time it's put out a fully fledged branch.
Honey locusts always remind me of summer in Vermont, of drying off in their dappled shade after a swim in Lake Champlain, a hot haze hanging over the Adirondacks and the button islands dotting the lake. Then again, they remind me of my first spring in New Mexico, in a balcony apartment level with the crowns of locust trees, where evenings would envelop me in the honey-and-rose fragrance of their flowers.
All to say, I love honey locusts. Every year about this time, I start getting worried, though, because my fledgling tree looks a bit stressed. A few leaflets here and there start to turn yellow; some of the leaf edges brown a little. Is it getting too much sun? Too much or too little water? Does it need fed? Are its roots crowded? And then I remember: honey locusts are the first trees to turn color in the fall. This isn't the yellow of poor health; it's the yellow of autumn.
Autumn. Autumn? For Pete's sake, it's 95°F outside, with no change in sight. The sun is still strong enough that it hurts. And yet this little tree is already tapping its feet to autumn's piping—as are its kin around the neighborhood, I notice. They're not doing anything radical yet; they're not making any sudden moves, but really, they've already left summer behind.
I'm still just as astonished as I was back in February at the rhythms plants are attuned to—they're so different from ours. They're certainly affected by the immediacy of weather (as anyone who was on the Eastern seaboard this weekend could tell you), but in normal circumstances it's not their top priority. They move to the pulse of the seasons, to the slow, inexorable ebb and flow of sunlight, the steady measure of the earth in its promenade around the sun.
The honey locusts couldn't care less that it's 95° out, that the ice cream truck is still circling the neighborhood, that the chile harvest is still rolling in. The sun has moved on, and they are following. "It's time," they say. "It's time."
Taking another peach in hand, I reply, "No. Not yet."
To my friends in Vermont, be safe—and anchored.