Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Delightful Things About Summer

So I'm reading Sei Shonagon again. I read The Pillow Book many years ago in college but am revisiting it now for a student's oral exams. I forgot how charming the book can be (when Shonagon isn't either fawning over the emperor or being weirdly heartless toward the lower classes), so I'm writing this post in the spirit of Shonagon, as a way of anthologizing my summer before I head out. Sept. 1st! Just two more weeks to go.

Things About Summer Which are Delightful:

Discovering your hat perfectly matches the field of sweet peas past which you are now walking.

Blueberries are delightful, as are the first raspberries of the season. The taste of raspberries reminds you of your great-grandmother's farm in Bothell. How she would take you out into the rows she planted of snap peas and raspberry bushes, and watch you as you ate a bowl on the white-washed back porch.

It is said that your great-grandmother could lift two bales of hay: one under each arm. It is delightful to know that she was the first woman shipwright in Seattle.

Strawberries so sweet they taste as if they've been dipped in sugar are delightful, as is the pelican right now outside the cafe window, tucking itself into a perfect arrow before it dives, full speed, into the water.

It is very charming to sleep in a houseboat, especially in summer, when the windows can be left open to let in the occasional breeze off the lake. It is not pleasant, however, to wake the next morning to the Seattle Duck Tour boat as it motors past, the tour operator loudly broadcasting the rental price of your neighbor's houseboat as all the tourists take photos of you in your nightshirt and your husband tries to look adorable for the cameras.

Mah jong is delightful, especially the feel of cool tiles under your fingertips as you shuffle. Being the first among your cousins to shout, "Mah jong!" at the top of your lungs is also delightful, as is rubbing their noses in your general awesomeness. What is annoying, however, is when your mother arrives to insist that everyone plays for points now, rather than simply matching groups of tiles. Watching everyone's face fall as your mother takes all the flower tiles is frustrating, as is realizing that only she knows all the rules to the game. Such a disappointment.

Your family all together in one room is delightful.

Running on the beach is delightful, as is walking on it, sitting on it, and staring at it from under the lip of a wide-brimmed hat. But the most delightful thing about a day on the beach is coming back home and, still sandy-legged, napping in the sun after eating all the blackberry pie left in the refrigerator.

Murder mysteries written by Englishwomen are delightful. Not as delightful are long novels about bad marriages written by American men.

Coming upon a garden on a dock is delightful. Glass bottles balanced on iron stems to resemble flowers are particularly charming, as are pots of actual hyacinths, delphiniums, long grasses and gladiola. Neighborhood P-Patches are charming. Stone trolls under a city bridge are charming. So, too, is the neighborhood statue of a girl surrounded by actual paper cranes.

A lone cypress pruned by sea spray and wind is delightful. As is the knowledge that, half a mile away, stands another cypress: long dead, the branches shaped like stone.

Being able to manipulate photographs on a computer would be delightful. IPad applications that promise to do this but are too "intuitive" to understand, however, are terribly annoying.

Alcohol can be one of summer's most necessary delights, especially the first sip of prosecco after a long day driving through traffic in San Francisco. Handblown black glass sake cups are delightful, as are tiny white porcelain salt bowls with miniature silver spoons. Such things are almost as delightful as the bartender who pours you little tastes of expensive wine you cannot possibly afford just for you to taste, and just because you are the only ones sitting at the bar for a hamburger dinner.

It is delightful to walk into a grocery store to discover that wine is sold there, all day, every day. It is satisfying to remember that you are no longer in Utah.

Yelling at the fascist reporter on the radio news show in late afternoon traffic is delightful. As is sneering with your friend at the idling minivan decorated with cartoon figures of the minivan owner's family and pets. Winding highways are delightful. A new car on which to drive these highways is delightful. The occasional obscene gesture made at a bad driver is delightful. Truck nuts, however, are not delightful at all.

Discovering that there are people all around the world actively hunting down gifts and small notes other people have hidden for them and other strangers to find is delightful. These people have small GPS devices to help them, and are eager to instruct you on how to find clues and directions to a hidden object. To keep the game going, they will tell you that you must leave behind a note yourself when the object is found, sometimes placing a gift in place of what you've taken. Sometimes, you might just leave your name on a long roll of other names. It is delightful to know that people are this obsessively curious about something that has so little reward. In that respect, they are like poets, perhaps, but with a better sense of direction. It is delightful to imagine finding such objects in Vietnam. It is more delightful to know that, should you ever meet people like this again, they will always want you to join them.

The sight of your chow's perfectly triangular ears peeking over the surfboard used as a makeshift gate is delightful. Plotting small acts of domestic terrorism with the friend whose shitheel ex-husband is about to take unfair possession of her house is, in its odd way, delightful. Clotted cream is delightful. Not having to attend the day-long faculty meeting is delightful. Dinners at a friend's house are delightful, especially when the friend is a much better cook than you. A large orange moon is delightful. Fish tacos are delightful. The doctor who tells you that your tests are clear is very delightful.

Fog in the mornings, sea mist in the afternoon.

Cherries. Radio.

Your husband waking you at dawn to tell you you are loved.


  1. Very charming. But "for a student's oral exams" sounds way too much like work -- does the granting foundation have a hotline for fellowship violations?

    When I started at my current college, the woman in charge of faculty research was notorious for screaming at anyone on sabbatical who she found on campus. "You should be somewhere else doing your research! I'm not going to let you even APPLY for another fellowship if I see you on campus again this semester!" Beware historians with law degrees. And the mathematicians they traumatize.

  2. There probably is a hotline. Please call me in and save me!

    I am getting some minor email grumblings from the faculty meeting forwarded, and am SO glad I don't have to do or say anything about anything departmental for a year. Just thought of this: "putting the mental in departmental".