The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

A Hot Day in May

Monday, May 31st, 2010 in Wisconsin
A Hot Day in May

It was the kind of weather that wilts flowers. The temperature climbed to ninety degrees and the air grew thick and soupy by mid-morning. It was the kind of weather that belonged in Maycomb, Alabama, not because I know Maycomb’s weather (for Maycomb doesn’t even really exist), but because it reminded me of the beautiful opening passage from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy … and no money to buy it with. Although Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself … That summer, I was six years old.

If only I could write like that. The rolling sweetness of words, images, sense of place: childhood, in a paragraph. But then, back to reality, back to my writing skills. Brace yourself.

I started my day, today, with a trip to Whitnall Park. Hot air all around. I felt the pressure building in my head as everything—the air, my sinuses, my thoughts—swelled in the blaze of the sun. I took photos but could not seem to get truly inspired. I wandered mindlessly around, snapping images and trying to find unique angles, but nothing seemed to work. Nothing tempted my creativity.

There were empty beds where annuals should have been planted but thanks to a lack of funding, no annuals had been purchased. The flower beds that had been planted grew wild. Weeds tangled themselves into tight knots amongst the perennials, flowers drooped for want of dead-heading. Pruning was a forgotten luxury. The lackluster plantings made for lackluster photographs. I felt sad for the gardens, sad for the plants. But then I remembered that a garden is alive, it can be revived. Maybe next year it would be better, maybe then there would be money for annuals, funds for pruning and weeding. For now, I just tried to see through the neglect and focus on the hardy plants that were all around—waiting for a gardener to tend them.

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