Oh, summer: Or, the car sun visor as calendar

Written by Jayson Jacoby August 30, 2013 10:11 am

A car’s sun visor, it turns out, makes for a pretty effective facsimile of a calendar.

I had a week’s vacation recently and so was afforded the great luxury, but for an occasional early-rising child, to tack on an extra hour or so of sleep each day.

And so it came as a surprise — not a shock, exactly, but in the ballpark — when I awoke on the Monday of my return in a bedroom that seemed to me as dark as a mine tunnel.

I thought at first that I had awakened a couple of hours early, a sort of overreaction to my reacquaintance with the working world.

But as I squinted at the clock radio, trying to bring its red numbers into a brief, blurry focus (I have the approximate eyesight, without my glasses or contact lenses, of a cataractic bat), I saw that it was 5:20 a.m.

Right on time, in other words.

(Or, more aptly, wrong on time. I’m not one of those people who literally jumps from bed, eager to attack the new day as though it’s an advancing soldier with bayonet fixed. My habits are more akin to those of a sloth. I emerge from the covers always slowly, always with great reluctance and, not infrequently, with outright dread.)

The reality, though, of how far summer had waned during my time off seemed especially acute a bit later, as I turned my car from 15th Street onto Auburn and headed east.

My left hand, acting in the rote way of a habit long-ingrained, reached for the visor that keeps the rising sun from temporarily blinding me and jeopardizing my fellow travelers on Auburn, including squirrels in the barrow pit and ducks crossing to get to Settlers Slough. (I don’t know why chickens cross the road, but the slough is why ducks, most generally, cross Auburn.)

At that moment I realized that the only light was coming not from 93 million miles away, but rather from my own headlights, which are considerably closer, though less bright.

(Our Buick, though a dozen years old, has several nifty features, including headlights that turn on, and off, automatically.)

There was a silvery glow on the eastern horizon, just enough to reveal the silhouettes of the Wallowas’ high peaks, but it was clear that the sun would not cleave the hills for another half an hour or so.

My hand dropped back to the steering wheel and I went on my way.

I relish this time of year because my favorite season, autumn, has begun to insinuate itself.

And its ascendancy is revealed in ways other than the lingering gloom of morning.

That Monday — actually it was this Monday, Aug. 26 — brought an autumnal chill as well. I briefly considered retrieving my light jacket from the bedpost but decided to leave it be, in deference to the forecast for a high of 86.

A couple days earlier I went for a hike on Black Mountain, just to the south of Phillips Reservoir. Although the day rode the border between warm and hot the air was also quite hazy, infused with smoke from the massive wildfire near Yosemite National Park, and it reminded me powerfully of late summers on the eastern fringe of the Willamette Valley where I grew up.

Farmers raised an awful lot of grass seed in those parts — indeed, they still do.

What they don’t do much of these days is burn the stubble fields after the harvest.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, though, seed-growers torched thousands of acres of fields each summer, creating a miasma that, on most days, turned my street into a scene fitting for shooting a documentary about Jack the Ripper.

(Except for the absence of cobblestones. And Cockney accents. And serial murderers.)

Notwithstanding the damage this pall must have done to my lungs (I had only a passing understanding of the respiratory system anyway) I enjoyed those murky days because they foretold, as reliably as the acquisition of a couple new pairs of Tuffskin jeans from Sears, the coming of the school year and the bracing days of fall.

As I stood beside Black Mountain’s cairn-topped summit I detected the old tang of distant combustion on the air and felt refreshed, as you do when a pleasant memory of childhood comes suddenly clear.

I don’t begrudge summer.

This year’s version, although more than a trifle dry and dusty, was rather a pleasant one, a bit warmer than usual but quite nicer than the torrid season Boise residents endured, where just a handful of days since the solstice haven’t reached the 90-degree mark.

But the smoke, and the slight chill before dawn, promised better times, hinted at those crystalline days at the edge of winter when the tamaracks gleam and the dusk comes early and cold and the light from a familiar window, seen at a distance in the gloaming, can bring water to the eyes.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.