By Michelle Railey
“I walk to think and not to think. If I did not walk I would not recall a forgotten friend…brought to mind by the smell of…a hedge, or would forget to feel my luck, conjured up (who knows why) by the sight of reflected light on a hill.” -Susan Minot
There are summer nights and then there are nights like tonight: July in Indiana. The breeze is still. The air is soft. The evening light plays its full complement of tricks, softening the edges of messiness that real life tends to use to mark its place. Memory is palpable and fireflies accompany one’s steps. So you walk. And you breathe. And for every nostalgic thought, there is a tiny green flash of light, a scent, the evening contrast of Queen Anne’s Lace against a bank of clover to remind you: you are here. You are here now.
And you think: I am the luckiest human alive. Or rather, we are all so lucky. Life is unfair. It is unjust. It can be cruel. But it is also nearly incomprehensibly beautiful. I’ve had the good fortune to visit some of the most wonderful places on Earth: I’ve seen the geysers and molten blue pools of Yellowstone National Park. I’ve wondered at the smell of sulfur on other July nights there; driven past lakes in the full moon which look like Alpine wonders; I’ve seen the majesty of impossibly high mountains with wild waterfalls cascading with ravishing violence down the rock face. I’ve walked along the edge of the Earth in the Pacific Ocean on the coasts of Hawaii in the dark, marveling at how big the sky is, how big the water is and thinking the words could never convey the happiness I felt at that moment. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen stars reflected in a black and frothy ocean under an immense and velvet sky, surrounded by water, nothing but water. I’ve walked the brick streets of New Orleans in summer. I’ve sweated through the streets of New York. I’ve seen less places than some, more than many others. And this world is amazing.
But it doesn’t really get much better for me than home. Summer in Indiana can be piercingly beautiful and tender and authentic. It may not have the majesty of rock or sea. It may not always have grandeur or the picturesque gnawing gritty prettiness of ancient brick and history. But what it has is real and true and, in July, a humble but still fantastic brand of perfection.
You know, before tonight, I was never all that keen on Queen Anne’s Lace. But in the right light, when the air is perfect, when it surrounds itself with July clover and wild morning glory, and on the horizon is endless green farmland and summer is in every fibre of every living thing, Queen Anne’s Lace is very, very pretty. It takes nights like this to make you see some tired, old, familiar thing as something you never knew you loved before.
I am lucky. I am here. I’ll take summer in Indiana. And if it’s ever offered to you, you should take it too. Go for a walk, in the evening. On a July evening like this one, it’s not a bad way to feel your luck. If nothing else, it’s a very good way to learn to love a previously underappreciated wildflower.