The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Late afternoon. I’m on the deck surrounded by packs of petunias, pansies, brachycomes, lobelia, all waiting to be clustered together in pots to bloom through our short summer. I’m sitting in the shade of a market umbrella—the large kind found at outdoor restaurants, and it casts the only shade on the deck till the sun slips behind the hill and behind the house. The dog is stretched out flat on the deck, lying as still as he can, hot even in his recently shorn coat. Sam and Mattie, out in the corral, linger by the water tank, feinting at each other with their noses in a game of water tank keep-away.

The thermometer on the post of the hay barn read 95 degrees today, though the thermometer in the shade under the deck read 75. This is about as hot as it gets here, and it always takes us by surprise. We drag a bit, wait for the cool of evening as the sun dips nearer the horizon, knowing that at this time of year, there will be hours of silvery light to come.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. The house was quiet, but the sky had the soft luminous quality of near dusk—a rare time elsewhere, romantic, even, in its briefness. Here, this light stretches on into the night, from 10pm till 3 or 4 am, when we’re back to regular daylight again. Here, below the Arctic Circle, the sun dips beneath the horizon for a few hours even at solstice, but it’s only a dimming of the light, like the subtle dimming of light caused by a solar eclipse. The air cools, the trees exhale faint moisture into the evening. The scent of flowers—and gardeners here are crazy for flowers—lingers in the evening, mingling with the smell of barbecue and fish smokers.

This place looks so much different than it did a month ago, right after snow melt and river break up. The trees are thickly leaved—deep green and shiny. The cottonwoods release their fluffy seeds into the air, floating on the breeze like big soft snowflakes. Except for the lack of humidity, it feels s almost tropical. I always feel like we’ve just slipped a bit geographically—as if, for the summer months, Alaska really is in the spot reserved for it on some maps—off the coast of California.

Now, a bit of breeze, the first cool of evening. The ground, though warmer now, enough so that we can grow our gardens, still harbors the remnant coolness of winter. Even the manure pile, which my gardener friends have been carting off for compost and soil amendment, has a wedge of snow or ice at the base of it. So when the sun slips behind the hill or the sky clouds over, we feel the chill in the air, the reminder that we still live in the north and, manic as we are with light right now, we never forget that these days will pass soon.

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