Doug Stanton

What to do with these summer days I can’t describe but can only feel. Bright morning, the gravel road still wet. The rooster at the neighbor’s is crowing. Haven’t heard any coyotes around the house lately, nor any woodcock, that little bird I love, although we did have a quail at the bird feeder yesterday. John found it. At 7 now, and just back from Montana with my parents (where he was visiting my sister), he seems older, his face is broader. Yesterday morning, we went fishing at a little secret pond Bob and I call Lago Dos–there are four secret ponds, alive with fish and turtles and water snakes and the pond was filled with milky sediment like minced-up newsprint and it seemed our canoe was floating atop this suspension and that you could cut the warm water with the paddle. God, how I hate this time passing–even the sunlight seemed to have unusual speed. I want to stop these summer days forever and just live in them. I would like each day to last one week. I baited the hook with a night crawler and tossed it out along the lily pads which are tough and green like the ears of an animal that lives in the sun and handed the pole to John and we sat and chewed bubble gum. With us was Veronica’s son Tyler and I loved it sitting in the boat with these two kids chewing bubble gum. Johnny’s bobber went down; he yanked back on the pole and caught a very nice sunfish and its sides were blue and spotted with deep black blades, like ink that’s run through a page. The belly was the color of a fresh egg yolk. Johnny wanted to hand me the pole, but I said, “No,” and I could tell he really didn’t want to give it up and he kept reeling and he brought the fish to the boat. “I caught one all by myself!” he said. He used to say, “Dad, you do the fishing, and I’ll do the snacking.” And he’d hand me the pole and chew gum and eat Gummi worms and just watch. That seems like a long time ago. I can’t believe it’s already July. Just finished an intense work period, and was still working when John came back from Montana, so fishing yesterday was meant to be a break from the rigors, but it didn’t really work. He wishes I didn’t work so much. Most of the work around the house–like painting it and remodeling the bathroom–fell to Anne, who herself is working long weeks. But there are saving graces, like when Katie, who just turned 4, stood in the mirror combing her hair, and said, without turning to look at me, “Dad, I can read your mind.” Now it’s Monday morning–back to work. Down at the general store, people wonder what I do, and this is it, I tell them: I sit at my desk as I am now and write. It is unglamorous because it is both a job and a life. I do it each day and how wonderful it’s been lately to realize the ordinariness of these days. There, I don’t feel so much the speed of the sunlight, the passing of time. Where we live, up in northern Michigan, some 500,000 people–from Chicago, Detroit, New York–flock here each July for something called the Cherry Festival. (The population of Traverse City is only about 25,000.) John was in two parades; there were fireworks; nights at the beach on Lake Michigan; Steve and Jamie came for lunch, before heading back to Livingston; Nick and Britt came over Sunday for lunch, before moving to Hawaii. How do you belong in a place? We think of moving, but I’m drawn here for reasons beyond rational ones. I know this place without even thinking about it.

On the way home from fishing, John asked, “Dad, how old is the earth?”

“Billions of years,” I said.

“Will the earth die?”

“No, it never will die.”

“You mean it’s not human?”

“No. It’s not.”

These days in the woods, the bright panels of light–spring, summer, and autumn light–the smoked odor of the ferns, like cinnamon burning, the flickering and whip of the aspen leaves across our faces, the slow, dragging, fluid point of Lilli, my English setter, on a bird–God, if I could freeze her there and hold her forever, hold all my children, my wife, my love, my life, hold them all in this warm embrace of light and ripeness, I would–I would never let anyone leave, or die, as the season murders us.