Time to Roll Up the Garden Hoses

Well, summer’s ending. I was in a big box store the other day and there were hordes of moms and kids buying school supplies. That and the first preseason professional football games of the season are the invariable signs. I’m always startled by how they creep up on me every year.

I’ve been gone a great deal this summer: to Scotland and England, to the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, to Yellowstone National Park, to the empty buffalo plains northwest of Miles City, Montana, to the fabulous American Prairie Reserve that seeks to create a buffalo commons of 3.5 million acres in the heart of the Lewis & Clark Trail; to Cody, Wyoming, in search of Charles Russell and of course on my annual Lewis and Clark cultural tour on the Upper Missouri River and over in northern Idaho. Most recently, I went horse camping in the North Dakota badlands with three other knuckleheads, a kind of three day interlude of heaven on earth (except for all that horse maintenance—buying a horse is like buying a new printer for your computer. The printer is free. It’s the ink cartridges that bankrupt you.

This morning, in mid-August, I woke up in my own bed at dawn and moved in, in my romantic way, to spoon three books, an iPad, and a bound Shakespeare script. Such is the life of the humanist. For a few minutes I was actually unsure of where I was: a motel room somewhere, a campground, a mountain cabin, an outfitter camp, or an historic hotel. That is always the sign that I have been spending too much time on the road.

Time to slow things down a bit, get some very serious reading done, and some writing too. I will still be traveling, most notably to Norfolk for my Shakespeare premiere on 22 September at the TCC Roper Theater, but I’m going to try over the next few months to attend more to the rooted things in my life.

When I came home from all of these travels, my house was a wreck, because I’ve been so busy that on each return I don’t do much more than thrust one suitcase somewhere near the front door, then fill another one and leave. Dishes need to be done. All the bathrooms need to be flooded with Clorox. The mail has piled up. My garden is growing well, but in desperate need of five or six days of weeding and pruning. My gardening friend Jim has been offering his annual tomato tasting contest. He wins every time, but I hate to miss it, given how much I love tomatoes fresh from the vine. I need to take 75 shirts to the cleaners and pick up 82 shirts from the cleaners. There’s a window I need to replace in my bedroom before the snow flies, and up here, believe me, it could fly any time after September 15.

Here on the northern great plains, we have long winters and short summers, so we have to cram in all of our outdoor recreational activity into a tiny sliver of the annual calendar—camping, hiking, school and family reunions, church picnics, sporting events, including rodeo, vacations, household repairs, and much more—

So we all hurtle and rush about for the grim purpose of having fun, and in doing so we mostly exhaust ourselves. There is, up here, a kind of secret sigh of relief when school starts, and we put the boats and jet skis away for the year, and pull the lawn furniture back to the garage, because burning the summer candle at both ends is only sustainable for so long.

The great compensation here for brutal and long winters is time to read. I have at least 100 books sitting in stacks glaring at me waiting for attention. I’m looking forward to those mornings of ground blizzards when there is nothing to do but read, write, take notes, and read some more.

I met wonderful people this summer and made new friends, some of you now listening.  I have sat hour after hour in four different western rivers this summer. I have climbed mountains, coughed up a lung now and then, and toasted friendship, broken bread with old friends and new, ridden both helicopters and horses, and helped set a broken leg (not mine) and a broken water pump.

Time to slow things down and can some tomato sauce.