Last days of summer

Early September dawn pinkens the sky at a respectable 6 a.m. I hope to be awake at dawn. I want to watch the day brighten and hear the crows call. I want to be present for every second of the late summer day because I know that too soon the windows will close. Sounds will be dulled and the dawn will emerge in tones of gray.

The air offers a hint of chill, which refreshes after the humid heat of the July and August days. The south wind blows gentle waves against Breezer on her mooring. The gusts and gales of August have calmed. A lone kayaker dips his paddle back and forth while I sip my coffee.

Three ducks paddle near our dock. Where are the others? In June they paraded past as a group of 10. Mama brought up the rear ensuring all her little ones were safe. Have the little ones set off for their own nests, or has danger found them?

Our neighborhood family of barred owls is quiet. Earlier in the summer, Mama and Papa called “Who’ll cook for you? Who’ll cook for you?” while nurturing their owlets. The owlets, as brazen teenagers, flitted near our camp all July. One perched on our railing, daring us to walk down to the rocks. Another sat in a tree for 20 minutes while we took turns staring at it through our binoculars. The big birds felt like our pets. Tragedy or nature intruded in early August. The body of a young owl floated to our neighbors’ rocks. We grieved together while staring at the sky looking for the predator.

A proud bald eagle teases us with his soaring overhead as we sit on the dock early evenings. Our call echoes to neighbors savoring their own last minutes of dock time. “Bald eagle.” Binoculars grabbed, necks craned up. Bald eagle sightings always excite.

Zebra-mussel-covered rocks reveal themselves as the lake level drops lower and lower with this summer’s drought. Big fish leap, and their splash sends silent ripples to the shore. I watch and wonder about the fish when the ice appears. But before the ice forms, I step down our slimy dock ladder and slide into cool, dark Lake Champlain. Underwater plants tickle my leg. Oohh, what is that? I think.

This morning is quiet. Whoops and hollers from children playing on their water toys have faded. They whoop and holler in schoolyards now. Mosquito-like jet skis and motorboats rest quiet on their trailers. A distant sail flaps, insects hum. The peace brings my morning meditation.

Inside the camp, I sweep up the crumbs of playd ough and dried Cheerios and smile remembering Robby, Olivia and Sebastian running in and out. Gathering the blocks and little train cars, I miss the questions of Robby, “Why is grandpa so old, Besta?” I miss Olivia’s “Look, Besta. I can write my name.” When I cradle the pile of little books to bring home, I remember Sebastian’s big-eyed, silent focus when I read Cars and Trucks. And baby Paige….she was content to giggle and bang the wooden spoons on the old pot that I now put away until next summer.

In our barebones kitchen, I deal with the harvest of basil and tomatoes. Slicing tomatoes in chunks, sprinkling with salt, pepper, basil and olive oil, I slide trays in the 400-degree oven for roasting. When thawed after freezing, their taste will bring a memory of summer sun. The basil is squashed into the cracked, cranky food processor. Like our camp, the food processor has quirks that make it a challenge to use. Adding garlic, parmesan, oil and nuts to the green leaves and whirling for just seconds creates another taste of September that will warm us in January.

Dusk with its soft coral sky arrives by 7:30 now. The lake shimmers pink in soft reflection. Once the glow fades, peepers sing tribute to the final moments of summer even as the temperature hovers in the 80s.

What a blessing to watch, listen, feel and simply be at camp.