Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Our neighbor's father died last night after a brief but ravaging illness.

The usual laughter rising over the fence has been missing the last few weeks, and I suspect it will be some time before it returns.

An earlier thunderstorm cleaned the air, as they do in Jersey, and the azure dusk sky marked the last few hours of June. My tiny pond was already wrapped in gray shadows, everything but the sky bled of color except for the occasional cool fire of a lightning bug.

The end of June marks the start of the dying of the light, punctuated by the mourning next door.

I turned to go back inside, then turned back again. I did not want June to end.

On top of the stockade fence separating our yards is a small platform I built a couple of years ago, a place for my potted plants to grab a little more light. (A maple tree keeps growing, and my garden now falls under its shade.)

A forgotten prickly pear sits in a cracked pot--I've had it for years, given to me by a friend I've not chatted with in a long while. After winter the plant looks dead, shriveled, and every year it surprises me.

I gazed up over the fence to catch the last blue light of the fading sky, and my eye caught a hint of yellow on top of the fence.

The prickly pear had flowered, first time ever.

I can hypothesize about the why. I can postulate that the extra light the cactus now gets triggered some photoperiodic phenomenom. I could look up some articles on the internet to sate my curiosity.

But I won't.

I know this much--an good man who has led a good life dies, and before the next sunset, a cactus that felt the vibrations of the man's voice bloomed.

I also know that the flesh of this cactus holds some of the carbon that once flowed in this man's blood--parts of the flower came from inside his mitochondria, in the deepest cells in his body when he still breathed.Literally.

I have my own private beliefs concerning this particular cactus blooming this particular hour.

It's easy to watch the symphony of life outside, as though we're not part of all this, as though we're special, immortal.

We are not.

I need to call the person who broke off the cactus pad years ago, plopped it on a pot, and assured me it would grow. June is almost gone. It's later than I realize.

Prickly pear photo by the EPA, 1972, in the public domain via the National Archives.


John Spencer said...

I've enjoyed your rants about DC and Arne, but it's posts like this that draw me to your blog.

Tracy Rosen said...

I agree with John. Michael, that was simply beautiful.

John Doyle said...

We must be brothers. Last night I stood on my back porch and stared at an enormous cloud that billowed high enough to catch the light from the sun that had already set. I couldn't go back into the house until the cloud darkened cause I didn't want to miss the light. Last night the toggle switch flipped and I started my shrinking-days watch. (Summer usually ends for me on the Fourth of July. Something I never understood or much appreciated about myself. I think it's mom's fault. "Glass-half-empty" genes.)

Molly -- my daughters' friend who lives next door -- asked my what I was looking at. I wanted to tell her that I was looking at the start of winter. But I told her that I thought the cloud was pretty.

doyle said...

Dear John and Tracy,

Thank you for the kind words.

Dear Brother John,

Your shrinking-days watch makes sense--the sunsets don't start getting earlier much before July 4th. For the two weeks surrounding the solstice, the sun hangs in the sky at dusk for about the same time. (The sunrise, though, starts getting later before the solstice.)

Next time tell Molly what you mean--she won't get it at first, but she'll chew on it for a bit and remember it years later.

As far as the half-empty genes, I must have gotten the other half. Blame dad. As much as mid-summer's night's passing depresses me, I get a tiny jolt of joy at the winter solstice, when the sun starts lumbering back to the north, though I suspect you do, too.

Mom did this much for us--she kicked our butts out of the house until sunset just about every day barring monsoons. Even then we could play outside in the rain if we wanted to.