Summer Screen

It feels like a summer morning. It’s just past 4:00am and I finished my meditating so I’m lying on the rug in the living room. It is still dark out but all of the windows are open in here and the birds are serenading each other. Our house, admittedly, usually has an unpleasant vegetal smell from all of the vegetables we cook, but with the breeze coming through, it smells sweet like budding trees, dewy grass, and what I call “summer screen.”

This term has its origins back when I was a young kid. On summer nights, my mom would open my bedroom windows. We never had air conditioning and while sometimes I had an ineffective fan somewhere in the room—a tag sale relic or duct-taped old dinosaur from grandma’s house—I was usually way too hot to be comfortable. My bed abutted a window that looked out to the side of the house, where, incidentally, I observed squirrels and documented their “mysterious behavior” in my “science sleuth” journal, a small yellow spiral-bound notebook that sat in my windowsill among the dust and dead bees.

On hot nights, I’d drag my pillow, a pillow-shaped lion, from its position on the mattress and into the window sill gulley so I could put my face right up to the window, drinking in as much of the fresh summer air as I could. While an ineffective way to cool down (especially on stagnant nights), it distracted me enough from the sweltering humidity that I would stop rapidly flipping every which way on my mattress to try and find a cool spot (which only made me hotter), and just slowly breathe in the nature around me. I’d listen to the concert of cicadas, crickets, and toads, and crane my neck to try and spot the moon or the North Star through the trees. Whenever I found it, I felt like a ship navigator, finding a stable beacon to lead me home (of course, I was home). I’d narrate everything to Lion, the pillow, and explain to him the night’s story: what the insects were singing about, where our “ship” was returning from, and what the neighbors (“the enemy pirates”) were doing making noise, if they were around. I would press my nose so forcefully against the wire window screen as if trying to break through with my face to join the outside world. It felt cool and I’d put my hands on it too, and wiggle my fingers, as if making snow angels with them on the mesh. And that’s the smell of summer screen: the faint metallic wire of an old window screen with the warm summer air of a New England summer night.

I catch myself even now putting my nose right up to the screens in my new house in the early morning hours. It’s not quite summer and it’s not quite the same sweet mix of smells from my childhood, but it’s enough to remind me of those nights as an imaginative, happy kid full of wonder and possibility and take a pause in my current struggles to realize part of her magic is still in me.

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