(From August, 2007:)
The blistering breeze sweeps over the plants sadistically, teasing and tousling them with its harsh kiss, stripping what precious little moisture remains from the desperate leaves and stalks. The stems flinch and shudder at its approach. All moisture belongs to the air now, every last mote gathered up by the sky from the dessicated dust below. Fields are withered, shriveled to nothingness; the farmers must feed the coming winter’s hay to the animals in the pastures; there is nothing green left.
The sky toys with the earth. On a whim, it sends down enough droplets to dampen the dust, then calls them back to its bosom as steam, in a cruel mockery of rain. The moisture-bloated sky wallows across the landscape, obscuring and obliterating the landmarks we know so well. The distant line of mountains are gone; the gentle intervening hillocks are removed in turn. The world now ends at the nearest treeline, with all else consumed in a milky white glare.
The jealous sun has no pity, no mercy. For all intents and purposes, through the full day it has a single setting comprising all the spectrum—a harsh and unremitting glare that drives all to cover and seeks to bring everything in its view to the same atonality. The world smears to a common dullness under the hazy sky. At the zenith, the clear air retains a faint and tentative steely blue; but as the eye descends to the horizon, color gradually bleeds away in the thickness of the stifling haze.
Color is defeated, shattered and smashed to pieces by the monochrome sunlight, its components cast aside in the dust. Fields of grass are dried to tinder, flailing helplessly like the thin and wispy hairs of an old man’s head. Though dry as tinder, they could not burn; they are too few and far between to pass fire from one parched neighbor to another. The dying fields falter at producing enough food for even that hungriest and least selective of predators; it would surely pass them by in search of a more productive target.
I have always loved the idea that lowly chickory was entrusted with preserving the color of the sky during the harshest days of summer, when the brutal sun is so eager to drain all color from our eyes. And after all these years, I have just been shown that chickory is even more secretive about the matter than I had previously understood. A homely, unlovely plant with raggedy leaves and a bloomstalk all angles and elbows, chickory hides its flowers during the middle of the day when the sun is high. It keeps the unassuming blossoms folded away, appearing dull and wilted and past its prime, easily overlooked along the roadside among its showier—yet washed-out—compatriots.
But in the morning, before the sun has come around, chickory offers a brilliant reminder to all of what the sky truly looks like without the strong-arming sun dominating. In this way, chickory retains the legacy of the sky during the sun’s summer fever dream, and safely returns it once the fever has broken and fall is on its way.
The blue-gray air is thick and deliberate, running its fat fingers through the trees to pick free the swallows lodged there. Rain is promised but yet to be delivered, our need of little consequence in this time. We have mocked too long, and must be made to understand. The thunder passes through without comment or effect.