How Beachcombing and Book-Combing Brought Summer Back
by Julie Riddle
Once the carefree summer days of my youth (floating the stream that winked past our house, playing baseball on a freshly mown field, tanning at the lake, my skin shiny with baby oil) gave way to the horrors of adulthood (global warming, suspicious-looking moles, wrinkles), summer became my least favorite season. A season to endure, to get through, to grit through, passing those endless, blazing months confined in my dark, curtain-drawn home, emerging in the early morning to walk the dogs and in the evening, slathered in sunscreen and wearing a ridiculous floppy hat, to weed the yard (yet another horror of first-world adulthood). I know, I know: Poor me.
But a few weeks ago in late June, as Spokane set a triple-digit record for heat, I surprised myself by saying to my husband, Garrett, “I’m having a great summer.”
“Why’s that?” he said.
I gave it some thought and realized that, for the first summer in nine years, I have not been writing a book. That book, a memoir, is now in production with the publisher, which means I have free time. And I’ve filled it with reading. Lots and lots of reading.
Garrett and I kicked off this summer with a weeklong road trip, starting with the Oregon Coast. I toted a new poetry collection, Among the Missing, to Ecola State Park and read Cathy Bobb’s moving poems to Garrett as we sat on the sand.
The robin announces the night,
the gathering in of what we see,
dusk subtracting the elements of our life.
The lilacs, white as love, persist.
Later, as the tide ebbed, Garrett and I walked side-by-side, searching for shells. We both spotted a sand dollar at the exact same time. It was tiny – barely larger than a pencil eraser – bright white and perfectly formed.
After the beach we hit Portland for two days. Which meant we hit Powell’s Books for two days. Which is when my summer reading really took off. When I wasn’t in the café, stuffing my face with gluten-free rugelach, I was scouring the literature room, searching for books whose names I had jotted on a list prior to our trip (I had gathered the titles from reviews in The New York Times, from mentions in The Writer’s Almanac, and elsewhere): To the Wedding, by John Berger; An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym; The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene; Last Night, by James Salter; Someone, by Alice McDermott. And of course, I brought home a few titles that weren’t on my list: Gilead, by Marilyne Robinson; The Sea, by John Banville; and A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster (which I almost didn’t buy because I was sure I had read it. But it turns out I had only watched the movie a handful of times; I still had the book to relish. Yay!).
I have read these books during lunchtime, at bedtime, in the evening, curled on the sofa with a dog draped across my bare feet, and yes, even outside during searing midday, reclining in the lacey shade of a tree, sunscreen coating my arms, the ridiculous floppy hat on my head, encountering each book with wonder and delight, like I had just found a gleaming seashell at the beach.
Julie Riddle is the author of The Solace of Stones: Finding a Way through Wilderness, forthcoming in April 2016 from the University of Nebraska Press. She works as senior writer for marketing and development at Whitworth University.
Photos courtesy of Julie Riddle