What does summer mean to me this year? Not what it has ever meant before. Summering in quarantine and in a time of social unrest has been unsettling, uncomfortable, and filled with a sadness and anxiety unusual for this time of year. It’s hard to be present during the long, hot, blisteringly blue days. When I would normally spend my time relaxing, reading, sunbathing or swimming, instead I find myself holding my breath. Waiting for something to shift. Waiting for the pandemic to end. Waiting for my teenagers to get their freedom back. Waiting to feel safe again. There is a heaviness that never fully leaves me, even in moments of contentment and joy. It drains me. I wake feeling tired in my bones and in my heart, even after a good night’s sleep.
I sit on my deck looking up at our neighbor’s eucalyptus tree. A giant, it towers over everything else in the neighborhood. Its creamy, white bark and silver-green, spoon-shaped leaves otherworldly among the California Oaks that dot the hillside. Its sweet, pungent, slightly foreign scent a reminder that, like the virus, it is not native to these shores. Usually I find the sight of it comforting. Its branches seem to embrace me. Its leaves dance in the breeze, their tops shimmering like pearls in the sun. It rustles quietly, soothing like a lullaby, making me feel safe and sheltered. Some of our neighbors have never liked it. They worry that it will fall someday, crushing the homes below. I was never one of the worriers. Before. But lately, the tree has started to feel menacing. Its immensity threatening rather than protective.
We’re six months into a global pandemic and four months into quarantine, and it’s starting to feel like it will never end. Cases are rising throughout the country, even in my neck of the woods, an area that had not seen a surge until recently. The brief period of relative calm I experienced in late April/early May, once we’d had time to adjust, settle in and get cozy, has been replaced by anxiety. When will I hug my parents again? When will I see my siblings again? When will it be safe for my kids to go back to school again (really)? When will we be able to plan again?
There is no answer. This is the life we have been given…at least for now. This summer will not look like other summers. We will not fly in airplanes. We will not send our kids to camp. We will not see distant family members who normally visit at this time of year. We will not have large gatherings. But we can still enjoy perfectly ripe peaches and sausages cooked on the grill. We can eat dinner on our deck on warm evenings. We can bask in the sound of our girls’ laughter as they lie on the trampoline in our yard while listening to music on a portable speaker. We can take our kids swimming in a sheltered cove on the bay. We can have socially distanced driveway or backyard dinners with my parents and with friends.
Again, I look up at the eucalyptus tree. I breathe deeply through my nose, inhaling its sweet spicy scent. I watch its branches sway and its leaves dance. I hear the music in its rustling. I see the sunlight reflected off each spoon-shaped leaf. I feel my body relax and my heart open. The tree is not menacing after all. It is strong, resilient, beautiful. Like us.