Spring in Chapel Hill is beautiful, all fuscia and pale azaleas, Bradford pears, pink dogwoods and new ivy, campus brick, and elms– and then it’s over in a matter of weeks, leaving sheets of pollen, and then the rain and the puddling neon sludge.
Then right on spring’s heels comes the Southern summer without any real preamble. For evocative it’s got no match. The heat, the aimlessness, the stupor, the ladies who, as Harper Lee wrote, “…bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” In July, outside the offices of the Exchange opposite Meadowmont, that altogether strange development which used to be a farm, the July air is less airlike than blanketlike. It rests like a cat on your face, muddled oxygen, mazy heat rising visibly, haphazard as an old Harris Teeter balloon in the soft damp vague air. The only distinct thing in the summer is the scent of the pine needles, strewn generously and plumped solicitously around the shrubs by the gardeners, their spicy evergreen scent piercing the haze. The sound & smell of the spigots, not quite separate, the one from the another, whop-spit-spit-spit-spitting, smelling of bladed green grass stains and your soft aunts in white with paper plates on the Fourth of July at the James River.
Then August. Sudden bright voluble, arrested sunlight trapped in the mazy heat of North Carolina, air as muddled and damp as the dress wrinkled at the back, now, from the weather, can you believe this weather, everyone says. Indian summer, blown wisteria, honeysuckle scents confused. Blackberry picking at the university landfill with a machete to carve out a path, angry bramble-plucked skin and bright blood and berry-stained fingers.
The heat is insidious, it creeps up from July, menacing, casually violent.
Sometimes the air grows so fat with its own sweat that it rains fat heavy drops for a few minutes, always with the sharp redolence of the pines, never quite clearing the air, something like a once-cold glass in the sun, the condensation trickling down taking some beads in its round-about way, but still more linger.
That’s the way the rain takes some of the damp from the air and afterward the asphalt steams up to meet the hazy sun, creating an atmospheric layer, almost, a cloud you walk through over the parking lot to your work with the tall brown windows beside, shining all the way up the building that still smells new, shining with the stainless steel handles that a Hispanic woman with your name polishes every morning, and everything is vague, every shape, every reflection in every tall brown window you pass, every feeling of unease and every smell, except for the pine needles, which are the only distinct thing left you could put a finger on. Out at the end of the newly paved parking lot is a green pond and past that are the woods, and black dirt, and vines thicker than your wrist, creeping forward, inch by inch, blurring the lines that the gardeners are struggling to keep.