Summer Meditation

A Polish farmer in the town where my husband grew up used to say, "Corn come, 'coon come. 'Coon come, corn gone."

I thought of that the other night, when Randy told me he saw a big raccoon waddle up the steps to our back deck and overturn the sack with the recyclable cans.

"Raccoons love garbage," my mother sniffed on the phone. "Dirty beasts." She was remembering the raccoons who lived in the woods near my brother's house while he was dying. They came every night and tried to break through the kitchen door. We fought them off with brooms.

My corn isn't as high as an elephant's eye, not yet, but it's tasseling, and I'm excited about it. I've never grown corn before. But an experienced cottage farmer told me one year the raccoons stripped his crop and he lost 147 ears. He never planted corn again.

I've never tried to grow corn because I've never had enough sunlight. But this winter an ice storm crashed down many of the trees around our house. After the damage was cleared away, we had a lot more light. The Lord taketh away, and then the Lord giveth, or something like that.

On the deck, where the deer can't come unless they like climbing stairs, I am growing the lushest tomato plants I've ever seen. Sometimes I think they're drunk with light, these plants, reaching up to the sun and outward towards each other with the little green tomatoes hanging down every which way - cherry and plum and beefsteak.

The lettuces on the deck are bigger than my head. The herbs are thriving. I can't explain why everything is growing bigger and better this year, but we've had a lot of rain this summer, and there's something different about the light, too. There's a European-style clarity to it. It's like the light you might see in Greece or Provence.

I can't remember a lusher summer. You can see it in the woods. The trees are thickly leafed with a million shades of green, while vines twine and twist around them. I keep expecting to see toucans and parrots flying through the trees.

There do seem to be more birds. There's a racket outside the window every morning that starts at first light and is deafening by 5 a.m. It goes all day, and well into dusk, when the birds go after that final feeding. At night we hear owls.

We're obsessed, however, with a pair of phoebes who are nesting under the eaves of our deck. These are dumb and friendly birds and they've become part of our family, no matter how many times I lean out the window and yell, "You idiots, we have a cat!"

They know. They've seen Agatha Kitty. She poked her wet black nose into their nest when they were building it. What more of a warning do they need? But she doesn't seem to matter to them. Cheerful as all get-out, the phoebes stick close to home, chirping "pheee-beee" while perching on the tomato plants and using a decorative metal basket as a toilet.

Two chicks have hatched. We can hear their high-pitched, insistent chirping, and we watch their parents dive-bombing in to feed them. Sometimes we see their little bills peeping out of the nest. We've named them Fee and Bee. They have two more weeks to go, according to the bird book. Until then, we watch the cat like a hawk.

Speaking of hawks, I can hear the tst-tsk-tsks now. The bird people get mad because housecats are one of the biggest decimators of bird populations. The cat people get mad because we let our cat out, where she might get hurt. And little Fee and Bee? They could be eaten by almost anything.

We know all this. We try to pull Agatha Kitty in by 2 p.m., because we've lost five cats in these woods, and each loss was almost too painful to bear. She's already escaped and not come home two nights this month. Each time we were devastated. But she's a hunter. Her job, besides providing love and furry purring, is to kill small mammals - mostly mice and the occasional squirrel - that get into the house. Hunting is her nature; we can't change that.

Outside, Aggie is both predator and prey, "Nature, red in tooth and claw" as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, and all that.

It's hard coming to terms with the beauty of this place, and the contentment of this summer, and my general goofy aesthetic happiness, when the world is twisted up in pain and bloodshed. Every day there are bombings. It's become such a commonplace that it would only be news if a poor young suicide bomber didn't kill himself - and as many other people as he can take with him - on any given day. Our president and vice president are mad with power; our representatives appear helpless in the face of their teeth and claws.

Nature herself is being forced to change - the light and lushness I love may be the result of changes that should scare the hell out of me.

It is a scary time to be alive, and yet the world around me has never appeared more beautiful.

Joyce Marcel is a journalist and columnist based in Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through And write her at

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