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  • Writer's pictureLoren Niemi

Images Mostly

Summer comes. Rain comes beneath great black clouds with quicksilver edges. Lightning? Thunder? Not so much. Rain in spasms, the sky vomiting the cure for drought. The ground takes what it can and sloughs off the rest. Rivers rise. Along the North Shore, the waterfalls roar their contribution. Tourists at Gooseberry post videos of the roaring descent to the big lake that has swept a bridge away. Rivers continue to rise and Cook, MN - a town of 500 with the Little Fork river running through it - floods. I’ve been there, recovery will be hard. Long, slow, frankly transformative of the charm the place had. The movie theater is filled half full with water. The roads submerged, wash away, become impassable. Pictures of stop signs rise from the still rising water appear on social media and television news.


After the rain the smell of wet earth. Intoxicating in a way. At 10:00 PM, the sun is finally slipping over the horizon. The nearly full (Strawberry) moon rising over the last of the storm. Fireflies wink in the wet grass. How long has it been since I’ve seen them? I cannot hear cicadas. We’re too far north for sex-crazed roaring the emerging 17 and 13-year broods but the annual songsters are here, though quiet after the showers. The traffic is a murmur. I can hear the voices of folks coming out of the ice cream store.


What are the stories of summer’s arrival? The end of school? The grill hot, smoking, something slathered with sauce? Sitting on the porch swing sipping something on ice? All good but for me one of the hallmarks of summer is baseball. Yes, watching small town or the minor league ball. The St. Paul Saints, Toledo Mud Hens. Peoria Chiefs, Fort Wayne Tin Caps. I’ve seen each in their own stadiums. Earnest players looking to get to the “bigs” while the casual fans have a beer and a brat with everything, especially the kraut, on it. Riding the El when the crowd is headed to or from Wrigley Stadium. Sitting in the cheap seats out near the scoreboard. The cheesy organ music and the obligatory 7th inning stretch.


In the “once upon a time” I played. Mostly softball. Well, in grade school pick-up games on a corner sandlot where if you hit something past the alley, the whole thing had to halt while someone tried to retrieve the ball. One summer of Little League. Gawd, that was painful and since the coach was interested in winning, a lot of us sat on the bench every game. It put me off playing for a while. Not much in high school or college but after that it was back to pick-up


I do tell the story of after college, when the hippies and the police played the 4th of July game. Funnier in the telling than it might have been in the moment, but then, the hippies were all some degree of stoned, so we had a hard time taking it as seriously as the “beer keg next to the bench” cops did. After that. In my 20’s in the ‘70’s and 30’s it was back to pick-up games on weekends or at company picnics, church fundraisers, gatherings where what folks had in common was not a ferocious need to win. I was never even a very good player, but I was willing to try and I enjoyed the game best when as Kevin Kling might put it, “Thespians and malcontents” were in it for fun and therefore willing to let everybody bat.  


But even summer baseball must come to an end. One summer I suffered heat stroke while on the field. In two separate but consecutive games and took that to be a sign my days as a second baseman were numbered. Still there is a sense memory of the feel of the glove on the hand. The sound of the ball landing in the glove. The sound of the bat, that particular crack of wood against leather, as you connect. With an aluminum bat, the metallic ping. Single, double, or fly out. Drop the bat and overrun first, stop or make the turn and head for second. A game of waiting, looking, and not waiting. A ball, a bat, hits and run, run and catch. Fits and starts and that’s the Zen of baseball. Being present on the field in the moment.


What are the stories of summer? The unexpected or hoped for summer romance? Summer camp? Camping anywhere? The wilderness canoe trip? Fishing? The days at the cabin? Road trips? Summer performances outdoors or in sweaty little theaters. Music in the park. Music festivals.  


A summer job? For me the epitome of summer jobs was driving taxi. Midnight to 8 or 9 AM from the bar closing downtown rush to the guys going to work or out to the airport for a morning flight. Driving with the windows rolled down. Rock ‘n’ roll or jazz waiting for the dispatcher to give you another fare. I’ve had other jobs - laying sod, painting houses, teaching summer classes in mostly deserted schools. Taking classes. The particulars of urban and rural living. That first cutting and bailing of hay? Oh look, there are the fireflies again. Cutting wood for the winter stove. Tending the garden?  Cooking in a kitchen with no air conditioning, the windows open, the flies buzzing at the screens.


Time and place. The 4th of July? Parades. Picnics. County fairs or the State Fair itself? We each have stories, memories, images that are our summers. Sight, sounds, tastes, smells. Let yourself slip into them on this longest day as a looking back and a looking forward.


I’m going to keep this short. I have too many memories, too many sense images pressing in and I am not keen on saying much more than to wish you well and a summer of joy.



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