Tree tops, lilacs, and stolen raspberries

The end of summer still has a certain smell to it. It comes early in the morning, right before the sun comes up. It’s a little promise in the wind that cooler weather is on the way, but the sun will hang high in the sky later.

When I was a kid, I used to wake up before everyone else just so I could greedily savor this moment without anyone else. I’d wander outside to the front yard, where my dad had somehow managed to encourage a little green grass to grow in our stubborn yard so thick with weird weeds and dandelions. There would usually be some cool dew on the ground, and the dogs would sleepily greet me by pushing me down in it.

Our old dog Flash — one of many Boxers we had.

I was lucky enough to spend my childhood in a small mountain town. Our games and adventures included a backdrop of sturdy oak trees, lilac bushes, and secret patches of fruits and vegetables throughout the town which we would pilfer and then deliver to old people in trailers.

Every kid on our street had their designated “castle” — a tree top to call their own, complete with hidden books and trinkets tucked away in holes and pockets of the trunk. Irrigation ditches provided little streams and ponds to cool our feet in, and catch tadpoles.

My kids when they were little, visiting my hometown.

At night, the galaxy greeted us right above the trampoline in our backyard. We would sneak the Vietnam-era binoculars from under dad’s bed, and fight over whether we spotted a UFO or a man-made satellite drifting through the Milky Way. The stars above a small town aren’t like normal stars — they’re brighter and bigger and more personal. I knew all the constellations and made up some of my own. Orion not only had a sword, but a zipper on his pants and a birthday cake sitting to the right of him.

I would sleep with the lazy noise of crickets under my window. Not the frantic, high-pitched screaming they make in the city, when they’re trapped in a downstairs broom closet. But that noise they made late at night after being warmed by the sun all day. I would sometimes time my breathing to their music, and fall asleep with my face pressed against the screen window, my hand dangling below the top bunk to let my sister know I was in the room and it was safe to sleep now.

There were only two rules in the summer:

  1. Don’t make your little sister cry
  2. Be home in time for dinner
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