I know people who live in places like Phoenix or similar cities in the Southwest who will calmly speak of Summer temperatures of over 100F as if they were nothing. They may not agree, but I do not think any of them would do well on a 90F hot and humid northern Illinois Summer day.
If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you’ve experienced those days, the ones where even cooled, the aim feels so thick you seem to struggle just to breath. By mid-day, being outside for any length of time, especially doing hard, physical labor, is an invitation for heat stroke. Sane people stay in air conditioned spaces, and those who have to be out in the heat use every trick they know to survive.
But for all it’s uncomfortable and even dangerous weather, Summer also brings gifts. Not the harvest of an early tomato, or the joy of a fresh, crisp pepper, but the actual day itself. Early in the morning, from just before sunrise until an hour or two past the time when the Sun climbs above the horizon, is a magical time, what I like to think of as the hours of grace.
Watching the Sun rise on a humid morning is something that has to be witnessed. Seeing the sky lighten, then the blazing rim of the Sun drag itself into view, is a joy in and of itself. Some days, especially in the middle of a long spell of humid days, the ground will hide under a layer of fog. This will tend to gather in low spots, but if conditions are right, the entire visible surface of the Earth is blanketed in a roiling white cloak. On those days, the Sun will appear to rise from a sea of white, staining it in oranges and reds of every description.
The sky itself will become a part of the show, going from a deep purple to a blue that defies words before assuming it’s more day-to-day aspect.
One of the gifts of living in a small town is the way the sound changes. Before sunrise, when most folks are still in bed or struggling to get around and get off to work, the world has a special quiet to it. The pre-dawn hour brings a chorus of bird song, as if all of the different species were trying to outdo each other in celebrating the start of a new day. The still, quiet air carries the sound so well that a bird can sound like it was next to the listener when in fact it was hundreds of feet away. The chorus dims as humans add their noise to the morning, but in a moment of silence, you can still hear the call of the jay, or the song of the cardinal.
Other animals bring their own input to the morning. Rabbits can be seen foraging in any grassy open space, and if there is dew, their passage can be traced as a black line through the shimmering carpet of wet grass. Dogs will come out and inspect a neighbor as they walk past, eager for attention in the relative coolness when later in the day they will be inside or too busy seeking a shady spot to escape the heat to bother.
But like every other form of grace, the hours of grace fade away. The heat drives away any lingering thought of marvel, humans and their noise drown out the birds, and sensible animals keep under cover and out of the punishing sunlight. So another day passes, filled with all the things our days bring to us…but tomorrow, ah, tomorrow may bring another morning of grace and wonder if we can just see it.