August? It’s complicated…

Photo courtesy of Mary O'Malley Tobey

Photo courtesy of Mary O’Malley Tobey

Late summer is complicated. I’ve been trying to write for weeks, about my week in Baxter State Park volunteering for the Baxter Flora Project, about coming out of that week in the woods and being over whelmed with love for humanity in all it’s stupid sweetness, about marking the 16th anniversary of my father’s death on August 10, about running in Acadia National Park and seeing the piebald buck. None of it has stuck. All of the ideas have petered out, or overwhelmed. The writing hasn’t helped me through this web, not this time.

Baxter Flora Project SFMA 2014: 11 orchids, only one flat tire.

Baxter Flora Project SFMA 2014: 11 orchids, only one flat tire.

Late summer is a time of transition, one we all are familiar with. As children we go back to school, anticipating or dreading (or both) the switch from late bed times and seemingly boundless freedom to the structure of the classroom and regiment of a daily patterns. As people who live with a tourism economy, we know the abrupt change that comes with the end of August, the frenetic making of the metaphorical “hay” can finally ease and a day off might actually be had. I’ve managed to stay on an academic and tourism economy schedule my entire life, so as an adult the end of summer still up ends me, leaving me anxious and jittery.

Dad at the Colorado National Monument, early 90's.

Dad at the Colorado National Monument, early 90′s.

Late summer is a time of grief. The first week of August I noticed for the first time the change in the light, both morning and evening, and since then the change has picked up steam. I started grieving summer then, and the grief mingled with the memories of the weekend my father died in 1998 on a perfect August day. I’ve responded by filling the next 10 days with more activity and geography than seems beneficial, cramming in everything left on my summer “bucket list” before school starts again and I can, with a good excuse, turn away from the confusion and complicated emotions that late summer brings.

The chanterelles were coming on in the North Maine Woods. Yum.

The chanterelles were coming on in the North Maine Woods. Yum.

I lost my way this summer, and my body grew tired. My running streak ended in Alaska, and I’ve had difficulty picking the thread back up. I keep staring at the blank calendar I printed out, upon which I planned to fill in the architecture of my training and racing schedule for the fall. So far I can’t seem to figure out what to put on it, besides the few events I am registered for. I know this will pass, as soon as the air dries out a bit, the nights cool off and I fall back into the rhythm of classes, and meetings. I’ll fit the runs in when I can, and that tension will ground me. The truth is that though I long for the expansive freedom of summer, I do best when I have some boundaries to bump up against, and even chafe at. The truth is that most of us do better that way.

The start of the kids race, Herring Run 2013.

The start of the kids race, Herring Run 2013.

Tomorrow I head to Canada, to run the best race ever, then I go to New Hampshire to spend my birthday on Franconia ridge with dear friends, then I host yet more dear friends at my home, and then I head to the Maine Huts and Trails Flagstaff Lake hut for the finale of summertime pleasure (I said its more than is probably good for me). Then the fireworks are over, we can sit around the campfire and watch the stars move across the sky instead. The dawn will come later, the night will come sooner and by then, I’ll be ready.

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.