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August 4, 2020

The Silver Lining of this Summer: Grab Hold of this One Thing before it’s Gone. 

The hottest days of summer make for the most beautiful evenings.

Last night was especially lovely as we dined with a friend in his backyard, one of the few visits I’ve made to a friend’s home in months. We wore masks as we arrived, entered around the side instead of through the house, and chose chairs that were spaced unnaturally far apart on the patio.

Our host appeared out the back door of his house with glasses of sparkling wine and a special family hors d’oeuvres plate just for my husband and I to share together.

Despite the protocol, or perhaps because of it, the evening—the food, the wine, the weather, the company—was not only enjoyable, and a nice recharge for the batteries, but it felt…almost normal.

At my own home, the backyard has often been a place of consternation. In our neighborhood, the yards are relatively small, so there doesn’t seem to be a lot to take care of—but there is. There’s always something to be done. Something that needs to be clipped, cleared, raked, swept, stained, transplanted, watered, moved, removed…and never enough time at home to get it all done.

I once read that a survey of women showed the overwhelming majority of them would rather have mediocre sex in a clean house than mind-blowing sex in a dirty house. I hate to admit that when it comes to my yard I would fall into the former category. I find it hard to sit down and enjoy time there when my eye can’t find a place to rest someplace where nothing needs to be done. I think this is partly why people drink when they entertain.

These days, we’re home almost exclusively and our yard looks pretty good; we are spending a heck of a lot of time working on it, or in it. It’s where we might sit with our laptops and a caffeinated beverage in the morning, or later share a glass of wine with a neighbor, and where the teens have their new version of sleepovers—sleeping pads distanced across the space, their late-night whispers drifting in through neighbors’ open windows.

Over dinner, our conversation invariably turns to our sense of gratitude for this outdoor space to be together in. As we appreciate the garden, we talk about friends we know who live in city apartments, no trees in sight, no houseplants to bring the calm of green; and we recognize how incredibly fortunate we are to sit outside together on a beautiful evening. Our host said he feels that it is his responsibility to enjoy all of this—his freedom, this hard-won beauty, now more than ever.

Still, as we do, I can’t help but think about what lies ahead in the short term. Backyard dinners, though few and far between and infused with protocol, provide a sense of normalcy, give us something to occupy our minds and our time and even enjoy ourselves for an evening.

Here in the Pacific Northwest it won’t be long until the weather turns, making it infinitely less appealing to gather with others outdoors. It is true that local people don’t let the less friendly fall and winter weather stop them from doing things they love outdoors. If you have the right gear, a walk or a hike or a bike ride is still available to you—but there really isn’t appropriate gear for a cold, rainy backyard dinner or sleepover.

When school doesn’t open in the fall and the adults are always home—employed or not—and we’re all back in our indoor quarantine bubble we’ll more than miss the opportunity to gather in small groups safely outdoors. Maybe we’ll turn back to the novelties of bread baking and jigsaw puzzles like we did when we thought the virus was a novelty too, but I sense we’re weary of all that.

I worry about how we will occupy ourselves when the outdoor options become limited again, how we will find ways to gather together, and how we might be tempted to bend the rules, weighing mental health versus physical.

For now, I only know that these backyard moments are my silver lining, a saving grace during a time when everything else seems upside down—and I’m going to make it a point to pour that glass of wine and raise it to you all while I can.

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