IT MAY HAVE been only another heat mirage but we thought we saw a cool breeze go on sale the other afternoon at a downtown street corner. But then, as people swarmed out of the shade to buy it, the offer was withdrawn. The warranty had already run out. July's heat, having risen from a scorch to a burn, had been stifling all breezes with such suffocating success that bodies moving through the air were likely to be the only stirrings of the atmosphere for the day.
No one is going to beat the heat this summer, but a few citizens have found ways at least not to have the heat beat them. They seek July's mornings. At dawn, a little before six and lasting until nearly eight - the moments of conception before the birth of the day - the grass is as soft as kelp. It is watery with dew but unrippling in the stillness before the long parching of sunlight. These dawn waterworks are part of the process that naturalist Rutherford Platt has described: "In proportion to size the grasses can be said to be the greatest of the water raisers because they have a relatively large leaf area. In fact, most of the visible plant body in the grasses is leaf. Corn is a grass, and one stalk will lift 440 pounds of water during its brief growing season. A farmer across the road from my house had a rich cornfield. If all the water which his corn collected underground and raised up and expelled into the air stayed on top of the field where you could see it, the farmer would have a lake of water five feet deep by the end of August."
The grace period of early morning is when the air lightens with the tuneful gaiety of birds. By July, they have been at it long enough to be singing from talent, not mere instinct. Ornithophiles can discern the whistles of meadowlarks, the cheeping banter of barn swallows, the stutters of wrens and the full-throated blasts of jays. But for the rest of us, the sounds from so many syrinxes is a chorus that turns the dawn into a time of lightness. Let the afternoons be heavy with blazing heat, but in what Dylan Thomas calls "the sun born over and over," let Julys mornings be moments of pure music.