The light has already changed. The soft airbrushed quality of August has lifted and everything -- the prematurely red branch of the sumac, the wilting jewel weed, the overripe rosehips -- is outlined in September clarity.
Lying on the porch with my prop (the book that accompanies my nap), I try to postpone the new year to fend off the lists that lurk right outside my vacation consciousness. I want to sink for just a few more hours into that state of timelessness and ease that is as comfortable and unrestrained as the rope of the hammock beneath my body.
Like most of those whose biorhythms were imprinted by the school calendar, I know that summer doesn't last until the 22nd. Already this "Dear Parent" is being urged back into seasonal harness.
Leisure -- not that American oxymoron "leisure-time activity" but real leisure -- is being replaced by alarm clocks and time frames and schedules. There is a foreign hand at the metronome and as the temperature goes down, its tempo goes up. By some unnatural order, we are given more to do just as the days get shorter.
What do I want to take home from my summer vacation? I close my eyes and think. Time. That is what I would like. The wonderful luxury of being at rest. The days when you shut down the mental machinery that keeps life on track, and let life simply wander. The days when you stop planning, analyzing, thinking and just are.
The line that runs through my head on this stolen day at the cusp of fall, is one written by Paul Simon: "Did you ever experience a period of grace / When your brain just took a seat behind your face?" Summer is my period of grace.
I don't know why it is so hard to find the same piece of time during the rest of the year. Life is more frenzied, I am told by friends. They say this philosophically, as if "it" were in charge and we had lost control.
The people I know live within the confines of their weeks-at-a-glance. When more is demanded of us, we get larger datebooks with more elaborate planners. We fit things in. We schedule -- family, work, friendships. We organize with a fury of split-second timing. But have we almost never pencil in time to do nothing.
It gets harder every year to figure out what separates our own lives from those of the creature frantically working the goldenrod beside me against a deadline of frost. What is the difference? A soul, the theologians say, a sense of mortality, a sabbath. Maybe it is the last, a day of rest, that we have lost first.
One of the advantages of this summer retreat is that I truly vacate both the work place and the marketplace. But soon, at home, I will be again subject to Shopping Sundays, and to Washing Sundays, Cleaning Refrigerator Sundays, Driving the Car Sundays. There is no empty day in my weeks-at-a-glance.
My father, my grandfathers, I don't know how many generations back, worked six days and had one off. I don't at all envy their work life. But most of us work five days at one job, then thank God it is Friday and proceed to work two days at another.
Our mothers and grandmothers, for their part, labored for their families full-time. Now we hold two jobs, moonlighting every week, and then consider Sunday shopping to be a wonderful modern convenience, a sure sign of progress.
What, I wonder from my post in a hammock, would happen if we reclaimed a private Sabbath? What if we obeyed that most humane of the old religious injunctions: a day of rest?
I wonder if there might not be some freedom in the restriction. The freedom not to chauffeur, shop, clean. The freedom to spend time in the most profligate way, whole hours of it in leisure and pleasure, instead of frittering away the coinage in errands and obligations.
I don't know if I can reclaim this secular Sabbath, even for sanity. At the door to a summer cottage the chores of fall already knock, demanding attention. It is remarkably hard to transfer chunks of time from doing to being, to give ourselves as much time as our laundry. But this new year, I resolve to try.
What will I take home from my summer vacation? A bit of nothing. One day a week, maybe. With luck, it may even take root in the cool September weekends.