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  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich

Brink of Summer

At first glance, it seemed as if everything was as it had always been and as it always would be. The sun cast the garden in a soft glow, and the long grass swayed in the light breeze. Insects buzzed about, from one flower to the next, and the songbirds chirped with alarmed excitement as a red kite circled overhead. A petal fell from the quince tree and landed on the shell of the tortoise in the back of the garden. A train thundered past—a blurred vision between the greening branches of the trees and shrubs—and interrupted our conversation. When the day lay calm and lazy again on the brink of May, Robin pointed at the shadow of the walnut tree’s bare branches on the blue parasol overhead and spoke.

“We could be sitting in the shade of leaves,” he said.

Collectively, we leaned back in our chairs and looked up, frowned at the blackened infant leaves. “Yes, that doesn’t look good. But did everything else make it?”

Robin shook his head slowly and let his eyes wander over the garden, beads of sweat on his brow from the summer heat. He pointed at the grape vines that grew in between the garden and the neighbors’ property. “I planted three new vines. Gone. But I hope they might come back. Same with the chestnut. 25 degrees. That’s how warm it was in early April, and then a week later minus five!” 

He gestured at the barn where more blackened plants cascaded down the brick wall. “And we won’t have any Bavarian kiwis this year.”

Agnes turned her head and squinted her eyes. “And they’re growing directly on the wall. A brick wall! You’d think they’d be more protected there.”

For a moment, no one said anything. All we could hear was the birds and the clinking of mugs on saucers as we sipped our coffee and got lost, each in their own thoughts. My mind wandered to the calendar that hung in my parents’ home: A big cardboard wheel depicting common garden plants and flowers, and on top of it a smaller one for the twelve months. When the first snowdrops began to bloom, you’d align their picture with the time of year and then you’d be able to see when you’d be able to harvest berries and apples and when other flowers would bloom. Up until a few years ago, the calendar had always been accurate but with the climate going haywire and the weather changing every few weeks there wasn’t really much point to it anymore.

It was Lovisa who broke the silence. She pushed back her chair and stood to reach the coffee pot and as she poured more coffee she said, almost casually although I could see the concern in her eyes, “It won’t get better, either. I’m noticing it in my garden. I really don’t know what to plant anymore. This year nothing’s growing properly. I’m just happy that my livelihood does not depend on it.”  

Alea shrugged and brushed a strand of her gray hair behind her ear. “Peas and beans are still working alright, they can withstand a sudden cold spell. Carrots, too, perhaps. And onions.”

“Yes, but the sudden changes in temperature are not the only problem,” Lovisa said and set down her mug with a little too much force so that some of the coffee spilled and gathered as a brown puddle on the white saucer. “And it’s not like the climate zones are simply shifting.”

Alfred nodded in agreement. “If we’d now get a Mediterranean climate here, we could simply start growing fruit and vegetables that are normally grown in the Mediterranean—problem solved. But that’s not the case; it’s entirely unpredictable now. We have August weather now and a few weeks back it was winter and who knows what the summer will be like. Neither our plants here nor the ones from the Mediterranean deal well with that.”

“And then you have years like last year,” Lovisa continued, “when everything is growing well and you’ll have a good harvest and then there is one storm, one single storm, and everything is destroyed.”

Robin’s gaze wandered back up to the skeletal branches above our heads. “The walnut tree by the house isn’t looking good, either.”

Lovisa tilted her head and her expression softened. “But what I have learned from last year’s storm is how resilient nature is, as well. There were plants that I thought were dead but then they started to grow again. Give yours some time, maybe they’ll do the same.”

I followed Robin’s gaze up into the branches under the cloudless sky and beyond to the bright green of fresh leaves and swaying grass that covered the garden. At a careless glance, it seemed like everything was as it had always been and always would be. There were trees that I had known my whole life and climbed countless times as a child. It was a place that seemed as constant and unchanging—for all but the natural cycles it went through throughout the seasons—as the tortoise whose age no one knew and whom I was sure would outlive us for generations to come. But the leaves of the walnut tree were dead before they had properly grown and I knew that one spring, too, the tortoise would not awaken from her hibernation, and the grass would be brown and dry before summer had even begun. 

Written by Merle Emrich.

Cover photo by Merle Emrich.


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