Annapolis summer sunset

There are certain qualities that define the peak of summer in Maryland. And I revel in them all.

Everything is lush and green and alive, and the air often thick with heat and humidity and the smell of fescue and ryegrass. Mornings are filled with the songs of all variety of woodland birds, from the red-breasted robin to the Carolina wren, the caw of black crows and the triplet coo, coo, coo of morning doves. Birds warble, low light pierces through trees, large insects zip by — horse flies, bumble bees, big black cicadas that sometimes smack into me as I stroll down the driveway to fetch the morning paper.

At my brother’s place in Annapolis, now home to our family since my mother and late father relocated here some five years go, I like to go for early morning runs. The first half-mile rolls down a rolling, shaded street with a thick canopy of trees that opens up and empties out into the vast expanse of the Chesapeake Bay. I hang left down the long hot stretch of Bay Ridge Road, the sun’s rays beating on me from an early hour. There I catch a perfect view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the sailboats and tankers in the distance, the faint silhouette of the Annapolis Capitol. Then it’s left again, and I loop back into the swampy marshland of East Lake Drive to return me home. I catch my breath under the cool fan in my brother’s living room, swash down several glasses of lemon water, and after a good shower, usually end up at Zü’s coffee by around 10 a.m. for a triple cappuccino and a slice of fresh-baked zucchini bread.

I love these moments. It returns me to a small sense of who I am…or perhaps who I was when I called Maryland my home for the first 23 years of my life. Now a Californian for almost as long, I feel echoes of my former self when I return to Maryland. But my reverie gets a bit muted as the day goes on, complicated by trying to balance West Coast work hours with the need to visit my (somewhat challenging) mother who lives in a senior community just about a 7-minute drive down the road from my brother. She is thrilled at my visit, and she has needs she wants to tell me about. She wants to know what we’re planning for dinner that evening, and the next evening, and the evening after that. She wants to know exactly when I’m coming by and what the plan for the day is. She will “entertain” me for the next few hours with the same chatter over and over about the ladies she dines with at the evening meal, her fan that’s broken and needs repair, the sweater that she needs to return to Sears, the mattress that she’s been thinking of buying but just can’t make up her mind about. I will try to get my work done in between the chatter and the evening meal and nightfall, when the fireflies will make a brief appearance. Back at my brothers, the deer will come out at dusk. The light will hang low in the trees again. And eventually I’ll end up asleep, rising to do it again the next day.

And so the days roll on here in this sticky sweet summer by the Chesapeake. Ten days I’ve been here on this particular visit. It feels just long enough that my body has acclimated to the heat and time zone, the routine, Mom’s chatter. I sit on my brother’s front porch and watch as the cars blaze by, some filled with teenagers on summer vacation playing loud music and laughing with their friends. I drink my glass of rosé, now warming in the day’s heat, brush off the ever impending mosquitos, and watch as my mind flickers with thoughts of growing up here, memories playing back like old home movie strips.

Tomorrow I’ll be returning to Northern California, and what a contrast. There, the summers are thick with cool fog and white skies that sometimes clear to sunshine, sometimes not. The smells will be more of eucalyptus or redwood pine and the sounds will be of the neighbors dogs barking and the nearby highway traffic, the mockingbird and the raven who usually wake me in the morning. I’ll return to my West Coast life with my West Coast friends, to dryer climates for sure, to chilly mornings still punctuated by certain sounds, certain rituals of running around Lake Merritt, a certain cup of coffee and a slice of (my homemade) zucchini bread. I’ll return to the me that I’ve come to know after nearly 20 years of living out West, a changed me, an aged me, a me that has grown up, married, and found my own rhythm. I’ll go through my days with the echo of other memories, the second half of my lived life. I’ll try hard to remember the East Coast in the coming days, but the smells and sounds and feeling of wet humidity on my sticky skin will soon fade until that next visit.

It all seems like a strange mystery sometimes. The East Coast me and the West Coast me are very different individuals yet contained within the same body and life trajectory. I have different friends and different memories from different times of my East Coast and West Coast past and present. I’m even known by different names — Cathy, Catherine, Cat, and a variety of nicknames that I accumulated through the year that would require another post to explain.

Yet I am the constant in all of it. And the mystery of my existence, here now, soon to fade, contains all of that strange life lived in it. Only when I step out of my life here in California do I glimpse the long trajectory of my life, my evolution. And while I’m grateful for every moment I’ve had on this planet, it does feel sometimes bittersweet. The end to this full life, while it may be decades down the road, is just a little more in view. What will I do with the time left?