Missing Things

All contents © 2020 Philip Semanchuk.

A photo of the flower of a purple pitcher plant
The flower of a purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), a rare North Carolina native.

Summertime in Durham, and the living is easy. At night I leave a fan in the window and pump the house full of cool air. In the morning I close all the windows, make coffee, eat breakfast. When I leave the house at 9 AM, the heat is waiting for me like George Foreman's uppercut. I will sweat for the rest of the day.

At the Carrboro Farmer's Market when the basil comes in, jungle green covers every vendor's table in luxurious, verdant bundles. It is like walking on a carpet of basil, the smell is so strong. I trade jokes with Farmer Dan and buy the Chinese red mustard greens that he picked the night before. I buy shallots, four varieties of tomato, fresh garlic, fragrant soft goat cheese from Celebrity Dairy, maybe some flowers, bachelor buttons or foxglove.

At night when the sun sinks furious into a pink sky, I go out with friends for pizza at Pepper's, then to see a movie or a band. At the first Sleazefest in Chapel Hill, Dexter Romweber played solo in a luminous white suit. By the middle of his set he was lying on the floor, howling along with the amplifiers. He finished by walking offstage still playing his guitar. He kicked the back door open and walked out of the club still playing; I saw him consumed by white fire. The best rock and roll exit ever.

When I take in night game at the DAP(1) I am no longer sweaty, holding a lukewarm beer in a paper cup, watching the parade of people go by. I'm only half paying attention to the game which is a little dangerous if you're sitting up the 3rd base line. Last season a woman in the seat behind me got hit by a ball that ricocheted off of a seat, a woman fifteen seats to my left caught the business end of a broken bat in the forehead. If the Bulls win I might go to The Green Room to see who's there, or go get a burrito at The Cosmic Cantina, then drive home with the sunroof open and the windows down, the air finally forgiving and cool. If there's no thunderstorm nearby I can catch the Philadelphia Phillies on AM radio, scratchy and far away, struggling in last place, struggling to be heard over the mariachi music station that interferes. I sleep naked under a ceiling fan.

In winter I wake and my cat Nikita feels me stir from between my shins where she always sleeps. She opens a single green eye and silently advises me that another hour's sleep would be prudent. One year my family celebrated Christmas at my house in the middle of a three day ice storm. We kept a fire going almost the entire time, playing endless games of cards: Rummy, Hearts, Spades, Progressive Rummy. We lost over and over to our Mom, only winning when she went to bed. The wood we burned was from a tree in my yard knocked down by Hurricane Fran two years earlier and I miss those hurricane skies, the rain that flooded my back yard, flooded the trail that I bicycled through the woods to watch eagles and herons down by Jordan Lake.

I bicycle there on beautiful fall days, smelling the dead leaf-scent of autumn and feeling free on my bike. I pass small farms growing mustard greens, collards, sunflowers seven feet tall. The farms are gone now, lost to mall construction. On the gentle downhill on Route 751 I slip into a dangerous tuck on my bike, stupid and helmetless, my chin even with the handlebars, chest resting on the seat, eyes ahead, feet level, my scrotum flirting with disaster just above the knobby tire that is a blur on the back wheel. At the lake I slap at deerflies and listen to the terse chatter of redwing blackbirds, the shocking squawk of herons, the ducks' answering complaint. Fish jump after insects; herons hunt the fish. I have to leave when the sun touches the top of the trees -- too late really, because I wind up riding back in the dark. But at sunset the mysterious herons fly in graceful flocks to the south end of the lake back to cool homes in tall pines to take care of business only they know about.

One summer during a drought the lake bed dried out and I rode my bike through knee-deep grass where I had kayaked the winter before. Later that same summer I took my kayak as far as I could up the lake, picking my way through mud flats, frightening large silver fish that hit my boat with a thump and disappeared in a cloud of silt.

This is what I miss: the overwhelming smell of basil, heat like a sauna, tornado warnings and hurricane skies, a cat with an important nap schedule, lazy coffee with Mary Katherine, lunch with Steve, Jerry and Lauren's Christmas parties, the Zen of a baseball game, a cold beer with Mike over a game of pool at The Green Room, racing through the trees on my bike, excellent bands at The Cat's Cradle, Leslie giving me earthy Mexican sauces that make me cry, tours at the Primate Center, a new set of kids and adults amazed by a sifaka's leap, an aye-aye's finger, late night poker games, dime ante, who's shy?, my neighbor Jasmé singing and playing her newest song, young neighbors Maxwell and Corbin learning to talk, Lonicera sempervirens (Carolina honeysuckle) in the trees, mosquitoes the size of raindrops, my pitcher plants and Venus Flytraps getting fat and sassy on hapless June bugs. I miss the lively, the lovely, the ineffable.



1. The Durham Athletic Park, home to the Durham Bulls AAA baseball team. (See also Susan Sarandon.) [back]