★★★ It was not hot yet on the way to nine in the morning, over wet, newly washed sidewalks. The air had gotten clearer overnight; the sky was a sharp blue. Cigarette smoke floated in the early light on 81st Street. The heat and haze came on, but with no power to chase people away. A group sat in the shade in the not-really public park with food, a stroller, a little dog in a harness. The tops of the honeylocusts in the sun were a green fluffy line going down the street. The clouds were blurry and discolored, even relatively high in the sky to the north. The warmth stayed in the streets after the direct sun was gone. Still, going up into it was more appealing than waiting on the hot platform for a 1 train for a forecast six minutes. A blinding shaft of light from the lower middle of One57 lit the faces of people sitting on benches on the Broadway median—three blocks up and more than a full crosstown block over—and went on to hit the sidewalk and building face on the west side of the street. Sewage smells came from someplace, or places. A light sweat came on, in proportion to the accumulated exertion of the walk. Bright orange spots appeared in the sky, maybe a half-dozen different possible cloud-screened suns. Then they resolved into a single thick pink streak.
★★★ Haze stained the edge of the sky. The two-year-old decided he wanted a sweatshirt, and had to be talked into settling for putting it in his backpack. The air was thicker and more difficult to breathe than it had been for weeks. By any standard other than the blissfully anomalous one of the preceding weeks, though, conditions were still gentle. The subway platform was not quite stifling, but the blast of air from an incoming train felt refreshing. The air conditioning on the crowded 1 was up to the task, by a narrow margin. On the D, condensation dripped and puddled on a seat. Aboveground was nicer than below. The haze submerged the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower, but at midday, an enormous pile of snow-white cumulus stayed pristine up above it all. Even as the western sky went gray-white, a little freshness lingered. A Japanese maple on a rooftop stood up purple-red against the sky. Heat ripples cast wavy, trembling shadows on the apartment wall as the sun slipped behind the neighboring towers.
★★★★ An orange flash of sunrise came off a building to the west and through a crack in the blinds. The morning was cool still but humid. The uptown train came to a stop with a wash of heat across the platform, raising a sweat. On the ride downtown, a couple carried matching beach chairs. Every line of mortar was distinct in the upper-story brickwork. By midday, up on the roof, the sun was hot. It was pleasant to let it pin the body down in a chair, to feel the black plastic hot but not hot enough to hurt through a shirt. One eye had to stay squinted shut for a while, till acclimation set in. A blue-white haze enfolded an airplane and tinted the Freedom Tower; a blue-white glow flooded the retinas. By rush our the streets were shady and cool again, with a breeze moving through them. Dazzling beams of light came through gaps in the buildings without warning. The sun went down behind a line of bright-rimmed blue clouds, with nacreous ones above.
★★★★★ Sunshine came slamming down, and the shade was near opaque by contrast. Out on the Sheep Meadow bodies were mashed into the grass, and the grass without bodies on it was mashed down by the bodies of days before. The children made for the rocks and the trees beyond, in the farthest corner of the meadow. Walking across the open space in full sun was one of the few ways to feel uncomfortably warm. The big cumulus clouds were visibly moving at first glance, but seemed to slow down under inspection. One of them drifted over the sun, and the silvery deposits in the nearest boulder glimmered instead of shining. A bare-chested man with a ponytail and wristbands climbed quickly up the biggest rock and flattened himself out, blue-lensed sunglasses to the heavens. A huge clot of fungus was swelling from the foot of one of the oaks, and a Paraphidippus jumping spider clambered up the trunk, its metallic green markings flashing. The children sat on a bench in the shade to eat hot dogs and a stale pretzel, accompanied by irregular thumps from the sand volleyball court. A breeze found the small of the back. The two-year-old hopped down from his seat and tried out a volleyball stance. A cloud big enough to achieve grayness made things so dim, for the moment, that one of the street lights came on. Foreshortened from the edge, the Sheep Meadow was so full it was almost impossible to find a vertical or horizontal line of open green across it. On the next lawn over, a young man threw his leg over the backs of a young woman's thighs and pressed his face into hers. The gray clouds held their majority, or at least a ruling coalition with the white. All day the balance kept shifting. The afternoon sky in the west out the windows looked as if the clouds were still keeping control, but outside, the east and the zenith revealed themselves to be wholly uncontested blue.
★★★★★ White haze surrounded the sun. The forecast of showers—deferred so many days now—seemed plausible for the first time. The story-time room at the library, into which the children had stumbled, unwitting, was chilly with air conditioning but humid nonetheless. Conditions were more comfortable out in the slatted shade of the library garden, bordered by roses and planted with dark purple foliage. Toward midday, two age-thickened men contemplated their motorcycles. A gigantic insect, near hummingbird size, flew among the branches of a pine. Down at the shore, the air was perfect, the sun cut by clouds passing. The water too was ideal. Big swells dipped to reveal a white ship far off, then rose to obstruct the view of the ship, then rose even higher as the first obstruction passed and the trough descended. Gulls gathered just above the waves, clustering and stabbing at the water; pelicans flew by low. The whole surface was rimpled, the sides of the wavelets roughened by their own little disturbances. Off to the north, parallel lines of blurry gray stretched from inland out to sea, but the brightness remained nearby. Fine misty spray shone above the usual splashing. The ocean carried the body and absorbed the mind. One hundred fifty yards, nearly two hundred, slid away. The walk back to the beach chairs was so long it seemed as if some mistake must have been made. A sanderling, bone-white streaked with black, ran on the wetted sands. People had built sand castles and embankments, and the tide advanced on them. The two-year-old edged out onto the last of the dry sand, then agreed to try the foam. Minutes later he was dangling in the full frothing surf, suspended by his armpits, kicking and splashing in wild defiance of or identification with the rushing waters. He yelled at the sea, his shirt wet past the chest. Even the hike up the back of the beach, the usually hot and tedious expanse of sand, was comfortable. The sky grayed over, till sunset was nothing but a darkening. Wrens chattered with a harsh insectoid rattle at a cat in their shrubbery. The surf at dusk boomed like incipient thunderstorms. Deep in the night, the real thunder came, and white lightning.
★★★★ The little patch of ocean view lay in bands of color: clear pale blue sky, deep blue water, green grass, yellow sand. The pockets of the second swim trunks harbored old sand and old cash, washed and dried at least a year before. The low-tide waves were not choppy or obviously threatening, but they came in heavy and variable; out past the sandy churning, amid the calmer swells, a bigger one would suddenly rear up at face-smacking height. The water tasted more bitter than usual. Hours later, despite a rinse off, sand grains were still turning up in the creases of the eyelids. A tan dust on the rental car's windshield scattered the afternoon sun. The biggest tower of the playground climber cast the only useful patch of shade on the wood chips. An osprey passed overhead and into the blinding sunlight with a glimpse of what looked like a fish, silver and floppy, in its grasp. The grill smoked, and the shadows of the miscellaneous plants in the sand around it grew long. The two-year-old, up on the deck at the rear of the house, thrust an arm and a leg through the railing, catching the light, trusting in his support. The band of sky and the band of sea were now dissolving into each other, undifferentiated blue.
★★★★ The morning was gray and dripping, even as the information online declared that there was a zero percent chance of rain. Gradually things brightened; the deck dried out. Still there was little beach-bound foot traffic. The seven-year-old went out to blow bubbles in what was now sunshine, exhorting them to fly over the roof of the building closer to the ocean. The sea at high tide was the color of wine bottles and the color of cobalt, deep beautiful tones, and deliciously warm, and much too rough to try swimming in. Letting the breaking sandy foam rush past, waist high and above, was the least alarming way of savoring it. There was no chilly shock—it felt as if it were warmer than the air, though it couldn't have been. The children dug in the sand and refused to go near the water. Bright white little shells emerged, their edges eroded away. At sundown the sky was crocheted with silver and purple, with the sun a big smear of wet gold paint in the west. Kites hung above the dunes, fluttering and seemingly secure there, till one plunged nose-first out of view. The breeze smelled salty. Glasses of white wine sweated on the edge of a balcony overlooking the boardwalk. The west went through various more or less lurid colors, arriving at last at scarlet.
★★★★ Sun found the splinter or stray cactus spine in a finger, a tiny golden spark for the tweezers (turning to avoid the tweezer-shadows) to surround and snuff. Pine cones lay everywhere; the two-year-old had to be dissuaded from expanding his collection of them to three and beyond. The ocean was rougher than before, with chunks of seaweed in it and a bobbing lump of foam garbage, but out beyond the churn it was still soothing to float in. At the trolley stop in the afternoon, the sun experimented with severity, but was mollified by a cloud. A rabbit sprinted alongside the trolley for a few strides, then veered off. The trolley rolled past trim, modest houses, then past an unfinished ostentatious house. A cool breeze blew through the wooden interior. A hawk flapped by with one wing notched by a missing primary. Out on the boardwalk, the air moved in warm and cold layers, like the water. The two-year-old went on a stomping run, xylophonic footsteps advancing down the boards. Across from the concrete pillars of the seaside hotel construction site, two goldfinches, plumage unreal in its schematic boldness, perched on bobbing grass stems at the crest of the dunes.
★★★★ Blue gaps opened in the cloud cover. The little glimpse of ocean off through the pines was gray. The sun burned through on the way to the farmer's market, making the walk back bright and hot enough for the children to complain about. Out on the beach, the waves spread cool air as they broke. Now the water was the green of good olives, and where it broke it was the green that appears now in late-rmodel cars. The swells were gentle, though people still swarmed the water with their artificial floating planks, sub-surfboards, as if some excitement might happen. A wind roared over wet ears on the way back up onto the shore, and a gust uprooted the beach umbrella and flung it five or ten yards, where it hit a stranger from behind. Inland, crape myrtles were in bloom on the supermarket lot. Even on the barren asphalt, the heat was less than painful. A gray cloud moving through the blue released a drop or three of rain as the grill smoked and fought to get going. The wind kept the smoke moving to every quarter. The clouds drifted briskly. A pile of them out to sea began to turn purple and gold.
★★★ Dark, rippling clouds overspread the city. The trees tossed. Then rain streaked the balcony doors and the sun came out. People walked under umbrellas in the sunshine, casting umbrella-shadows on the wet pavement by the square. Then the sun and rain were gone again and it was chilly, surprisingly so. A sport jacket, pulled on at the last minute for appearance and in case of air conditioning, was an unseasonable necessity. In the middle of a panel discussion, inside a covered-over courtyard, rain lashed the roof so violently that faces peered upward at the sound. The noise moderated a bit and then surged back, again and again, like the first blast of a storm repeating. Water clattered down the galvanized drainpipes, now indoors and flanking the stage. It was a long time before it subsided. The chill was deeper than any European climate control; a couple of people wrapped their bodies in the blankets that had been left folded on the backs of the chairs. Outside, the rain was dripping. Walking in it was possible, looking warily at the sky, letting a scowl be one's umbrella, affirming one's basic consent to be rained on—this much, and no more, as if an admonitory look would warn off any escalation. Nevertheless it did escalate, gently, until the balconies stacked overhead began to provide noticeable islands of shelter. Finally it stopped again, and light from the west lavished attention on all the details that the builders had lavished their attention on. Bright things gleamed on the dark dome of the basilica. The illuminated city posed dramatically under the heavy gray sky, and then the darkness gave up and fell apart into silvery shreds on blue.