The scent down south at the tail-end of summer is more than fields of corn and soybeans, more than the stink of liquescent tar on the road, the choke of coal dust from freight trains coiling toward the last languorous parch of August and September—a more complex prescription than the dull, savorless fry of suburban heat wave. My favorite recollection of summer is one smell that comes with the near-full moon waxing in the brilliant Kentucky nocturnal sky. Here’s how to find it: Walk barefoot through the damp grass clippings alongside the perimeter fence, laced with wild blackberry and honeysuckle vines. Pause to listen for the eccentric holler of the insomniac dog on the next hill. Take one of the honeysuckle blossoms, pinch it at the bottom and draw its stamen through the flower. On its tip will be a drop of intoxication, sustenance for bees, fuel for honey. Sip the nectar.
Now move toward the small patch before the apple orchard, the one-eighth-acre at the end of the rows and rows of planting. There may be the spoor of sweet-corn tasseling a few fields over. But glinting there in front of you will be dozens of lap-sized green fruit, striped like some grand reptilian egg, each still twined to its natural umbilicus, ripening in the nourishing warmth of the night. Not the sun’s heat, but the dull moist warmth of night with its occasional forgiving breezes, fragrant with dampness from the nearby pond. Imagine they’ve been left a day or two, even a moment too long, ripened until they’re ready to burst their rind. Thump a ripe watermelon; there’s a dull report, one you’ll know well once you’ve thumped a couple that have lain on the vine the perfect time. Full to bursting, all it takes is a small crack of the deep green rind, a short sharp blow and the world breaks open, your task, your goal, your inevitable, stomach-distending journey to its center is revealed. The work has begun.
Draw in the crisp green smell as you rock the thick green-and-white shell open and apart, with both hands, scoop out the warm, living flesh without apology or manners, niceties or bibs. This is not body heat, the warmth of skin, but a degree or more warmer. This is flesh and nectar, warmth. Be greedy with both palms as the juice dribbles along your cheek and chin and cascades along your chest. Think on another moon, fuller, rounder, soon, when you can share this with someone—the warmth of night, the scent of the sugar-fruit, the satisfying bite as your jaw closes on the crisp, raw meat of the melon and you pass fistfuls to each other and touch, syrupy secretion against pulpy mass, biting, kissing, eating. The next morning, waking from dreams, there will be the sweet stickiness, the fleshy pink dried on your hands, seizing up the folds between thumb and forefinger, coating the pads of your fingertips, night-sugar now funky, fermenting. Where the seeds fell, dozens more melons will grow next year. (Ray Pride)