Danny Heitman’s 'At Random': July brings thoughts of yuletide

A few days ago, with the mercury hovering near 90, I opened our front porch mailbox and found a Christmas card from my sister-in-law, who had apparently decided that in the realm of good intentions, late is better than never.

I didn’t bat an eye, since I had only recently tackled an unfinished yuletide chore of my own. Last December, at a holiday farmers’ market, my wife spotted a Leyland cypress at the plant booth and brought it home. We planned to get it in the ground for the new year — or the start of spring at the very latest — but the lonely little tree stood in its plastic pot for months as life carried us in other directions.

Shamed by the approach of summer, I asked my children to join me in planting it on the afternoon before Mother’s Day. Our time spent in the yard would be one way to tell the lady of the house that we loved her.

I strained my back while digging the hole, which meant a restless night as I angled in vain to find a comfortable position. The squirming kept my wife awake, too, and we weren’t able to sleep deeply until dawn — and then, not for very long. That’s when the smoke alarm bolted everyone from bed. Our son had decided to make a surprise Mother’s Day breakfast, burning the French toast and sending a thick haze through the house. Quite a surprise it was.

My wife was a good sport about it all, but I sensed that she was ready for us to forgo all the honors and start ignoring her again.

The biggest winner that weekend was our cypress, which continues to silently spread its roots beneath a thick blanket of pine straw.

Because of heat stress, summer isn’t the best time to plant trees. We tucked the cypress under mounds of mulch to keep it moist.

Regular summer rain has helped south Louisiana’s gardens this year. Even so, the season brings its tests of endurance.

I walk early to escape the heat, sometimes spotting little strands of brown on the sidewalk that look like bits of old shoestring. They’re what’s left when earthworms nudge against the edge of the pavement, then perish trying to get to the other side.

A sidewalk is a Sahara for earthworms, an almost certain death sentence. If the scorching pavement doesn’t get them, then ants surely will.

Sometimes, I’m able to rescue a few wigglers from their misadventure, plucking them from the sidewalk and tossing them into the grass, where they can continue to burrow blindly through the hours of July.

We have our own summer crossing to make, trying to navigate the long, hot, stretch of the year that takes us from May to September.

I keep cool by mowing the grass at dusk, and swimming when I can, and thinking of a Christmas card on the living room table, its edges frosted with snow.