Summer's Last Green

I know this October day will be the last gasp of summer. Despite the bronze and gold cast starting to tinge the forests, and the warm breezes gently plucking off leaves and acorns, it is over eighty degrees. The sun burnishes the green of this suburban golf course with its intense gaze. The sky is a wide blue lens, pure and cloudless.

And here I sit as my parents buzz along in their golf cart, its tractor-like growl sputtering and then stopping to let your ears take note of the soft wafting breezes. This place is called West Winds after all, near New Market, Maryland. Golf has been their midlife calling—a structured, simple way to pass the hours of retirement, after the marathon of hard work and raising children.

I have never played or seen a single round of golf except on TV, or on Nintendo Wii. In 3D, the crispness of the setting is both more soothing and striking. The slopes and hills surround the senses. The gentle variety of surfaces appeal to a childlike sense of exploration, from the long stripes of the fairway, to the sandy playground of the bunker, and to the firm perfection of the putting green, the apotheosis of tamed nature. My first urge is to lie on the green and stare at the sky.

The pace of play is languid, fitting the manmade pastorale of the golf course. Odd devices here and there demarcate rituals of this world—the plastic churn where one inserts golfballs into a soapy wash, the rake next to each bunker that one uses to reshuffle sand like a zen garden, the brass footpad bristles where one scrapes grassy dirt off one’s golf shoes at the end of a course.

My dad practices swings constantly; it is a never-ending battle between balance and power, to get that momentum of a long elegant swing into the sweet spot of a tiny sphere. I see and hear the swish and flash of metal hitting earth, and sometimes the ball lifts up into nowhere, vanishing brilliantly. Other times it stammers along the ground, refusing to take flight. My mother starts at another spot further forward; the women’s special advantage for their relative physical frailty. Her swings are cuter, stockier, and the ball flies just as well.

I have always felt I didn’t have the patience for golf. For me, aside from the much lovelier setting, playing golf isn’t unlike the perils of being a doctor: long stretches of boredom punctuated by tense moments where error is unacceptable. I find the need to propel something so tiny across vast swaths of distance somehow infuriating. Having reached forty, I still haven’t let go of life’s goal-directed urgency.

But for my parents, they find it relaxing, meditative. All those pressures of life have been compressed into this bit of tension and release. The golf ball for them is simply a ball. They know that now.

I stare from the cart at them playing at each stage, each stop, headed for the flag. The sun is hot, but the angle is different. It radiates like burning embers, but not like the fire that once ignited them. Strange insects awaken for one last party, bees floating at my ear, stinkbugs jumping onto every last surface, hoping to hitch that last ride elsewhere, anywhere. Groundhogs and squirrels scurry across the grounds, briskly harvesting while they can.

Suburban colonial homes like the one in which I grew up gently surround the greens. I haven’t started my own family, the way my parents did, a young penniless couple who hardly knew English, venturing to 1970s New England, to start a new doctor’s family. I’m just here resting in the cart, enjoying the silence, knowing it won’t be this warm again for many months to come.

Jean Kim is a physician and writer who currently works and lives in the Washington, DC Metro area. She will be receiving her MA in Nonfiction Writing at Johns Hopkins, and has also been a nonfiction fellow at the Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center of CUNY. She has work published or forthcoming in The Daily Beast, Bethesda Magazine, Creative Nonfiction’s mental health anthology, Storyscape Journal, and more.