Reality struck the other evening when I arrived home from work and saw that the dining room was dark, tented in shade. During the day the awnings guys had done their work, installing the canvas coverings that convert my back porch into a cool perch. It may not be summer by the calendar, but it has arrived on my timetable.

There was a time when I dreaded a Baltimore summer, but now I'm a convert. These stretched-out days are perfect for keeping the windows open and getting a start at 6 in the morning.

The city noise doesn't bother me; I actually enjoy it. This is the time of the year for the whirl of the police helicopters, the chimes of ice cream wagons, eavesdropping on your neighbors, the train toots -- and that quintessential summer sound of a ball game on the radio.

How about the scents? The other evening, on the way home from a Catonsville cookout, I discovered that Interstate 95 could smell like a honeysuckle perfume factory.

The harbor has looked fantastic this week with the full moon; for some reason, the Domino Sugars sign seems brighter in the summer.

While I get into the crowds that swarm around Oriole Park, I do miss having this summer buzz on 33rd Street and Memorial Stadium. Hey, it's the good old summertime, and it's OK to be a little reflective.

A few weeks ago, I stripped the house for tropical city living. My wool rugs disappeared, and I threw out the last of the Christmas papers and gift bags that I had been hoarding for no good reason. I cursed while maneuvering the porch furniture out of the cellar. My screens went in. I upped the iced tea production.

In the same way that I've surrendered to a Baltimore summer, I've made my peace with my garden. I now grow what thrives in Maryland. For years, I consulted books and guides written by people who live in New England, Michigan or, worse yet, England. That was a huge mistake. There is a reason that Maryland loves its black-eyed Susans, names a drink after them and uses them to decorate prize horses. I also buy what the farmers are selling at the local markets. I figure that if they can grow it in Cecil County, it'll live in Charles Village, too.

The other night I was deep into my summer reverie on the back porch. The lightning bugs were just coming out, and the last of the neighbor's barbecue smoke was wafting about. I could just make out the streetlights through some junk trees in the alley. The last light of the day picked out the new blooms on a hydrangea.

Then the doorbell rang. It was a neighbor inviting me to a back-alley social gathering this weekend. As I opened the door and switched a light on, a 3-inch water bug bolted up the front hall. My foot landed on it as it went for the stairs. The message? Summer's little messengers are ready -- and so am I.

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