Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Yesterday afternoon, in the sunshine, my older son spread the camping canopy over the weeds in the backyard to dry.

The canopy is a large piece of plastic--a tarp that fits over a roof-like framework of aluminum poles. We use it on camping trips to shelter our cooking and eating area from the sun and the rain. Kris and his friends had set the thing up at a Saturday barbecue--an all-afternoon, all-evening party for a large group of friends. They got rained on, and the canopy was wet when it was packed up and returned to our house. So we spread it out to dry in the sunshine before putting it away in the attic.

Spreading it out is the easy part. Folding it to the right size and cramming it neatly into the zippered bag that also holds the poles is more difficult, which is why, I suppose, the canopy was still out there on the grass when it got dark. Fireflies were out, and mosquitos, too, when I decided I would bring the thing back indoors, even if I had to do it by myself.

I got some help from Kurt (the younger son), but as we folded the tarp in halves and then quarters, I could feel drops of water on the underside. Too late, I said, the dew came up. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to get it thoroughly dry in the sunshine.

The dew came up. I'm not sure I know what this means or why this happens. From childhood I remember that the toes of my canvas PF Flyers would get soaked as I walked through the grass to get my bicycle out of the garage early on a summer morning. As an adult, I learned while camping that dry towels left on the clothesline overnight would be damp in the morning. All this is related to dew, something about water condensing when surface temperatures drop. It's a natural condition, but unless I'm camping or dealing with camping equipment, the dew coming up is not a phenomenon that affects my life, unlike, say, the network being down, or the internet being slow. Or even a thunderstorm blowing out the power for two minutes, or twenty.

Still, I like the phrase--the dew came up. But does it come up? The water comes from the air and the term for the formation of dew is dewfall. I just now learned more about all this by looking up dew at Wikipedia. There's not much to know, but the photos on the site--dew on a blade of grass, dew on spider webs--are beautiful: small, tender things supporting the weight of clear drops of water. Surface tension on the dewdrops makes them glisten and seem to move, even in a still photograph.

There are no pretty pictures of dew drops on a bright green plastic canopy. This morning, the canopy in the backyard is covered in puddles, not dew. It rained during the night and early this morning. With rain and thundershowers in the weather forecast for the next several days, getting this thing dry on both sides is going to take timing, and I suspect there are mosquitos laying eggs in those puddles right this moment. I can't see it happening, but I will feel the effects, just as I could not see the dewfall but felt the drops of water.

I prefer the dew to the mosquitos.

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