Thursday, July 28, 2011

"This is it, this is summer..."

Martha's feet, as she enjoys a dip in the St. Croix river
A few years ago, at one of my family’s standard Fourth of July get-togethers at my mom’s house, my sister made this remark. I remember at the time identifying with the simple truth of the statement and also feeling an odd sense of appreciation that someone else would acknowledge this fact in such a succinct manner. I often feel a need to very deliberately make note of a moment and the significance of it. It feels vital to take a minute and really look around at the day, notice how the world looks at that moment, how it feels. It makes me anxious when I don’t feel I can properly and adequately absorb an occasion before moving on. What will happen if I don’t stop and appreciate such moments in life? If I don’t, I might forget and if I forget, isn’t it possible I could just go through life experiencing the same thing over and over again, trapped in a Star Trek-like time/space continuum? I have to be certain that life is making an impression, my reasoning goes, otherwise what is the point?

It seems particularly vital in the summer here in Minnesota to really pay attention, to soak up every sensation that summer has to offer because before too long, it will be gone. When I walk the dog on a perfect summer day, I like to tune in to how the air feels, how the sky looks, how the sun beats down on the tree tops. I marvel over all the leaves and plants and flowers, the immense amount of energy that all these living things contain. I feel very fortunate to witness this process year after year, the small miracle that after every harsh winter when the green is lost to the ice and snow, it all grows back.

About two weeks ago I was out in my backyard, surveying the flowers (and, most likely, waiting for my dog to finish his wanderings) when I heard it, the ultimate sound of summer: the chirping cicadas. It’s such a gentle noise but it always grabs my attention with the way it seems to begin out of the blue, interrupting the stillness of a hot day. This noise can instantly transport me to countless other July days when I realize that summer is at its height and it is only a matter of time until it crests and rolls into the waning days of August.

I’m sort of a born complainer and one of my favorite things to complain about is the weather. Too hot, too cold, it is rare that I think conditions are perfect outside. But in spite of the occasionally wounding heat of summer, I love this season. I often think of it as the real, true way the world should be and the rest of the year is just prep time. Summer’s power over me probably stems from childhood when summer really is the only time you get to just live your kid life without the external annoyance of school imposed on your important agenda of playing. It always seemed like heaven when the sky would stay light until 9:00pm and you could continue playing after dinner. Summer allowed you to hang on to the day, squeeze every last minute of fun out of it. Even the sun seemed reluctant to let the day go. It felt like you weren’t just prolonging the daylight and the fun but summer actually allowed you to hang on to life a little longer each day. Summertime was like a fancy trick that let you stretch your life beyond the confines of the day. And even though I don’t run outside from the dinner table for a rousing game of kick the can anymore, I still have this sense that I am being offered a little extra life. It’s a beautiful illusion.

So nowadays, I expend a great deal of energy on the task of reminding myself of this illusion, the beauty of it and also the fact that it is fleeting. Summer’s ephemeral nature requires me to suspend my natural crankiness and embrace life, even when it includes sweat pouring down my back, soggy clothing plastered onto my skin, bugs nipping at me, crowds of equally sweaty people, or, worst of all, sand stuck to any part of my body. Sitting poolside, dining outside, enjoying music by the lake under the summer sky, swimming in a river with who-knows-what plant life sifting down my suit, or simply standing in my yard feeling the heat pressing down on me – none of this can happen at any other time of the year in quite the same way, in moments that overflow with the energy of life, complete with a dash of misery. Gotta get while the gettin’ is good.

It is all of this that is contained in that statement “this is it, this is summer” when I recall my sister’s proclamation back on that Fourth of July. We are sitting in my mom’s yard, rich with shades of green and vibrant flowers. Branches of the maple tree arch over us as we kick back on the patio, actually putting our feet up as we tip back drinks and look around at life. This is it, this is summer. It’s a great time to be alive.

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