have long wondered whether people really like summer, or whether it’s simply a reflexive response based on years of associating the season with a break from school. If we had three months off starting in September, would we worship autumn with uncritical passion? If we had spent youthful spring days reading, playing and sleeping until noon, wouldn’t we beatify the blossoms of March instead of summer’s zinnias and roses?
I live in a place where winters are long, cold, deep and brutal. Driver’s Education has an entire unit devoted to controlling spins caused by ice. Shoes are destroyed by the buckets of rock salt necessary to make streets and sidewalks passable. It takes an extra hour to get anywhere because there’s the shoveling, the scraping of the car, and the necessity of creeping slowly into busy, icy intersections. We have entire wardrobes of heavy coats, scarves, mittens, boots, ear coverings, and long underwear. Lips crack, cheeks roughen, and hair becomes vertical with static or collapses under the weight of a hat. People complain constantly and bitterly, as if surprised that winter has come again as it does every single year.
When summer comes, everyone is jubilant. Facebook practically vibrates with statuses about “loving summer,” “enjoying the sun,” and “another perfect pool day!” E-mails tell me to “get out in this great weather” and close with “happy summer!” Sitting in my air-conditioned house, I feel bullied and sullen. I look out my window and conceded to myself that it’s pretty enough, all green and sunny, but it’s too hot, and I always feel vaguely unclean and sticky as if a brigade of small children had been giving me a massage after eating a bag of caramels. I do not love summer. I just don’t.
There are good things about it. I like the flowers, the green grass, and the blaze of natural vivacity. I like fireflies, real lemonade, sailing, and cooking outside. I worship at the altar of the Farmers’ Market, snapping up fresh herbs, berries, tomatoes, squash and gigantic scallions with their bulbous, white heads. I would bathe in a good Caprese Salad, a vat of fresh pesto or a pool of spicy, cool Gazpacho. I like iced coffee, iced tea and Fourth of July fireworks. I like to wear flip-flops, flowery skirts and floaty linen things, and I love little girls in summer dresses. I like bonfires, toasting marshmallows and Gin and Tonics. The summer is not without it’s charms.
On the other hand, the sweaty one, there is much to be desired. I do not like heat, and I burn in the sun regardless of how much SPF 50 I slather from ear-tips to foot-tops. My hair refuses to be straightened, and the second I leave my climate-controlled house, it morphs into a series of flat planes and explosions of pouf uncontrollable by modern beauty science. I am always shiny, pink, and frizzy, feeling that I have lost all of my hard-won adult cool and reverted to the worst period of frumpy adolescence. I hate mosquitoes, which are attracted by my white, white flesh. I am allergic to chlorine, and spend poolside festivities in a chair, sweltering and smiling. Baseball doesn’t do much for me. I have to exercise at some obscenely early hour or on the treadmill lest I should be reduced to a sweating, sunburned lump of flesh.
I do not like the feeling that summer is a period of Forced Fun, and that the season requires a kind of sunny disposition and staccato enthusiasm to accompany all of those bright colors and intense flavors. I gave it every opportunity to enchant me; For years I wanted my summers to be all “American Graffiti” or “Blue Lagoon,” filled with romantic intrigue, cruising with friends, and bronzed skin played against crisp, white shirts and shorts. Instead I feel grumpy, at odds, and menaced by the heat index and the wet, weighty air. I am haunted by the memory of myself at fourteen, allowing myself to be cajoled into joining a volleyball game at a party and wanting to die as a vigorous spike cause my roll-on bubblegum lipgloss to rocket out of my bra where I had tucked it for safekeeping.
I wilt in summer, and revive with the first hint of fall in the air; autumn is when I feel most vividly alive, and the season of falling leaves, new pencils and freshly pressed cider is heaven on earth. There are days of brilliant, but less direct sun, days of swirling leaves and storms, the mysteriousness of Halloween, and the comforts of Thanksgiving. I am secretly thrilled the first time snow falls every year; it is a miracle to me that such a thing can happen, and I feel a piercing kind of elation that drowns out the snow haters and the winter complainers. People who hate snow should, perhaps, head South.
I am a creature of coolness, darkness, and contemplation. I can’t imagine St. Augustine on a Jet Ski, or Buddha spending a day reading “People” by the pool with a cooler full of Miller Light. If I could hibernate during the summer, with a steady supply of fiction, fresh tomatoes and the odd bouquet of Lisianthus and snapdragons, I might just do it. Then again, maybe a few months of stickiness and frizz is a damned small price to pay for a dinner of fresh corn and tomatoes followed by catching fireflies on the lawn……