Summer is a-comin in

It’s hot out. 90 degrees. My company just sent out a notification that we’re in voluntary energy reduction to try to prevent rolling blackouts. That’s how you know it’s summer… when the electrical grid is struggling to keep up and you’re glad that your California-raised mother taught you how to keep a house reasonably cool without AC.

And Sunday is the equinox, the longest day of the year! Last night I was coming home from the Plato book club discussion at about 9:30, listening to the Celtics on the radio as I drove through Boston. On the horizon, that late at night, there was still the touch of color from a sunset that has not quite succumbed to night.

It’s so amazingly liberating to bare skin. There is a phenomenal feeling to the hot sun against your skin, melting away the shell of winter. There’s the omnipresent buzz of summer: of lawnmowers and chainsaws and insects and leafblowers and circular saws slicing out new porches for backyard barbecues. There’s the nightly throwing-open of windows, to invite in the sounds and smells and relative coolness of the brief dark of night, which inevitably leads to you being awoken at 5 am by a rousing chorus of birdsong in the dawn.

And there’s the food — the amazing bounty of the land. December knows nothing like a June strawberry, and February has forgotten the explosion of taste that comes with a sunwarmed raspberry eaten straight off the bush in the backyard. The winter-dulled palate is amazed by the variety, abundance and excellence of everything, until it becomes sated and blase by the oppressive humidity of August.

But now, in June, this liberation is new and freeing. The blow-up pool in the back yard doesn’t have that patina that such pools so quickly obtain. The stack of swim diapers is high. The jug of bubble-stuff nearly unmolested. We have forgotten the sensations of sunburn and bugbite, and see only the brightness, and the undimmed memory that with heat comes leisure. (I confess that I wonder if my sons will have any such associations — my sister recently “booked” her summer and realized that her kids only get about 4 weeks of Doing-Nothingage, which I recall being the dominant component of my summers when I was their age.)

There is swimming ahead, and parks. There are camping and hikes. There are roadtrips across haze-shrouded hills when the black asphalt waves in the heat. There’s whitewater river rafting (for reals!), ocean-cool downs and back yard BBQs.

And as quickly as it comes, I know, it fades again into the joyful and exuberant solemnity of autumn. But that is beyond tomorrow, and next week, and next month. It is a full season away. Today, my friends, we celebrate summer.

How fast the time flies

I remember the longest hour that ever existed. It was in Mr. Johnson’s math class — geometry, I think. I remember having the time to notice every single thing about that hour — the droning buzz of chainsaws from the nearby hill being logged, the way the sunlight was golden on the fading azaleas in the interstices of the school, the hum of the overhead projector with the thick black pen markings disappearing into scroll-like rolls, the drone of his voice explaining arcane mathematical phenomenon I did not then and have not now mastered, the coldness of the computer room behind the math room with all the proud ’80s era Macintosh computers sitting under dust covers (it was the mid-90s). There was no whirling of time, no speeding by of concepts or ideas, no blurring together of moments. Every single long second, all (60 x 60 x 1) of them had my complete and full attention, without the distraction of, you know, things of interest. I’m not sure why that was the longest hour of my life, but I do believe it was.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a phenomenon I had been warned about. Time is clearly speeding up. This makes sense, from one point of view. If you consider each hour as a percentage of your time alive and aware, as you grow older it becomes a smaller and smaller percentage. Perhaps that 16 year old me in that corner-classroom was the optimum point between awareness of time and watch-ownership, and percentage of life an hour represented. In truth, I’ve heard that time stretches out when you are confronted with novelty, because your brain has to explicitly save more of it. For example, you’re unlikely to remember every minute of your commute home tonight. Your brain doesn’t need to save that information: it’s just like yesterday’s version and likely very similar to tomorrow’s. So why bother? The first time you scuba dive, however, every single sensation and view you experience is unlike all others you’ve experienced and your brain saves far more of the information. It’s why a new road you’ve never driven that takes 20 minutes is so much longer than your 20 minute commute, or at least feels that way.

Into my fourth decade, I encounter fewer and fewer novelties in my daily living. My brain relies on the tropes, stereotypes and previous experiences. Whole days, I have no doubt, go by without creating a single memory that will endure past the year. No wonder time seems faster, when I remember less of it.

All this is an extremely long lead in to a statement I never thought I’d say in my entire life in New England. But here it is. Where did the winter go? See, I’m totally used to summer flying by in a flurry of sunscreen and “just keep driving” fantasies as I head on Northward roads towards a climate controlled office. Spring is inevitably fleeting. Fall has the enduring quality, but still slips through my fingers like ribbon on a birthday present being opened with eager hands. The five minutes of Christmas when I deeply breathe of the scent of balsam and stare at twinkling lights persists, but the remainder of the month is gone. However, I can usually rely on January, February and March to provide me with the unchanging interminability of misery that is winter. Ah, winter! The one time of the year that you aren’t pressed on all sides by missed opportunities! Winter! The season when you go to work thinking that at least you’re not missing out on anything fun. Winter, that usually returns three or four times after you dare to hope it’s left for good! Winter, when it is what it is and you can’t complain but you do anyway.

This year, through phenomenon unknowable, winter went really fast. I can’t blame the kids — this is Grey’s 4th winter and Thane’s 2nd. I had a mix of old job, time off and new job (which the novelty of the latter should’ve slowed time down, according to my above hypothesis). It wasn’t a supremely easy winter. I shoveled a fair amount of snow. Granted, Spring did come a bit early and it was one of the warmest Springs on record. I’m sure that plays a role. But in previous winters I remember dramatically complaining that my marrow had frozen and there was insufficient heat in the fast-fleeting summer to melt it before the dreaded chill arrived again. This winter, my marrow was barely refrigerated.

With such a scientifically minded readership, I’m sure none of you will go thinking I’m jinxing Spring by talking about it – as though it’s a no-hitter. I, personally, am often bemused by just how superstitious I really am. But it’s almost May. I’m headed to FRANCE next weekend, for reals. It’s a matter of weeks until our first camping trip of the year. The leaves on the tree out my kitchen window are in full spring color and bloom, fast approaching full size! Could even the most powerful of jinxes bring winter back now? I think not.

So here it is, spring. And here comes summer, hazy, turgid and fleeting as it is. May I find enough novelty, enough observation and enough patience to make many memories that endure for colder winters ahead.

Father and brother
Father and brother


Grandfather and grandson
Grandfather and grandson

Why the summers seem so short

This year I think I’ve figured out why summers seem half as short as any other season. The simple fact is: they are shorter.

Consider. Summer officially starts June 20th or thereabouts. June 20th is reasonable for summer starting. By the end of June, we’re pretty reliably above freezing and most of the snow has melted. Then you have July, which is really summer. (Except this year, when it was May Take II.) For me, the first week of August we have our big vacation of the year where I go home and hike Mt. Rainier and relax while my kids are entertained by my parents. I come back August 10thish a bit more tan and a bit more relaxed. But as soon as the tires of my Jetblue redeye touch down at Logan, I’m into planning for fall.

It’s not summer that’s weird. It’s fall that’s weird. No other season requires so much advance planning. I don’t plan for summer. I don’t plan for spring. I plan for Christmas, but not for winter. But well in advance of the calendar start of fall (September 20th or thereabouts), I’m planning.

Part of this is due to my own unique circumstances. Let’s look at my autumnal schedule, shall we?

*September 23rd – my birthday (generally ignored)
*October 6th – Grey’s birthday (big deal)
October 12th – my FIL’s birthday (we miss you Mike)
October 16th – my sister’s birthday (I sometimes scrape up a card)
*October 21st – my husband’s birthday (err… I usually buy something for him off his Amazon wishlist)
*October 28th – Thane’s birthday (what am I going to do for his first?)
October 29th – my niece’s birthday (make with the loot already!)
*November 14th (this year) – Mocksgiving (huge big hosting deal that requires lots of forethought)

Items with an asterisk require me to do party planning if a party is going to happen (which is a longer and longer shot with the grownup birthdays).

Add to that the typical things that need doing in fall — a new wardrobe for the kids, a new Saturday activity for Grey (we’ve settled on aikido), starting preschool, prepping the house for winter (cleaning gutters, furnace maintenance, mulching, etc.), Halloween, Thanksgiving and all that.

Finally, toss in a good measure of church starting back up. Now church doesn’t close down, but we have a more moderate schedule over the summer. Our committees meet less often. We don’t have quite as many events. There’s no Sunday School (we do have a kids’ event). There’s less extra work. But there’s a lot to be done for fall: the Fall lunch, the pumpkin party, lining up teachers to teach, ordering curriculum, the Sunday School launch party… all sorts of seasonal things. (Many of which I should probably start thinking about since the loss of a member has made us very shorthanded for some.)

Well, of course I had better start planning for fall by the middle of August! But what this means is that the amount of time I’m in summer and thinking of summer is about 6 weeks — from the end of June to the middle of August. Although there’s another 6 weeks of summer left on the calendar, my mind is already engaged with the fun season of autumn and has left summer behind.

Hmmm… I’m not actually sure I’m glad I wrote out all the things I need to do in Fall. Because right after I get those done we’re in Christmas. Ah well. As one of my professors used to always say (which, to be fair, drove me absolutely bonkers in college), “Life is rich and full.”

The beginning of the end of summer

We went camping again this weekend — the last of our planned three day weekends in New Hampshire. It just so happened that this long-planned weekend coincided with Hurricane Bill. It was rather, uh, wet. And damp. And muddy. Happily, our tent has the floor plan of the Taj Mahal (although it did seem to shrink as the weekend went on), my husband is a tarp-affixing, rope-tying ninja, and we contrived to have fun despite the thunder and lightening.

Some friends were camping at the same time and they brought us fresh-baked cookies. Such things had not been dreampt of in my philosophy before.

Other notes on camping:

  • We played “Roll Through the Ages” again which is a great two player game. Sadly, it was likely the last time I’ll get to play it since it was roughly my 6th consecutive win and I won by a huge margin. This doesn’t bode well for talking my husband into it again.
  • We managed to sneak some lake time in between thunderstorms. On the plus side, nearly no time was wasted applying sunscreen!
  • Thane developed amazingly during the weekend. When we returned, Unka Matt got a quizzical look on his face and asked, “Has he grown up since Thursday?”. Yes, Unka Matt, he had.
  • That last one probably deserves more than a bullet point. The last day, after we’d broken camp and gotten everything in the car, we went for a final swim in some of the best weather we’d had to date. As we reluctantly pulled ourselves out of the warm waters, I held Thane’s arms to have him walk out – on a whim. It was too deep to let him crawl, so I kept him on his feet. And we walked. And during that walk, something turned on for him – the realization that there was this new tranportation method available to him and that this was something he could do. He desires it. Thane has not yet taken his first unsupported steps, but he has stood for significant periods of time. He’s cruising. He’s on the verge. It was astonishing to see that moment of transition between a crawler and one who aspires to walk.

    Unlike previous camping trips, I didn’t take any pictures this time. I’m not sure why not – I just didn’t. The only pictures taken were on our way home, at the Miss Wakefield Diner. As I took this picture, my loving husband said, “This is why I wanted to be a father. I remember now.”

    The weird thing is he seemed to like it
    The weird thing is he seemed to like it