Sunday, June 24, 2012
A Hundred Adventures
It's midsummer, the solstice. Now is the best of summer, the ultimate fullness of spring. July and August will beat us unmercifully with the sun we had craved so mightily in March; we find out that too much is as bad as too little. But now, the plants are bursting with both flower and seed, the beans are forming, the tomatoes green and plentiful, so full of promise. Early crops are in: lettuce, spinach, chard. The strawberries are a close memory while the blueberries and those insanely prolific red raspberries are just about to spill out. Down South, the tough blackberry dares you to reach in and pluck it -- it will cost you, and be worth it. The rose will not be slowed, and in this first third of the sweet season, neither will we.
Yoko Ono, of all people, observed that Spring = Innocence, Summer = Exhuberance, Fall = Reverence and Winter = Perseverance. We need them all and must keep them when they hide from us.
They say big cities, like New York, aren't themselves in summer, and only get normal again in September. In earlier decades, the moneyed class, the white-shoe lawyers and financial traders, lived by the code "Sell by May and go away." The market (stock, of course) suffered from summer doldrums and inattention, so might as well take your profits and retire to New Hampshire, Maine or Martha's Vineyard with the family and servants for three months and practice your drink-mixing skills. And summer dalliances weren't serious and home-wrecking. Back to the Street and Yale in the fall, to make the future...
The adventures of summer when we're young seem so big, punctuating the time that stretches out like a yawning cat. Some go to summer camp and I wonder what that would have been like. I always wanted to go to the Boy Scouts' Philmont Ranch, thinking that would have been the ultimate youthful experience: the unknown West, family so far behind even a letter would have seemed to have been penned by ghosts and have no real power or substance. Horses! I wanted to learn to ride, even a little. Campfire songs and easy sleep from tiredness entirely physical. Waking early to be ready for a new adventure surely to be remembered even in old age. I only went to local Camp Brady Saunders in central Virginia for a weekend; that had to do. We had a blast, being senior Explorer Scouts and pretty much large and in charge. That was well worth attending boring meetings all year, but I left after that, because more boring meetings would not result in anything that much fun again.
I experienced summer most intensely around here, at my grandparents' little house on the huge lot outside Mechanicsburg. Leaving family behind (seeing a motif here?), I worked in the garden in the afternoons and helped my grandmother with chores quietly in the morning while grandad slept after working the night shift on the Pennsylvania Railroad. We "processed" vegetables for canning and freezing, ate fresh cantaloupes, lima beans, tomatoes and corn, and stalked the wily groundhog who shook the farthest cornstalks and took bites out of the fallen apples (several .22 and shotgun shots, with no harm done to any groundhog) and the copperheads along the disappearing back fenceline (did get one of those). I walked into town to the hobby shop to buy plastic models to assemble and paint (my favorite, a white 1959 Oldsmobile. I still like those late '50s boats). Grandad had a work car (1948 burgundy Dodge that had its own particular plastic smell) and a weekend errand and go-to-church car (1956 DeSoto Firedome four-door with probably more interior space than any Rolls-Royce and a helluva V8 engine). They took me to the small J.C. Penney's in the old West Shore Plaza and bought me a brown cotton plaid shirt that I proudly wore on the first day of school and no one liked it. That's when I discovered the essential truth that other people often don't know what the hell they're talking about. It had Western details. It was awesome.
What would a land of endless summer be like? Australia, the Caribbean, Brazil...no anticipation of the ripening of seasons, everything blooming all year. Whatever latitude you inhabit will have its own pace and pleasures; rum is not better than hearty ale. Full is the life that includes everything that you can embrace or dream of. The oak and the palm are both enduring and beautiful. Stories of others' summers fill out the pages almost as well as your own; read in the slow afternoons and let your mind travel on the easy, warm breezes:
"Factualism will smother the imagination altogether." -- Saul Bellow