Sunday, July 8, 2018

Post-Heat Wave Notes on Boundless Summer

So already, during this June, summer seemed endless, and boundless. This was probably in part due to my tendency to think of the first three weeks of June as early summer, even though they are technically astronomically still spring. During the week of the summer solstice, in the area of New York just west of Williamstown, Massachusetts where our cabin is, the corn and the goldenrod were only as high a calf's eye--and their adolescent green leaves and stems lacked even a hint of yellow or gold. Meanwhile, along every brook, in every clearing in the woods, and along most roadways, flowering white bushes reigned. Not a hint of decay in the smell of this June world: just clean, light sweetness.

Back at home in Quincy around that same time, dawn was materializing early or earlier every day, first as a pale beige-gray filling my bedroom, then as rosy fingers settling on the old boombox in the room's far corner, and finally as a horizontal gold line moving across the wall opposite my bed. Down the hall, a crystal candle holder on the window sill produced a rainbow that daily inched its way from under my dining room table towards the kitchen threshold. Every sunny morning was a Chelsea Morning: "Oh, won't you stay/ We'll put on the day/ There's a sun show every second."* I became my grade school self at the beginning of summer vacation: free, or at least so much freer--with plenty of choice about when to do what I needed to do--and plenty of time to do what I wanted to do. 

I was surprised by my lightness of being: spring had been heavy going. And then came June, and for whatever reason, the world seemed to be growing, expanding, carrying me along with it. Each day felt like a first day of many such days. I was definitely riding the summer wave.

So I was equally surprised when I turned my calendar page to July, and I wiped out. Summer--and I--suddenly felt bounded. I think one reason for the change was the seven-day heat wave that had just begun. I tend to wish away heat waves while I wait them out. And if you wish away heat waves, or any other kinds of events, you also wish away time, which, in this case meant wishing away summertime.

Air conditioning probably was another contributor to my eroding sense of boundlessness. I hate air conditioning, and resist using it until I fear the sweat drops falling from my chin will cause my laptop to malfunction. Who wouldn't feel bounded on days when the window shades are partially lowered against the sun's heat, the windows are closed, and any ventures into the outdoors are accompanied by radio warnings about the threat of dehydration and heat exhaustion? When cold seals me indoors, I feel cozy and start planning what comfort foods to cook. When summer seals me indoors, I feel trapped, separated from light and life. My house becomes a box I can't think outside of.

Twice I've visited Kampala, Uganda and Singapore, where high temperatures and brief, intense rainstorms, are the daily norm, and thus are taken in stride by people for whom the word "season" is most often preceded by "wet" (Kampala) or "monsoon" (Singapore). Each day this past week when I've walked out of my building early in the morning, I've thought of these cities and their lush, fragrant vegetation. In Singapore, not at all a wild place, vines and shrubs flourish on buildings' outdoor hallways; on the outskirts of Kampala, flowers and greenery I've never seen elsewhere thrive along red-dirt roads and peer over the barbed-wire-topped walls of compounds. I loved the smell of early morning in both places.

Brief Dawn Over Lake Victoria
What I loved less was the brevity of twilight shared by both places, something I that I hadn't understood was par for the course in places close to the Equator. I knew I could expect day and night to be practically equal in length all year long, but I had no appreciation of the astronomical reasons for the comparatively brief night-to-day and day-to-night transitions.** Since dusk and dawn are my favorite times of day, I felt a bit deprived.

Early January Dusk
Unfortunately, I was in neither place long enough to learn to see the subtle variations of year-round summer divided into dryer and wetter seasons and days and nights of nearly equal length. As a North American living at 42.2529° N latitude, I find it hard to imagine passing time apart from seasons, lengths of day and night, and dawns and dusks of some duration. Knowing that about myself makes me wonder what effect the experience of less variation in light and climate might have on other people's senses of time and timelessness. Of course, I understand that other factors also shape perceptions and understandings of time. It may be that in the United States, our work calendars, school calendars, holiday seasons, and religious beliefs govern our relationships with time far more than do astronomical and meteorological phenomena.

Sunrise Last Tuesday, South End of Wollaston Beach
Currently, the sun is still rising over Wollaston Beach in its summer solstice position. In a few weeks, though, it will  rise in a slightly different place. That won't sadden me: I love the way each season in New England consists of sub-seasons. Without summer's, there would be no goldenrod and rose of Sharon in August. Or corn. I don't need summer to be endless. I do need it be annual. And my preference is definitely for it to be boundless.

Boundless? Though various online dictionaries define "boundless" as vast, without limits or boundaries, and abundant, I don't wish for summer to supplant other seasons.*** I feel that every season is abundant in distinguishing ways. So when it's summer's time, I simply want summer to spread everywhere and to infuse everything with its spirit. I like to imagine boundless summer urging us to rise early and go for a walk before the streets are humming with traffic. Or pulling us toward a place to sit in a park or garden, near some water, or next to a field or clearing, where we can just be.

Not that seizing and holding on to those moments and that spirit is easy. Air conditioned rooms with drawn shades certainly work against it. So do summer deadlines, online calendar message alerts, crowded subway trains, and people whose frantic doing makes everything and everyone around them vibrate.

Right now, I'm trying to get back on the summer wave. Poetry helps. Going outside, especially at dusk or dawn, even if it's only for ten minutes, helps. So does sitting next to an open window while summer simply comes in. 

It's easy to feel summer's boundlessness when I'm out at our cabin. Beyond our open windows on June and July evenings are that sure sign of both summer and the end of dusk, fireflies.***  But all day long, across our sills flow the hum and hiss of the front field and the dance of light and shadow. At night, we're visited by silence that isn't silent at all.

Quincy offers more of a challenge, even with the beach and Merrymount Park nearby. My open windows tell a human summer story: kids at the nearby daycare center taking their daily walk; the neighbor across the street using power tools to repair his porch; firecrackers going off late at night, probably in the empty grocery store parking; the slamming of a car door after a civil or uncivil good-bye. If the human story gets too raucous some nights, there's often a live broadcast from Tanglewood***** that I can listen to next to my open window.

First thing in the morning, though, it's birdsong--many of the same birds I hear out at the cabin. And then a few hours later, a sea breeze that crosses the sill, tempering the heat built up by morning's direct sunlight. Get ready, wave: boundless summer's coming back.

* From Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" on her Clouds  album.
** I did a little online research about this. In both places, the sun rises and sets at roughly 7:00 am and pm. In Singapore, not quite 2 degrees above the equator, earliest and latest sunrise and sunset times are approximately 20 minutes apart. In Kampala, less than 1 degree above the equator, earliest and latest sunrise and sunset times are approximately 6 minutes apart. 
*** Summer isn't even my favorite season.
**** T., H. (2018, July 5). Fired up about fireflies [Web log post]. Retrieved July 07, 2018, from 
Screen shot of copyrighted photo by photo@jsmcelvery that appears with this blog post.
***** The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

No comments:

Post a Comment