Today is the day that excites me more than all the others on the calendar. Honestly, the only thing that could make it better would be presents. I am giddy with anticipation! For what, you ask? Well, today was the last day of school. And while that is cool on its own—pride, relief, accomplishment, and that sort of thing—its primary appeal to me is something totally different. What the last day of school means to me is that I can finally enter my element. My comfort zone. My season. My beloved SUMMER.
I love Summer! I could shout it from the rooftops and the hilltops. Love LOVE love it! It fills my heart with such Joy and my mind with such Peace. It truly settles into my soul and creates a different person for these few precious months each year. I am a new man. It grounds me, even as it reinvigorates me like a magic elixir. I am completely enchanted by it. It is my home.
It has always been this way for me. I remember the giddiness of the last day of school every year, so excited for freedom. When I look back on the long history of my time on this Earth, it seems that nearly every single memory comes from Summer. As a kid, I think of all of those classic, cross-country roadtrips we took in the family van, all of us packed in there for every meal and every night of sleep. I think of spending weekends at my cousins’ old lake cabin, swinging from the rafters and listening to REO Speedwagon on the record player (“Take it on the run, baby….”) as we stayed up way too late on the sugar rush of Tangy Taffy and Ring Pops. I think of my carefree neighborhood that seemed to center around my yard, where all the kids gathered daily to play Capture The Flag (“Flag Game” to us) by day and Kick The Can by night. I think of walking over to the tennis courts in the morning with my brothers and neighbors, playing until lunch, then returning for more in the afternoon and evening. I think of making a bike track—replete with water jumps and berms–around the empty lot next door to my house, where we were BMX champions, if only in our minds. I think of building the family cabin and wild death rides on the tube behind the boat at my beloved Pelican Lake, where my kids now make their favorite memories every Summer. I think of every tennis tournament I ever played. My entire childhood lives in my mind as one hot, gorgeous Summer day.
Even my adult memories, though, seem to share the same setting. I remember in my college years, every night of Summer was about hanging with my buddies, asking each other endlessly, “What should we do?” as we laughed away the hours making fun of each other (because there was nothing else to do). I remember rollerblading along Lake Michigan at sunset in my Chicago Summer, and all over Washington, DC and Los Angeles other years. I remember my indescribable joy while surfing the Pacific Ocean, so sure was I that nothing could ever top that feeling. I remember my many camping trips to Glacier National Park and the Bliss that I found there. I remember all of my other solo voyages across the land, pitching my tent on a dry lake bed in the desert, on a cliff above the ocean, and along countless streams and forests in between. I remember golfing The Grove on quiet Friday nights with my Mom, enchanted by the complete serenity of the walk in that amazing light. I think of the many nights I spent writing my journals in my hammock in the screen porch of my parents’ house—my favorite room in any house I have ever been in—my heart and mind exploding in self-discovery and complete happiness. I remember teaching Summer Camp in New York and then roadtripping with my Mom when camp was over. I remember my amazing wedding weekend. I remember the births of my kids. I remember running through the sprinkler, Slip-n-Slides, and all of their birthday parties. I love those memories. They are the highlights of my life. Every last one of them occurred in Summer. It is completely my Season.
If every day of my life could occur in Summer, I would surely make it so. And while I can understand why some people claim Autumn or Spring as their favorite seasons—let’s be clear: you will never get me to understand the appeal of Winter—I would still take Summer a hundred days out of a hundred. Why can’t it last all year? I can honestly say that I have always felt displaced as a Northerner, as though I somehow landed in the wrong part of the world at birth and have been compelled to remain here. Every year I have a few days when I seriously contemplate moving away from this land of four seasons, most of which feel like Winter to me. I try to make a list of possible destinations with the right combination of warmth, size, safety, and proximity to the ocean or the mountains. No matter how tantalizing the choices seem in the moment, my efforts are futile. The exercise is a pointless one. I am not going anywhere.
There is one and only one reason that I remain in this land of pond-hockey and ice fishing. That reason is called FAMILY. My parents and siblings—and most of my wife’s—are spread across this four-state-wide frozen belt between Montana and Wisconsin, roughly centered around the Western Minnesota lake country where we gather every year (in Summer, of course) to do all the things that make families the most unique and magical human groupings ever assembled. There is just no substitute. I cannot bring myself to leave them and the possibility of drive-there-in-a-day proximity. I love it when my sisters or my parents pass through town on their way somewhere, giving my kids a chance to see their cousins or grandparents. It truly is the case that all of the highlights of their year are the times with family gathered. I cannot surrender that simply because I want to wear shorts all year.
So, I suppose I have to admit it. I always thought that what defined me best was my bond with Summer, unwavering and unconditional. As it turns out, even Summer loses out to my love of family. What can I say? Alright, but I do have a bone to pick as long as we are talking about family (for the record, I have never had a bone to pick with Summer—well, other than its length). Here is my beef: What the heck were my ancestors thinking when they settled in this frozen tundra, where we get only three months of Summer per year???? Seriously, they could have made my life so much less conflicted if only they had dropped their bags and their tired, poor, huddled (m)asses somewhere much warmer and less topographically-challenged than this. What could possibly have possessed them to put down roots here as opposed to, say, San Diego? But family forgives anything, right? So, I am going to give my ancestors my most forgiving take on this so I don’t have to go on cursing them and the land to which I call home. The only possible explanation for such madness: they arrived in Summer!
How about you? Which season belongs to you? Open up your journal and your memory bank. Make a list of your memories from each season of the year. Does one list stand out to you? Is it the sheer number of memories from that season, or is it the quality of those memories, your fondness for them? What are your favorite memories of Summer? For me, my Summer memories from childhood all seem to be draped in a feeling of freedom, which I suppose comes mostly from the absence of school, but also likely from the warm weather and the liberation from shelter or excess clothing that comes with it. Are your Summer memories that way, draped with an entirely different air about them? Even relationships—namely, a different eagerness to get a “Summer girlfriend”—were different for me in Summer. Was it that way for you? When I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, parents seemed to give kids very long leashes compared to parents of today. How do you think your Summers would be different if you were growing up with your family today? How has climate affected your lifestyle and where you have chosen to settle? Has it trumped family? Where do you wish your family had settled? Rank your favorite seasons in order. If you could have all of the characteristics of your favorite season all year long—e.g. endless Summer—would you do it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which season captures your heart and soul the way Summer does mine?