A friend recently said that it seemed like I’d had a good summer, and I did, but the word had made me sad. Like most Midwesterners who endure brutal winters, I never want summer to end.
This time of year, after the sunflowers have bloomed and the tomato plants shrivel up, I begin to feel like Warren Beatty’s character in “Heaven Can Wait,” whose guardian angel accidentally takes his soul from his body prematurely. I feel the crisp chill in the air and wonder if someone messed with the calendar. There must be some mistake. Summer can’t be over. The best season was just getting started.
Summer is so short and so precious that it has what’s thought of in economics as “scarcity value.” The less there is of something, the more we appreciate it.
The problem is I don’t think of the season as scarce until it’s over. In spring, summer yawns in front of me like an ocean. Before the snow has melted, I plan out every weekend, road trip and camp.
Every summer has to compete with the ones that came before it. Like a recipe I’ve made a bunch of times but keep trying to improve, I think of how I might maintain our traditions while adjusting the ingredients to find the perfect balance of activity and rest, adventure and introspection, alone time and family time.
Then there’s the hook, or the thing that should define each summer so I can look back someday and think: That was the summer we toured Europe, or the summer we explored the state. Each summer is a scrapbook waiting to happen.
But turn twice and Walgreens has already set up an aisle for Halloween candy. When I’m on the other side of summer, I don’t see the ocean anymore. Instead, I look back and see a puddle. The half-marathon? My bursitis started acting up. Our giant MasterCard bill is the enduring souvenir from our trip to Europe. My kids had jobs and spent time with their friends when they could have bonded with me.
Still, I cling to summer like I’m gripping a windowsill as I fall out of a building, because, overall it was a good summer – how could summer not be good in this part of the country? I look around at the red barns and the cornfields and feel like I’m in an illustration from a children’s storybook. It’s the one season when it feels great to be outside. What a treat to walk out of a building into warmer air. It doesn’t get dark at 5 o’clock, and there’s no black ice to slip on, no heating bill to dread.
Maybe it’s impossible to have a perfect summer, because the season is just too short. But there’s always next summer, and the summer after that.
Christi Clancy lives in Madison, Wis.