I think I need to break up with summer.
For years I would say that summer was my favorite season. A part of me has never gotten over that giddy “school’s out” feeling every June, when a whole three months of fun and frolic beckoned. The outside world was beautiful and warm, people were more prone to kicking up their heels, and I was eager to join them. As I got older, the prospect of summer romance – or, at least, adventurous trysts en plain air – also beckoned.
However, I’ve been looking at it honestly as of late, and those are all promises that, for me, summer hasn’t always delivered.
Not that summer wasn’t great when I was a kid. But I grew up at a time when it was customary to kick your kids outside to go play, and I also grew upon a street where it was especially safe for my mother do to so. So for most summers I was near-feral, wearing only the barest minimum of clothing and letting myself get dirty or wet as the spirit moved me. We also were on good enough terms with our neighbors – and their pool – that we had leave to use it even when they weren’t home; so I spent most of the hottest summer days half-submerged, a bathing suit welded to me, either cannonballing into the water or playing Marco Polo when it got too hot or just laying in the sun to warm up when I was a bit chilly. When I warmed up again, the water was right there.
The week or two I was at summer camp each year, they also scheduled the swimming and boating lessons for the hottest part of the day; or, if it was still hot when we had our “Outdoor Education” hour, the counselors would lead us on a hike along – and through – the nearby streams. Some summers it was so hot that streamwalks were all we did, to the point that the “Outdoor Education” team was called “The Get-Wet Club”. But it kept me cool and comfortable, it kept me refreshed, and kept me active. And there were also the weekends we’d visit my grandparents on Cape Cod, where we had the brisk ocean breezes on top of the chill Atlantic to cool us down. And if it still got too hot, there were always ice pops from the beach club, sold buy a guy who used a machete to whack the ends off and open them up for us. (My brother loved that part.)
And then I moved to New York. And realized for the first time – summer’s humid, y’all.
My first year living here I read Carrie Fisher’s Postcards From The Edge, and was struck by a throwaway line one character used to describe New York’s summer weather – “it’s like a cough. It’s like the whole country came here and coughed.” For every summer since, I’ve thought of that line and found myself agreeing. It’s hot and sticky and oppressive and overpowering and weighs me down to the point that even summoning the energy to go out to one of the public pools or even just leave the house is an extreme act of will.
It was just as humid back where I grew up – barely a latitude point north, in Eastern Connecticut. But then I had leave to do nothing if I so chose, or I was in and out of water so much that I just plain didn’t notice. But oh, I do now – instead of that leisure time, I have to drag myself to and from a job every weekday, huddling close to the air conditioner at the office and trying to make do with fans at home. My current roommate leaves town for a month every summer, so for a month I can get away with a bit of undress at home, which helps – sort of. But after having been out in the steam room of the city all day, I just plain don’t want to do anything once I get home. Not write, not rally myself for a walk, not go to a movie, nothing. It’s too damn hot. Every year I ambitiously make a list of the free concerts I want to go see in New York’s parks, and every year as each concert date rolls around I get home, whimper at the thought of going back outside again now that I’m finally out of my oppressive work clothes and finally comfortable, and end up doing nothing. Cooking for myself – another thing that I didn’t have to do as a child – is bad enough.
Which also puts the kibosh on summer romance. I’ve actually been single for most of the summers in my adult life, so I haven’t had anyone handy to snog with. I get optimistic about finding someone each year, but then I run up against my reluctance to leave the house, and that somewhat limits my chances.
Recently, fall has been grabbing my attention more and more. The days are getting cooler, but in early fall it’s still warm enough to be outside – finally, after a solid three months of cowering indoors away from the heat. You can go outside without feeling like you need to pull your skin off. The weather is still fairly clear, but the haze of summer is cleared away, making things seem even clearer and brighter – almost crisp.
New York has a lot of big cultural shindigs in early fall as well – book fairs, special events at museums, food festivals – so there’s plenty to do. And even better, lots of kids are still getting their footing back in school, so there aren’t as many people in the museums as there would be in summer. And if you get a bit chilly, a lot of the outdoor events have warming drinks of some sort on hand – especially in Brooklyn, where it seems every farmer’s market has some variant on hot apple cider on sale.
And upstate New York comes into its glory over the fall, tempting you to explore the outdoors. Writing about the Hudson Valley recently, and joining my friend Colin on a few hikes by way of research, has got me interested in some long woodland walks of my own – right when the woods and mountains of the Hudson are erupting in brilliant washes of crimson and gold and ochre. Even close to home, I make a point of visiting The Cloisters every fall – right when the foliage display has finally spread down to the Pallisades, so the view through the museum windows is just as stunning as the medieval art inside.
And there’s even a romance to fall as well – but it’s not the same as the carnal fling of summer. There’s a place for that, of course, but fall is more cuddly and cozy, all long walks and sharing hot cocoa and baking pies and cuddling under blankets. There’s a sweetness and a tenderness to it which, to be honest, a bit more where my own heart lies.
So – sorry, summer, we’ve just grown apart. There are things about you I’ll always love, but I have autumn roads to explore and travel now.