Astronomical summer is almost here, which means the final tile in the annual summer mosaic is about to fall into place. After that, summer has undeniably begun. Of course, meteorologically speaking, summer has already been here for a while. I think it started somewhere around the first of June. Temperature wise, it’s felt like summer since mid-May, maybe even earlier. Psychologically, for me at least, summer’s been around since about the first of January. This year, I emotionally skipped most of winter and spring altogether and went straight for the good stuff. I went to the beach as often as I could in an attempt to soak up the salt water air and some UV rays in an attempt to trick my serotonin levels into believing it was mid-July. That’s not to say that I don’t love spring or I can’t at least appreciate winter—because I do, and I can. Sometimes, I just need to feel the sun shining enough to burn away the mental fog and warm my bones. It’s the best remedy I have for staving off the dreaded winter blues.
As a kid, I didn’t concern myself with much beyond the seasonal definitions that directly affected my world. For years I went blithely along, assuming that fall started when school started, winter began the week after Thanksgiving break, and spring (which was the most nebulous of the seasons) arrived somewhere around the first of February. (In Florida we tended to wear white all year long and sometimes wore shorts on Christmas Day, so the standard rules of thumb and situational touchstones—like scarves and mittens—didn’t exactly translate. In fact, most of the year felt like summer. Seasonal changes were more like subtle temperature drifts with an occasional hard freeze thrown in the mix. To be honest, during most of my youth, I thought anything under 75 degrees Fahrenheit was chilly. Below 65 was a sure sign that winter was upon us, and once the thermometer dropped below 50, we were squarely in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. This made the use of arbitrary demarcations for the seasons a must.) Finally, summer commenced when school let out. It was clearly delineated by the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. That meant summer ran reliably between the last week of May through to the last week of August, and the glorious weeks in the middle were filled with days at the Bath & Racket Club pool, gambols through the sprinkler, and endless bike rides through the neighborhood on my trusty bike, Big Red.
As a side note, Big Red was not my first bike. My first bike was actually a beautiful purple and white banana seat special with glittery fringe trailing from the handlebar grips and a white plastic woven basket on the front. I loved that bike, but thanks to an early growth spurt that made me entirely too tall to ride it without looking like a circus chimp on wheels, I traded in my perfect purple girl’s bike for Big Red. Big Red was a full-sized, rusty, 3-speed bike that required a great deal of TLC, including intense debridement with multiple Brillo-Pads, to make it presentable. I don’t know exactly where Big Red came from. I think it might have been my parent’s communal bike, which meant it was at least 20 years old and probably held some starring role in a long-held family anecdote that included two 50’s doo-wop songs and a MoonPie.
Somewhere along the line, I learned about astronomical seasons, including summer. For a while, after I learned the truth and being the stickler for specificity that I tended to be at the time, I took it on as my duty to educate the less-informed. Light-hearted statements about summer’s arrival and spring’s demise were met with a 9-year-old’s dissertation on the astronomical season and the fallacy of the school calendar. I was the self-appointed keeper of the seasonal truth whose mission it was to protect the world from the oppression of inaccuracy.
Needless to say, that phase of my education was a tad frustrating for everyone around me. In the end, my parents carefully explained that the world was full of conflicting definitions and that many things, including some definitions, were mutable, depending on the circumstances. They became a tad more frustrated when I then asked them if the definition of the word “crap” was one of those mutable words. I had heard my brother say it more than once when he thought no one else was listening to his phone conversations. To that, my mother sighed heavily, proclaimed that I was not allowed to use that word, and said that I was to let other people learn about the astronomical seasons in their own time.
Not long after that, I let the entire seasonal discussion go. It wasn’t worth losing any part of my summer to whatever non-corporal punishment might have been levied if I pushed it much farther. For the rest of that summer, my brother kept saying “crap” whenever he could and soon developed a vast array of colorful descriptors for his growing verbal arsenal. I hopped on Big Red and rode off into the neighborhood.
As an adult, I’ve never been able to fully capture the experience of summer as I did when I was a kid. Big Red is long gone, and real life usually prevents me from embracing summer’s full potential. In my head, however, summer’s warm, blissful freedom lives on. These days, I’m less concerned about its official beginning or end. Like I said, this year I psychologically embraced summer months ago. Still, there’s something about the Summer Solstice that solidifies the season for me. Maybe it’s just a moment when everyone (at least everyone in the Northern hemisphere) is finally in agreement about something. Maybe it just reminds me of a simpler time—back when I actually thought I was absolutely right about the things I thought I knew. It’s difficult to say. All I know for sure is that with the solstice, comes the greatest potential for literal illumination that we will have all year long. I think that makes it a day worth noticing, and I plan to get as much out of it and the rest of this summer (astronomical or otherwise) as I can.
(Image created using photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels )