The heat of summer drains all aspirations as well as inspirations out of me. Long days mean that I feel guilty for curling up with a book before dark. After all, if the sun is shining, shouldn’t I be up and doing as well? The birds’ songs may mellow out toward evening, reduced from the quick chirping, mighty peeping of early morning and the energetic cawing of mid-day to a spiritual cantor as dark draws near, but they still echo through the woods like a call to arms.
Every season has something to say. Summer no less than autumn, winter, or spring. But with its brilliant, keep-moving attitude, summer has always left me exhausted and vaguely guilty, never living up to the maxim: “Make hay while the sun shines!” Until now. After fifty-seven years, it’s about time I started to receive what summer offers, without resentment.
This year’s spring rush lived up to its name with house repair projects, major cleaning and reorganizing, raising chickens for winter meat, setting up solar panels as an energy source, adding hard covers to my book options, editing assignments, a major cemetery state review, a garden to get out, and early fruits to turn into jam and jelly. Luckily, I do not work alone. My kids do much of the physical labor, and I end up as director, assistant, or cheerleader.
Summer Solstice is the turning point from spring to summer, even though the school break and warm weather engaged weeks before. For us, the longest day is marked with a family cookout and poetry readings, time as a family to chat and reconnect. Though it’s never stated, the ritual of our seasonal routine bonds us, forming the memories that strengthen the habits which become the bedrock for future endeavors.
Spring needs to rush. It must get a lot of important stuff done while the weather permits, and we all have the spirit and energy to see projects accomplished. Summer Solstice stops us for a brief moment and reminds us of why we work so hard to do what we do. To assist our brothers and sisters, our parents and family relations, our friends near and far, into an unknown future. To get the work done that holds our bodies and souls together a little longer.
Then comes real summer: stultifying heat, cloying humidity, unexpected thunderstorms that excite hope for coolness but inevitably disappoint as blinding sunshine bakes steaming fields. Soon the grass turns brown and crunches underfoot, great cracks appear in the earth, and weariness oppresses the mind and spirit. Spring adventures meld into a hazy summertime endurance test.
Today, we have air conditioning, so we can close up the house and cool down on the worst days. But memories of canning pickles and salsa on fiercely hot summer days conjure images of myself as a young wife and mother, determination incarnate. I was one with women through the ages who, though often pregnant and exhausted, still worked through the heat to provide for their families. Hard as it was, my memories hold as one of the most beautiful realities of my life, a personal experience of human nobility.
I worked through my discomfort, canning wholesome food, and imagining my kids’ joy eating strawberry jam slathered over hot biscuits on a snowy winter morning. The work was challenging, no doubt, but these dreams came true. Many winter mornings were made happier with jars of homemade strawberry, apple, peach, and blackberry jams. Dinners throughout the year were enhanced with homegrown spicy salsa. The flowering bushes, fruit trees, organized sheds, and the entire system of our homestead we have today have been forged through hot summers for long years of repeated efforts to improve this place. It has been the hot, hard work of many summers that built this house and made it our happy home.
Summers can also mean vacation time. Opportunities for a retreat are not to be squandered and must be taken when offered. For us and many others, vacation holidays happen in summer—when travel is safer and extended families can plan time together. The seeds of fellowship, pleasant memories, deep conversations, personal sharing, relief from constant pressure, and the exultation of being free to enjoy nature without society or workplace turmoil feeds the soul’s core. Time to get off the road, even for a weekend, allow the deep inner nurturing necessary to face the next task ahead.
For me, every summer is a challenge. Heat and humidity are oppressive, and the workload demands sweat, sometimes even tears. Though my experience may not be familiar to others, it does not change the truth that summer offers me. Hard is not bad. Discomfort is not a sin. Endurance has its own rewards, even when they may be months in coming. Like the challenge of any real relationship, the seasons speak of good times and bad, pleasant and unpleasant realities that must be faced and endured in order to gain anything.
Though my brain feels like it is melting in the summer heat, my spirit digs deep. I do the necessary work and fruit will follow. Thomas Edison was not wrong when he said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” The same may be said for life itself. There is great hope in that.
Here’s looking at you, Summer.