It’s winter for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, but many of us are sizzling in the summer heat, depicted here on canvas by Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and the underappreciated Mary Cassatt.
Then followed that beautiful season... Summer…
Country Footpath in the Summer by Renoir
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Of all the seasons, my childhood memories of summer are the most vivid. I can still feel the rough trunk of the old oak in our front yard scraping my legs as I climbed up to the one perch from where no one could see me. From my hiding place, I’d check out my wounds and keep an eye on the neighborhood, pretending I was a spy.
My sweetest memory of summer is of my father. He turned our urban Los Angeles backyard into a garden of fruit trees and row vegetables. He also planted a dozen boysenberry bushes on the far side of the yard. The birds liked those berries as much as we did, so he strung a row of tin cans over the top of the bushes and ran the string across the yard and into the kitchen window. Whenever one of us walked by the window, we'd yank the string a few times. The tin cans would bang against each other and the birds would fly out of those berry bushes as if they were escaping with their lives.
Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. —Russell Baker
Haystack, End of Summer Morning by Monet
I have a love-hate relationship with summer. I’m extremely sensitive to heat and it’s often over 100 degrees (F) where I live in California’s Central Valley. But the early mornings are beautiful. Everything is quiet and still—the plants, the birds, the humans—as if, together, we’re soaking in the soothing coolness in anticipation of the blazing heat to come. No matter how miserable the day before was, every morning holds promise—just like life.
Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.
Tahitian Landscape by Gauguin
People think if you live in California, you have no summer debt to repay in January. But in the Central Valley, we do. It’s called tule fog and it rises from our marshlands. It’s cold and wet and dense. It can keep us from seeing the sun for days—sometimes weeks. I remember one night many years ago, my husband and I were driving home from San Francisco. The tule fog was so thick that the cars had pulled over into the far right lane of the freeway and were moving at a snail’s pace. Several drivers (including my husband) had opened the driver’s side door so they could navigate by following the dotted lines on the road.
A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. —James Dent
A perfect day…any time of the year!
Summer has set in with its usual severity. —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Wheatfield with Cypresses by Van Gogh
Like the other seasons, summer has its unique flavor of severity. Here in California’s Central Valley, it’s the severity of the blistering hot sun, relentless in its focus. When I step outside, my eyes half close against the brightness and my feet blister if I dare walk barefoot on the cement. But still…it’s summer, and the laziness it imposes on me is as sweet as the smell of the honeysuckle. This mixture of sweetness and severity symbolizes for me the mixture of joys and sorrows that make up this wondrous life.
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way
I have to go to bed by day.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
Thank you Mr. Stevenson
for taking the time
to make a summer rhyme.
Do what we can, summer will have its flies. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cornfield with Lark by Van Gogh
We have our California flies. But they don’t compare to the black flies of Nova Scotia (perhaps the same species as Emerson’s New England flies). When we lived in the countryside outside of Halifax, I’d watch kids who’d been sent outside to play on a beautiful summer’s day do nothing but take turns parting each others’ hair to pick the black flies off their scalps. No matter how hard I tried to avoid those black flies, by day’s end, I’d be covered in itchy bites.
The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. —Author unknown, commonly misattributed to Mark Twain [so says Google]
When it’s over 100 degrees in the Central Valley, it’s the sign that thick coastal fog has rolled into the City—as we Northern Californians call San Francisco. (If you watched any of the U.S. Open Golf tournament, you saw it: they played the fog while we “played” in the 100’s.) My husband’s parents lived in the City, so we’d to go there to escape the summer heat. As we’d dress for the trip, the mere thought of putting our hands on a sweater or a jacket made us start sweating, so we’d arrive in the City—me in a sundress, he in a T-shirt—only to be freezing in the cold, wet fog.
In summer, the song sings itself. —William Carlos Williams
I hope you’ll listen to the song sing itself by finding ways to get outdoors. If not in summer, when? I write from the bed, but I’ve been making an effort to print out some pages and take them into the backyard to edit before it gets too hot. Sometimes I have to push myself to do this, but once outside, my spirits lift as I watch and listen to the summer song sing itself.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Oh yes, William!
© 2012 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com
Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.
I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers.
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