Hot and Bothered

Why does warm weather make us lose our cool? The connection between the season and sensibility.

Sizzling Summer: Quotations, Reflections, and Paintings

How do you hold up in the sizzling heat of summer?

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 Mary Cassatt.  

Country Footpath in the Summer by Renoir

Then followed that beautiful season... Summer…

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.

Haystack, End of Summer Morning by Monet

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.  —Russell Baker

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.
—Hal Borland

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

We used to have a lawn mower that refused to break. We solved the problem by digging up the lawn and putting in an unmowable ground cover!

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

At the height of summer, it stays light until about 9:00. I don’t go to sleep by day, but I do go to bed by day because, by evening, I’m bedbound. Lying on my bed, I often become acutely aware that I’m missing out on the coolness of a lovely summer evening spent outside. Sometimes deep sadness arises, but I know it will pass…so I just let it be.

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

When it’s over 100 degrees in the Central Valley, we know it means that coastal fog has rolled into the City—as we Northern Californians call San Francisco. Coastal fog is very different from the Central Valley’s tule fog of winter. You can see coastal fog move across water and land, which is why we say it “rolls in.” Tule fog doesn’t roll. It settles, covering us like a thick blanket. What do they share? They’re both wet and cold.

My husband’s parents lived in San Francisco. When we were young and couldn't afford air conditioning, we'd go to the City to escape the summer heat. As we dressed 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 in our tank tops, only to be freezing in the cold, wet coastal fog.

Summer by Cassatt

In summer, the song sings itself. —William Carlos Williams

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 out. Sometimes I have to push myself to do this, but once outside, my spirits lift as hear the summer song singing itself.

I hope you'll discover your own way to listen to that song.

 © 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

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. You can also subscribe to my blog (see the choices below my picture). I’m active on FacebookPinterest, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.