Public Domain
Chidren Playing on the Beach by Mary Cassatt
Source: Public Domain

In California’s Central Valley, it can get hot hot hot. People who live elsewhere like to say to us, “At least it’s a dry heat.” Point well-taken, but when the thermometer hits the century mark, hot is hot, humid or not. (My rhyming contribution to this piece.)

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, so when the forecast calls for anything much higher than 90 degrees (F), I know it will be hard for me to tolerate the outdoors once the thermometer starts to climb. On the other hand, I love the early morning hours of a hot day-to-be. 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 the promise for something a bit more pleasant—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

People think that if you live in California, come January, it’s not possible to call in summer’s debt. But in the Central Valley, it is. It’s called tule fog (pronounced tool’-ee). It rises from our marshlands, and it's cold, wet, and dense. It can keep us from seeing the sun for days at a time. 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

Like each of the other seasons, summer has its unique flavor of severity. The blistering hot sun can be relentless in its focus. Some days, if I step outside in the afternoon, the heat feels like a slap in the face, My eyes half close against the brightness, and my feet blister if I dare walk barefoot on the cement.

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 all the time to escape the summer heat. When 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 in our tank tops, only to be freezing in the cold, wet coastal fog.

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

Perhaps people who complain about California flies should take a trip to Nova Scotia where I lived for several years. There I encountered the black fly, a small but ruthless creature. (Perhaps this is the same species as Emerson’s New England flies). For a time, I lived in the countryside outside of Halifax. I’d watch the kids who’d been sent outside to play on a beautiful summer’s day spend all their time taking 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.

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 tree in our Los Angeles front yard scraping my knees and legs as I climbed up to the perch from where no one could see me. From my hiding place, I’d tend to my wounds and watch the comings and goings in neighborhood, pretending to be a spy. When it got too hot, I’d climb down and run through the sprinklers. Do kids still run through sprinklers?

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, 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.

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

Unless you live Down Under where it's winter, I hope you spend as much time outdoors as you can this time of year, during whatever hours are the most pleasant where you live. I write from the bed, but I’ve been making an effort to take my printed-out pages 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.

© 2013 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010)

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