[Photo by Bart Everson]
When does summer begin? Opinions vary.
Most American calendars have summer starting around the 21st of June, give or take a day. That’s when the summer solstice occurs, though few Americans know what a solstice is, much less what it means. The continual “dumbing down” of our culture is a shame, but I’ll save my grousing for now.
There’s also Memorial Day, often billed as the “unofficial” beginning of summer in America. An odd turn of phrase — who is officially in charge of seasons? And then you have the meteorologists, who mark summer as beginning on the first of June.
We could look at other naturally occurring events. We might make note of the termite swarms. This year they started right around the first of May. Coincidentally, that’s the beginning of summer according to the Irish calendar, where it’s known as Beltane or May Day. I’m pretty sure summer lasts longer here than in Ireland, though.
We could also look at cultural events: summer begins when school lets out. I’m married to a teacher, and my daughter is in school, and I work at an educational institution myself, so I know this annual shift especially well. But everybody can feel the difference. The streets are less crowded and the whole city seems to relax a bit, a deep exhale, even as violent crime begins its annual upswing with the rising temperatures.
Beautifully long, empty days
I don’t get summers off, myself. I might take a vacation, but pretty much I’m working working working all summer long. Nevertheless I get a vicarious thrill when my daughter finally makes it to the last day of school. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and summer vacation seemed absolutely endless. It reminds me of Half Magic by Edward Eager, one of my favorite childhood books, the story of four children in Ohio and their adventures over a summer break in the 1920s.
The summer was a fine thing, particularly when you were at the beginning of it, looking ahead into it. There would be months of beautifully long, empty days, and each other to play with, and the books from the library.
Summer seems to fly by far too quickly these days. Part of that sensation derives from the fact that I’ve gotten older. But it’s also a fact that school calendars have been extended. I used to have three months off, but my daughter only gets two. Some schools have even less, and the idea of year-round school seems to be gaining ground.
It’s hard to argue against the year-round model. Our weird academic calendar is an artifact of another time, when much of the population was employed in agriculture. School let out for summer so kids could work on the farm. That seems to have little relevance today. Summer break has come to be viewed as a gap in which kids tend to forget stuff they learned the year before. It’s a hardship for working families who have to find some way of looking after their kids.
Yes, year-round school makes a lot of sense. Yet I can’t help but feel that something precious would be lost. I can’t help but feel that a long summer break is a tradition that should be preserved. I can’t help yearning for those “beautifully long, empty days” of my youth. Perhaps that’s simply nostalgia and my class privilege speaking.
On the last day of May, as I stood on the corner of Banks and Jeff Davis, with no shade, the rays of the morning sun fell on me and I immediately began to sweat. Within a minute’s time I felt like I was going to melt. There’s no denying the sun’s power at this time of year.
That’s because we’re approaching solstice, our planet’s point of maximum tilt with regard to the sun. Our hemisphere is catching more direct rays from the solar orb.
It’s blazing hot, and getting hotter. And the humidity — oh, the humidity!
Nevertheless, I love summer. I love riding my bike around in this heat. I love the profusion of flowers. I love our afternoon thunderstorms. (Just hold the hurricanes and floods, please.) I love the long days, the warm nights, maybe a vacation or a trip to the beach.
Most of all, I think, I love the idea of summer as a time off from our regular grind.
The rhythms of the school year have defined my life. It’s an inversion of the agriculture cycle, a faint echo of a time when most human lives were more profoundly shaped by the seasons.
Summer remains for me a liminal time, a period of transition between one year and the next. Something special happens in these periods of transition.
Over this summer, my daughter is no longer a fourth grader, but she’s not quite a fifth grader yet either. She’s temporarily free of such distinctions. When we peel back the socially-constructed layers of our identity, we discover our true essence, be it ever so evanescent. We peer into the ineffable mysteries of our existence.
Maybe that’s why I love summer so much. More than any other, it’s the season of liberty. It represents an enduring freedom of the spirit. Sometimes, on the best days, it seems that summer stands outside of the regular flow of time, magical, eternal.
Or maybe I just got heat stroke. Anyhow, happy summer, y’all.
About the Author: Bart Everson
What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?
In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism,Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.