This Friday's list acknowledges the fact that we are enjoying our first full week of summer, that glorious season when windows can be opened so we can hear the roar of lawn mowers and smell the sweet scent of lighter fluid. And then be bitten by a mosquito.
OK, it’s not all great. Summer is, though, my favorite season of the year. Perhaps it’s fond memories of summer vacations, when I could read all day long. So, here, from 10 to 1, are the things I most love about summer.
Fourth of July fireworks. While lights flash above us, booms echo through the night, and screaming streamers race heavenward , promising more bright spectacles to come. The only reason that fireworks are not higher on the list is that they happen for only a few days, whereas other summer pleasures can be repeated many, many times.
The beach. Put your sunblock on, protect your head with a floppy hat, and then lie back and relax. Listen to the sound of the waves. Hear the happy voices of the kids. Feel the warmth of the sun loosening those tight muscles and comforting the tired mind. Smell the salt in the ocean breeze.
Oh, don’t forget to properly hydrate.
Summer flowers. Spring flowers are a welcome relief from the gloom of winter, and the flowering trees of spring are impressive and deeply moving. But there’s something to be said for the orgy of colors and scents in summer. Honeysuckle vines climb up the trees in the open space behind our yard. When the breeze carries their sweet, delicate scent to us, it is intoxicating.
7. Ice cream cones. Yes, you can eat ice cream any time. You can even eat an ice cream cone any time. But there’s something special about having an ice cream cone late on a summer night, when the temperature has cooled somewhat, but you’re still comfortable in your shorts and cotton shirt. You’re holding that cone in your hand (no dishes to wash!), and you know you have the challenge of balancing the desire to make it last as long as possible with the need to prevent dribbles that will turn you into a mess. With each lick, cold ice cream slides into your mouth, while the warm air surrounds you, and you feel a little tingle on our spine. That’s one tasty thrill.
6. Grilling. Some hardy souls grill year-round, and you can definitely push grilling season late into the fall. But cooking outdoors is best when it’s hot. The smell of the food drifts into the house through the open window, as perfectly suited to the season as the warm, comforting aroma of bread baking in the oven is to winter. Whether you’re grilling meat or fish or vegetables, the scent of food cooking over a fire and that enticing sizzling sound it makes quicken the appetite. Also, grilled food goes great with a G&T, and G&Ts belong to the summer.
Summer fruits and vegetables. Summer is an endless stream of fresh fruits and vegetables available from local growers, which means they are not cardboard and tough because they were cultivated for travel. No, this is the sweet and juicy real thing, from strawberries early in the season to the peaches that end it. In between, lots of good eating: cantaloupes, honeydews, and sweet, dripping watermelon; apricots and nectarines; raspberries and blueberries. Then, the culmination that I’ve waited ten or eleven months for: peaches, an aromatic and delicious fruit.
Vegetables, too, star in summer. Fresh tomatoes just off the vine paired with home-grown basil. Zucchini and summer squash. Then, finally, the crunch of sweet corn, which must be the perfect vegetable, because you can grill it and you get to eat it with your hands.
No shoes. I hate shoes. I mean, I see the value and necessity of shoes. They keep your feet warm in winter and dry in the rain. The padding on the bottom is good for your soles when doing your daily hike for health. They complement a nice suit or gown wonderfully.
But shoes are a pain. They smother the feet, no matter how comfortable they may be. Feet were meant to breathe. Toes were meant to wiggle. Shoes are oppressors.
Besides, with most shoes, you also have to wear socks. That’s adding insult to injury.
I know, what’s the deal with not showing a picture of ripe peaches or tomatoes and posting a shot of two ugly feet instead! It’s because those bare feet represent Freedom!
Baseball on the radio. Watching a ballgame at the park is great fun. Seeing a ballgame on TV is fun, too. But baseball was made for radio, especially on a warm summer evening, when you’re sitting out on the porch, relaxing with a cold iced tea after dinner. (Or that cone!) Baseball, with its pauses between pitches, marries perfectly with the slow, easy pace of summer. A good radio guy (and in Ernie Harwell and Harry Kalas, I've heard two of the best) knows when to fill those spaces with a quick story, chatting with you on your porch, just as you would share memories with a neighbor or a child. He knows when to bring up an old-ball stat, reminding you of other players you’ve seen and heard. He knows when to be quiet. At those times, since you’re not watching on television, but only listening, your hearing is more acute and you can hear the random noises of the park: the hot dog and beer vendors, the occasional encouraging shout, the first hints at the rhythmic clapping that will become a stadium-wide exhortation for a hit.
Summer baseball is good for another reason. Spring baseball can be disappointing, as players have not yet hit their stride. They’re still getting ready for the season. Pitchers don’t go as deep into games. Rookies look like phenoms, but you can’t really be sure because it’s only their first time around the league. Spring rains can wreak havoc on the schedule. Guys are still a little rusty, and sloppy play can result.
Fall baseball, in the intense playoff push of September and the nerve-wracking playoffs, generates as much anxiety as pleasure. Your team loses a game, and they’re behind in a crucial series. Can they bounce back? Will one day off be enough for the ailing slugger?
In the summer, though, players are performing at their peak. Their reflexes are sharpened, and the sloppiness is gone. Battles of pitcher against batter are sharp and intense, so the quality of play is there. At the same time, there’s still a lot of season left, so there’s always the feeling that, even if the team loses today, they can come back tomorrow. A baseball season, it’s often said, is a marathon. Summer is the middle of the marathon, when runners in the pack still can hope to kick it in and catch the leader.
2. Few clothes. (No. No pictures of scantily clad people here. Though maybe adding some would get me more ads! Hmmmm.) It’s not just that I hate shoes; I dislike clothes in general. Shorts and a t-shirt. That’s all I need. Winter requires layers. They can be fun to wear . . . for one day. Pretty quickly, though, I long to shed those layers and feel comfortable again. But, wait, that means freezing! I’d rather be hot in summer, trying to get cool, than be cold in winter, trying to warm up.
Also, women wear fewer clothes in summer. That’s a nice bonus.
1. Looooooong days. Daylight lifts the spirits and clarifies the vision. Sunlight causes those summer flowers to sparkle so they attract bees and butterflies. Long days mean there’s time to blog, work, walk, and make dinner, with time left to eat outside while you can still see what you’re eating.
The long days of summer are full of delicious possibility. However long one task or another may take you, there’s still more time, still more day left in your day. August, for me, is bittersweet. It has all of the pleasures of summer except this one. I can feel the days shortening again.
In the summer of 2005, we vacationed in Spain. Nights are even later there. The sun didn’t set until 10:00 at night. Early in the trip, we visited Galicia, the northwestern point of the country, just north of Portugal. Walking in a park along the coast, we looked out over the Atlantic Ocean one night to see this sunset. It was a beautiful ending to a long and wonderful summer day.
Have a great summer, everyone!
Photos: Fireworks and beach: Anna Cervova (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=403); (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=863)
All others: me