Seasons in the Sun
“I’m so depressed,” my friend messaged me. “Summer is almost over.”
He’s spent the past few months on Fire Island, escaping the heat and claustrophobia of quarantine in New York City by renting a house in Cherry Grove. Now, he says, the blooms on the butterfly bushes in his garden are fading. Morning arrives later. Dusk comes earlier. All he can think about is how he’ll soon have to head back to the city and the dreariness of life inside his tiny apartment.
Technically, he actually has more summer left than he’s spent. Only 42 days have passed since the astronomical beginning of summer on June 20. There are 52 days remaining until the autumn equinox heralds the start of fall on September 22. But for him, summer ends when the groups of visitors arriving on the ferry are outnumbered by the people leaving the island until next year.
It’s interesting how we mark the changing of the seasons. As kids, the start of the new school year meant the end of summer for most of us. I still remember the June day when, riding the Metro North commuter railroad into New York for my first job post college, I realized that I no longer would have summers off, that the period of having three empty months during which to do whatever I wanted to was over for me. Instantly, I switched from viewing summer as a glorious time of freedom to a time of resenting having to spend every weekday sweating it out in a shirt and tie.
Having worked outside of an office for going on 30 years, my experience of the seasons has shifted. Because of my involvement with various pagan spirituality groups, I tend to celebrate the astronomical beginnings and endings to the four periods of the year. But I confess that emotionally I don’t quite connect to them. The summer solstice around June 21 may be the official start of summer, but by then I’ve been complaining about the heat for a good three or four weeks already. Likewise, the winter solstice around December 21, while technically the arrival of winter, feels late to me given that I’ve had the Christmas tree up and been listening to carols since the day after Thanksgiving.
This particular summer has felt completely off, largely because so many of the things that define summer to me have been cancelled. For me, there have been no state or county fairs. No concerts. No visits to the lake, or pool parties with friends, or trips to the theater to see superhero blockbusters. Instead, summer has been defined by how many weeks it’s been since we more or less went into lockdown. When quarantine began, I bought two cases of the canned food the dogs eat, enough for 96 days. I’m down to the last half dozen. Every time I open one I feel as if I’m checking off another day on some imaginary calendar in which “summer” is defined by little tins of chicken and vegetable stew, and that when they’re gone, so is the season.
Figuring out when fall begins is equally difficult to define. In the past I’ve vaguely considered the period when school supplies and flannel shirts begin appearing on store shelves as the precursor to the season. This year, with in-person schooling in doubt, the local big-box store seems to be experiencing seasonal affective disorder. Without much need for the usual displays of markers, folders, and notebooks, they’ve gone straight to Halloween, filling the aisles with bags of candy and plastic pumpkins. I suspect by September the Christmas lights will be out.
In our particular corner of the world, fall means two things: the annual Mothman and Pawpaw Festivals. Both take place in September, close to the equinox, and celebrate two of the more unusual facets of local culture. This year, both have been cancelled. There will be no waiting in line for pawpaw smoothies, no purchasing of the annual poster and commemorative glass, no photo with a cheerful volunteer dressed in a pawpaw costume. Nor will there be a trip to nearby West Virginia to celebrate everyone’s favorite Appalachian cryptid, no haunted hayride, no wonderfully tacky tour featuring absolutely true stories about encounters with the Mothman himself.
“There’s always next year,” I remind myself. I hope this is true. In the meantime, the days grow shorter as we move farther away from the sun. That hourglass filled with summer is slowly running out. Before it’s time to flip it over and usher in the season of falling leaves, sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything, I think I’ll spend some time driving around with the windows down, mask off, reminding myself that nothing lasts forever.
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com