Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Saluting Summer

Summer is the one season to which we insist on giving an unofficial start and finish. Memorial Day and Labor Day are fine holidays in their own right (the former rather somber), but defining summer by them is fundamentally a marketing scheme. I have nothing against marketing schemes per se: they may prod economic activity to the general benefit. FDR tweaked Thanksgiving, for example, to extend the holiday shopping season a few days; formerly it sometimes fell on the last day of the month. But while I don’t object to marketing schemes I don’t feel bound by them either. Summer starts officially on the solstice (June 21 this year, at 4:24 a.m. GMT [12:24 EDT] to be precise) and ends on the equinox (September 22). These are orbital phenomena not subject to the desire for auto, carpet, and beach furniture sales. I’ll stick with the official dates. Stonehenge is a bit far from my house, so I have yet to greet the sunrise there with the Druids, but I take note of the day in my own way.

Richard (not me, another Richard) and
Gill bringing some sunshine to a cloudy
day get-together. No virgins were 
sacrificed in the proceedings
In ancient times the summer solstice was a major holiday. In much of the modern world it still is. This is not the case in the U.S., but I find it a convenient time for a party anyway. Roughly midway between Memorial Day and July 4, it doesn’t compete with other parties and barbecues, and in this part of the country the weather has a good chance of being favorable for anything outside. Despite my remarks above, I’m not overly dogmatic about the date for the celebration, for the calendar doesn’t always cooperate neatly. As a practical matter, weekdays are not ideal celebratory days for anyone with a job or classes. Accordingly, when (as this year) the solstice falls on a weekday, I’ll pick the weekend before for a get-together so that more of the usual guests can attend. At the autumnal equinox I’ll pick the weekend after if need be, though this year I see it falls conveniently on a Friday.

A plurality (29%) of Americans list autumn as their favorite season. To me this seems odd. Autumn has its attractions but I always am mindful of the slide toward winter. There are geographical differences in the answers, of course: summer can be punishing in some of the southern states making it predictably less popular there. Nonetheless summer overall still gets its fair 25% national share, and I’m squarely in that camp. As a kid I used to claim I liked winter best. To be sure, there was fun to be had in snow, but mostly I said it just to be contrarian to the grown-ups who asked the question. In truth I recall far more fun in the summer back then and I had the usual schoolboy’s affection for summer vacation. Since I became an adult (a questionable move, by the way), I’ve had to shovel my own walks, repair ice damage on my own property, and pay my own heating bills. So, I’ve given up any pretense. I’ll openly declare summer to be my season. Given an either-or choice, I’ll opt for a sweltering heat over a bone-chilling frost every time.

A good reason why became evident minutes after I wrote the above paragraph yesterday: the first significant local power failure of 2017 turned out my lights (and computer) for 12 hours. The storm did some damage regionally, but I was fortunate and merely had the outage at my place. Simply contemplatively sitting on the porch in the dark without distractions other than the sound of rain actually was rather pleasant. I often do that anyway (yes, sober), though admittedly seldom for hours at a stretch.  Compare that to my post from November 7, 2012 following Hurricane Sandy:

“It’s another evening hunkered at my office. Power is still out at my home, which means there has been no light, heat, or water (I’m on a well) there since the 29th of October. Snow is falling tonight as is the temperature. This poses a threat to my pipes in which some water no doubt lingers.”

I’ll take watching rain on a warm evening, thank you. Since I jumped the gun by a few days with the party, I’ll also toast the sun (even though it will be below the horizon) 24 minutes past midnight local time tonight.

Sam Cooke – Summertime


  1. I'll go autumn too. Being in the south, summers are fine for outdoor stuff particularly in this part of the country if you like water sports, boating, skiing, camping out, fishing or whatever. I don't do any of that now, though I enjoyed some of that as a kid. But you also have mowing the yard, weeding, the heat, bugs, snakes (already had to get two out of the garage (not poisonous, but not fun), and the occasional bad, stormy weather.

    Plus take into account the heat, and when the seasons shift all that stuff starts to go away. As a kid I probably liked summer better too--no school.

    1. One day I'll have to attend one of the Midnight Sun festivals in Hammerfest, Reykjavik, Fairbanks, Murmansk or some such high latitude spot. Meantime I'll make do with a midnight BBQ.