Summer is the fruition of spring’s goals. It is the time of maximum photosynthesis, longest days, and the zenith of activity for almost all creatures. It is biology in its fullness and fruitfulness, the time when each hemisphere of our planet least resembles in its turn every other of the millions of lifeless, icy, insipid rocks in the universe. In short, summer is life. And that’s why I don’t understand the rush each year to kill it.
This year it began midway through July. Costco started selling coats and flannel, as well as Halloween costumes and décor. The beginning of fall by solar reckoning was still two months away, it was 100 degrees outside in Northern Virginia, baseball season wasn’t even halfway over, the cicadas were buzzing, and I hadn’t yet finished my second case of Shiners. Yet there were the wool pea coats and munchkin-sized Kylo Ren getups, bleak reminders of the annual death that is autumn, thrust upon me scarcely midway through my estival festivities.
On August 5, Microsoft updated my work computer’s splashcreen to a glowing forest of fall leaves. How depressing. Thanksgiving ideas hit magazine racks, and parents scurried around stores with armfuls of backpacks and pencil cases, children with glum, sallow expressions in tow. People at work, at church, at the park, and even at the pool asked me, “How was your summer?” “Was,” in the past tense. I wanted to say to them, “I road-killed a butterfly today, it doesn’t get dark until 8:00, and there are still charred remains of illegal fireworks on my street. My summer is going wonderfully, thank you.”
It’s Not Time To Declare The Death Of Summer Yet
My wife and I just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. I still recall fondly the economical honeymoon we enjoyed in the Smokey Mountains, driving the skylines with the windows down, spying bears and leaping from the tops of ice-cold waterfalls. Someone asking me at the beginning of August how my summer was strikes me a bit like someone asking how my first 10 years of marriage were. I don’t know, I’m only halfway there. I’ll get back to you sometime in 2021.
Then there are the people who begin complaining about the heat in June. “Thank God for air conditioning!” they moan as they retreat from His life-giving sunshine into the ashen interior of some fluorescent-bathed refrigerator of a department store. The frozen tundra portion of the year has barely passed before these tauntauns are lighting votive candles for the return of hibernal darkness. In 2015 they began this unseasonable liturgy of bawling about the warm weather while there was still a literal mountain of snow in Boston.
And don’t talk to me about the danger of heat strokes or dehydration. Sure, those happen, but the solution (water) literally falls from the sky. The entire animal kingdom knows this secret to beating the heat, which some humans have apparently not discovered. Winter, by contrast, is a cold-blooded killer. USA Today reported in 2015 that 20 times more people die from freezing weather globally than hot weather. Twenty times! And unsurprisingly, animals know what to do during the time of year when the air can kill you: They crawl underground and go to sleep, because there is nothing worth seeing or doing in winter.
We Still Have Time Before Fall Instagrams and #PSL
But fall comes before winter, and its fan club is to winter’s what Taylor Swift’s is to Taylor Hicks’. Fall is the Instagram filter of seasons. Gaudy, clichéd, and ubiquitously popular, it’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it makes you look. All those social media posts with over-saturated maple trees, Ugg boots, and cable-knit sweaters are social cues that you’re a bookish, cuddly, “indoorsy” type as Jim Gaffigan puts it, and that you are—no matter the color of your skin—lily white at the core of your being.
Then there’s the pumpkin spice. Oh, the pumpkin spice. It started with coffee but spread like a disease to every consumable on the market. Now, like the Melange spice of Arrakis, it has become a kind of galactic currency, addicting the masses and worming its way into products from hummus and Pringles to chewing gum and cat conditioner.
As if pouring cinnamon in the wound of ending summer, fall heralds the return of apocalyptic traffic, itchy clothes, and school. That last, like fall itself, seems to arrive earlier and earlier each year, gobbling up summer like those blasted turkey table settings invading grocery store shelves three months before their time. Some schools now reconvene in early August, when there are still weeks of glorious summer weather to enjoy at the beach, beside the pool, in the woods, or on the baseball diamond. Children today already spend half as much time playing outside as their parents did, a fact that causes us intuitively to grieve. Yet we send them packing to the classroom at a time when generations past were still soaking up their summer vacations.
Commercialism Is Killing Our Ancient Seasons
Last year it was 93 degrees outside when our neighborhood pool closed. There simply weren’t enough children left on weekdays to justify paying a lifeguard. This obsession with forcing climate into our bloated, 21st century academic calendars has caused us to forget what seasons are: descriptions of what nature does—the way the sun interacts with the earth and how it affects our weather. Spring, summer, fall, and winter did not begin as semesters or even sports schedules, but as markers of the ever-wheeling axes of the planet, of solstice and equinox, taking us in turn through what C. S. Lewis called the “mixed novelty and familiarity” of God-given rhythm. Children, he writes, were meant to take joy in “seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer.”
But autumn does not follow summer, anymore. It’s eating summer with a side of pumpkin spice.
And that, of course, is the hint that commercialism is driving this mad dash through the seasons every bit as much as the demands of modern education. Autumn, itself, is under assault from the rear. This collective refusal to live in the moment during summer, to enjoy a time of year in which past generations took special joy, parallels the annual creep of Christmas shopping closer to Eastertide. Last year a friend sent me a photo of Macy’s decorated with tinsel, lights, and trees. It was taken on September 15, with a week of summer left on the calendar, almost 70 days until Thanksgiving, 97 days until the beginning of Winter, and a mortifying 100 days left until Christmas. Buddy the Elf could scarcely do worse.
The War on Summer needs to stop. The sun is the reason for the season, and until it’s absent, for as long as it’s present each day, commencing equinoctial revelries is as tacky as wearing Ugg boots in August. If you find yourself artificially cranking up the air conditioner to comfortably wear the clothes you have chosen, you need to put them away, along with the pumpkins, cinnamon candles, and (if you have the option) school books. Let your children live a little. Get some sunshine. And for heaven’s sake, stop trying to kill summer before it’s even feeling ill. The best season is not dead yet. So keep your swimsuit out for a few more weeks and enjoy the moment.