Where I grew up, summer lasted definivitely until Labor Day, and ended not a second before. Labor Day was when the county fair happened, when all the local farmers brought their livestock and produce to the fairgrounds in the middle of Mahoning County, and we saw giant pumpkins, climbed on giant display tractors and ate giant funnel cakes. It was the ritual that marked the end of the season’s freedom, but its existence told us something even more important—until that day came, we were still free.
I experienced the type of idyllic summers that may not even exist anymore. Now they sound like something Ray Bradbury might have written, reminiscent of a simpler time and blurred with the magic of nostalgia. They were made of reading on the banks of the pond, wandering the woods, picking wildflowers and blueberries and biking down empty gravel roads. They were quietly alive, subtly aware, and seemingly endless. Even when they ended one at a time with fall, we knew there would be another one. That was the way it worked. The finite nature of seasons is what gives the freedom to lose oneself in each one, with the understanding this one will end but another will come. If they weren’t finite, we would take them for granted. If they didn’t come again, we would be too anxious about losing them to enjoy them.
Summer taught me about stillness in the course of cycles, and when I forgot about summer, I forgot about stillness. I forgot about the essential cyclical nature of activity, which, paradoxically, leads one into the habit of ceaselessly running on a wheel, without stop, without mindfulness, without appreciation. It’s an easy slide from childhood simplicity to adulthood complexity. As an adult, you don’t get mandated breaks. As an adult, there’s always something else to worry or wonder about.
And then summer is over and you feel like you missed something and you don’t even remember precisely what it was.
Living in the middle of busy, noisy city, far from the country where I grew up, I put a lot of effort into finding the moments of stillness. They are just moments, not full afternoons or nights or long, lazy days. But they’re there. No one gives me the time or the freedom to find and honor them but myself, so I have to do it myself, and I’ve become adept at it. And so when the season comes to an end, I can let it go kindly, knowing I had known it well, and another will come again, and it’s naturally time to start something new.