Summertime is a strange, liminal time.
I've never really had a “regular” summer schedule (whatever “regular” means.) As a child and adolescent my life, like the life of most others, was determined by the start and stop of the school year. I took summer classes in college, and after graduation and marriage I moved to a college town. Those of you who live in similar cities know that the university schedule often determines whether or not the Locals dare to venture downtown, go to parks, drink at bars, or eat at the popular cafes. (Because of crowds of annoying freshman or big-headed seniors, certain parts of my town are pretty much off-limits during certain times of the year.) For a long time I worked on a college campus, and I'd spend the time from May to August sitting back, reading dozens of novels, and drinking delicious, blended beverages. Then I went to graduate school, and after I graduated my first summer of unemployment extended into an autumn of unemployment, a winter, a spring, and now another summer of the same.
The thing is, autumn knows what it is. In many parts of the states it's still really hot and humid until Halloween rolls around. But even in these southern states, as soon as August begins autumn is there right behind every breeze, every late blossom, and every color-changing leaf. The air shifts, the energy changes, and before you know it you're deep into the season of pumpkins, sweaters, and bonfires. Autumn is spooky and colorful, thrilling and busy. Those who are still in school find themselves living by an academic calendar. College towns spring back to life and the locals scurry back to their dive bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, sitting in wait for two semesters until the college kids go home again and the city once again belongs to the year-round residents. Autumn is often a gentle transition out of summer and into winter, and each step along this path is definite, defined, and tangible.
Winter is probably the most distinct out of all of the seasons. It shares many of the same aspects of autumn but it does not have the need for sustained showmanship and boldness. It’s not trying to prove anything – it knows it’s fabulous. It's confident in what it is. Winter enjoys the glam and glitz immensely over the holidays, until suddenly it has had enough and with the turn of the wheel the parties are over. The holidays are like finding a lonely chocolate chip in your scone. What a nice, tasty morsel! But the rest of it is just dry, white, crumbly… boring.
Springtime is sweet. It gently tip-toes its way back into your life after a long hiatus. It's the anticipated guest of honor at the seasonal party. Spring pretends it doesn't like a grand entrance but once all eyes are on it, it does not hold back. Springtime is autumn's fraternal twin. They may seem very similar, but it's easy for anyone who pays attention to realize how drastically different they are. Spring is a relief from the endlessness of winter, but spring doesn't know how to be moderate. As soon as the weather begins to warm and the flowers begin to bloom then the softness of the season suddenly becomes too much. With springtime it's either too much like a late winter or too much like an early summer. The flowers and blooms are remarkable, popping open one after another, but all of that new growth brings pollen, and with the pollen comes swollen, gooey eyes and an uptake in the sales of allergy medicine.
And then there's the summer. Students (and teachers) look forward to the summertime because it means they're not in school. But it seems like every year the school session ends later and begins earlier and earlier (or is it just me?) We all hold the summertime to be precious, but why? I try to hold onto the Beltane season of April/May as long as I can, but before I know it I'm lighting the fires of Midsummer, celebrating one more year of walking the Pagan path. What happened between Beltane and Litha? What happened to all of that time, all of those sweet, summer days? It's a blur of fireflies and green, humidity and…? After the Summer Solstice, American Independence day is right around the corner. As soon as you're stepping from the bonfires of Midsummer you're landing yourself at a 4th of July picnic.
July seems to take its time, though. I remember July as late nights and early mornings, of trying to avoid the outside as much as I can but still finding myself, inexplicably, at the beach, at the lake, at the river, at a local swimming hole. How did I get here? Why does the water feel so good? Where did this sunburn come from? Why is my fridge full of watermelon and sweet corn? Why am I eating so many blueberries?
I've been a student most of my life, and those times I wasn't a student I was still working in places that had schedules determined by a college schedule. That means that my summertime was determined by the end of the semester and the beginning of another, the relief of one thing concluding and another beginning. But what does summer get that's special for itself? It's an in-between time, a time of anticipation. It's a time for fairies and visions and dreams. While the other seasons seem real, summer is… an enigma. I try to pin down what is specifically summer and while I don't have words I do have images, sensations, tastes.
This July was spent waiting – waiting for a job, waiting for an acceptance letter from publishers, waiting for my vegetables to grow, waiting for… waiting. And now that I'm in August, I'm not fully IN August. August is the initial scent to a heady perfume. It catches your attention at first, but soon fades. What you’re really smelling, what’s really lingering, is September – Pagan Pride Day, Mabon, music and film festivals, back to school, and back to work.
As a Pagan, I suppose I should be more in-touch with this season, but summer is hard for me to really put my finger on. I know summer is a thing because I've been here time and time again. But summer isn’t an old friend like the winter holiday season is. It’s not something I fall in love with every year like autumn or spring. Summer is that dish you try at different restaurants that's never the same from place to place, even though they use the same name. It's a new album by your favorite band, with traces of the familiar but a totally new sound. It's seeing your favorite actor in a new role, remembering those scenes you have memorized by heart but trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance of seeing them in a completely new and foreign situation. Summer is a sequel to your favorite video game or a new book in your favorite series – maybe familiar, but sometimes just totally different.
Summer is not planting and it’s not harvest. It’s waiting. But the thing with waiting is that you don’t know what’s on the other side. Will the seeds I planted be exactly what I want, or will they be a hybrid, a combination of other fruits and flowers? Maybe they’ll be something totally different or maybe they won’t even bloom at all. All of that preparation and planning done in the winter, all of the planting and fertilizing done in the spring, all for… what? We don’t get to know yet. Not until the harvest. Not until the turn of the season. Lammas gives us hints of the future, but only a taste and not a full meal. Summer is familiar, but never the same. It is a scent, a taste, a memory, a sensation, a whisper, a dream. It's three months of… itself. Summer. Whatever that means.