I write this from the back deck of my parent’s house, watching humming birds, still in my swimsuit, glorying in the green, cool morning, hot afternoon, last days of summer.
I always wondered about the people who were so glad to see summer go. I finally understood it after spending this summer working in DC. Especially when you don’t have a car, the heat and sun is simply another barrier in getting to work without looking like a sweaty rag. Everything smells more intense, the sun baking the very gum on the sidewalks. Sure, there are festivals and fireworks and out door concerts but even those are only enjoyable when blessed cool (hopefully) comes with evening.
But that’s the city.
Summer in the country, or even in the suburbs, is a thing of magic, especially when you are a kid. I grew up in what I have termed the “woodburbs” at the edge of metro Atlanta. When summer came, the relatively tame woods surrounding our neighborhood erupted into green. They became a jungle, a place of mystery with deep shadows to explore. The creek was our main playground, and there was a great swimming hole big enough to jump in, swinging by the rope some intrepid adventurer had tied up. We would build dams and climb over rocks and pick blackberries, trying to avoid spider webs and thorns.
Every year we would stay a week in the mountains, visiting places like Slippery Rock and the Secret Spot, which were just as cool as they sounded (one a naturally made water slide, the other a picture perfect waterfall and swimming hole).
Then we would head to the lowlands, South Carolina, swamp country, where my Grandpa lives. There were fish to catch, and boats to paddle around in and blueberries to pick, and of course, the alligator we never saw but which made its presence felt in stories and jokes, enough to keep us from wading too far into the lake.
I feel so sad for the kids who never had a summer in the great outdoors. Not that the city has nothing to offer, but rambling through the woods teaches you how to amuse yourself, how to appreciate the natural world, and how to tell poison ivy from regular ivy. How do we expect people to care about the environment if they have never experienced it? (There are cool organizations like the Fresh Air Fund, where I’ve worked, that try to give kids adventures like that!)
Even now, mostly grown up, nothing excites me more than a summer’s day spent outside. I don’t wander in the woods as much as I once did, but every year the first sound of the cicadas, ushering summer in, thrills me to my toes. We hike and canoe and play tennis and swim, especially swim.
I love to swim, anywhere, ocean, lake, pool. When else can you feel this? Walk around soaked to the skin, dripping glistening water and not caring. You’re barefoot, wet, nearly naked, no make-up, your hair styled by the water, skin pebbled by sand and bug bites and striped, like some domesticated jungle creature, with tan lines and sunburn. This is my element, the time and place in which I thrive. Winter will find me pale and lazy, a blanket-wrapped bump on a log, but in summer, I’m frolicking freely, too happy to even be terribly angry at all the mosquitoes.
I’m sure summer is lovely in its own way every where, but I like to think that the Southern summer, set to the soundtrack of cicada’s, so hot that standing barefoot on asphalt becomes a game of strength (one I used to play as a kid), is the best kind of summer. If the sun and humidity doesn’t kill you, it’s because you learned to embrace it. You learned to live in the water more than on dry land, to cook up delicious Southern food and catch the first cool breeze around sunset, maybe in the rolling hills of Appalachia, or in a canoe on the Chattahoochee river.
Summer is an invitation to adventure.
Listen to Old Crow Medicine Show's song
to hear what summer in the South sounds like to me.
View from my deck
I still love the woods enough to stand inside trees
We have a garden and usually a few chickens
Amicalola Falls in North Georgia
Foothills of the Appalachians
My Grandpa's "upper" pond