FOR SUMMER ENTHUSIASTS, the countdown has begun: just five more days until the unofficial start of summer on Memorial Day.
This is the weekend when hopes soar and hearts warm in eager anticipation of a new season. Gardeners will flock to nurseries and greenhouses. Owners of summer cottages will sweep away cobwebs, air out rooms, and restock pantries. Shoppers will head to the mall to buy swimsuits, shorts, and sandals. Newspaper ads are promoting gas grills and patio furniture, camping gear and luxury vacation packages.
What fantasies these ads inspire as summer-lovers dream
of sunlit hours relaxing with friends, reading long-awaited books, cultivating bountiful gardens, and walking beaches or woodland trails.
But these fantasies are increasingly elusive. Summer now ranks as an endangered species of a season. Bracketed between Memorial Day
and Labor Day, its 99 fleeting days are made shorter by invisible thieves, subtly diminishing the season's glory.
These gremlins begin by stealing time precious golden hours through long workdays and "working vacations."
They also rob us of comfort. Across the country, Americans spend summer days shivering in over-air-conditioned offices, restaurants, and stores. Permanently closed windows block out bird songs and gentle breezes.
Summer also slips away as overzealous merchants start dressing mannequins in wools and wintry colors in July.
It all stands in sharp contrast to memories of childhood summers, when the season stretched endlessly. There was time to watch fireflies blink in the twilight. And time to watch Monarch butterflies emerge from pale-green cocoons.
The poet May Swenson captures the mood when she writes, "Can it be there was only one/summer that I was ten? It must/have been a long one then."
For adults, this Incredible Shrinking Summer calls for a new set of resolutions. New Year's resolutions, serious and purposeful, center on self-improvement. Summer resolutions, by contrast, focus more on self-fulfillment. They offer well-deserved rewards for the months of hard work that precede the season.
We need a summer preservation society. As the self-appointed president of the just-formed group Save Our Summers, or SOS (current membership: 1), I offer a few resolutions to preserve the pleasure of these essential months:
First, resolve to leave work earlier. Not early, not even necessarily on time, which these days is tantamount to leaving early just earlier than usual. One friend who usually stays until 6 p.m. has put himself on "summer time" and now leaves at 5:30. Even half an hour helps.
Second, resolve to take a walk every day. Short or long, slow or fast, a walk offers an escape from Arctic buildings and a way to reconnect with the natural world.
Third, resolve to read part of a book every day. Remember those summer reading programs at the public library when you were a child? After finishing a certain number of books, you'd get a certificate. Make a list of books, then reward yourself at the end of the summer for reading them.
Above all, the message floating on summer breezes is this: Resolve to slow down and catch the rhythm of the season. Pour a tall glass of lemonade, grab a book, find a comfortable chair, put your feet up, and r-e-l-a-x.
But hurry. The Fourth of July, which now marks the start of summer clearance sales and back-to-school ads, will be here before you know it. So will the August hum of crickets, the surest sign of all that autumn is approaching.
Remember the new battle cry: Save Our Summers. SOS.