Summer in the Country

It looks like we’re locked, for a while, into one of those monotonous, depth-of-season forecasts: highs in the mid-nineties, lows in the mid-seventies, very  humid, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.  Locusts chirp like mad maracas in the sticky twilight and going outside is a strategic exercise for maximizing shade. 

Such days never come around without recalling The Great Gatsby, and that terrible Saturday that forces the story to a climax: “‘Hot!’ said the conductor to familiar faces.  ‘Some weather! . . . Hot! . . . Hot! . . . Hot! . . . Is it hot enough for you?  Is it hot?  Is it . . . ‘”  A desperately gay party of five drive desperately to the City and take a desperate suite at the Plaza, a stifling room where opening the windows “admitted only a gust of hot shrubbery from the Park.”  In the days before air conditioning, the only remedy for heat was to wait it out, order drinks, keep as still as possible, try to avoid confrontation.  But the trapped feeling, the sense of no way out, forces the very outbreaks of passion one should seek to avoid.  “Gatsby sprang to his feet.  ‘She never loved you, do you hear?’ he cried.  ‘She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me.  It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!'”

It’s four in the afternoon and Gatsby has just reached the pinnacle of his ambitions.  He doesn’t know it yet, but soon will–Daisy’s downcast eyes, the thickening obstacle of Tom’s bulk, the descent from a maddening height that will end in blood: “So we drove on toward death in the cooling twilight.”

Another lesson from literature: Don’t let the heat get to you.

Last weekend I was figuratively sweating out the prospect of the church picnic: why did we schedule it for the middle of July?  For the last couple of years, July has behaved in a rather mild, civilized way, but this year it turned around and bit us.  I should have known: the very name July conjures up heat waves from the sidewalk.  What if everybody’s miserable and makes excuses to leave early or not come at all?  what if somebody collapses on a picnic table or over the grill?

“I’m glad when people don’t let the weather stop them from doing things,” a  young friend told me early that afternoon.  Young enough to not understand how hot sun and damp air can suck energy from a body of depleting reserves, but it’s a point well taken.  The day held some surprises–nice ones.  And a renewed appreciation for what heat is good for:

Honest sweating–think of all those toxins working their way out!

Expanding personalities.

Expanding arms.

An immediate point of contact with strangers: hot enough for ya?

Soft pearly dawns that could have been painted by Maxfield Parrish.

A renewed relish for simple things, such as

running water,

quivering shade,

kindly breezes.

Breathing with the earth.

The farthest reaches of the year–summer and winter–are the ones that can kill you.  I’m not sure which death I’d prefer, but without going to those extremes I can still reach out and embrace them briefly, as time carries us all away.


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