I despise summer. It’s a heat/light thing: I like it 10 degrees Celsius and raining. (Yes, I have seriously considered going to live on the east coast of Canada.) There are also the unnerving summer holidays, which I find fun for about a week and then would like everything to return to normal, please. I dread the coming of the heat, and I long for the blossoms to come on the chrysanthemums.
However, there are also traditions, and it’s the traditions that get me through the season. The older I get, the more I depend on traditions to mark time — forget the calendars.
The beginning of summer — as marked by the weather, not the date — is cause for the most sacred: the reading of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. I was given this book when I was 14, and I’ve read it every year since. Of course, I’ve bloody well memorised the thing by now, so I know to skip over the very few boring parts. With the exception of one line from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (“Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”), Dandelion Wine is, for me, the Platonic Form of summer. As I sit sweltering on a crowded bus or hide from reality in the airconditioning, I dredge up images from the book to keep me from losing my sanity.
Food-wise, of course, summer’s a pretty good time for a vegetarian. There’s the first strawberry, the first raspberry, the blueberries, the first peaches (and thus the first peach pie), the corn, the spaghetti squash… and all of this can be found at farmers’ markets. At farmers’ markets, you can also get cheese. Cheese and fruit are foods of the gods, and I do aspire to deity. There’s also my paltry contribution to the Earth, consisting of flower boxes on the balcony. While Gaia might not be thrilled with it, I get to eat as much fresh basil as I want. I also get to stone the cats on a daily basis.
The next tradition is something of a confession: I — who believes things should be calm and quiet at all times, who believes that the world should turn only when one is sitting down or strolling in the cool evening air — I like fireworks. Canada Day is good. Not the daytime celebrations, but that wonderful 30 minutes at the end of the night when everything goes berserk. Chaos is beautiful when you know it will end very soon.
While I’m sure it’s a chicken-or-egg scenario, family is also involved in the traditions. My family is big. Very big. Big even for a bunch a’ Catholics. We never get together in the winter because there’s no place large enough to accommodate us. (Actually, we did it once, but I believe it cost us a whole lot of money.) All the family reunions are held outdoors; that way, we can park The Old Things in their lawn chairs in the shade and take The Wee Energetic Things to the playground and swimming pools — or, better yet, throw them in a lake. While it takes me a couple of solitary days to recover from these gatherings, I look forward to them. And the older I get, the more I look forward to them.
Just as there must be a first tradition, there must also be a final tradition. Two nights ago, it was 12 degrees here. I sat on the balcony for a long time, and I realised it was time — thank god — for one of the final traditions. I love the first verse, before all the instruments and other voices come in.