June 10, 2016 by Jean
Throughout my life, summer has been the most distinctive season, set apart from the rest of the year. Even before I went to school, summer had a different rhythm to its days and weeks, marked by long hours of light and our long drives to the beach each Sunday. We would pile into the car after church and begin the trek along traffic-clogged two-lane roads from our home in southeastern Massachusetts (near the Rhode Island state line) to Cape Cod. Just before crossing the bridge onto the Cape, we always stopped for a picnic lunch (bologna sandwiches and thermoses of milk flavored with coffee syrup) at a wooded rest area with picnic tables. We would arrive at the beach in mid-afternoon, play in the sand and surf, and then have a picnic supper on the beach before getting back into the long lines of traffic that snaked along until we finally arrived home after dark.
From the time I started school at age 4 until I retired from teaching at age 66, summer was distinctive as the season of school vacation. I think it was the summer after first grade when I secured my mother’s permission to “go out to play before breakfast.” I would get myself up and dressed in the early morning light and then slip out to play when my father left for work about 6:15. Although we lived in a busy urban neighborhood, I often felt like I had the whole world to myself in those morning hours. I still love to get up and out first thing on a summer morning, enjoying the sights, sounds and scents of the natural world as I take my daily walk.
I wondered if, when I retired from teaching, summer would lose its distinctive feel. After all, wouldn’t every day and every season be “school vacation”? The answer is yes and no. The feel of summer has changed some from my teaching years, but summer is still the most distinct season.
How has the feel of summer become different since I retired? Probably the biggest change is that the boundaries defining summer are no longer as sharp. During the years that I divided my time between Maine and Pennsylvania, summer began in mid-May, at the moment I turned in my final grades and began preparing for the drive north, and ended in mid-August, when I packed up my car and drove south for the start of the new school year. Now summer is more defined by the gardening season; I drift into the realization that it is summer as plants grow and bloom, and I drift out of summer as days get cooler and shorter and plants begin to go dormant in fall. Without the sharp boundaries that defined summer during my teaching years, I no longer experience that delicious sense of sudden and total relaxation when the school year ends. But, in compensation, I also don’t experience the urgent deadlines of summer’s end. When I had to have three courses prepared for teaching by August, summer felt like it was almost over by the 4th of July; now summer has barely begun in early July. I also no longer feel an urgent need to go away on vacation in summer; I can travel during the months when school is in session.
Despite these changes in how summer feels in retirement, summer is still a season with distinct and more relaxed rhythms. I find I no longer want to do serious intellectual reading in the morning now that summer is here; instead, I relax with a novel as I eat breakfast out on the porch. Some of my formal activities slow down or disappear in summer. My choral singing group is on hiatus until fall, and the Senior College does not have classes during the summer. On the other hand, my certificate program at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is more likely to offer classes during the summer months. Other garden-related activities – garden visits with the garden club, Master Gardener volunteer projects, and my own garden projects – also ramp up in the summer.
Summer in Maine is a special time in a special place. It feels different than it did when I was working, but it also still feels deliciously different from the rest of the year.