Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Seasons, the night sky, and cabana boys

I am hardly a nature boy but the romantic in me loves nature in small and controlled doses. I've never gone camping (except when I spent the night with pals in a tent pitched in our neighbor's back yard when I was a kid) but I've enjoyed the "cabining" I've done with friends at state parks. I can't identify trees or flowers, but I like to go on the occasional hike through parks and woods and arboretums. And though I've never learned the constellations, I love to look at the night sky (approximated above on my work computer wallpaper). Where we live now, in a suburb attached directly to a big city, we're lucky enough to be just far enough away from the major light concentrations of downtown Columbus to our southeast that on cloudless nights, we can stand in our front yard and see some stars.

When I was young, our family had a cottage on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie, and many of my cherished memories of our island vacations are of our walks back to the cottage after a drunken carouse downtown (that should be "downtown" in quotes, as it was comprised of three bars, a small grocery store, and a Dairy Queen), throwing ourselves on the hoods of cars, and staring up into the deep, sparkling night sky. With virtually no noticeable light pollution to the north or west, the stars were brilliant and numerous. When I was very young, my dad, who had been a navigator in the Air Force, would point out to me and my brother the stars and constellations but I would never remember them from year to year, so each year he would be able to go through the ritual again. (Well, I did remember Cassiopeia which, in his earthy way, he identified as "the big tit in the sky.") As we got older, we would re-enact this event with our visitors (friends, boyfriends, partners, wives)--it was part of the initiation event of belonging to the extended Ritchie clan, and it is the only thing I really miss about not having property on the Island anymore.

Anyway, I think of this today not because of any night sky experience, but because of how gorgeous it is out this morning. It rained through much of the night, and the skies right now are cloudy but not ominously so. When I got out of my car at Panera (to get my coffee and cinnamon roll, bright and early at 7 a.m.), the breeze hit me in a way that it hadn't since sometime last summer. I call it a "tingly breeze": it's noticeable but not exactly forceful, and with an air temperature of 70 degrees, it's right on that rare and perfect edge between cool and warm. As I stood in the parking lot for just a moment to enjoy the wind, I got a tingly sensation along my arms (hence the "tingly breeze") and could imagine for a moment that I was on a beach in some paradisaical location, about to throw myself into the crashing surf (after the taut-bellied cabana boy brings me a margarita; why do carnal desires intrude into even my most beautiful wholesome fantasies?)

...Leading me finally to the title of this post. I realized recently that the seasons, sadly, have become less important to my everyday life. In school, in college, in grad school, and while teaching, seasonal changes were a big part of my life because my routine depended on the season. For most of my life, summer has meant either time off, time for vacations, or when teaching, just a different pace when teaching one summer class. Even when I was working in retail, summer felt different, partly because I was at the peak of my "swingin' singles" era, and summer nights were clubbing nights--we clubbed all year round, but somehow in my memories of those times, it was always a hot summer night.

In the past few years, with the library work cycle not particularly dependent on seasonal changes, and with tranquil domestic routines well established (not to mention central air conditioning), summer has largely become just like any other time of year. The past few years, I've felt bad about that, panicking that the summer was going to pass me by without registering on me at all. This year, for the first time, I don't seem to care. Part of it is that I've accepted that, like at Christmastime, I can't force myself to live up to these unrealistic expectations (I MUST be jolly in December, I MUST find time to lie in the sun in July). But the other part is that the weather the past month or so has been delightful--warm enough to sleep with windows open and the ceiling fan on, but not so hot that the AC is running all the time, though a little AC to accentuate the fan at night is nice. So I might get to swim in a pool or at a beach, I might not. I might get a little tan, I might not. I might sit on the porch and look at the stars in a warm night breeze, I might not. I guess I'm finally OK with that. But I did get at least one tingly summer breeze!

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