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The Third Day of Summer

June 23, 2013

It is the third day of summer.

On the first day of summer, this past Friday, I sat awkwardly on the edge of a seat in our car, slathering bread with hummus. Thunderous, blustery waves of rain rushed against the fogged-up windows. My husband munched on chips. The dog sat on the back seat, singing out questions in melodies I suspect are unique to beagle-mixes. Around us, the branches of so many trees whipped and swirled, their leaves flipping front to back, fluorescent green to grey.


For the past many years, summer has been my least favorite season. There are a number of things I like about summer, of course- cantaloupe, my birthday, bird songs, humid mornings- small and sort of selfish pleasures. Yet summer always feels very liminal to me; I don’t see it as some magnificent culmination of sand and barbeques, festivals and family get-togethers. If anything, the days stretch on too long, and the nights are sticky and loud. I long for cooler weather, for the silent changeover when everyone else goes inside and my spirit is quieted in the windy, sweet-smelling shadows of autumn. I think this has a lot to do with living in an urban environment, which I can do but- as my patient husband will attest- not without some sorrow and frustration.

While it’s only the third day in, and I’m hesitant to make any grand claims, this summer has so far treated me well. I think it’s because it started wrong.  Everything was wrong when we reached Kettle Moraine North on Friday for the year’s first camping trip. There was thunder and lightning, for one. The dog was antsy; we didn’t pack any rain gear; our campsite was flooded and the next-best spot, #617, was across from a group site that signalled “loud” and “chaotic” by ten or so tilting pink and green child-sized lawn chairs haphazardly ringing the campfire. When the rain slowed enough for us to hike, prehistoric-size mosquitoes swarmed our elbows and ankles. It was so bad I bitterly sprayed on bug spray, silencing my thoughts of Sandra Steingraber’s incredible, heart-breaking work on chemical contamination, which I’ve been reading a lot of lately. (Find her here.) There was mud at the trailhead and Walden got into rabbit poop and my shoes filled up with water before we were even a mile in. It was muggy and somehow still cold, hilly but flooded. And so we ran. I imagine you can see where I’m going with this: It was all wrong, and yet- as one might expect from someone who knows running to be inherently redemptive- it quickly became the most perfect start to summer. We ran breathlessly up short ridges, pausing to take in the dripping, verdant views and then splashing on, the dog careening and crashing alongside, yipping and bounding with joy. I wore shorts and a nice top, and a raincoat with pockets full of maps, a phone, keys, dog biscuits. No socks. My husband’s jeans were soaked past his knees. We didn’t plan to run, but to hike. Put differently, it was a surprise to be running, and still we spun down the moraines and through the tall grass; we charged and raced, slowing to examine a tree or a silent pause of woods, then clambering over logs and speeding around puddles.

It was a perfect start to summer. And in the spirit of surprises, there were many more: the clean breeze we stepped out into after much-appreciated lukewarm campground showers, the raucous laughter and shrieks of so many little bodies in little pink and green lawn chairs, the pale glow of colored lights strung across an old RV, the trees silhouetted in the piercing light of what would soon be the largest and fullest full moon of the year. It was a perfect and an auspicious start. We climbed into the tent and Walden tucked himself in at our feet, curling his hind legs up towards his chin and sighing so heavily his lips flapped. The children quieted and slept, then the birds, then me.


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