Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bittersweet Arrival of Summer

Anticipation is usually better--or worse--than the actual event being anticipated. The excitement of the buildup to a Super Bowl or FA Cup Final is very often much better than the game itself; it's the pre-game electricity that ends up being really memorable, unless the game turns out to be some sort of blockbuster or your team manages to win a trophy.

And so it goes--for me, anyway--with summer in New England. It's not that I don't love summer. I love it more than I can express, and I do everything I can to drain every last drop out of it. Today, it was a bike ride after work and a nice few minutes spent out on the balcony with the lovely wife. Tomorrow, hopefully, it'll be a cookout and maybe a dinner al fresco. The weekend holds all sorts of ridiculous promise. There is nowhere on earth better to be in summer than New England. There are some places that are as nice, maybe, but nowhere better--not that I've found, anyway.

But (and you knew this was coming) there's always a shade of melancholy even on the most glorious summer beach day. Because here, summer is a fleeting thing. Back home in Texas, summer was almost a constant, with its blast-furnace heat, baking sun and clothes-dryer winds occupying much of the calendar. Here in New England, though, summer is a treasure, a respite from the dark hole of a six-month winter. However, no matter how nice summer is, it's never quite as good as I think it's going to be.

There's no way it could be. In February, June is the Seven Cities of Cibola, Xanadu and...oh, let's go with Valhalla, all bundled into an impossibly dreamy package. And July is even better than that! But once those months actually come around, it turns out that work is still an everyday chore, that the stresses of money and relationships that can seem so overwhelming in the dark of winter don't actually go away in the summer, and that traffic lights don't magically turn green on Route 9 as just I approach them. Summer is beautiful, wonderful, exhilerating--it's a dip in Walden Pond, a stroll around the De Cordova, a dinner out on the balcony, a day in the pool--but it's not Valhalla. It's just really nice...which isn't so bad at all. But it still doesn't live up to the anticipation I feel for it in winter and during perhaps the most torturous time of all, early spring.

It doesn't help, of course, that the really interesting sports (from my perspective) finish in the late spring and that (either kind of) football doesn't really start until the fall. Summer is reserved for baseball, a fine enough sport but one that really only interests me in April, May, September and October (in other words, at the beginning and the end of the season). The months in between, the dog days, are just a slog, a mostly sports-free period that leaves me wondering exactly which inconsequential thing that I can't control I should be worrying about. (It also leaves me jonesing for football season--both of them--big time. NFL Network gets a lot of air time in our house in June and July, as does Fox Soccer Channel. Thank God for a few weeks of the Euro and World Cup every other summer.) Oh, sure, the Tour de France and Wimbledon are fun, but they're hardly obsession-worthy.

Still, nobody should take this entry as a complaint about anything. It is, in fact, an appreciation of summer, and a lament that even after 35 years I haven't really yet learned how to manage my often unrealistic expectations for...well, anything, really. But especially for summer. Still, it beats shoveling snow. By a lot, actually.

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