Waiting for Summer
Summer Solstice is a week away, and yet I’ve been describing the season as “summer” since early May. I’ve also found myself saying we went from winter to summer in a matter of days. Thirty degree weather to the eighties within twenty four hours. It felt like a shock, like jumping into a fifty degree lake on an sweltering afternoon.
Even though spring truly is one of the most magical, mysterious, and beautiful times of the year, I often complain when there are still patches on snow on the ground, mud and slush, days of rainfall that never seem to end.
That’s the charm (or curse?) of New England. It’s a strange place. One minute, there’s frost on the grass, the next, the grass is suddenly green, vibrant, in need of a mow. And that’s also perhaps charmlessness about many of us New Englanders. When it’s April, we wish it was August. When it’s August, we wish it was December. When it’s December, we wish it was April. No matter what season it is, we find something to complain about: the heat, the cold, the wet, the snow, or, say, the complete lack of transition between seasons.
But it’s not actually that quick and easy of a switch. Maybe it’s only that it feels that way after long winters. From November to early April, it’s just darker. Night takes up half our days. We stay in, we close our windows, we curl up with a book or in front of the TV, and we settle in for a kind of hibernation where we eat heavy foods, wear wool socks, and after Christmas is over, grumble over the snowy forecast. Our skin gets paler, and some of us start to feel like it’s always been gray and cold outside.
This winter was particularly long and hard. Maybe it was life circumstances, or the fact that we were teased by those two days of seventy degree weather in the middle of February a few months back (the following snowfall was especially cruel), something about this winter was neverending, harsh, dragging its feet into what should have been sunny days.
And yet I still barely remember when spring happened. Because every single year, it happens so gradually. It isn’t a sudden snowstorm. It isn’t a cold air that descends on us, forcing us inside to close all our doors and crank up the heat. It’s gradual, a slow warming. It’s gentle, and it coaxes us. It reminds us that there’s new life after those long stretches where it looks like nothing’s happening and comfort is scarce, and these shifts and changes can happen slowly, without us even seeing it.
It’s subtle. Driving down the highway, you vaguely notice the buds on the trees lining the asphalt. Breathing the air, you smell the wet grass when there was once nothing but ice. In the garden, you see the beginnings of leaves, petals, new growth coming out of the ground. After months of stagnation, bare branches, slick walkways, and gray-blanketed skies, there’s a break, pin-pricks through the dreariness made by drops of rain, blades of grass forcing themselves through cracks in the asphalt, and it doesn’t happen overnight. We may only notice it once we can sit in the shade under a tree, but it was happening over days, weeks, months.
This year, the honey locust trees in my backyard flowered, and we had a heat wave in the midst of it. We opened all the windows in the house, and the fragrance from their blooms filled our home, rich and permeating every inch of it. It was so hot, unseasonably so, but it made the scent that much stronger. Already, only a few weeks later, the little white flowers are fading and scattered over the grass like snow, drying out on my daughter’s tree swing and picnic table. Summer will start in just a couple weeks, and all those beginning blooms, the ones that are only here for a short while, will fade away until next year.
Photography: Rusty Kinnunen