Cooling off during a long hot summer: Part II
I’m a morning person but in the summer my favourite time of day is post-sunset. My apartment becomes stifling between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. On every hot sunny day, I look forward to that moment when the sun’s last glint disappears behind the mountains.
Then, I’m out on my balcony, wearing the bare essentials, a jogbra and shorts or a filmy skirt that lifts in the breeze. At sunset the air instantly cools and it caresses my skin where a light film of sweat may still be lingering.
I sit on my blue gym mat, a cushion propped behind my back, and watch the unfolding pageant that changes by the minute. My camera is at hand; so is my small laptop; with photos and words I try to capture Summer.
Those balcony evenings are a piercing distillation of summer’s beauty, pleasure, and nostalgia. Summer!—the season of childhood, the season of freedom. No one of my generation could ever forget Alice Cooper’s screaming: “School’s out, for summer! School’s out, for—ever!”
For a few minutes I look over the railing of my balcony, and I’m lost in ecstasy in front of the big, big sky. My brain sees the colours, their intricate details and shading into each other and subtle changes that happen every second and add up to big changes over ten minutes. The visual pleasure hits me viscerally, triggering delicate strings in me that vibrate. Visual pleasure is transformed into emotional pleasure and thrills… the lines between different senses become blurred, the line between “me” and the source of the pleasure becomes blurred… this is what is meant by Nirvana, becoming One with the Whole.
And how much of this deep peace is a result of the chemical mix in my brain right now, my brain that is harmonious because I ran today?
Summer’s heat and beauty overwhelm me. I keep hearing Phil Collins’ “Can You Feel It In The Air Tonight” on the radio. It’s an old, momentous song. It reflects the tone of this incredible summer: its heat, its passion, its conflicts. So much blinding light and heat, such spectacular sunsets, the playfulness on the beaches. But the song is dark, hypnotic, and ominous in its beauty, like this summer with its dangers and dark undertones. This summer has secrets but no promises for the future. I will never have a summer like this one again.
I thought about the way all my summers are tied together, how summer itself is an indelible part of my nature. Swimming, summer boyfriends, summer run-sweat—all linked to many high moments, many times of exhilaration, effort, reaching the limits of what my body could do and what it could feel. Feeling the greatest sweetness that summer can give; cold water flowing over tired muscles, the cooling movement of a breeze against sweat-drenched skin, the soft yielding of a mouth against mine and the mild sweat scent of a t-shirt on the body pressed against mine in the soft heat of a summer night. All of these sensations are linked over 40 years of my life, the running and the boys and the men of my summers from 1974 to now.
I’ve reached that point of summer when I know it’s more than half gone. I’ll never forget all the balcony nights of this summer, sitting out there feeling the cooling air against my skin and watching the ever-changing sky.
My balcony sunsets are visually stunning and coolly refreshing; I’m also comforted by the summer soundtrack of my Klahanie neighbourhood, with its two high-rises and many low-rise townhomes. There are seldom any serious partiers keeping people awake late into the night with raucous sounds. No, usually I just hear toddlers playing in the courtyard below, people chatting on their patios, neighbours socializing with their dogs, and the fountain making its soothing white noise near the front entrance of the building. I’ve grown accustomed to the frequent trains going by and I like the long whistles that still hint of faraway places and adventures. Sometimes there are outdoor concerts at Rocky Point Park and the musics wafts over. Once in a while, I hear a talented saxophone player practicing nearby. All these sounds are a buffer against isolation and I never feel lonely on my balcony.
The pleasures of summer present, no matter how great, get tinged with the nostalgic memories of summers past. My own childhood is gone, no matter how vividly I remember it; it astonishes me even more to reflect that my son’s childhood is over, too.
I read a story recently that made me understand better why summer sunsets make one sad though it’s a sweet aching sadness. I can’t explain it briefly, so skip the next part if you’re not interested in thoughts about summer evenings from 1886.
Literary ramblings about summer sunsets
Every now and then I can’t resist quoting at length from masterful writers, especially when I encounter writing about subjects that are on my mind.
I want to quote from an 1886 story by Jerome K. Jerome called “On Being in the Blues.” Who? How did I find a story by such an obscure and long-ago writer? Well, I belong to an online story group called Short Story Thursdays. Every Thursday morning I receive an email from the person who started and maintains this group, a writer named Jacob Tomsky. In 2012, Tomsky wrote a bestselling book called Heads in Beds (subtitled A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality) which gave him enough pennies to quit his career in the hospitality industry and become a full-time starving writer.
Every week Tomsky chooses a story that has outlived its copyright protection, a story he believes deserves a wide audience. He emails them out to group members. You can become a member of the group by emailing him at email@example.com . WARNING! Tomsky is very funny—I often read his comments accompanying the story but skip the story itself—but he’s also extremely profane. I disliked that part of his writing at first, but now see it as part of his darkly comic persona. By the way, he is an awesome writer (as I know from reading Heads in Beds. In that book, if you read from the end of page 41 to the middle of page 43, you will be reading a single sentence 1.5 pages long. It’s Tomsky’s description of New Orleans on the eve of Mardi Gras, as seen through the eyes of an intoxicated man [himself]).
But—getting back to Jerome K. Jerome’s story—this author mentions George Eliot speaking of “the sadness of a summer’s evening.”
Jerome then goes on to add his own words:
Who has not felt the sorrowful enchantment of those lingering sunsets? The world belongs to Melancholy, then a thoughtful deep-eyed maiden who loves not the glare of day.
He goes on to extend the metaphor. I’ll skip that part, but I can’t resist copying the last two paragraphs of his story in full. No copyright to worry about! People don’t write like this now. If you have read this far, maybe you will admire it as much as I do:
In the silent country, when the trees and hedges loom dim and blurred against the rising night, and the bat’s wing flutters in our face, and the land-rail’s cry sounds drearily across the fields, the spell sinks deeper still into our hearts. We seem in that hour to be standing by some unseen deathbed, and in the swaying of the elms we hear the sigh of the dying day.
A solemn sadness reigns. A great peace is around us. In its light, our cares of the working day grow small and trivial, and bread and cheese—aye, and even kisses—do not seem the only things worth striving for. Thoughts we cannot speak but only listen to flood in upon us, and, standing in the stillness under earth’s dark’ning dome, we feel that we are greater than our petty lives. Hung round with those dusky curtains, the world is no longer a mere dingy workshop, but a stately temple wherein man may worship, and where, at times, in the dimness, his groping hands touch God’s.