Summer nostalgia in a time of falling leaves
In August, Vancouver’s hot sunny days finally came, but I never got around to writing my Summer Nostalgia Part II post. What happened? Well—editing work inconveniently interfered with my play time.
I am happy to be making progress in my mid-life editing career, but the time pressures of the past two months have got me thinking about priorities. In any case, I’m not alone. Many people become acutely aware of time’s passing in midlife and may reassess what they are doing with their careers, relationships, health, and leisure.
I’ve become more accepting of the idea that I can’t possibly do everything I want to do. Every day seems crammed to the brim. And it’s not just a matter of letting go of time-wasting activities like watching TV, browsing online, or shopping. It’s not just a matter of being less of a perfectionist with respect to work, housework, or personal appearance. No, prioritizing is painful because it includes giving up or spending less time on activities and people that are important. The vast majority of us cannot have it all, despite what the inspirational essays and stories would have us believe.
To achieve a work goal you may have to pay less attention to the people you love the most—your spouse, your girlfriend/boyfriend, your children—at least temporarily. Or you may neglect your health. You might seek to finally achieve a dream creative goal, realizing that it’s now or never—in spite of sacrificing your own or even your family’s financial stability.
The cliché says we should seek “balance” in our lives. But everyone’s balance, and everyone’s tipping point into being hopelessly overstressed, is different. You have to be self-aware and self-searching. There are no easy moral answers when it comes to prioritizing. You may have to hurt others or squeeze the lifeblood out of a part of yourself when you dedicate yourself uncompromisingly towards achieving a specific goal.
In 2016, I put my editing career first, while at the same time refusing to miss the workouts and the time outdoors that give me the endorphin buzz I crave. But something had to go. I was frustrated because I couldn’t seem to make time for creative writing or blog posts, even though I had plenty of subjects I wanted to write about. I was also itching to write book reviews for several of the unusual books I’ve read this year. I want to share these incredible writers with other people, and fix in my own mind the crucial kernels of their books—but I haven’t been able to find the time. Writing a book review is challenging. It requires an impressive art of distillation to do justice to a great writer’s skills with narrative, language, and conveyance of complicated ideas.
This year, I wrote a few blog posts that were “stale.” That is, I’d been inspired by something and jotted down a few notes, but didn’t get around to writing the blog post until months later. I realized this doesn’t work well. Blogging is a form of writing that is usually current and personal. Blog posts lose something when written months after the spark that ignited their creation. So much of my inspiration for posts comes from sensory details of a specific day or season. It can be impossible to recapture the vividness of the immediate impression later.
Nevertheless, I’m going to put some of my favourite summer photos in this post. I might even add some of those “sensory detail words,” faded and irrelevant though they may be.
But it’s fall now, so first I’ll write something fresh—from yesterday’s bike ride.
Leaves. That’s what I’m aware of in the first minutes of my ride as I cycle along the bike path. Not just brilliant colours. It’s their smoky musky scent and the sounds they make. Crackling, rustling, a swishing when the air moves. Suddenly I’m no longer clinging to summer. I’m immersed in fall.
How can the smell of dying things be a good smell? It evokes memories: of cross-country season, being part of a high school team, being young when running was so easy and carefree. I remember weekend rambles in the Don Mills ravines with my high school buddies Jon and Gary. The smell of their cigarettes mingled pleasantly with the aroma of fallen leaves. We basked in October’s warmth, knowing that drab, bitter November would come all too soon.
As I return to writing this piece, it’s the afternoon of September 28, and I’ve just been for what was probably my last swim of the year (at least without a wetsuit) at Sasamat Lake. Maybe it’s not too late for summer nostalgia after all!
The lake in September offers special rewards for its hardcore visitors. It’s serene and sparkly. Kids are back in school, and the noisy, greedy geese are mysteriously gone. In mid-afternoon the sun is warm on the beach. The water temperature could be called invigorating. I only lasted four minutes in the water; I was too numb to feel much pain while swimming, but when I noticed my arm muscles weren’t working well I decided I’d better come out. I had to get my wet bathing suit off immediately to avoid hypothermia.
Summer 2106 photo blog
It may be Indian summer now, but I’ve decided it’s not too late to post some photos that bring back my best summer memories.
In June I competed in only my second race of 2016, the Longest Day 5K at UBC. This race is fast and competitive. It has a special atmosphere, being an evening race on a date that’s always close to the summer solstice. The weather is unfailingly gorgeous, and the popular barbecue adds to the post-race spirit.
I was quite fit for this race; though my knee, as usual, had severely limited my running, I had done a few fast workouts with the Phoenix club. However, a stressful week and several nights in a row of poor sleep meant I was exhausted before the race even started. It took a huge effort to complete the race in 20:08, almost a minute slower than my 2105 time. Yet as I crossed the finish line, I felt an immense physical and mental release, and I was content with my time.
Keith took this photo after I’d done a warmdown lap on the grass in the stadium. I had to stop because of a pain in my hip that I’d never felt before. Little did I know that night that this injury would refuse to get better for almost three months. A month of no running, physio, and boring exercises led to little improvement. This was another injury that taught me the value of acceptance and patience. Sometimes an injury’s recovery will follow no timetable but its own. Once my hip started improving in late August, the pain disappeared rapidly, and I was able to get back to my twice weekly 6K runs without a hiccup.
Summer bucket list
This summer I wanted to break away from my regular cycling routes and revisit some of my favourite Vancouver cycling places from the past: Stanley Park and the whole route through Kitsilano and west to UBC, with its long stretches of road that are perfect for fast riding. I also wanted to swim in the Pacific Ocean at Third Beach. I like that beach because it’s relatively isolated and wild, far away from the larger crowds at Second Beach and English Bay.
I drove to Stanley Park one weekday with my bike in the back of my car. I cycled around the ring road a few times for the first time in many years. The hill up to Prospect Point was easier than I remembered; it’s nothing compared to the mountain I ride up from Port Moody to Coquitlam! After some hard riding on the road, I decided to play the sightseeing tourist, and did a loop on the seawall. It was hopeless for riding; there were huge groups of tourists riding at a leisurely pace; so I stopped several times to take photos as if I too were a tourist. The photo below shows an idyllic Third Beach. I couldn’t swim that day as I didn’t have my swimming gear with me.
I didn’t manage to return to Stanley Park later in the summer for a swim. Nor did I go to another location on my bucket list: Wreck Beach. I haven’t been there for many years. Wreck Beach is notorious for being clothing optional, but it’s also an outstandingly beautiful beach, perfect for sunset viewing. Its shallow water extends far out, and becomes especially warm and inviting in August.
But this year, again considering priorities, I had to accept that time was limited and my outdoor activities would have to take place close to home.
August at Sasamat Lake
I couldn’t do my Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon this summer because I couldn’t run. However, Keith took some good photos of me on a day when I decided to push hard on the bike-swim-bike portion.
I always feel at my best athletically in the summer. Muscles are ready to go almost immediately, and they seem to switch gears to all-out power more easily. Maybe it’s the freedom of wearing less clothing that makes me feel faster. And I like the sheen of sweat that covers all of my skin surface on a hot day.
Most of my summer swims at Sasamat Lake aren’t workouts, though. I drive up there to relax, cool off, and enjoy the ambience and beauty of the lake. My favourite time to swim depends on the temperature of the day, but it’s usually around 5 p.m., when the water is warm but the glaring, dangerous heat of the sun has become more gentle. A quick swim gives me an instant energy boost, and out in the middle of the lake I’m transported to another level of being.
On some days I cycled to the lake early in the morning when there were few cars and people, then returned by car later to swim.
When I was back there to swim at 4:45, the water was warm. I swam steadily for a few minutes, then felt that surge of energy that often happens. Suddenly I sprint-swim, feeling pure joy at the energy that springs out of my body, the strength of my arms pulling, the satisfying depth of my breathing. I’m bursting with health, I’m still feeling good from my morning ride. I love being able to play in the water, alternating sprinting with a relaxed breaststroke that stretches my inner thighs in a satisfying way, sometimes swimming on my back, just kicking, making big splashes to express my exuberance as I look up at the dazzling bowl of the sky.
I’ve written about my balcony sunsets before. I’m sure many of my Facebook friends groan when they see another one of my sunset photos, but I have my fans, too. The thing is, the painter in the sky never runs out of new ways to astound me! Below I’ve included a few of my hundreds of balcony photos.
My summer balcony times were often visually stunning, but my sensory memories include much more. Sometimes the exquisite perfume of one of my fragrant roses was there to tantalize me. Always, as I sat on my mat, I was aware of the strong aroma of the rosemary plant beside me. Later in the summer, a surprise crop of mint sprouted up in one of my planters and it, too, became part of my sensory immersion.
The sounds of summer on my balcony were distinctive. Usually there was the soothing background of the fountain near the front door of my building. Sometimes there were happy sounds of kids playing in the courtyard beneath me, or adults on their ground floor patios chatting over dinner or late-night fires. Every now and then I would hear the evocative whistle of a train from the tracks nearby. On breezy evenings, wind chimes added their whimsical notes.
And many times, as we sat there watching, my cat Tux and I would see the blurred whirring wings of a hummingbird. Tux would be spellbound, longing for the unreachable as the hummingbird dip-darted nervously into the feeder, then plunged downward in an impossibly quick departure.