How come I am thinking the end of summer is near, I asked my spouse Becky, given that I was soaked in sweat even though I had waited until almost sunset to mow the grass?
She reminded me that it was merely the last Sunday of July with nearly a week of the month left. I shared my calculation that we still had 56 days until the official end of the season.
Becky inquired about how long until Labor Day. Six presumably hot weeks remain until the last of summer’s three holidays. My next rumination concerned why this made me a bit melancholy.
Given the time of day of my inquiry, I assured myself that a month of shorter days and earlier sunsets would be the top factor. The days of dusk stretching out to 9 o’clock are gone. Eighteen holes of golf after work cease to be an option. This alone can’t be all there is.
The conclusion of July triggers memories for youth, even 42 years after high school. Can’t you remember those early Junes when summer stretched out endlessly? The supply seemed so plentiful supply that, living a block from my elementary school, I’d even drop by to help the teachers pack up on the first day of vacation.
Three months of relative freedom seems almost infinite for a 10-year-old. On July Fourth, summer still promises all the time needed for swimming, exploring, golf, sleeping, reading, and watching the water course over the dam at Lassiter’s Mill after a thunder storm. August’s start changes everything, even when school started the day after Labor Day. When July ends, every student knows that school is coming, to borrow from the Clash, like a jail on wheels. Suddenly each summer day become precious, and the wish to start over in June stays close to a youthful heart.
A more current factor comes from the way that the University schedule dominates southern Orange County calendars. The last Tuesday of July completed the exams for the last summer school session. The football team started practice on August 2. Dorms open on Saturday, August 15, with classes commencing the following Tuesday. Summer in Chapel Hill now resembles the academic semesters much more than it did a few decades ago.
Still during summer school, downtown becomes less hectic and more welcoming to adult residents. I can usually find a parking spot in the precious metered spaces behind Davis Library, rather than parking in Wallace parking deck to borrow or return books. When grade schools resume, family vacations end. Combined with the return of college students, traffic picks back up. Fordham Boulevard returns to inadequacy; my 12-minute dash from downtown Carrboro to Eastgate shortly after 5 p.m. no longer possible.
August’s arrival means that local government’s brief summer break has ended. This year’s likely not so restful with wary eyes on the Legislature in Raleigh cutting both budgets and home rule. Carrboro Aldermen, Chapel Hill’s Town Council, the Town Board of Hillsborough, and Orange County Commissioners resume meeting in August.. So do the various boards and commissions that report to them. For me that means two nights a month of meetings. Nor shall I enjoy another six consecutive days without a meeting or appointment until late December.
Regardless of age, the passing of each summer means one fewer in a finite, albeit unknown, quantity of them. Summers commence with infinite promise documented with lists of to read, to do, to visit, and to watch. Lists that will not be completed as the goals stretch beyond our capacities. That suspension of disbelief is part of summer’s magic and the fuel that fires the passion of summer romances in youth, enjoying flings that they will not admit to themselves are ephemeral.
This wistful cloud probably descended on me because my greatest hope for this summer – a writing fellowship – had just been not exactly dashed, but irrevocably postponed until next summer. Assuredly, but I am also experienced enough to know that I’ll dust myself off and keep moving forward.
Another question for another column is why we think of the first day of summer as midsummer. That can wait until next summer, too.
You can reach Art Menius at firstname.lastname@example.org