In her last few Easters with us, my late mother liked to finish holiday lunch with coffee in the garden, going outside to see what there was to see. As if christening a ship, she seemed to be launching us all into the green depths of summer, a season so vast in this part of the world that it can lap at the shores of April.
With Easter’s departure last week, spring in south Louisiana is departing, too. Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 20, but here, near the rim of the Gulf of Mexico, fiercely tropical days will arrive long before then. That predictable climb in the mercury, so long lamented among the locals, might be more welcome this year. The hope is that warmer weather will weaken the grip of the pandemic, returning us from fear to the familiar.
It’s odd, of course, that we’d look to summer, a time touched by whimsy and revolt against routine, as the point when we might reclaim the old pattern of our lives. But it’s been a mixed-up year all around, with some homebound Americans even putting up their Christmas decorations this spring — an antidote for cabin fever and a way to wave a cheerful flag at the neighbors.
The fullness of households and long days away from the office can seem vaguely like Yuletide right now, though mounting death tolls and an anguished economy don’t chime with anyone’s idea of Christmas cheer. In truth, there’s no real name for the season we’re in. We feel outside of time at the moment, in some fever dream that’s eluded the clock and calendar.
In a year defined by the unexpected, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself anticipating summer, a season I usually endure rather than embrace. I don’t tolerate heat as well as I once did, and the prospect of late-summer hurricanes can make the stretch of warm months in Louisiana less than carefree.
Maybe what I’m craving isn’t so much a change of season, but merely change itself. Sheltering in place, however necessary, has reminded us that Americans aren’t made for a life of standing still.
Even so, the quiet, accepted with varying degrees of resignation or resolve, can bring a peculiar kind of grace — something I’ve occasionally felt these past few evenings as I read “Summer Solstice,” Nina MacLaughlin’s contemplation of summer’s mysteries and joys that’s out this month in a slender chapbook.
“What’s the start of summer for you,” she asks readers, “the signal that it’s here? Is it the last day of school? The lilacs or day lilies? First sleep with the windows open? Smell of cut grass behind the gasoline of the lawnmower? The fat red tomato sliced thin and salted? A sunburn?"
No one knows what kind of summer awaits us. But in another restless week in an anxious spring, I figure it’s OK to dream.