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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - Creole tomatoes cast a spell on southeast Louisiana each summer and turn up at markets and stores everywhere.

Summer doesn’t officially end until Sept. 22 this year, but around our house, we know the gig is up. Our son starts college this week, and we still keep time by his calendar. Summer ends for us when the fall semester starts.

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My wife and I are planning a trip this autumn, so we didn’t travel this summer, instead seeing friends, family and co-workers come and go. I mostly watched the revolving door from my office desk. A workplace in summer reminds me a lot of community theater. While vacations thin the ranks, there’s a running spirit of improvisation as cast members cycle on and off the stage, with bit players hastily recruited to fill the absent roles.

Even for us homebodies, the folks left behind to collect the neighbors’ mail while they tan on the beach, summer can seem a liberation. Household routines relax, freeing us, more than in other seasons, to make things up as we go along.

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In summer, the house I return to each evening looks tossed by casual brainstorms. Our boy’s cello presides over a corner of the den, poised in its stand in case he decides to practice, though he seldom does. Lettuce seeds have germinated in a clay pot in the living room, their leaves so stubbornly tiny that we read them each morning like the fine print of a contract no one can quite understand. It’s one of our son’s ill-fated gardening projects, along with the backyard tomatoes he planted in the shade of an elm. He waved away the practical challenges of starving a plant of sun, maybe assuming that in summer, life’s normal rules don’t apply.

Other experiments yielded more encouraging results. One day, I suppose to test his strength, my boy chopped down a huge tallow tree with an ax. He also built a compost bin to recycle the rinds from my wife’s watermelons — a bountiful supply since she brings them home throughout the summer, cradling them like babies as she lugs them inside. Carving up the fruit is a workout itself.

Summer’s seeming eternity of time tempts us to exceed our grasp. That’s obvious each August as I go through our rooms, restocking books we thought we’d read but never did. Binge-reading — or the promise of binge-reading — is a great summer pleasure, one only rivaled, I guess, by binge-watching.

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The other night, as her way of saying summer’s not quite over, my wife suggested we watch “Downton Abbey” again from start to finish. The public TV drama about English aristocrats on a grand estate is indulgently escapist, allowing viewers to vicariously live lives untouched by obligation. It’s like summer vacation all the time at Downton, where the privileged Crawley family seems vaguely bored, corrupted by leisure so endlessly available that it no longer charms.

A reminder, one gathers, that summer appeals to most of us precisely because it can’t last forever.


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