Monday, July 19, 2010

If you can't stand the heat....

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. ~Russel Baker

There is nothing quite like painfully hot summer days to have even the most outdoorsy of folks daydreaming about winter. When the temperatures rise well into the 90's and the humidity is close to 100%, the thought of shoveling snow doesn't seem quite as wretched as it did in reality. Here in Maine, few spaces are air conditioned. We begin to reminisce anything that will bring cooler thoughts to mind. In the old days of life in "Vacationland", entire families would leave their homes in Philadelphia, New York and Boston to move to Maine to escape the heat of even warmer cities. There were entire towns that were summer communities that had their own churches, recreation centers, town halls and post offices. These spots would close down completely from Labor Day until Memorial Day, when they'd be reopened, reawakened and re-energized as city dwellers fled the oppressive, and painful, heat to the fresher air in Maine.

As a summer resident growing up, I vividly remember the long drive up from New York, smack in the middle 'hump' of my mother's car, sandwiched between my cousins. This trip seemed to take forever, as we played endless games of "ABC goes by" and License plate state bingo. The monotony was broken up by midnight stops at the old L.L. Bean building, which was (as it is now) open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. My cousins and I would run around, trying out every tent, inhaling that particular rubbery smell that would forever associate itself with a hot summer night to each of us. I recall the magic we expected to happen, as we crossed over the Piscataqua River Bridge, just knowing that summer's official start began as we traveled that span of road between New Hampshire and Maine. The rest of the summer would be spent sailing, playing on the beach, exploring islands, going for long walks, stuffing ourselves with seafood and covering our many mosquito bites with pink calamine lotion. I can relive the days of going to drive in movies and trying to find the right balance of staying cool....if we had the windows rolled up, we roasted like a family of lobsters. If we kept them down, we were swarmed by marauding packs of insidious black flies, all of whom had been informed that we were 'from away', and therefore, tastier.

Life takes turns and twists that we could never have predicted in childhood. As a full time Maine resident for almost two decades, I now feel the heat of summer bearing down upon me, heavy and wretched. The humidity saps my strength and makes me forget why I fantasize about July in January. Remembering is a funny thing; we believe that the air was cooler when we were kids, just as we forget how depressing ice storms can be. We seem to remember what we want to recollect when it suits us. We also seem to forget the positives of any situation when our minds are waxing poetic on another train of thought. We find ourselves mired in mental muck, and in doing so, we allow precious moments to slip through our fingers as they are happening.

This summer, I'm trying something a little bit different.I'm attempting to drink in the ever present warmth, as I would a cool drink that will melt if I leave it aside for too long. I'm trying to appreciate even the "dog days", knowing that the heat has the ability to free me from worrying about heating bills, finding warm coats and the size of our wood pile. I'm investigating new recipes for summer meals, and trying them out at dinner time, which I'm serving on the deck. I'm reminding myself how wonderful the humidity is for my skin...which gets so dry in winter. All in all, I've chosen to live by Celia Thaxter's words, "There shall be an eternal summer in a grateful heart". Instead of cursing the heat, I'm embracing it. The fascinating part is that once I've gotten over complaining about how sticky the air is, I discover that I can actually feel a cool breeze.