Last days of summer

Ah summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” — Russell Baker

I’m booked for a five-day gig as a background extra this week, so I’m rerunning a favorite end-of-summer column that ran in The Daily Tribune in 2004.  Speaking of columns and summer breaks, I’ll resume blogging regularly at the end of this month. I’ve got some new pieces started already! Thanks for your patience this summer while I’ve taken time off.  Readers of my old Sunday “Life Lines” column tell me they still miss those weekly columns in the newspaper. So I think Sunday is a fitting day to post new essays — and keep me on a deadline. Stay tuned…

The Lost Art of Loafing

The sad reality always hits us mid-August: Summer is on its way out the door. Taking inventory of what weve done since June, we realize how precious little time weve spent relaxing. Wasnt there a song about “the lazy, hazy days” of summer?

For me, the first half of June exploded like a bottle rocket into thin air. When I wasnt planning Nates graduation party, I was attending parties for other terrific kids. The whole season, in fact, ballooned with joyful events and ceremonies, including a couple of weddings, which is why it seems as if weve all been riding an emotional roller coaster non-stop.

Before summer packs up its beach bag and clears out for a new school term, Id like to indulge in a few non-eventful pleasures. Many Europeans, for example, take the entire month of July or August as vacation time. While such a long holiday isnt possible for industrious Americans, Id like to borrow a shorter page from a Parisian friend. Joie de vivre isnt complicated, she says, but you have to make time for it.

Heres the plan.

*Guilt-free, Im going to chill out for a week and remember how the words “summer” and “freedom” used to hang together when I was a kid.

*With or without a hammock, Im going to watch more sunsets, spot fireflies, nap with my cats, and contemplate my world by moonlight.

*Ill brush up on the names of wild birds and constellations.

*Instead of pulling weeds or pruning, Ill sit back and admire what Ive planted.

*With or without company coming, Ill cut fresh flowers for the dinner table. At least once, Ill steam corn on the grill and make lemonade from scratch.

*Heading for the beach with my family, Ill hunt for Petoskey stones, skipping stones, beach glass, and perfect pieces of driftwood. Maybe Ill organize a group to float downriver in tubes. Later, if I can stay awake, Ill go for a midnight swim.

*If I can remember the right titles, Ill rent videos of movie classics I havent watched in ages.

*Just for one afternoon, Ill read a novel that has no redeeming social value while I sunbathe without fretting about skin cancer.

*Ill ride my bike for an entire morning without checking my watch. After pedaling around a local park, Ill rest under a thick canopy of trees and admire the view.

*Most of us schedule our lives too tightly, then rely on “nostalgic flashbacks” to appreciate blissful moments, says Veronique Vienne in The Art of the Moment: Simple Ways to Get the Most from Life (Clarkston Potter).

“As you embrace the here and now, dont be surprised if you suddenly feel lucky – lucky to be blessed with a good mind, lucky to have friends who love you for who you are,” Vienne advises. “The ultimate gift of the moment is a deep sense of gratitude for simply being alive.”

Its always fun to anticipate and celebrate the major milestones. But we need a break from “special” events, not to mention a reprieve from all the speeches about beginnings and endings. We need ordinary time.

Come September, I want to say good-bye to summer knowing that Ive squeezed every last drop of its sweetness and savored it all. How about you? — CL