I had that dream again last night, the one where autumn leaves are driven to the ground by a furious, forceful wind. And in it I watch, helpless and mourning, the summer die before my heart is ready to bid it farewell. Sometimes I have this dream in the springtime, and I wake with such sorrow I feel an oppressive load on my chest the day long. This time it is August, past mid-summer when the sun’s angle is waning toward the south again, back to where it dwelt in May, my great month of anticipation. And again, I feel the dreaded panic in my heart: summer is leaving me again.
I once raced headlong into autumn with full anticipation of school friends, holidays and color-bursting foliage. The clear October skies and sweet scents of decaying leaves held the greatest gift this earth could ever bestow upon me. But that is in the past. I still love autumn, but find it increasingly difficult to get over the last weeks of summer hump. I’d prefer to slide back down that hill and climb July all over.
I was not a fan of hot weather in my childhood. Indeed, until I left Upstate New York, I had no clue that summers could be anything but oppressive and downright unbearable. The rushing autumns of the northeast invigorated me, reviving me from the intense survival mode of the muggy summers. Puget Sound summers in Washington State, however, made me fall in love with torrid, baking days and chilly, refreshing nights. The difference is humidity. There is a rainy season and a dry season here. It rains in winter, all winter. Snow storms are infrequent and usually short and light. In summer, the opposite: hot dry weather with infrequent rain from June through September. The first summer I was here the sun shone every day for 60 uninterrupted days. It is this perfect summer I passionately cling to until the first chilly sniff of autumn air. It is this summer I dream about losing, sometimes before it starts.
I have never understood the sorrow, though I am familiar with its burden I carry in my heart. I sob in this recurring dream, knowing that summer is over before I can rejoice in it. In the dream, I have gone to sleep in the spring and awakened in the full throes of autumn, distraught, cheated and betrayed. When I wake in real life, I struggle the entire day to shake off the emotions; they are so deep. Last night I saw a steady shower of golden leaves dropping against a clear blue sky, the sun lighting their path to the ground. When I woke, I had to address the fact that summer is again waning and will be here only a few more precious weeks. Why is this my greatest fear?
Does summer represent the carefree days of childhood? But, childhood seems so long ago, and I was not a sun worshiper. Perhaps these are my carefree days of middle age: reading in the front yard, peeking at the birdfeeders, watching the hot air balloons at dusk. My mind argues with my heart, “The year has it order, a cycle of birth and sleep.” But in these middle years, I would vote for summer to follow summer, again and again and again.
Does summer represent Heaven, the great reward for a life well lived, the tranquility I long for? Some days, I admit, sitting in my yard, breathing the summer air and the music of wind tickled leaves, I think that Heaven must like this- but better than the best summer day. When autumn comes, it all dies and I reflect “will I feel this content again after I die?”
“Just move some place where it’s summer all the time,” I tell myself, impatient with emotion and wallowing. It could be that easy, I suppose. But where? The desert where life is desperate for water? Or make a compromise and stay temperate, but move to the high desert, where at least the sun shines more in the winter. Is it the cold or the clouds?
It has to be something deeper.
And so, in my desperation, I grieve, then realize that time does not stop, the summer does not linger, and to dwell on this self-indulgent dilemma is destructive. After all, I am a survivor, and so is summer. It comes year after year, fighting for birth some times, gliding on a breeze at others, but true to its return in some form when the sun is high in the sky. It is true that the earth, the seasons, even the hours of the day, contain more ‘in-between’ times than peaks and troughs. Perhaps people do as well. I smile because autumn is long here, as well as spring. Winter is short and gray compared to New York standards, and summer, well, summer is my great friend: a song in my heart.
And I will sing it while I live.
Penny L Kjelgaard copyright August 2009