The last week of summer…the days before Labor Day…always a rather provocative time of year. I suppose it comes from the 16-year habit of preparing to launch into a new school year: new notebooks and pencils and erasers and binders…anticipating the regathering of all your friends again and wondering if you’ve grown or changed as much or as well as they have over the summer’s hiatus….imagining the possibility of a new teacher or maybe joining a teacher you’ve known over the years—which will it be? And starting a new grade, feeling that being a fourth- or fifth- or sixth-grade student was a big deal compared to being in third or fourth or fifth grade…a real sense of moving ahead and advancing and growing up, naïvely believing “I’m going to focus really hard this year,” and dreaming that you’ll stay on top of the workload and not wait until the last night before reading your assignments or working on projects, a naïve belief which lasts only about a week because you notice that Lynn is cuter this year than last or that Debbie is paying more attention to you this year than last…but it always starts out with the best and most exciting and most delusional of intentions, having the teacher talk about the new year and what you’ll be learning and somehow each year the end of summer makes the new school year feel like the brightest and biggest and newest opportunity.
Maybe it comes from the fullness of the end of summer, how the porch plants have overgrown their pots and the neighborhood trees are blotting out views of the sky and drooping with thick volumes of leaves, and you notice that their volumes are two and three times the size of your house. By late summer, the roadside stands are fulsome with high mounds of corn and tomatoes and peaches and the squash and pumpkins and baskets of apples and pears are beginning to appear there, hinting of the coming fall. But for now, the Jersey tomatoes are delicious and plentiful, the Jersey corn is sweet and tender, and grilling peaches makes them even sweeter, even juicier.
The summer heat from the dog days has eased, especially in the mornings when you find yourself curled under the topsheet, wishing you’d made the bed with a blanket, or pulling up the blanket to your chin in relief of the surprising morning chill, feeling too a sense of accomplishment at having survived the height of the summer heat, even though the Sun is still strong and the heat may return midday…maybe even turn into an Indian Summer of hot days in September or October. Evening darkness comes visibly earlier and cools palpably sooner in late summer. The Canada geese begin their v-shaped flights south…elegant movement heading somewhere.
The possibilities suggested by late summer are more real to me than the drunken imaginings of New Year’s Day. For me, January 1 has much more a sense of completion…the year has ended and the holidays have ended and the decorations must come down; here in the northeastern United States, winter’s cold turns everything inward and the dark, cold, lonely days of January and February give me a sense of endurance and patience, the same sense of endurance and patience that the oppressive heat of high summer gives me, waiting out both the coldest nights and the hottest days of the year.
But the heat of late summer punctuated by the cooling in the evening and the chill in the morning gives me a sense of anticipation…change coming, opportunity, possibility. F. Scott Fitzgerald says in The Great Gatsby that life starts all over again when everything turns crisp in the fall…late summer gets me ready for that.