Last year at this time, I told to my wife that next year I planned to spend the month of July either sitting in a volcanic fumarole somewhere in the hinterlands of Iceland or golfing in the Outer Hebrides.
But I wasn’t joking.
For reasons I’ve never fully attempted to decipher, July and I just don’t seem to jive.
Maybe I spent too many years living in northern New England where summer is about as brief as Miley Cyrus’ underpants. The black flies are barely over before the leaves are falling again. Summer in Maine is merely a pleasant diversion to eat ice cream before it’s time to start shoveling snow.
Maybe my annual discontent with summer is because I’m paradoxically a Southern-born son of winter (February’s child) who inexplicably digs rain and snow as long as I have a roaring fire and decent woodpile. Give me a good pair of wool socks and a nice cashmere sweater and I’m good to go until Fourth of July.
Up yonder, save for the mobs of summer tourists that clog restaurants and double the price of the average shore dinner, July is a fairly brief and largely civilized affair — warm days, cool nights, plenty of patriotic bunting and hot dogs on the common. My extensive gardens were always at their peak in July, which meant I was normally too busy working in the yard and topping up my woodpile to pay much attention.
Down here, on the other hand, July is the heart of a long hot season where everyone vanishes for good reason to the hills or the coast until further notice. Fifty years ago, many of the towns and villages of the Sandhills basically closed up shop until early October — when the tourist migration neatly reversed.
So, chances are, you aren’t even reading this in print because you aren’t here.
If that’s the case, lucky you.
Fortunately I’m married to a true girl of summer (July’s child) and Northern-born gal who paradoxically digs the sweltering heat of the South and loathes the North’s endless cold. Her favorite thing whenever I gripe about my native South’s heat and humidity is to remind me of the summer in Maine she was forced to wear a turtleneck sweater all the way from Independence to Labor Day.
“I know,” I remembered. “Wasn’t that great?”
“Sure — if you’re a German tourist who likes to take your clothes off and sit with complete strangers in a geothermal pool outside Reykjavik.”
“Sounds great. When can we go?”
Like many old marrieds, you see, we’ve achieved seasonal détente and struck a nice balance between the peak seasons of fire and ice in order to provide essential comfort and perspective to each other in our respective months of meteorological distress.
I point out her winter brings happy family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas, not to mention charming blizzards, college football and the best movies of the year. I warm her feet. She warms my tummy.
She points out summer has long days of sunlight, fresh strawberries, real vine-grown tomatoes and a good reason to drink wine on the patio. She teases me out of my summer funk. I amuse her by speaking only in ancient Icelandic grunts.
As you may have guessed by now, regrettably, I’m not actually filing this report from a bubbling blue fumarole outside Keflavik or even the misty links on the remote Isle of Barra.
Nope. I’m at home here in the steaming Sandhills keeping an even lower and slower profile than in summers past, in part because my head has been buried in the task of finishing a book that was due in New York a month ago but also because I buggered up a knee prior to the U.S. Open and have been hobbling around all summer like sheriff Matt Dillon’s scruffy, whining, sidekick Festus ever since.
Thank heavens for my garden and the saltwater pool at the back of our property where I’ve been floating like Festus in Fiji for weeks, observing my ususal media summer blackout and waiting for the heat to pass.
I was basically oblivious to the world at large until I casually turned on the boob tube the other day just to get the weather forecast — hoping for some nice cool rain for my panting hydrangeas — and learned what’s been happening in the rest of the world.
A new cold war is reportedly breaking out because Vlad The Putin can’t keep his shirt on and either has issues with his manhood or is angling for a cover of GQ.
A field of sunflowers in Eastern Ukraine has become a symbol of the world’s inability to deal with thugs.
Gaza is blazing and Israel and Hamas are in an insane death spiral.
The biggest outbreak of Ebola virus to date has become “an epidemic out of control” according to Doctors Without Borders, a crisis widening by the day.
The most unproductive Congress in American history is ignoring the humanitarian crisis on our borders but taking time to sue the president before it goes on a much-needed vacation from not doing the people’s work.
The president merely points a finger back and underscores my long-held belief that what this country needs most a single six-year presidential term.
A devastating drought out West has reached Dust Bowl proportions, causing some water experts to predict the Colorado River will soon become a trickle.
Meanwhile, giant African snails and Burmese pythons are reportedly invading America and radically endangering native species. One wildlife expert calls this “global swarming — nothing less than an Animal Apocalypse.”
On a slightly brighter note, y’all, merely a year after being booted off the Food Network for her accidental racism, unnaturally Southern Paula Deen plans to start her own Internet TV network, as does Sarah Palin, the gift that keeps on giving, my favorite political entertainer by a wide Alaskan mile, bless her roguish exploitative heart. The latter bolsters another long-held belief that TV broadens the butt, alas, but not the mind.
Not to be left behind, so to speak, Kim Kardashian unveiled an app this July that reveals how young women can become her “friend” and possibly a “major celebrity” just like Kim, meaning famous for no apparent reason. Reportedly she was paid $18 million for doing absolutely nothing. Can Honey Boo Boo’s debut on The Bachelorette be far behind?
The only actual good news this July was that it turns out to be okay to eat real butter and Orlando Bloom punched Justin Beiber in a bar somewhere in Spain.
And you wonder why I long to spend my summers somewhere in the boonies of a country where I don’t speak the language and TV features only poorly dubbed American sitcoms and earnest documentaries on volleyball at German nudist camps?
Luckily, August is here in the nick of time. It means summer is almost over. The very thought turns my wife’s feet to ice.
Friday morning I woke up to a delightful steady rain and much cooler temperatures.
There was even news of a 72-hour cease fire in Gaza that lasted, well, all of nine minutes.
One way or another, as the ancient Icelanders used to say with a grunt, the end can’t be far away.