July and August are the hard part of summer for me. Summer and I have never gotten on well, not even as a child, but that was partly because we lived in a flat over a shop in a medium sized town in east central Indiana. Because my father was an artist, and this was the late 50s and early 60s, classmates weren’t allowed to come and play with me and I was never invited to their homes to play either.
Consequently, I spent lots of time in my father’s studio, which was another flat across the roof and one floor up from where we lived. It was some consolation and compensation for the lack of peers to engage with. I engaged instead with colour and form, and watched art being created. What I could imagine in my mind I could at least attempt to manifest with my hands. I did my first wood block print at age five. I soaked up creative energy like a sponge, but not the energies of land and earth and I had never see the sea at an age I could remember it.
Yes, there were two parks in the town. There were the occasional adventure walk with my father and year younger brother. But I lived pretty much an indoor life, most time outdoors spent walking to school and we also walked home for lunch. Always in a hurry, never really any time to look at things. The most engagement I had with nature was squeezing ‘gushy berries’, as I called yew berries, between my fingers.
I read the dictionary from the time I was nine or ten. It was my favourite book.
I missed school in the summer holidays, which were pretty much two and a half months long.
I never really accommodated myself to the season of heavy shade and oppressive humidity and with my severe mosquito allergy, well . . .
I never lived where crops were grown, except when visiting my mother’s people in Iowa, which we did every couple of years, my mother, brother and I. In Iowa it was maize, acres and acres of it ripening in the July sun. I remember the air conditioner in my Aunt Alberta’s beauty salon and the smell. It was icy in there and a relief from the worst of the heat. She and Uncle Fletcher lived in a rambling two storey house with a full basement and wrap around porch. There was a cherry tree one the side and rhubarb that I used to eat raw with salt. I can still see and smell it all clearly.
But, summer never felt right to me, an alien season. Summer is the season about the land and its productivity. I never had any real sense of that driving by or seeing it slip past outside the window of the Zephyr heading west from Chicago on the way to Iowa. I was an observer of the land and the landscape. I was never a participant in its energies. I never heard it call to me. Never was invited to meet its guardians, those I now understand to be the ancestors. And certainly had no notion of the gods.
When I was older and I lived in different places and had gardens to be in I tried hard to connect. I still was not able to do so. And, of course, summer was the hardest. Still plagued by reactions to mosquito bites and not keen on sunshine, finding its glare hard to take, summer was still not my best time of year.
Only since I’ve been living in the UK, nearly thirteen years now, have I been able to come to terms with summer and its excesses, as I always saw them. Here the summers are not as predictable as where I lived in the US. It can be hot and dry one year and the next chilly and sodden. And, I’ve not lived in a city. I lived on an Orcadian island, and in Devon and Somerset, where I still live, visited parts of Wales and spent time in the Highlands of Scotland and the far end of Cornwall. Always close to the land. Always welcomed by the ancestors. Always aware that the gods here are my gods.