Remember this moment. Not this paragraph hopefully, or the unlikelihood of ever landing here in the first place when you were looking for potato recipes, but the novelty of flip-flops, the smell of crushed blackberries on the bridle path, the first game of soccer where no one is keeping score, the last day of school dissolving like a dream you forgot to write down – because the distances we travel every summer can make their beginnings seem almost inconceivable from their ends. Was that really just two and a half months ago?
It was. Partly I’m sure this is a matter of all those extra daylight hours, still no other season comes with quite the expiration as summer, and for me it is always unmistakably looming between rest and relaxation, like if I forget to look at my watch for a couple of minutes it’ll probably be Labor Day. Then fall, then endless obligations disguised as holidays, then ice and mud and knotty expanses of anticipation before the riot of photosynthesis that means we finally get another crack.
At new places and friendships and species and selves, at keepsakes and snapshots to remind us it wasn’t perhaps a pause amid our inexorable evolutions, but the grandest evolution of them all. I sing the song of summer! Which probably doesn’t make me the easiest guy in the world to hang out with during an August air quality advisory, hurricane, hangover, shark alert.
“Not going home,” announces the hopefully pseudonymous Claudie K., clinging to her swing in Emily Jenkins’ and Stephanie Graegin’s Water in the Park, a story that is finally more rewarding than its pedagogical subtitle – A Book About Water and the Times of the Day – might suggest. While it is almost certainly useful for children to develop a prescholarly appreciation for the clock, my sympathies here are with poor Claudie K. who is dragged not once, but twice, from Graegin’s park by Jenkins’ numbers. The water is only one of the attractions here but I’d call it poetic, as opposite and essential to a sweltering summer day as a leafy little park is to the towering city. You could go on safari and not experience the biodiversity of this modest urban corner in a single twelve hour period, starting (and ending) with a three-legged dog who is forever tempted to the edge of a pond, turtles tanning and escaping, ants and sparrows and office workers squinting over their respective lunches, a cat in a puddle, old people with crumbs to throw for the fish.
Still, what do these all add up to in the end? Like a lot of good books about summer, I probably wouldn’t have given this a second look when my children were younger, preferring the zoom lens to the wide angle, the three-act to the encyclopedic – and yet a second, closer look seems to me now both the luxury and the responsibility of summer. To consider a mailman, a wheelbarrow and an apple pie cooling on the windowsill in Elisha Cooper’s A Good Night Walk. An arrowhead, a goose feather and an operatic insect in Rebecca Caudill’s and Eveline Ness’s A Pocketful of Cricket. Crawdads, license plates and piccalilli (“whatever that is”) in Michael Rosen’s and Marc Burckhardt’s A Drive in the Country.
A ramble. A daydream. Maybe only a day well spent. That water in the park should end up also chasing people away in the shape of a thunderstorm seems a particularly forceful reminder when even the promise of darkness does not prove sufficiently motivational. The park needs a break – we all do sometimes – to collect and collect and collect the stories worth passing on.