"The only thing one can do is follow himself . . . dig in, discover what he is, and who he is, and reveal himself." – Henry Miller

S.O.S.

This is a piece I wrote some years back before the advent of Journeys Into The Night. Seems appropriate for today!

For sun-lovers, it has begun: the unofficial start of the UK summer is here.

It’s that time when hopes soar and hearts warm in eager anticipation of a new season. The swimsuits, shorts and sandals are on display. Gardeners are flocking to nurseries and greenhouses. Owners of summer cottages are sweeping away cobwebs, airing out rooms and restocking pantries. Newspaper ads are promoting barbeque grills and patio furniture, camping gear and luxury vacation packages. What fantasies these ads inspire as summer-lovers dream of sunlit hours relaxing with friends, reading long-awaited books, cultivating bountiful gardens and walking beaches or woodland trails.

But for me, these fantasies have long been elusive. With the exception of one or two recent summers, this time of year now ranks as an endangered species of a season, its already wildly fluctuating and fleeting days made shorter by invisible thieves, subtly diminishing the season’s glory.

These gremlins begin by stealing time — precious golden hours — through long workdays and “working vacations.” They also rob us of comfort. Across the country, Britons spend summer days shivering in over-air-conditioned offices, restaurants and stores. Permanently closed windows block out bird songs and gentle breezes. Summer also slips away as overzealous merchants start dressing mannequins in wools and wintry colours in July.

It all stands in sharp contrast to my memories of childhood in the Caribbean, where the sunshine stretches endlessly. There was always time to watch fireflies blink in the twilight. And time to watch Monarch butterflies emerge from pale-green cocoons.

The American poet May Swenson captures the mood when she writes,

Can it be there was only one

summer that I was ten? It must

have been a long one then.

Here in the UK, this Incredible Shrinking Summer calls for a new set of resolutions. New Year’s resolutions, serious and purposeful, centre on self-improvement. Summer resolutions, by contrast, focus more on self-fulfilment. They offer well-deserved rewards for the months of hard work that precede the season.

We need a summer preservation society. As the self-appointed president of the just-formed group Save Our Summers, or SOS (current membership: 1), I offer a few resolutions to preserve the pleasure of these essential months:

First, resolve to leave work earlier. Not early, not even necessarily on time, which these days is tantamount to leaving early — just earlier than usual. I used to remain in the office sometimes as late as 6.30 p.m. Now I’m on “summer time” and I leave no later than 5:30. Even half an hour helps…

Second, resolve to take a walk every day. Short or long, slow or fast, a walk offers an escape from Arctic buildings and a way to reconnect with the natural world.

Third, resolve to read part of a book every day. Remember those summer reading programmes at the public library when you were a child? After finishing a certain number of books, you’d get a certificate. Make a list of books, then reward yourself at the end of the summer for reading them.

Above all, the message floating on summer breezes is this: Resolve to slow down and catch the rhythm of the season. Pour a tall glass of lemonade, grab a book, find a comfortable chair, put your feet up and r-e-l-a-x.

But hurry. The start of summer clearance sales and back-to-school ads will be here before you know it. So will the August hum of the garden insects, the surest sign of all that autumn is approaching.

Remember the new battle cry: Save Our Summers. S.O.S.

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