This has been an odd summer, mostly because it has actually been a summer. Not that Calgary is renowned for its summers, but last year we had near perpetual spring. And not the “yay, winter is over and the tulips are blooming” kind of spring but rather the “dear god, when will this rain end” kind of spring. We didn’t have a dry camping trip all year. I’m certainly no fan of hot, dry summers but even I get fed up with having to setup or tear down the trailer in the rain.
Oh, how things change. This summer has been textbook summer, for Phoenix. With nearly continuous sun and heat, one need look no further than the burnt, brittle lawn surrounding my house for proof of this rare weather pattern. Rain has been as infrequent as a politician’s promise keeping and days with temperatures over 30 degrees have come with the weekly regularity of ridiculous Trump tweets.
As I labour away removing tree roots and unwanted landscaping, drenched in muddy sweat, while the kids play unfazed for hours with their friends in the sweltering heat, I find myself reminiscing of summers long since passed. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia that comes with middle-aged parenthood or perhaps it’s a side effect of the multiple strokes my manual efforts are undoubtedly inducing, but I finding myself remembering, with some bewilderment, how I used to enjoy weather like this.
Back when I was a no more than a waist-high drain on my parents’ finances, we spent much of our summers at our family trailer in Sauble Beach. Be it at the playground or at the beach, I spent hours playing outside in the beating sun. Even when at home, entire days would be spent playing around the yard, at the neighbour’s, or in the bush behind our property, the only pause occurring when mom yelled for lunch time. I never worried about the sun or the heat back then, never mind actively disliking it as I do now. I only took notice when it disappeared, thanks to an afternoon thunderstorm.
As I moved into my teens and earned a job was forced to start working, tame weeks with family at Sauble Beach were supplanted by feral long weekends with friends at Grand Bend. I was much more aware of the sun by this time thanks to the influence it held over the style and quantity of clothing the girls wore. It also begat two of the worst sunburns I have ever endured, both leaving me in tears, face down on a sofa, as prickly pain coursed over my back. Hey, I said I was more aware, not wiser.
By my late twenties I’d moved West and my tolerance of the sun and the heat began to wane significantly. Thankfully field work at contaminated industrial sites doesn’t allow for shorts and t-shirts. Then there were those horrifying sunburn flashbacks as I endured hours of torture beneath the sun’s unremitting rays at the Merritt Mountain Music Festival. I couldn’t wait for that damned nuclear ball to finally descend behind the mountains, bringing welcome relief from the heat and radiation. Be damned what topless hijinks it may have prompted in the gathered masses of drunken, horny revelers, I wasn’t going to be getting into much mischief if my back was trying to rip itself apart. As it turned out, I didn’t with a pearly, unblemished back either, but that’s a whole other rant.
Now, as a middle-aged father and husband, the sun has fully evolved into my nemesis. I hate it. I hate being out in it. I hate having to coat myself in sunscreen when I am forced out in it. I hate the grief I bear when I must coat my kids in that greasy goop. I hate how it makes me sweat. I hate how it literally hurts any exposed skin. Find me a perpetually shady cove and gentle breeze and watch the bliss of relief sweep across my face.
Collapsed upon my front stoop as another thirty degree day bakes the Alberta Prairies, I feel surprisingly comforted. My kids are at a day camp enjoying their summer vacation and when they come home I’ll quiz them about applying sunscreen and wearing their hats neither of which they will have done. I’m caked with dirt but I finally succeeded in removing the last of the tree roots and even though I can barely move my fingers or stand up, my soul is basking in the glow of achievement. As I quench my dry throat with refreshing ice water, my mind wanders to those carefree summers of my youth.
There’s a song that accompanies these nostalgia drenched daydreams; a haunting song about summer that perfectly captures my turbulent emotions as my mind drifts backwards. Most songs stir emotions in some form, but this one is particularly adept at it. The ceaseless minor, three note guitar riff overlain with ghostly soloing simultaneously conjures happy memories while draping them in a mournful longing for what is lost to time. I love the divergence it creates, as I dream of being 5 or 15 or 25 again, all while my 45 year old body grapples with an all too persistent reality.
It’s been awhile since I’ve kicked off your weekend with a song. I can’t think of a better one for this hot, summer weekend. Take a seat, in the shade if you prefer, and drift back in time with “Boys of Summer” from Don Henley’s 1984 solo release Building the Perfect Beast.
Live Version by Eagles: