The Imaginary Summer


Welcome. It’s difficult to believe that another month is coming to a close, the summer seeping into its back half again. Summer is always freighted with a certain amount of expectation, with the burden of its own clichés: Now is when you’ll dispense of your cares, when you’ll frolic outdoors, perhaps take a vacation. The summer of the imagination is a series of sun-bleached snapshots, sand and sky, more Instagram than Instagram itself.

What, then, of this summer? A couple of months ago, prognosticators trumpeted the arrival of “hot vax summer,” a mask-free free-for-all that didn’t factor in the Delta variant, heat domes, flooded subways or fire tornadoes. “This is the summer that feels like the end of summer as we have known it,” writes Shawn Hubler in her assessment of the effects of climate change on our collective sun-and-fun ideal.

We’re learning, perhaps, to manage our expectations. A triumphant and definitive vanquishing of Covid may not be this summer’s theme, but there are reasons for joy, for hope, for gratitude in the day-to-day all the same. I am cheered by readers’ accounts of how they’re leading full and cultured lives this summer. Here’s a note I received from Bette Sullivan in Sumner, Wash.:

The old lady wearing a Mariners scarf tied onto her sun hat, a Mariners T-shirt and Mariners compass earrings who walks with two canes while hanging on dearly to her Mariners beach bag? That was me, sitting in the left-field bleachers, where the tickets were priced at just $10. Included in that low, low price was the chance to see the awesome Shohei Ohtani getting struck out by our bullpen.

I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to be out with the crowd again. Two years is a long time in baseball years, and when the announcer said “Your Seattle Mariners” as the starting lineup rushed out of the dugout onto the field, I got teary-eyed, the same way I do when I haven’t seen one of my sons for a while.

Took son Andy to the ballgame; I bought the tickets, he bought the peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Boom, boom, CLAP!

There are certain things that will always feel like summer to me regardless of where I am, of the weather, of variants or vaccines. I started making a list recently of those summer things, an idiosyncratic list of books I read in summers past, music that makes me feel it’s summer no matter the actual season, ideas and recipes and activities that populate my summer imagination. Here are a few:

  • Last summer I listened to audiobooks of the novels “Beautiful Animals” and “The Forgiven,” both by the British author Lawrence Osborne, both about affluent people vacationing in sunny locales and the ways in which those vacations go terrifyingly awry.

  • Yotam Ottolenghi’s smoky corn and avocado ceviche.

  • Instant relaxation: Listening to “Texas Sun” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges or Haim’s “Summer Girl.”

  • “O, to take what we love inside,/to carry within us an orchard, to eat/not only the skin, but the shade,” writes the poet Li-Young Lee in his perfect summer poem, “From Blossoms.”

  • The 1988 film “Mystic Pizza,” starring Julia Roberts, is one of my favorite summer movies. (It’s streaming if you want to see how it holds up.)

What’s on your “instant summer” list? What books, recipes, poems, ways to pass the time will, no matter the weather or where you are, forever conjure summer for you? Tell us: [email protected] Include your full name and location and we might feature your story in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a full and cultured life, whether you’re at home or away, appear below.

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