What? Does that not come as a news flash to you?
I know we’ve all been talking about fall and, really, the signs are everywhere here in upstate New York. Even the calendar says, unequivocally, that autumn began three weeks ago.
But emotionally, for me, summer ended a couple of days ago, when my mother and her husband (E & J) closed camp and left for Florida. Like all the other snowbirds, they trade winter for an endless summer.
I wrote earlier about “opening camp,” and how it looms large in North Country culture. “Closing camp” is equally fraught with meaning.
E & J spend the summers here, in a seasonal “camp” just 250 steps down the road from us.
Just yesterday (or so it seems!), I went down to E & J’s little cottage and threw open the doors and windows, to allow spring to blow through and chase out the winter chill. My husband turned the water back on and mowed the lawn. The rhododendrons out front burst into bloom, to say, “Welcome back!”
E & J arrived and summer had begun.
Summer means garage sales, just my mom and me, driving the familiar back roads and yakking. Summer means the four of us, gathering at water’s edge in the evening for cocktails and a campfire, with my husband’s guitar providing a well-loved soundtrack. Summer means endless hands of pinochle, played with idiosyncratic rules and varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Summer at camp has meant so much to us over the years. My husband and I were married during a summer at camp, almost 25 years ago. My mother and her husband were married during a summer at camp, 3 years ago. Small children have learned to build s’mores and sing along during summers at camp. Crafts have been taken up, explored, and abandoned at camp. Family members and friends have gathered and partaken in the camp rituals of concerts on the seawall, bike rides to the soft ice cream stand, and day trips to Lake Placid.
The summers at camp are almost a cliché. But not quite, because they’re ours and they never lose their originality or become commonplace when we’re lucky enough to live them.
E & J are somewhere on the road right now, heading to the year-round summer they prefer, in Florida.
During winter, they trade wild heron and osprey flying against a twilight sky for a heron who shows up at their house daily, for hot-dog handouts. They trade Saturday evening campfires and wine in big yellow plastic goblets for Saturday morning coffee hour at the clubhouse. They trade kayaking into the long grass at the end of the bay for barefoot walks on the beach in January.
My husband and I are firmly ensconced, now that summer is over, in our autumn home, heading for winter.
We trade the bonhomie of family time for the cozy solitude of couple time. We trade a view of rippling waves and heeling sailboats for wind-sculpted snow drifts. We trade the grill for the slow cooker, the campfire for the fireplace, summer for winter.
We’ve made very different decisions for the part of the year that is Not Summer At Camp. We’re happy, all of us, with our choices and the trade offs.
But there’s one thing we agree on—we wouldn’t trade next summer, together at camp, for anything! Summer has ended. Long live summer!
How about you? Is there a moment when you know that summer is officially over?