I’ve written so many blog posts at this point that I often don’t remember what I’ve written. So when I need an ego massage, I’ll sometimes go back and read some of my older ones. In doing so, I stumbled upon one that makes me particularly proud.
It’s a story about the very best of my childhood summers, and it’s also a story about how little things can make a lifelong impression. A cool story for a hot day. I hope you’ll click on over and read Tony the Ice Cream Man.
This will be the third year running that I’ve written about an amazing Seattle tradition. (Here’s last year’s post.) I can think of no better way to celebrate the advent of summer than the Fremont Solstice Parade. There’s such a feeling of joy that comes from this event.
In true Fremont style, everyone who participates in the parade does so in his/her/their own unique way. There are, for the most part, no politics involved. Signage is discouraged. There’s certainly no advertising. It’s just a two-hour-long orgy of self expression.
To me, this parade is the epitome of Seattle. I bear witness not only to celebrate summer, but also to celebrate the fact that I’m here, now, in this place. And I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be.
I try to picture such a freewheeling event happening in hyper-conservative, stodgy, judgmental Jacksonville, Florida, where I used to live, and I have to laugh. There’s no way on earth that would ever come to pass. So this is also a celebration of the fact that I’m no longer in a place that tried to make my choices for me, tried to squash my opinions, tried to tell me how to live my life. No, I’m now in a place where once a year, people come together and ride through the streets wearing nothing but smiles and body paint, and the whole city turns out to cheer.
I go to Fremont Solstice Parade every year to remind myself that I am finally free.
At this time of year in Seattle, the sun sets around 4:30 pm. I never thought I’d experience that. In Florida, there’s only two hours difference in the day length from summer to winter. So this radical change feels really, really weird to me.
I never realized how much sunlight affects me on so many levels. I seem to go into a low energy mode the minute darkness sets in. I’m less productive, less upbeat. The sky seems closer to the ground somehow. The air feels more dense and harder to pass through. Everything takes more strength.
I also feel as though I’m running late all the time. Usually I have my daily blog written each day before dark. Now… not so much. Even though I haven’t changed my routine, this feeling makes me anxious.
If I could figure out how the bills would get paid, I swear I’d hibernate like a bear from November through February. Burrow into a mound of blankets and just sleep. If it weren’t for my SAD light, I’d probably cease to function entirely.
But then I’d miss cuddling in front of the fire, and decorating the Christmas tree, and wearing fuzzy boots and diving into a nice hot bowl of Pho. So I guess I’ll just have to make the effort. Life does go on, and the sun is shining somewhere, after all.
I love the transition between summer and autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. A respite from the heat, but not yet miserably cold. A sense of enjoying the sun as the days perceptibly shorten. A slight frisson because there’s an ancestral fear of not surviving the winter. An appreciation of abundance while it lasts. A feeling of being on the brink of an adventure.
This started me thinking of other seasonal transitions.
Autumn to winter is a time to hunker down, muddle through, and try to stay warm. It’s also when you take a deep breath before diving headlong into the exhausting holiday season. It’s a time of conserving your resources. The horizons seem to shrink. My instinct is always to stay closer to home.
Winter to spring! Excitement! Birth! Beginnings! Flowers! Pent up energy just bursting to come out! The end to hibernation! The overuse of exclamation points!!!!!
Spring to summer, for me, is a little fraught. I love the lengthening days. I adore the vacations. It’s nice to have less bulky laundry to do. It feels good to be outside, enjoying all that nature has to offer. But it’s also freakin’ hot. And you have to mow. I don’t do hot and I’m a resentful mower.
Regardless, I am so grateful to be living in a climate of seasons again. You don’t really get spring or autumn in Florida, and I felt their absence keenly. I enjoy marking the passage of time. I love the variety, the anticipation, the change.
When I was 19 years old, my eldest sister was in the Air Force, stationed in Holland. Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, she invited me to go there for the summer. What, are you kidding? Of course I said yes, with visions of jet setting around Europe dancing in my head.
Upon arrival, she mentioned that, oh, by the way, she had gotten me a job on the Air Force base. I was to mop floors and stock soda machines all summer long. I could hardly complain, could I? She had brought me to Europe, after all.
So, after pretty much zero training, I was sent off to fend for myself. And the verbal directions I was given as to the locations of the various vending machines was sketchy at best. To say I got lost is putting it mildly. That base was huge. A job that should only have taken a couple hours took me all night.
The next night, I was to mop the floors, using one of those metal industrial rolling buckets and a heavy stringy mop. I was a skinny little thing back then. At one point, I knocked the full bucket over in a hallway and flooded the place. I spent the whole night desperately trying to sop up the gigantic puddle. When my boss came in the morning he was furious.
I’ll never forget this. He called my sister and told her that I was “not cut out for grit labor”, and that was the end of that summer job. In retrospect I should have been a lot more insulted. At age 19, he was writing me off for life. And it turns out that the bulk of my career has been all about grit labor, so poo poo on you, bossman.
There were no other civilian jobs that I qualified for on base, and I had no work visa to work in country, so guess what? I traveled around Europe for the rest of the summer. It was great.
Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.
When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.
So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.
I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.
The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.
It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.
When I lived in Florida, I didn’t pay much attention to summer solstice. It was just another long, hot day in what seemed like an unending series of long, hot days. But in the Pacific Northwest, when it rains more often than not, and when the winters are dark and cold and raw, you learn to appreciate the seasons. So when summer finally arrives, you can’t really blame Seattleites for getting a little crazy, can you?
This past Saturday I attended the Solstice Parade, which is part of the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is rapidly becoming on of my very favorite PNW traditions. The very best part, in my opinion, is the mass of naked, body painted bicyclists that start the parade. I wrote about this amazing tradition last year, but this year it seemed like even more people participated. I’d guess that 700 naked people rolled past me.
To say that a parade like this would never, ever happen in conservative Florida is putting it mildly. And that, to me, makes it an even more joyous celebration. Summer! Freedom! Art! Self-Expression! Joy! And the absolute best way to start the season!
I am right where I need to be. Maybe one of these years I will be a participant instead of a spectator! Here are some of the best pictures I could find from my collection, which don’t (hopefully) have any shocking bits on display. Enjoy!