The End of the Desperate Season, or What I Didn’t Do on My Summer Vacation

Counting down the days, hours, minutes. Summer doesn’t officially end for a few weeks, but the psychological end of summer will happen tomorrow afternoon, when the CNE closes, when the last stupid air show plane buzzes the neighbourhood, and when kids head home to pack their pencils and books and return to school.

The leaves are already beginning to change on a few trees, and there’s a crispness to the air most mornings that wasn’t noticeable before I went to Halifax a few weeks ago.

Autumn is my favourite season; it’s not too hot or too cold; it’s sunny but you usually need a jacket (I like jackets); and the eating is especially good as the harvest reaches its peak. I don’t even mind winter especially – except maybe those days when there’s freezing rain, or where the sidewalks are slippery because people don’t shovel.

But I’m delighted to see the end of summer.

I’ve never done well in the heat, and Toronto summers are like walking through a heavy soup with a wet blanket over your shoulders. But the thing I dislike even more about summer is the pressure. Ironically, it’s a pressure to “relax”, to “have fun” and be “laid back”. In the summer, people expect you to go hang out on patios, visit cottages, or go on vacation. They seem downright disappointed if they ask about travel plans and you indicate that you have none.

But it’s got such a sense of desperation about it. Like the first warm day of spring when there’s still snow on the ground and people dig out the flip-flops and head to a patio despite the remaining chill in the air. It’s as if everyone expects to head back to work after Labour Day and be asked to write a “What I Did This Summer” essay. Better have the best adventures to impress the rest of the kids/ cow-orkers (no, that’s spelled right) around the water cooler.

Autumn, oddly, holds no such pressure – or desperation. While I find people constantly ask me about summer vacation plans, not a soul asks me if I’m buying a theatre subscription for the new season, or what I’ll be cooking for Thanksgiving dinner (even among “foodies”). While we are compelled to paaarrr-tay! in the summer (and brag about it) and expect others to do the same, I seldom see people commenting on Facebook or Twitter about, say, courses they plan to take in the fall.

There’s plenty of excuses for this summer desperation, most having to do with the weather – lots of claims about our summer being so short (it isn’t), or winter being so long (it’s not) – but I think a lot of it has to do with childhood. As a kid, summer WAS fun; beaches, swimming, roasting marshmallows, picking blueberries, playing hide and seek until well past when the streetlights came on. So we’re supposed to hate the end of summer, mourn the lazy hazy days (even if we spent most of them in an office working), and stomp our little feet at the prospect of all the fun ending.

Incidentally, my favourite summer day this year very much reflected my childhood. I was in Halifax for a few days and met my brother for lunch. We walked along the boardwalk from one end of downtown to the other, took photographs of some cormorants on a barge, and stopped at a few shops and bought candy. It was sunny enough to score a bit of a sunburn, but the breeze off the harbour made the air seem cool and fall-like. It was entirely reminiscent of the summers when I was 12 or 13 and James was 7 or 8, and we would get on the bus and head downtown to visit the museums or go shopping. He’d cling to my hand and we’d explore the city, eat lunch on the pier, wander through the public gardens and be home in time for supper.  Of course in the grown-up version, lunch was a a gastro pub, and the museum was a brewery, but it was the best day of the summer, by far.

As we say on the intarwebs, your mileage may vary, and maybe those people who rave about hanging out on patios and visiting wild water kingdom or the air show at the CNE really do love that stuff. Maybe I’m missing out on a complete and fulfilling summer by not traipsing around Europe. But that’s not really my thing, and it all seems like people are trying too hard. If summer is all about relaxing and unwinding, then a good one is not about how drunk you got, or how many wineries you visited, or how many candy apples you ate. It’s about loving the small moments, which is something we shouldn’t just reserve for summer.