Six months past the Polar Vortex and a winter season spent, literally, under a blanket, I have a new found love for summer. The balmy breezes coming through the window screen, heavy with the fragrance of everything alive: sweet grass and milkweed blossoms, pungent boxwood, locust trees in bloom. With a little humidity making that air palpable, I close my eyes to inhale and imprint this on my memory, thinking, ‘I’m going to need to call this up six months from now.’
Autumn used to be my soul-season. The dramatic bursts of fall foliage, and that same foliage, in death, giving autumn its own imprintable fragrance-memory. There, the waning angle of the sun means copper light on copper grasses and harvested gardens. The first chills and the first welcome pull-on of a favorite sweater or fleece. It was a sweet, wistful yearning, when autumn was my soul-season.
After this past winter, when there were a few times that it felt truly that I may never see sunshine and feel warm again, summer takes the trophy. So much that I leave off my office a/c until it gets unbearable, because I need summer to permeate me to the bone. Every last singing bird, barking dog, outside-playing-screaming-kid, and air that feels like being skin-to-skin with your love rather than feeling like the cold clutch of death – all these are LIFE.
The toughest winter of my life wasn’t tough just because we had the snowiest and coldest winter in two decades. I live in Rochester, NY, where the memes and jokes are hip-deep as a January snowbank about how we know winter, and laugh in its face. It was because while we had record cold and snow I had to endure recovery from major surgery and face down both the mind-wrenching and coming treatments for a melanoma diagnosis. At a few low points, I wondered if I would even make it to summer. (Yes, I was being melodramatic… but can you blame me?)
Oh, the irony, that sun-drenched summer has unseated autumn for my soul. Because this is the first summer *ever* that I do not have a single tan line on my body, despite nearly every weekend being picture-perfect.
Why? Because of @#!%ing melanoma! Can anyone prove without a doubt that my melanoma, or that any melanoma, was directly caused by sun exposure?! Not really. But the data suggests a relationship too strong to ignore. So here I am – the olive-skinned, dark-haired and dark-eyed kid that *no one* was worried about – slathering on more sunscreen in the last month than I have during my entire previous life. This adds about 7-10 minutes to my morning routine. Long, high-maintenance minutes. And considering how many known carcinogens are contained in sunscreen, it also seems counterintuitive to spread it liberally over the giant scar I have from the aggressive surgery to remove the worst type of skin cancer from my body. [Sigh.]
Then, there’s my wide-brimmed hat I wear even for short dog walks. And, buying special SPF protection built-in clothes. And, wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors when it’s 80 degrees. And, as a rule, barely stepping into the sun between 10am and 4pm. And, twisting away into the nearest shade when I feel the sun on me.
Yeah, and I still love summer more than any season. I am pretty sure that’s true irony.
I can love it without worshiping the sun. Though, I never did worship the sun. It was just that with my dark complexion, a ride in the car or a walk to the mailbox was enough for me to ‘get color.’ Apparently tanning easily with few lifetime sunburns does NOT equal protection. It’s nicer in the shade anyway.
Summer now speaks to my soul. What was once autumn’s reflective tug now leaves me cold, facing down the inevitable winter. But for now, it is summer’s whisper, like Shakespeare’s Puck prowling in the July-heavy woods, saying:
“Come, my love, and rejoice! You made it!”