Already the quality of light is changing. The longest day of the year came and went nearly three months ago. The sun is slipping lower in the sky, giving us the amber light of fall, golden hour every hour.
In another month, the particulate matter launched into the sky by millions of tractors gathering corn, oats and soybeans will give us that big, fat, amber harvest moon. (I was going to call the harvest moon “orange” but that color has fallen out of favor for many.)
But let’s not let this season pass without notice. Let us bid farewell to summer.
Hardly a week goes by without seeing a story about older people near the end of their lives musing about what is important. Every one of them says to work less and spend more time with friends and family. Summer is great for that.
At our place on the lake in the woods, we’ve had a great summer. The ability to work remotely has meant more time on our little lake. And easier to plan visits from family and friends. Each wave of guests brings its own special flavor to the lake, be it coolers filled with food, outrageous floats shaped like swans or guitars, or, as one sweet nephew did last month, a book on the art and importance of goodness.
Each makes a special noise as he or she jumps from the pier. And more than a few have a special song they like to warble by the fire pit. Daughter Mags always sings Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” which is even more entertaining because she can’t look or sound more different from Mr. Cash. One new guest to the lake, a young Madison lawyer, was invited to sing a personal favorite by the fire. His musical selection? “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.” Not kidding.
There are few things I enjoy more than sitting back from the shore in the hammock and watching friends and family laugh, sing, or do pretty much nothing on a windless 80-degree day when the lake is a glass mirror of the puffy white clouds above it. I smile at their exclamations when they spy a big fish in the shallows. Or at night, when they marvel at the sounds of the woods: a chuffing buck, the strange tenor growl of a bobcat or the incomparable call of a loon. Or when they walk out on the deck at night and gaze at the timeless Milky Way, or the newer members of the firmament-satellites moving across the sky.
A realization came upon me this summer. It was a vivid cabin moment. The shore was alive with our children, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and friends. I sat back from the activity and just watched and listened, an act uncommon for me. It would be difficult to describe a more perfect vignette, and it came to me that these times and memories are a different kind of savings for a different kind of bank. And far more valuable, not just for me, but for everyone in the scene. We were creating shared memories that will be stored in the family cloud forever and longer. And it was all because we chose to use the most valuable of all commodities to make it happen: time.
The sugar maples start turning red, just in time for the first Packers exhibition game in August. High school sports have already started their fall practices, making it feel as if August never happened.
During the late August days, the loon parents show their two offspring how to take off from the lake with long runs across the top of the water, wings extended for lift.
On Labor Day the Minocqua locals sit in lawn chairs in front of the taverns on U.S. Highway 51 with signs that read “SEE YOU NEXT SUMMER.” I have yet to do this, but aspire to it.
In my mind, I have hatched a plot. Some year soon I am going to follow the 80-degree windless days south as fall and winter descend from the north. I’ll make my way through southern Illinois, through Tennessee and on down to Florida.
If I must follow 80 degrees all the way to Key West, well then, so be it.
For all the cost and time, the trip will be worth it. Because for that one year I won’t have to do what we in Wisconsin dread.
I won’t have to say good-bye to summer.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.