It’s that time of year again!* The hot sun radiates its energy down from on high, sweltering in the daytime, muggy and humid at night. A warm breeze across the rolling hills abates the stagnation, bringing forth a sudden thunderstorm off the lake. Its arrival is swift; it passes within minutes leaving a glorious rainbow in its wake. The grass is soft and green, the trees are full and verdant after a spring bloom. Swimming pools are open and active. Children frolic in their yards, unleashing cries of joy pent up from the long school year, finally over. At least, that’s what it would be like across the country where I’m from. Here, well, it’s complicated.
When I was a kid, I loved summer. It was freedom. Freedom from school, freedom from the house, freedom from my hometown, freedom from reality. It was a winter snow day, magnified by eighty times. There were no obligations, no worries, just my imagination, my games, my friends and family, our vacations, and, of course, the best weather of the year, much of which I’d squander indoors playing any number of addicting video games. Hey, there wasn’t time to play them during the school year, now was there?
And here’s the thing, it didn’t necessarily stop just at being a kid. One of the best times of my life was a summer during college. I stayed at school; I didn’t have a job, nor was I taking classes. I basically just lazed around with friends the whole time, wrote a ton of music, and did a lot of soul searching. It was wonderful. My pre-senior year summer was spent at an internship. Personally, it was not a good time. Professionally, I’m incredibly lucky to have had that experience. However, it was the first dive into a summer without total freedom, which is my present, again. There was one summer I was unemployed — that was a time I’ll never forget, both in the best and worst ways. It’s back to the grind now, though. In fact, I haven’t taken a summer vacation in the two years since then.
Summer vacations were easily the thing I looked forward to the most as a kid. Traveling was a rare occurrence throughout that time of my life, so these annual two week periods in July or August were the only time I got to experience the greater world around me, it seemed. New York City, Washington DC, Toronto, Boston — these were real cities I’d gotten to visit during the summer. Buffalo seems so trite in comparison. As we grew up, vacations started to converge on familiar spots; New England, specifically the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, where we’d head just about every July from 2000 until 2008. Since then, I’ve only been able to return during the summer once, thanks to school, moving far away, and growing up.
I’ve spent the majority of the last two summers in an office. I have, however, been given the chance to travel. Last year my team took me to Napa, while this summer I’ve already been to Southern California, Denver, and Salt Lake City for work. These places aren’t the metropolises of the Northeast, but they’re a welcome break from the new monotony of spending the summer in the workplace.
Music in the summer is pervasive. With more free time comes more opportunity to absorb sounds into the seasonal bloodstream. Festivals abound; all of the memorable concerts from my early years of live music were summertime, outdoor events. Trips are also an extremely easy way to embed memory onto music and summer was never lacking in occasions as I’ve noted. Indeed, even those video games I most loved find their way onto this list. It’s weird, I know, but just go with it.
- Ben Folds – Rockin’ The Suburbs (2006)
- Braddigan – Watchfires (2007)
- Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2004)
- Coldplay – X&Y (2005)
- Dispatch – Bang Bang (2003)
- Dispatch – Four-Day Trials (2007)
- Dispatch – Who Are We Living For? (2007)
- Driftless Pony Club – Expert (2013)
- Driftless Pony Club – Buckminster (2013)
- Driftless Pony Club – Magnicifent (2013)
- Enya – Paint the Sky With Stars (2001)
- Florence And The Machine – Lungs (2011)
- Florence And The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015)
- Gold Motel – Gold Motel (2012)
- Jerry Martin – Sim City 3000 (1999)
- Jerry Martin & Marc Russo – The Sims (2000)
- Jon Hopkins – Insides (2009)
- Lostprophets – Start Something (2005)
- Muse – Black Holes & Revelations (2006)
- Muse – Drones (2015)
- Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks (2013)
- Our Lady Peace – Happiness & The Fish (2001)
- Pinback – Information Retrieved (2013)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium (2006)
- Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest (2013)
- Sara Bareilles – Once Upon Another Time (2012)
The summer of 2013 is the clear winner here. That wasn’t even half of the albums I’d queued for my trip through Cascadia, but by far the ones that best resurface the lingering feelings of that era, which in turn are by far the fondest of any of my memories that can be recalled via music.
Back in the Northeast, summer is not only hot, but humid. There’s a distinct haze in the air. The setting sun turns a pale red through this sheen as it descends in the northwest. On those days when nature fills to the brim with water vapor, thunderstorms roll out. They’re powerful, dark, and wet. They come through in the afternoons or at night, waking up the sleeping population with their loud bolts. Afterward, the world shines with deeply vibrant colors, reborn sunshine reflecting off the fresh coating of water.
Summer days are long. Fireworks on the Fourth of July don’t start until after 9pm where I am, and even then it’s not quite dark. Staying up to watch the sunset from the beach means it’s going to be a later night than usual just because of my earlier work schedule. On the other hand, the sun rises earlier, shining its light into my windows long before I’d prefer to rise. It provides that extra jolt to get up, the motivation that’s entirely lacking in the winter (and those idiotic weeks where we adjust our clocks for antiquated reasons). On the flipside, the season, having technically begun on the solstice, features shortening days. As August moves forward, the mornings darken, the days shorten, and things generally get more depressing. As much as I truly love autumn now, the school year that approached for 13 years of my life wired my seasonal clock in such a way as to dread the end of summer, moreso than any other season.
In my present, it’s hard to get sad about the end of summer. California summer is relentless. As I’ve mentioned before, it starts sometime at the end of April and goes until seemingly November. It’s exceptionally hot, but not cripplingly so due to lack of humidity. In fact, California summer is hazardous, given the fact that we’ve been in a drought ever since I moved here. I’d seen a summer rain shower in the outer Bay Area maybe once in the three years I lived there. The skies are often a clear blue, pleasant, but dull. Back home the great blue dome is mottled with puffy white shapes, friendly and happy.
But this isn’t really my present anymore. I now live in San Francisco, the city whose summer is the coldest winter somebody ever spent. And not only that, I live on the west side by the ocean — the outside lands. Among San Francisco’s micro-climates, the half of the city beyond Twin Peaks is heavily enshrouded by fog in comparison to the bay side. The cool Pacific air drawn through the Golden Gate into the warm interior valleys brings low-lying clouds with it; the topography of the city is such that the central hills blocks much of that fog, trapping it over the outside lands. San Francisco already has the lowest average June, July and August temperatures for any major city in the United States — where I am, I’m on the low end of that bell curve.
As you might have noticed, I opened this post with an asterisk. The last three I’ve done in this series were written and released at the start of the season; here summer is already half over. The reason for this is that I wanted to experience the San Francisco summer for myself before opining on what might have come to pass. Well, somehow, this summer hasn’t been all gloom and grey. Perhaps it’s because I lowered my expectations so far, but it seems that it’s not socked in nearly so often as I’d thought it would be. In terms of being overcast, it’s not a Seattle winter. It’s not even a Buffalo winter. It drizzles in the morning just about every other day. From work I usually see the marine layer breaching over the coastal range, even then it’s only about a 50% chance that it will be foggy at home. I expected never to see the sun, but I’m literally writing this sentence outside in beautiful summer warmth of my back yard. Just don’t forget to bring a coat when you leave your house. Like a summer rainstorm in Western New York, the fog can roll in in a minute. Once interior California cools off (and hopefully wets up as well) then San Francisco summer will float back out to see to hibernate until next year. I am very much looking forward to fall to see the true beauty the city has to offer.