Summertime is for moving more slowly and engaging your five senses in the great outdoors.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on the wisdom of the seasons. The others are spring, fall and winter.
Welcome to the start of summer! Now slow down.
You don’t want to miss anything by hurrying past it. And there is no need to sweat even more, unless you’re also having fun while doing it.
That’s the wisdom of summer. It teaches us to be fully awake, engaged and open to everything around us. It’s about being outside, whether on populated streets or deep in nature.
It’s the season for relaxing and the pursuit of happiness (a phrase immortalized one summer nearly 250 Fourth of Julys ago).
So get out! Go camping, or at least spend the day in the woods. Savor cherries, peaches, watermelon, funnel cake and ice cream. Gulp lemonade. Get wet, see an outdoor performance or two, watch movies and thunderstorms, enjoy books with scant literary merit just for the guilty pleasure of it.
In his book “The Rural Life,” Verlyn Klinkenborg referred to summer as “the season in which leisure swells like a tomato, until it’s round and red and ripe.” Take a slow, juicy bite.
Summer is life. And life is precious and wild – and it moves too fast.
Life is precious
I understand the argument against the season: It’s hot, sticky and, sometimes, boring. Tempers can flare. There is not enough air conditioning and, because of the climate crises, already too much.
But summer is a state of mind. Whatever we do during its few months, summertime remains fixed in our collective consciousness. This is the season when many of our deepest memories are forged; it plays a starring role in the highlight reel of our childhood.
“Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August,” author Jenny Han wrote.
So dig in and make some new memories, even if your plans are no more ambitious than to take naps, read outside, sleep in a tent and float in a pool. Not everyone can afford sailing trips and Caribbean vacations, but many of summer’s greatest pleasures are simple and inexpensive.
Ask yourself what Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver does in her poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Life is wild
Summer is full of simple outdoor pleasures, such as the feeling of sun and wind on your arms and legs, freshly uncovered. The season contains a kind of happiness born out of escapes of any kind. It tastes of roasted vegetables and fruit so ripe it dribbles off your chin.
This is the time to get out as much as you can for as long as you can. Tend the garden, climb the trees, swim in the waves, eat outdoors, take a walk at dusk and sleep under the stars.
Studies have long established a link between mental health and nature. The more we connect with what is outside, the more content we become inside.
“In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant,” John Milton wrote, “it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out.”
Internationally, summer holidays are largely celebrations of nature. For example, the summer solstice – the longest day of the year every June – aligns with holidays in Sweden and Norway that are full of singing, dancing, eating and partying. Throw your own solstice party, even if you’re the only guest; just make sure the venue is outside.
Life is freedom
In the United States, summer is bookended by two holidays that honor work and sacrifice.
Memorial Day reminds us to look back with gratitude and honor soldiers who died in battle. And Labor Day (celebrated in May in most other countries) honors work by giving many of us a break from it. The latter holiday was signed into law in the summer (of 1894).
It’s a metaphor. Between sacrifice and work – and maybe because of it – we have freedom. Summer is the season of self-autonomy.
Many Americans also celebrate Independence (from the British) Day every summer. Combined with Juneteenth – a portmanteau for June 19th, marking the effective end of slavery in the US in the summer of 1865 – there are also two holidays within the season that celebrate freedom (in these cases, from tyranny and oppression).
In the US, Freedom Summer launched in Mississippi in 1964 to increase Black voter registration. And three years later, while many cities in America were erupting in riots over racial inequality, hippies in San Francisco were pursuing a different kind of freedom in the Summer of Love.
Honor those sacrifices and hard-won freedoms in your own ways before this seasonal Brigadoon passes.
Life moves pretty fast
Summer is a wonderfully kinetic time, a season of youth, activity, celebration and revolution. It encourages dancing under sprinklers, sparklers and stars. It beckons us on long bike rides and hikes. It’s the season of swimming and tents, of giving into the gravitational pull of trees and bodies of water. And historically the season of mass protest for progressive causes.
But conversely, it’s also the time to do as little as possible. It’s the season to just … be.
Let the heat encourage you to be sluggish so you have time to savor these pleasures. Waste time without guilt. “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability,” the philosopher Sam Keen wrote.
‘Tis the season for laying in a hammock, sipping iced tea or a seasonal beer, and staring up at tree limbs swaying in the breeze. It’s for blockbuster movies, entertaining book and magazine indulgences, and outdoor festivals.
Long hours of daylight mean more daytime to greedily partake in more of everything. Dinners and bedtimes migrate late, and if you’re really lucky sleeping in can stretch until the sun streams through windows.
Time shifts in summer – there seems to be more of it while also going by too quickly.
Then it’s all over, a melting Popsicle fragment bleeding on the sidewalk.
Mary Oliver’s “Summer Day” poem sums up the melancholy of bidding adieu to this sweet, succulent season when she writes, “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”
‘To everything, there is a season’
As the year progresses, try to align your mental and physical activity to the season you’re in. Commune with the change in nature, embrace its reminders. Celebrate the holidays, take in their meanings, enjoy the spoils of whatever time of the year you find yourself.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Walden,” his practical meditation on living seasonally.
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In the fall, welcome an inward focus as the days get chillier and darker. In the winter, go deep inside yourself and get snug and comfortable there. In the spring, let yourself break out of the cocoon because we’ve endured the darkness and need to let in the light.
And in summer, get outside, commune with nature, embody freedom and chase happiness like a puppy after its own tail. And then fall down in the grass and lie there, for as long as you can. Live your one wild and precious life.
David G. Allan is the editorial director for CNN Travel, Style, Science and Wellness. This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project, to which you can subscribe here.