Summer ’21: A Study in Green

Jake Miller, Assistant Editor

Warm summer sun,

    Shine kindly here,

Warm southern wind,

    Blow softly here.

Green sod above,

    Lie light, lie light.

Good night, dear heart,

    Good night, good night.

Mark Twain, “Warm Summer Sun”

            There is a certain mythos that we apply to summer. Somewhere, wrapped up in that warm, sultry air, the sweet and sticky stains of an ice pop, and the cool crush of that first cannonball into the lake, there is a feeling of freedom, of respite, of pure bliss. I bet you have heard the phrase before (in fact, I am willing to bet you have even said it yourself at one point): “this summer will be one like no other.” Summer is the canvas that we use to paint all our dreams and curiosities, free of judgement. Its borders are short and restrictive, all the art we could create crammed in between June and August, but that does not stop us from trying to make a masterpiece. More than anything we want to have a unique experience, time to explore and connect not only with ourselves in a deeper sense but also with friends and family. Every summer, a summer unlike any other. We are certainly getting that this year.

For one, there is a universal uniqueness about this summer: it is the first one since the pandemic began last spring that we can truly say we are starting to emerge out of it. Now, it is not over, but rapid vaccination of the population has made for a gradual return to normalcy. Still, everyone has their own sense of what they are comfortable with this summer. Guidelines and expectations do not just vary from state to state, but from person to person, and as a result, that feeling of uncertainty about what the summer will bring is heightened. Senior Dani Madan says, “I am still not entirely sure what my plans are this summer…there is talk of vacationing but nothing out of the country.” Many are in the same boat. While there is more freedom than last summer, there is still a decent amount of typical summer activities that we will just not be able to engage in. Senior Jordan Lull hopes to make the best of a summer coming out of COVID-19 by “making up for lost time spent together with my vaccinated friends…pretty much doubling the amount of time we would usually hang out to make up for last summer.” Even in the midst of all this unpredictability, the progress being made in vaccination rates is giving many something to be grateful for.

Then, there is another deep uncertainty that I and other seniors feel across the country: that of what to do in a summer post-graduation. My friend Adanna Mogbo, a recent graduate of Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, Arkansas, describes this summer as “a kind of limbo…there is no more work to be done for school and not much we can do for college, which should be freeing, but sometimes all that freedom that we are not used to can be scary.” That feeling is enhanced by the year in which seniors graduated, one mostly devoid of in-person school and normal celebratory activities, a monumental year in terms of growth without its usual fanfare. Indeed, leaving high school is an important benchmark in our lives, one that can leave us with more questions than answers: what do we do now that our childhood is coming to a close? Did we make the best of it? And are we ready for what comes next?

We go into the summer of 2021 with all these questions and just a general sense of precariousness, so naturally, we are going to sensationalize it. It really is the last summer of childhood after all. But does it deserve that hype? How different will it really be? And we will be able to give it its proper fanfare with COVID-19 still lingering? With all this in mind, I find it comforting to turn to art and literature, works typically made in times of great uncertainty like these, and that often give transitional periods like the one we are entering, from adolescence to adulthood, their dues. We will find that many of the feelings we have about this summer have been felt by the great artists of ages past. Impressionist artists too felt a sense of mystery about what summer can bring, painting it with that signature haziness to reflect such a feeling. Many novelists use summer as the backdrop for coming-of-age plots, having their characters discover the constancy of change and what it means to grow amidst flowery fields and sunny skies. Poets too, like the great Walt Whitman, view summer as a respite from the typical cruelties of day-to-day life. In his poem “Miracles,” he praises the ability to enjoy life’s natural beauty even as tragedies happen all around (for him, a nation at war with itself), asking, “What stranger miracles are there?”

So, what can we learn from this? For one, there is the fact that we are not alone in our uncertainty. But now that we acknowledge that, what can we do? AP Literature teacher Jennifer Cerasoli recommends an approach rooted firmly in enjoyment of the present, saying, “It is totally natural and valid to sensationalize summer, this one in particular…but what is important is that we do not spend all of it wrapped up in what we miss from the past or what we expect from the future.” To her, a 2021 summer is best fulfilled by appreciating what you have in the moment; recognizing the uncertainty you may feel but accepting it as it is rather than getting lost in it.

How will you paint your canvas of this summer? Maybe you will add a bit of dramatic flair to depict the poignant moving on from adolescence or the anxiety you feel about a hazy future. That is natural. But will you let it dominate your painting? Maybe instead you can start with green. Green like the first stems and vines emerging from a flowerbed. There is already a story to be told in their roots, and much fruit to bare in the future. But perhaps it is okay just to appreciate where that green is at right now. The summer will bring much sun and water, happiness and tears, and with that, your green will grow on the canvas before you. It may take its time and you may not see it at first, but it is happening. Your painting, just like your summer, will be unlike any other because it is you, because it is naturally unique. Just make sure you appreciate it while you have it.