Friday, September 7, 2007

Summer in the greater Washington, D.C. area

I have no desire to be out in the garden during July and August. Outdoor gardening during those months for me consists of two things mostly: mowing the grass as infrequently as I can get away with, and quick, early morning tours of the garden before the sun comes over the trees. Here in Maryland,the overnight temperature is often in the 80s F; add to that high humidity and lots of pollution from vehicular traffic. I walk the dog early to beat the heat, but the rush hour traffic starts before 7 A.M.; on still days the exhaust from the autos pools in low lying areas - sometimes I feel dizzy after walking through such areas.

On the other hand, there is plenty to do inside in setting up databases for printing labels later, web site stuff, blogging stuff and things like that.

To me it has always seemed so odd that so many people look forward so much to summer. You can have it as far as I'm concerned. I'll never understand why anyone would take their vacation during July or August unless they are leaving this area and heading for somewhere with conditions fit for human activity. Instead, a lot of people in this area leave the metropolitan areas and head over to the ocean beaches where the conditions are even worse. Who in their right mind wants to walk on scorching sand in their bare feet during the summer? Who in their right mind would leave the areas regularly sprayed for insects and explore the marshes, the marshes which are so poetically beautiful in November but which in July and August reek of dead fish and rotting algae. Years ago I went on a bird watching trip to one of the Atlantic barrier islands. The night was still. We slept in tents. In the morning, I opened the zipper of the tent fly just enough to get my hand out and grab the outer zipper. Within seconds, the back of my hand was black with ravenous mosquitoes. What great choices: stay in the stifling tent all day to avoid the mosquitoes, slather yourself with toxic mosquito repellents, suffocate under protective clothing. The one sensible choice -decamp to the nearest McDonald's - was nixed because we hadn't seen the birds we had driven for four hours to see. I didn't mention those four hour drives to get to the beaches, did I: why does any sane person endure that?

Add to those miseries those elicited by the introduction of the Asian tiger mosquito and the upsurge in deer ticks: summer is for masochists, or at least for people in deep, very deep, denial about what's really happening around them. And what's so great about the summer flora? All those coarse, weedy, daisy things and grasses and impatiens and petunias rolled off the bolt by the square yard and vines which might inspire a new version of Laocoön statuary: I can see it now, a struggling Laocoön and his sons wreathed in bindweed and dodder, their skin lacerated by festoons of mile-a-minute plant. I would just put a trowel in the hand of one of them and re-title the statue The Gardeners Of Summer.

And then there is the dilemma of air conditioning. Generally speaking, I hate it. During that fortunately brief period when the temperature is well into the 90s F late into the evening, I sometimes give in and run the air conditioner. But is a summer being forced to stay in an air conditioned building different than so many other kinds of imprisonment? How are we supposed to hear the cicadas and katydids through tightly closed windows and over the incessant hum, rumble and whirring of the condenser and fans? Where is the sense of relief which comes with the evening and its sometimes cooler temperatures? Lightning bugs are not the same viewed through the house windows.

Summer also stinks, literally. When the neighbors have a crab feast and decide to dump the aggressively odoriferous evidence over the back fence,the entire neighborhood wakes up to vibrant reek which only a raccoon could love. Forget to cover the garbage? Want to wake up fast on a summer morning?Lift the lid of the formerly uncovered garbage can and try to suppress the retching as you count the zillions of lively maggots ravening the garbage.

And need I mention that after an hour or two of trying to slug it out on a hot summer day, I’m not about to be confused with a Sweet William myself? I’ll bet I’m not the only one who makes a bee line for the shower as soon as the lawn mower is put away.

I mentioned deep denial above; summer is the season when even the most optimistic among us in this area abjures the word "alpine". Yes, it's a thing much to be desired. Just the thing to include in your vacation plans. But for those of us who stay put, summer invites us to wake up and smell the coffee, the roses, or more likely a gag-inducing whiff of the now-well-scattered remains of the small mammal which inauspiciously took shelter in that lawn mower.

Ever heard of aestivation? I recommend it highly.

1 comment:

Crinumaniac said...

I'm not in D.C., instead Raleigh, NC, and I'm in complete agreement with you about summer. I used to really hate it, but having a screened porch, and access to a community pool, and adding sub-tropical plants to the garden, such as Crinum, Zephyranthes, Hedychium, Hymenocallis, and various Araceae, have all really helped. Even with all that I still look forward to the cooler weather of autumn, especially after the brutal heat and drought we just had in August and early September.