Charmed by a cool breeze
She pulled her sweater tightly
Around her tanned arms.
Charmed by a cool breeze
“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein
June is a month imbued with memories and memories in the making. If I were the month of June I would be stressed out—so much is expected of it and 30 days does not seem long enough to hold all of the expectations. It is the month when summer starts officially—in fact this year it raises its sunny head on Saturday at 6:51 a.m. I know this because I read the comics every day, and in the strip Mutts, Mooch the cat is told this fact by his dog friend. (Over the years I have gleaned much wisdom from comic strips—it is an education in itself). It is also the beginning of the summer wedding season; the month of graduations; the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation for many a student.
I graduated from public school, high school twice (grades 12 and 13) and from university. I do not remember a thing that was said at any of these graduations. I do not remember what any of the speakers told us and barely remember the essence of the valedictorians’ speeches. Mostly I just listened to hear if my name would be mentioned, and since I was not a memorable student, it never was.
I have quoted Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech (A Short Guide to a Happy Life) a few times because I think she had some wise words to impart, and I liked what she said, but I wonder how many of those who heard it really went away with anything of import. I ask this because I read an article in the Weekend National Post by Benjamin Errett in a column called “The Week in Wit”. His article, cheekily called “Good Luck With Life” addressed “the futility of the modern address to the graduates.”
Errett’s advice to anyone picking up an honorary doctorate is to “just collect it” and not give a commencement speech because (a) they are silly; and (b) no one wants your advice. He does not stop there, and I think he has a point. He is not addressing public or high school graduates, just university, so if you are giving a commencement speech to those under the age of twenty, I guess you have his blessing. Here is his reasoning for not speaking to university graduates:
“….commencement speeches are silly. No one wants your advice. Your audience will have spent the last four years acquiring and honing their skills, at least in theory. (I like that he adds this line: at least in theory). They will have learned from the best minds in the world, at least in theory (again with the theory…) and if they don’t know much in practice, they at least do in theory. (!!) So the idea that you will impart an hour’s worth of wisdom on How to Live to a bunch of cynical adults sweating under mortarboards (and if I remember correctly a very heavy purple gown with a stole that kept slipping on a day that was over 90 degrees F) is a bit out-dated, to say nothing of the fact that you made your name in a world that looks nothing like the one they face.”
I remember little from the day I graduated from university other than the fact that I wish I had worn something really light under my gown and not the little suit vest and skirt and long sleeved blouse I had donned. It was hot and I could not wait for my name to be called so I could venture across the dais to grasp my hard-won diploma in my sweaty hand. It turned out that the diploma was really just a rolled up piece of paper tied with a ribbon. The “real” diploma arrived weeks later in the mail. I do not remember a word that was said that afternoon. Not one word. Admittedly, it was eons ago, but I believe that as I was enjoying my graduation dinner with friends and family at a favourite upscale restaurant of my choice, I did not remember a word then either.
Errett’s advice to those who ignore his initial advice not to make a commencement speech is this: “…if you have to talk, be funny.” This is the best advice ever. I remember if not the words – the essence of the valedictorian’s speech from my grade 12 graduation, and while she was sincere and probably said all the right things, she added a dollop of humour—and it was the humour that I remember—not the ‘go forth be successful’ message.
The season’s veil lifts
Summer melds into autumn
Hot, humid, sticky, sweaty
Evening brings relief
My theme for this year is finding my bliss—and though I have given up writing about it every day an E-mail I received this morning from my sister Peggy reminded me of those glorious moments we want to capture and make last. While bliss moments may be fleeting, they are plentiful if we learn to recognize them.
First Peggy’s bliss moment: dangling her feet in the water while sitting on the dock at her cottage on a lovely little lake. It was just a few moments in time but moments that counted. And they counted because she appreciated them.
Summer can be full of blissful moments:
Sitting in the yard, smelling the freshly mown grass, reading a book, and sipping on a cold lemonade with your feet up. Even those tiny fluorescent green bugs that seem to love the tree you are sitting under are not too bothersome—in fact if you look at them closely they are just another wonder of nature. (Really, I am not on drugs!)
Sweeping off the back porch – a retro and simple thing – an odd bliss moment but one that is relaxing and productive at the same time.
Hearing the mailbox clatter shut and knowing the mailman has delivered the mail and there might be a magazine or a card, or even (gasp) a cheque waiting for you. And no matter that on some days you just get flyers and bills, there is always hope for tomorrow.
Looking out at the street after the garbage truck has been by and seeing that they picked up everything you put out.
The sigh at the end of the day when your work is done and you can relax. Not all days are like this—sometimes the work day goes into the evening, but those days when you can call time your own for a while are blissful.
There are so many moments of bliss—tell me about a moment of unexpected summer bliss for you.
A good part of the first half of this year I spent looking for and at times finding my bliss. The second half of 2013 is going to be used to put that bliss to work. It will be a challenge. All kinds of things enter into the mix—but I hope in the end I will come up with a lovely batter and not a lumpy mess.
Join me in my journey to add some lovely moments to days that will have some ugly elements; days when a little poetry will be needed to fight off the drama; days when a little Mike’s hard lemonade relaxes the stresses.
July and August, in all their glory, hot and humid at times, breezy and warm at others, lay before us. It is the height of summer and this year I am going to enjoy the two months I most dread. While others glory in the heat, I am a temperate kind of girl—but I am going to embrace my younger self and enjoy what summer has to offer. The calendar is filled with barbeques, little weekend getaways, and perhaps a trip to Ottawa and the Kingston area to see my sister and brother. I am not sure what the summer will bring—but I have my sunscreen and shorts on—so I am ready.
Like many of you, just because it is summer—it does not mean we do not have a lot of work to do. I am more determined than ever to find a balance. Sometimes I get in a holiday frame of mind and find that work just does not fit into the equation—but I am going to work it into the sum total of a successful summer.
What are your summer plans? How do you get your vacation frame of mind under control to get your work done?
Remember June when you were a kid? It was warm outside and the last thing you wanted to do was sit in a classroom. Yet, you had to endure exams even if you wanted to be playing baseball, or skipping rope, or just doing nothing. Remember when exams were over, and it seemed silly to still be in school? But those days at the end of June were a nice breather—the teachers were a little more relaxed (once they got the exams marked) and many a June day was spent outside with your class under a shade tree, listening to the teacher read a book, or using art class to sketch a little nature, or doing a science project which entailed examining a pail of water with tadpoles and other tiny life forms found in a nearby mud puddle, or if you were lucky, the creek.
June was also the month when teachers found time to take students on nature hikes or a picnic at the park. It also featured the end of the year party. That party was always fun, but you knew once the summer was over, you were another year older, and in another grade which expected more of you than the grade you were currently in.
One of the fun things that happened in June when I went to a one room school house was that we sang a lot. We had a music teacher come in during the week, but every day our regular teacher would lead all the grades from one to eight in a sing song. One of my favourite songs was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, the words of which take me back to a time of innocence, when summers went on forever and growing up seemed far away. The song, written by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and Leonard Lipton is based on a poem Lipton wrote in 1959. (info from Wikipedia)
Examined more closely from an adult perspective, it is actually quite sad—it is the story of a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the things of youth and belief in the imaginary. To jog your memory, here are a few verses from the song:
1. Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.
2. Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.
3. A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
4. His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
I am not going to ruin a song from my youth with rumours of what some of the words “really meant”—I am taking them at face value. And at face value they tell the story of growing up.
As adults we can capture the children we once were with memories of songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon”. We can remember those days with a fond nostalgia that does not have to be lost. The days with seemingly no responsibility, when our parents sent us out to “play” and we were not confused as to what to do—we rode our bikes, went to the store for popsicles, explored nearby creeks, read while sitting in our favourite tree, played a game of baseball that needed no adult supervision or organization, discovered fairy rings, or just lay on the lawn seeing what we could see in the clouds.
Is June the beginning of summer bliss? According to Wallace Stevens: “A summer night is like a perfection of thought.”
I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of people telling me to live in the now, enjoy the present, don’t look back, don’t look too far ahead…you know the drill. But, what I am not sick of is the fact that they have a point.
It is August, it is still summer, yet our minds are jetting off to school, and thinking about Thanksgiving (after all in Canada it is in October, and early this year even for us) and Halloween. I am surprised the Christmas hullabaloo hasn’t started yet. It is only August 25th, people! Let’s slow down, roll the clock back to today’s date and simmer down.
I have a friend who tried to buy some lawn chairs the other day and was told at the hardware store that they are now putting their winter stuff out. It is August for goodness sake—and in this area we could have warm weather for at least two more months. Last Thanksgiving I remember cooking a turkey on a day that reached temps in the 80’s (or high 20’s for those of us in Canada who think in Celsius—I still have to convert.)
Today I am going to be grateful for
1. The fact that we really have almost a month of summer left. It does not stop at Labour Day. Now summer is not my favourite time of year, and I admit I have been trying to rush summer along to get to my favourite season, but for now, I am going to stop, and live here, today, in August.
2. Not having to don a coat and mittens and boots to go out the door. Just put on a pair of flip flops and go!
3. The fact that my AC has frozen up. This gives me even more of a chance to bask in this lovely season of summer. (I am ironically grateful for this.)
So, what was this post about? Live in the now, enjoy the present, don’t look back, and don’t look too far ahead. (Here I am, being ironic again!)
The words “a white tent pitched by a glassy lake, well under a shady tree”…. were haunting me recently, so I Googled them and found the rest of the words to the song. It brings me back to the days when I attended a one room school (when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth, according to my youngest son), and part of our day included not only readin’, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic , but singing.
In the morning we sang God Save the Queen (in the years before O Canada replaced it) facing the Canadian version of the Union Jack (before 1965 when our maple leafed flag was born) then recited the Lord’s prayer (when this was still allowed in public school). At the end of the day we sang songs for fun before we were out the door and on our way home. I remember one of our favourites was Puff the Magic Dragon as well as the aforementioned song that would not leave me in peace until I found all the words to it.
The enigmatic song that was playing an endless loop in my head is called “A Canadian Camping Song”, and in my cursory search I found that it seemed to be part of the government of the day’s approved curriculum. While my research was only glancing, I could not come up with a song writer.
The words to the song evoke June days when exams were done and we were putting in time before the summer holidays. So for those of you curious about the words to the rest of the song, here they are:
A Canadian Camping Song
A white tent pitched by a glassy lake,
Well under a shady tree.
Or by rippling rills from the grand old hills
Is the summer home for me.
I fear no blaze of the noontide rays,
For the woodland glades are mine,
The fragrant air, and that perfume rare,
The odour of forest pine.
The wild woods, the wild woods
The wild woods give me;
The wild woods of Canada.
The boundless and free.
The song epitomizes summer for me—and in this, our first real week of official summer, it reminds me of the last days of June, sitting at my desk, just waiting for the summer holidays to begin. The days of summer stretched out seemingly forever—full of baseball in the back yard, chores around the house, riding my bike, reading in my favourite tree, and walking with my sister to the local corner store for a pop and chocolate bar.
If anyone knows who wrote this little ditty, let me know.