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The Sweet Susurrations of Summer

July 21, 2010

There is something simply smashing about summer. It inspires foolish writers such as myself to partake of particularly dangerous amounts of alliteration (it is simply so strikingly difficult to stop once one has started!), and otherwise perfectly sensible persons to read works of “literature” with all the literary merit of a bank statement. Summer is a particularly varied season — there is early summer, when it is still unclear whether or not spring is truly over; there are those endless middle days, when the future stretches out seemingly without end; and there is late summer, when it is still hot, but yet the air is filled with a strange nostalgic melancholy and every day is even more precious simply because they are so much more clearly limited.

As a child I spent almost every summer on my aunt’s New England farm, and the slightest hint of summer weather sends me on a Proustian voyage to the lush fields and rolling mountains. This summer has been my first in many years that I have spent a significant portion of in America, and I am very glad of the opportunity (even with the highly unpleasant heat wave we have just recently suffered through). While I am very busy in the city during the week, I have been able to take several weekend trips into the countryside to stay with friends at their lovely house in the furthest reaches of the state of Vermont.

Although America’s ground transportation (buses, coaches, trains, etc.) infrastructure has seemingly been designed by children playing with model sets (and even this description might be unfair to the children), I have found it very easy (if not cheap) to travel almost entirely by air when going farther than an easy drive. I am very fortunate in that my company is willing to pay for this slight extravagance, and so trips to Vermont are as easy as a one-hour flight and hardly any extra fuss. This is of course when not bothered by baggage to check or strange security situations (fodder for a different post).

This particular weekend in question I had arrived at the gate somewhat early. I had a stack of papers I needed to go through, as well as several emails to proof before sending to clients, and so I had decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to simply go through security early and settle in with my work. I enjoy airports. I find them particularly calming — almost Zen-like. After passing through the fuss and bustle of check-in and security, you find yourself in a strange alternate universe where nothing is quite like it is elsewhere. I like to think that walking through security is my way of going through Alice’s looking glass — on the other side, wonders might be found. I know people who dislike airports. They claim them to be stressful and annoying. This is untrue. Airports are a magical world. The trick to seeing them as such is simply to constantly use the eyes of your childhood self, and give yourself over to the feelings of wonder.

It is possible to come across almost any sort of person while in an airport, and airports are unquestionably one of the greatest people watching locations of all time. At almost any moment there is something fascinating to watch or listen to. The couple gazing into each other’s eyes could very well be newlyweds, and just behind them is an older couple having an argument seemingly over who will be responsible for the hand baggage while the other takes a walk. There are always large numbers of people reading various materials. Once this was one of my favourite manners of determining something about a person, but now that electronic reading devices are becoming more prevalent, it is not so easy to tell what a person is reading. I find this sad, as I have entered more than one interesting conversation after an exchange of comments with someone nearby regarding reading materials, and starting a conversation with “I see you have the latest Kindle!” just isn’t the same as “So, I see you’re reading the latest Discworld novel! What do you think?” But still, while specifics change, the general aura of airport wonder remains. I have enough airport stories to fill a book (well, a short one at least), and intend to continue to share them with you.

A short while after I had settled down to sort through the work I had brought, a couple sat down not far from me. I was busy at the time and didn’t give them much thought. They sat in silence for a while, but eventually the woman spoke, and having just finished editing a report, I was more attentive to my surroundings, and so heard her words clearly: “Will we truly never be able to return?” As you might imagine, this statement instantly intrigued me, and while continuing to maintain a look of involvement in my computer, I focused my attention on the couple. During one of my restless glances about the terminal I managed to catch a good look at the couple. They were fairly young and decidedly well dressed. In fact, there was really nothing particular about them to catch anyone’s attention. After the woman spoke, there was a pause, and I wondered if she would get a response. Finally, the man said softly: “No, it is a simple impossibility”. The two continued to sit in silence. They didn’t have much in the way of hand baggage, and they were not reading. My imagination gained momentum and took off. The possibilities flew through my mind — were they spies? Illegal immigrants? Felons running from conviction? I could think of seemingly endless situations, and so I listened closely for further clues.

After several minutes, the man spoke again: “It would be foolish to ignore the truth”. This statement did not aid me in any way, and I waited to hear the woman’s response, which was only a short time in coming and was a bit more spirited: “George, how morbid we are! How stupid!” I could really make no sense of their conversation, but continued to listen because I hadn’t given up hope that they would say something enlightening before the flight began boarding.

Rather surprisingly to me, George laughed lightly and put his arm around the woman, upon which she laughed as well. I was completely confounded — my imagination had just about quit, and I really couldn’t come up with any plausible explanation for what I was hearing. Fortunately for my peace of mind, the mystery then resolved itself quickly and incredibly, almost foolishly simply. George leaned over and pulled a stapled stack of papers out of his bag. He flipped through a ways and then slapped his knee with the papers, saying: “damn it, not ‘It would be foolish to ignore the truth’! That’s not even in this scene! It’s ‘Perhaps it is all really for the better’! I give up on this scene, it needs a rewrite”.

Needless to say, I was completely thrilled! The truth turned out to be something that I really would never have though of: the two of them weren’t actually having a conversation — they were running lines from a play! I remember being slightly confused by a similar situation once on a Paris metro, but that group of people had been much more obviously running lines. This time, I had actually been taken in. Thinking back I realised that their words had been a bit stilted and strange, but in the moment I had simply considered that to be due to some stress that they were under.

Being moderately resourceful, I managed to queue up just behind the couple, and not being particularly shy with strangers (I take the view that at the worst I will never see them again) I mentioned that I heard them running lines from a play and that I was curious as to the nature of the piece. Apparently the name of the play is “The Sweet Susurrations of Summer”, and the two of them are part of a group that writes and shares pieces of theatre. The play I heard them going over had been chosen to be presented at some meeting or other in Canada, and they were on their way there (they were meeting friends in Vermont and driving from there). They told me that while the play (a collaborative effort on their part) was generally absurdist in nature, their main goal in writing it was to convey the beautiful timelessness and joy of a perfect late summer evening. They had chosen the alliterative title (which I commandeered and made fun of at the beginning of this post) simply as a working name — planning on changing it to something like “Summer’s End”, or (stealing a title from the American writer Ray Bradbury) “All Summer in a Day”, but have decided to keep it as “The Sweet Susurrations of Summer” for now as they have found it to be strangely effective.

I was struck by the power of the emotions behind what we were talking about. There is something so fantastic about summer — something so joyful. But I wondered if we would still consider it to be so if the seasons never changed but rather remained at all times the perfect late summer day? I don’t think we would find such an existence remarkable — there would never be the smell of the first lawn cutting, or the crisp feel of a day when summer is clearly drawing to a close, but yet still has not yet given up all of its warmth. I guess that the perfect endless summer day would not be so perfect after all. The more I have thought, the more I have come to appreciate that as surprising as it may seem, it actually is possible to have too much of a good thing. Saying it here I feel almost foolish, as it is so simple and so often stated, but I do not think that I actually ever truly believed it until just now.

I gave the couple my card and told them I would love to read their play if they were ever willing to send me a copy. I then boarded the airplane and flew off to meet my friends in beautiful Vermont, where I spent the rest of the weekend sitting in the shade, watching the mountains in the distance and blue herons eating fish from a pond. In fact, I had several days worth of perfect summer, and will admit that I felt I could have gone on that way forever.

  1. Perfect – just like the end of a summer day!

    • Thank you for the lovely comment!
      I am so very glad that you enjoyed this post. I have always had a fascination with that strange nostalgic feeling associated with summer (particularly late summer).
      One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, has captured it amazingly successfully in many of his books and stories, and I find myself constantly chasing it in my own writing (and daydreams). Expect to see more posts along these lines in the near future — I recently spent some time at a New England county fair, and the carnival setting, and interesting people I met will make for (I hope!) a fun summer-themed post.

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