‘And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.’ —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Summer is a beautiful time of year. While most days are like any other time of the year; a whirl of meetings, to-dos, and kid craziness, for brief snippets, there is time to slow the pace, to notice and enjoy the beauty that surrounds. Creating these moments seems easier in the summer time, with the rest of the world off school, and on vacation.
There are so many reasons I love summer: the warm air, and the longer days among them. There is a strange mix of calm and slowness produced by the tranquil, humid air, and conversely, productive energy, resulting from the intense and extended daylight. Summer’s pleasures assault the senses, and envelope us in their warmth.
I love to spend time in my garden, tilling and toiling. I fight the weeds who defy me, reminding me they are master of the dominion. Still, I hoe and dig, carefully separating, dividing, and pulling. I await the arrival of each perennial, watching their delicate, curving leaves push through the soil; the contrast of bright on dark. Gingerly, I push the dirt aside, to help them reach heavenward. This is a uniquely tactile pleasure, as if I have a hand in creating life. Collecting my meager harvest, I blanch tomatoes for sauce, as my children eat strawberries off the vine, emerging with red-stained lips and fingertips.
Summer is synonymous with water. Much has been written about the human connection with water, the origination of our birth. It’s a shame we don’t have memory of that time spent floating, suspended in watery darkness. Perhaps we do somewhere, buried in neuron layers, for there seems no better feeling than to submerge beneath the surface, plunging into the deep, where sound magnifies. I look up to view sun dappled light through the water. There’s something exhilarating about the breathlessness, and chill of water on skin. The weightlessness delights, as I float, toes just breaking the water’s surface, and tilt my head back to contemplate the clouds.
Summer also marks festival upon festival, a cornucopia of outdoor celebrations. One of my favorites is the Plein Art festival in Easton, MD. Quite literally, in French, Plein Air means in the open, or full air. The annual event finds several dozen artists painting landscapes and scenes of life, outside throughout Talbot County. All of this culminates at the week’s end, with a Quick Draw, a two hour long painting competition, where the artists complete a small work in the short time allotted. The day is festive and exciting; it does not require any particular art interest or expertise to appreciate the scene.
The most interesting thing is not how the artists render what you see, but how they depict what you don’t see. One muggy morning, I happened upon a Plein Air artist painting a doorway of a shop in town. It’s a doorway I’ve never really looked at or thought about. I hadn’t noticed its perfect symmetry, capped by a half moon window adorning the top, and its bright, Pacific blue color, inviting and cheerful.
As my children and I approached, they asked to see her painting, and as I gazed at her work, still in progress, I was amazed. There is an awning over the door, which to my eye, appears copper-colored, and a bit rusted. But, in the painting, it shimmered in the light, a multitude of peach and golden hues reflecting the sunlight. There were gay red flowers in a wooden pot, each petal empathized. It was glorious.
The show itself is an explosion of color and texture, assaulting the senses in the most wonderful way. There are boats peacefully slumbering at docks, long forgotten fruit stands, bucolic farm landscapes, town scenes of orderly bricked buildings, children, flowers, and the light, always the light.
The styles are similar, and yet, vastly different. Some are soft, the colors muted, and flowing one into another. Others are vibrant and bold, choppy, yet alive. They have thick texture that emphasizes movement. Still others are studies in ochre, rusty factory buildings, glistening in unforgiving sunlight. As you browse from one canvas to the next, it is a fantasy of light and color, a celebration of life. It makes me appreciate why we come here to Talbot County in the summer. The places, the people, the beauty, and the heat. It mesmerizes.
Afterwards, we cap it off with a trip to a lone remaining snowball stand, the favorite dessert of my childhood summers. The stand smells of sticky-sweet and wet wood, melted ice dripping all around. The machine whirs to life, ice for each treat, hand shaved. Inside, a rainbow of syrups await, a veritable ROYGBIV of summer sweetness. A dollop of homemade marshmallow topping completes the day. This is summer perfection in a cup.
Art by Tim Bell, Plein Air Easton