Friday, May 4, 2012
The Time of the Long Nights
This coming Sunday marks the beginning of what I call the 91 days of light. It’s the day of the summer solstice (June 20 this year) and the 45 days on either side. The period from May 6 to August 4 will be the quarter of the year with the longest days.
At some point in the past this must have been considered summer, hence the designation of solstice day as Midsummer. Actual summer runs from June 20 to September 22. What I think of as high summer, the time when students are out of school and the beaches are packed on weekdays runs roughly from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Even that is not a strictly accurate measurement. It used to be, in California at least, that the schools didn’t get going until after Labor Day. Now they start a week or two before, which makes those last two weeks of August a great time for a getaway for mature adults.
During the days of light, sunset is at 8 p.m. or later, with another half hour of decent light immediately afterward. In the mornings, it’s light before 6 a.m. Plenty of time, in any event, for a walk before work or after dinner.
Every season has its points, but summer, however you calculate it, is my favorite. Growing up in Los Angeles, it meant staying out playing really late in warm, if not downright hot, weather. Now it means barbecuing in shorts and a T-shirt (if the fog hasn’t rolled in early) then going for a walk on the beach after dinner. On the whole, the longer days and extra light mean more time to appreciate the world around you.
That sense of squeezing every moment for all it’s worth is particularly powerful when you’re on vacation. If you’ve spent a day getting somewhere, and have only a few days there once you arrive, long summer nights are value-added. In my formative years, our parents took us on several long driving trips during summer vacation. Often, we’d check into a place around 4 p.m. and have dinner, then my sister and I would play afterward.
It’s amazing how vividly I can recall some of those places 50 years later, and a large part of that is that we had a long summer night to impress them on our minds. Just off the top of my head, I’m flashing back on a cabin on the Snake River in Idaho; a motor court along the Willamette River in Oregon; a ranch in Wyoming; a summer home without electricity in Puget Sound, Washington; and a garden-variety motel in Penticton, British Columbia, where we sat outside the door under an overhang, watching a powerful thunderstorm break up at sunset.
Plenty of fishing memories, too. My father always used to insist that you had to get up early to catch fish, a theory for which the evidence seemed spotty at best. I remember plenty of May and June mornings in the mountains, where we hit the water before 6 a.m. and were freezing and miserable for three or four hours before the sun finally warmed things up. On a more positive note, there’s nothing like being on Hat Creek when a good evening insect hatch gets going in May and June and the fish are on a binge.
We have no plans to go anywhere during the 91 days this year, so I’ll be enjoying them at home. And in coastal California, it takes a long time for summer to dissolve into fall, so we could get two more months of summer after the 91 days end — but without those long nights.