The Theory and Practice of Summer

By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

-13th century English round / rota

A curious fact about Midsummer is that it does not fall in the middle of our calendar summer.

However, Midsummer does fall in the middle of true summer, around the time of the solstice and of St. John’s Day. In the context of trees and grasses and flowers and agriculture, summer began months ago and is now at its peak, now declining with the sun towards Michaelmas and autumn.

Schoolchildren, in their innocent wisdom, know exactly when their summer begins – the first Monday after school lets out.  They sing gleefully, “No more classes, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!” and that’s as good a marker of summer as “Sumer is Icumen In.”

Summer is often better in theory than in practice, though. Around Midsummer the sun is at its apogee and the East Texas heat lies heavily upon the earth, growing hotter and more oppressive daily with its wicked accomplices mosquitoes and humidity.

I have known folks to say, “When I was young we didn’t have air-conditioning and so we didn’t miss it.”

Harrumph. Stuff and nonsense. Twaddle. Blather.

When I was young we didn’t have air-conditioning and, yeah, we missed the air-conditioning we never had with temps at 80 by eight and 90 by nine and humidity to match, month after weary month. A fan certainly helped, but in the mornings we woke up damp and hot and wheezy with allergens. Getting the cows up for the morning milking meant slogging through the dewy fields in thick, motionless air, dripping with sweat. Getting the cows for the evening milking meant slogging through dusty fields beneath the glaring sun and if the air moved at all it was like a hot, foul breath from one of Spenser’s dragons in The Faerie Queene.

Between milkings there were seasonal farm chores, but there were also afternoon hours for fishing in the snaky pond or maybe just lazing under the oak trees with a library book, hoping for one of Thornton W. Burgess’ Merry Little Breezes to come by and play.

But for six months, at work, at play, at supper, or trying to sleep, the world was hot. Still is, only now we’re told it’s a new thing called global warming.

In cooler countries the observance of Midsummer still features bonfires and merriment well into the night, which would be fun. How easy to write that we should maintain such observances because they are connected with the natural rotation of the seasons, but as for me, well, it’s just too darned hot and mosquito-y out there.

They can have my air-conditioning when they pry it from my hot dead hands, or whenever the White House, the Houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court have their air-conditioning torn out and replaced with those cardboard fans with religious scenes that funeral homes used to give away.

Sumer Is Icumen In – Exeter University Madrigals A Cappella – YouTube

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