- Right here, right now, is “the good old summertime” for some people . Those who can find it _ by no means everyone in this 24x7x365 world, even on Sunday _ enjoy the bliss of leisure. Children playing on the beach, swimming in salt tide will remember hot afternoons of sand and sun fondly. Teenagers flirt, old folks lie for hours remembering or trying to forget. Nostalgia, past and future, ripples like heat waves off the parking lot asphalt.
- These may be the last decades that July is to be treasured so fondly. Future generations may yearn for the “good old wintertime,” when it is cool and children are allowed outdoors. Already much of the nation is beset with record heat, huge fires, extreme droughts, “thousand-year” floods. For that matter, not too long from now, there may not be many sandy beaches from which to dream. But this year, this summer, this month _ I see “good old days” forming before my eyes.
Celebrating summer too easy
Takes a real poet
To charm with snow, freeze, ice, flu.
- Kids at summer camp catching (or at least trying to catch) things in nets above and in a pond. Seems timeless, but of course childhoods like these are a relatively recent invention. Always amazing that in suburbs and even urban areas dragonflies, tadpoles, minnows, butterflies and so forth are still managing to survive _ and even to surprisingly thrive. Like catching glimpses of dense schools of bait fish in the harbor, or frequent flights of hawks and ospreys overhead. The natural world is damaged, but still vital.
- Most astounding to me locally is how many fish can be caught, how many berries can be seen on bushes. In the world, how vast quantities of seafood are still caught in the wild _ even in the presumably heavily polluted Mediterranean. I sometimes wonder how distorted a view of our environment those of us who live in urban or suburban enclaves may be receiving. But I also know that the truly horrible wreckage of nature goes on away from most people _ on chemical-drenched factory farms, on remote wasteland coal and oil fields, in endless pits dug to retrieve industrial minerals, and everywhere in the pollution of air and water where no one can see. No dragonflies, tadpoles, or hawks are likely to be sighted in such places, nor groups of children to complain at their absence.
I sit back, surveying the end of the harbor with a happy sigh. Boats are being set into the water, kayaks explore alcoves, stand-up paddle boats threaten to dump their rowers any moment. Once in a while a noisy jet-ski putters towards open space, or a sailboat under motor power arrives to tie up at the dock. An egret struts on low-tide mudflats. “Just like I remember over fifty years ago, when I was a boy,” I remark to Bill, reading a paper on the bench alongside.
“A lot has changed,” he responds, sourly. “The similarities may be deceiving. You know, I grew up here, and back in 1955 or so this was nearly wilderness.”
“Not so,” I protest. “I’ve read the local histories. This place has been civilized for a few hundred years, cleared, farmed, built up, polluted, industrialized, decayed, repopulated. You just caught a fragment in the grand mix that looked less civilized.”
“Wrong,” he states. “My perception counts. It was more wilderness back then. This clutter” he waves at the bulkhead, the dock, the busy street behind us, the marine stores lining the shore “this garbage was not here.”
“OK,” I agree reluctantly. “Maybe you’re right. Was it better?”
“Ah,” he takes a deep breath. “That’s a hard question. So much has changed, on the surface anyway. But so much remains the same underneath. People were people, I suppose.”
“What will the kids today grow up to think? How will they remember this?”
“Oh, for them I guess it will be recalled as a different kind of golden age.” He watches a gull swoop by just over our hats. “Depending on what kind of dystopia they end up with in fifty years, of course.”
“Cheery, aren’t we?” I laugh.
“A lot of good things are happening, I suppose. A lot of good has happened. I can’t complain much. But I wonder,” he pauses.
“You wonder?” I coax him, curious.
“I wonder how fragile this web of wonderful stuff really is, and how close we are to losing it all.” An extra-loud low jet bound for Kennedy cuts off conversation, as a wail rises from the fire station and an insanely thundering helicopter swoops towards the hospital.
- Annual trip upstate to visit our son in Rochester. This is some 400 miles of expressway driving, through farms and mountains and old cities, along rivers and railroads. An hour in the tangled infrastructure of New York City, and days of strolling sidewalks and visiting areas of what is supposedly a devastated upstate economy. From listening to news, one expects to see something similar to the pictures coming out of the Mideast tragedies. Not so.
- The roads, even in NYC, are well maintained and being more so. Traffic, both pleasure and commercial, is everywhere _ trucks loaded with wares fill the roads. Fields are fat with corn and cows, barns and houses sparkle in the sun, fantastic local artisanal produce fills the public market. Mountains are blanketed in dense green forest, rivers are full flowing, lakes are plentifully supplied with power and sailboats as masses of people watch from restaurants and bars along the shore. Rochester itself seems to be gentrifying older areas and rapidly building newer ones, and few of the people I passed _ day or evening _ seemed terrified by their environment and clinging to guns for protection against looming menace. All in all, I decided perhaps I was better to trust the evidence of my own eyes than the words of politicians, journalists, and editorial writings. Not a surprise, but I sometimes need to be reminded.
- Like all our memories, nostalgia is unique for each of us. We recall different moments in different ways. Some we blank out, some we enhance, some we even invent. And each is a special mélange of sight, sound, taste, smell, visceral physicality, emotions, thoughts, and layers we have embroidered in afterwards.
- By definition, nostalgia indicates some positive connection with the past. Nobody is nostalgic for the horrors of war or the ravages of disease, although there may be certain elements of such (the comradery of fighting units, or triumph over adversity) that can be polished to a warmer glow. Since most nostalgic recollections imply some distance in the past, their very foundational truth is questionable, as is often obvious by comparing stories with those of others who were present at the same events.
- For my baby-boomer peers who grew up in the fifties, summer remains one of the finest nostalgic periods. Back then there were few demands once away from school, except for perhaps some “good for you” summer reading that, if done, was often accomplished less than a week before new classes started. Many parents could truly relax for a weekend or a week or so, getting away to some quiet and inexpensive resort, doing nothing but what happened to be around, never interrupted by calls from work. Was it true? I don’t know, that’s how we experienced it. At least, in my own nostalgia, that’s how I remember experiencing it.
- As Proust noted to such grand effect, a scent can trigger an unconscious tumble into a nostalgic fugue. My own nudges seem to be more visual and kinesthetic. Walking in humid heat, sweat beginning to drench my shirt, hot sun glaring all about, easily pushes my deeper consciousness back to childhood, and to the happiness of innocence when the who world was available for the taking, and all the time in that world to accomplish whatever I wanted.
- Surprised to find so many people lining parkland shores of Lake Ontario on a bright Sunday morning. Turned out there was a colorful regatta offshore in strong winds _ here boats return to the “Port of Rochester” through the rock jetties lining the mouth of the Genesee river. On the other side, an official beach-volleyball tournament was in progress, families swam in waves that were almost surf, and barbeques were being prepared in huge smokers under leafy canopies alongside numerous picnic shelters.
- None of this appears in national news, rarely enough on local media. We learn of each fire, each car accident, each criminal event. I think we start to think that the only sanity that exists is some magical bubble around us, that the rest of the world is a hellish expanse of horror (a favorite cliché word of the moment.) But evidence remains that this is a happy and fat land filled with pretty good times for most of the people, most of the time. The world has never seen its like before.