Within the United States, summer is more than just a season. For many people, it holds something of a mythic status. Despite your age, it embodies a time, a nostalgia for fireworks and freedom and days at the lake.
There’s a place most readily associated with summer as well, it’s the season of the everyman and the heartland, Midwestern America, seems to hold all the promise of the American dream. Here, summer is an idea, one that takes us through the rest of the year.
Here are eight pictures that perfectly depict the idea of summer in the American Heartland.
Watermelon is big, it’s full of bold, unrepentant colors, and it’s in-your-face full of seeds. There is no fork when one eats a watermelon. There is only pink juice on your white t-shirt and a raggedy lawn to spit your seeds into.
Could one get half-naked, place a paper bag shaped like a chicken head and do a sexy dance in January? Well, of course you could, but the security guard at the fairgrounds would just think you were insane. And he’d be right. Such wild celebrations of poultry can only happen in the joyful abandon of a heat stroke.
In the summer sun, festivals became louder, more intense, and infinitely more interesting; that's why groups like the Chickendales are enticing, hilarious, and exactly what I want to see in July.
We’ve all had that moment: a perfect moment. A moment when dad lit the fuse and bounced away from the plumage that spouted from the sidewalk. He didn’t seem to notice that you were too close to the sparks because he was absorbed himself: everyone’s concentration pulled into one bright center of pyromania and the Star Spangled Banner.
Regulations against open flames and explosives are canceled out for the week and everyone is out on their streets. Entire blocks that never see each other suddenly become communities united in the overwhelming celebration of fire.
Sparklers deserve their own section because who hasn’t ignored the warnings of their mother, left the sneakers at the door (and their shirt) and lit up a combustible stick? Invariably, your little sister burned her small fingers, or the neighbors kid was stabbed in the arm, and everyone was ordered back into the house for more clothing and band aids.
But that didn’t seem to matter, because you were holding fire. You were the master commander and the world seemed small enough for you to be dangerous without getting really hurt. Any damage caused would ultimately be superficial, impermanent: just like your name brightly carved into the air.
The days of summer go on and on, because even when it's dark, it doesn't feel like the day is over yet. Winter demands hibernation. Strict bedtimes. But everything is flexible during summer, even time slows down and it seems like nothing will ever change.
Which is why, sitting outside, dipping salty, crisp fries into melting milkshakes, lasts a whole lifetime, but the consequences of staying out late and over-eating look to be as far away as sunrise.
Sitting outside, it feels convivial; even if you know no one sitting at the tables nearby, you know everyone. You’re compatriots, partaking in the same small lamplight and brushing away the same greedy mosquitoes.
When your dog’s legs twitch while he sleeps, he’s thinking of one thing: summer. He knows it’s going to mean days at the beach, chasing energetic squirrels, and pillaging bits of your hamburger from your plate while you’re not looking. He knows that he’s going to get to stick his head out the window of the car, and jump into the lake when you go camping. He knows that finally, the leash is coming off and you and he are going to throw a thousand tennis balls and Frisbees and sticks and that when it’s all over, you’ll lay outside in the grass and watch the stars come out.
And in the morning, you’ll do it all again.
Summer is an invincible place. Everyone gets hurt, but they also survive. So when normally, jumping off the roof and into a pool or trying to do a triple back flip on the trampoline might seem like a bad idea, it’s not if the month is July or August. The laws of physics take a vacation and gravity is too sweaty to really care, so instead, the impossible is attempted, and occasionally, achieved.
Clear skies, thunderstorms, sunsets, open prairies, and a road that stretches forever. Summer road trips are a rite of passage; a journey, a liberation, they are a part of the American psyche that we never tire of retelling. In all of our stories, the quest of the highway seems daunting and empowering and we know that when we reach our destination, it won’t be the end, just a change from who we were into who we are becoming. Thelma and Louise rushed off the edge of a cliff, knowing they could never go back because the journey wasn't over yet.
On the freeways of America, there is no reverse (literally, don’t do it, it’s dangerous), there is only forward, to a horizon that never fades.