Talkin' Outdoors

Summer time. What special meaning does it have for you? What thoughts and memories are triggered when you think about that three month span of time when the “living is easy and the cotton is high”?

To most of us, it’s trying to find a place to keep cool, getting outside work done early so as to avoid the penetrating heat of the summer sun. In my childhood days, though, it was a different story.

Summer time meant a three-month reprieve from sitting in a classroom and having to do homework. I’d count the days off during May, days that passed at the same snail’s pace as those last days before Christmas. When the school bell rang for the last time that school year, what an exciting time that was.

Lots of youngsters today like to celebrate the end of school as a time for serious sack time, sleeping late and waking up, as I remember someone once saying, “at the crack of dinner.”

That was never my goal. There was just too much to do out there on the rural route for my brother and our two cousins to do. The swimming hole needed to be checked out, earthworms needed to be dug, the cave up in the woods by the “big gully” needed exploring. There just wasn’t time for sleeping late.

Once a week on Sunday, we’d have to put on shoes and shirts and long pants. The rest of the time, we were clad in nothing but cut-off britches, a fact attested to by our brown backs and tough foot soles.

My mother never knew when it was warm enough for us to go swimming. We’d ask permission and she’d say, “not yet, still too cold.” What she didn’t know is that we had been slipping off and going to the swimming hole for the past few weeks already. Part of the fun, I suppose, was putting one over on mom. When she finally agreed it was warm enough for swimming and we didn’t have to sneak a swim, it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

I remember those blistering hot summer afternoons when things would come to a standstill for awhile. I’d often seek out the shade of a giant oak in front of my grandpa’s house, lean back against the lichen-covered trunk, dig a calloused big toe into the cool sand and day dream.

Here’s where a 10-year-old boy could contemplate all the questions and problems that 10-year-old boys have while swatting at gnats, slapping at flies and scratching a tick bite while watching a convoy of ants methodically making their way along a trail under the oak. To a 10-year-old boy, it took little imagination to pretend the ants were trucks hauling their load down the road and you were the driver of one of them.

Tiring of the make-believe game, I’d gaze out across the “front field.” Little yellow butterflies zigzagged erratically from one bitterweed blossom to another, not bothered by the blazing sun that caused the distant hill to waver in the heat.

My uncle’s cows stood motionless under the trees on the hill, motionless except for tails swinging side to side pendulum fashion, shooing away horse flies.

As I look back on those special times, I can see now how these seemingly insignificant events have become a part of who I am today and it troubles me that most kids today can’t identify with what I’ve described. After finally crawling out of bed, they’re flipping the switch to their computers, I-Pads and cell phones. Who has time or interest in watching a column of ants toiling under an oak tree?

You don’t learn about the enchantment of our natural world by sleeping late and flipping switches. You learn it by getting out on a still summer afternoon and taking the time to look and listen and be captivated by the sights and sounds of summer.