At last it begins…

Summer! That long awaited quintessential moment when the sun sets the night before on spring but rises in the morning on summer! The longest day of the year!

Summer is books and Bob Dylan. Outdoor movies and staring at the sky trying to see what is there beyond the first glance. Summer is tomatoes and basil and dandelions. Calloused bare feet and that distinct summer smell.

Ray Bradbury said it best in his novel Dandelion Wine. The book in its entirety sums up summer, but the first chapter is particularly mesmerizing:

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your widow, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in this third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now…

“Boy,” whispered Douglas.

A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrost icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.

But now–a familiar task awaited him.

One night each week he was allowed to leave his father, his mother, and his younger brother Tom asleep in their small house next door and run here, up the dark spiral stairs to his grandparents’ cupola, and in this sorcerer’s tower sleep with thunders and visions, to wake before the crystal jingle of milk bottles and perform this ritual magic.

He stood at the open window in the dark, took a deep breath and exhaled.

The street lights, like candles on a black cake, went out. He exhaled again and again and the stars began to vanish.

Douglas smiled. He pointed a finger.

There, and there. Now over here and here…

Yellow squares were cut in the dim morning earth as house lights winked slowly on. A sprinkle of windows came suddenly alight miles off in dawn country.

“Everyone yawn. Everyone up.”

The great house stirred below.

“Grandpa, get your teeth from the water glass!” He waited a decent interval. “Grandma and Great-grandma, fry hot cakes!”

The warm scent of fried batter rose in the drafty halls to stir the boarders, the aunts, the uncles, the visiting cousins, in their rooms.

“Street where all the Old People live, wake up! Miss Helen Loomis, Colonel Freeleigh, Miss Bentley! Cough, get up, take pills, move around! Mr. Jonas, hitch up your horse, get your junk wagon out and around!”

The bleak mansions across the town ravine opened baleful dragon eyes. Soon, in the morning avenues below, two old women would glide their electric Green Machine, waving at all the dogs. “Mr. Tridden, run to the carbarn!” Soon, scattering hot blue sparks above it, the town trolley would sail the rivering brick streets.

“Ready John Huff, Charlie Woodman?” whispered Douglas to the Street of Children. “Ready!” to baseballs sponged deep in wet lawns, to rope swings hung empty in streets.

“Mom, Dad, Tom, wake up.”

Clock alarms tinkled faintly. The courthouse clock boomed. Birds leaped from trees like a net thrown by his hand, singing. Douglas, conducting an orchestra, pointed to the eastern sky.

The sun began to rise.

He folded his arms and smiled a magician’s smile. Yes, sire, he thought, everyone jumps, everyone runs when I yell. It’ll be a fine season.

He gave the town a last snap of his fingers.

Doors slammed open; people stepped out.

Summer 1928 began.

That first chapter of Dandelion Wine simply must be read on the first day of summer.

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