Summer’s over, you say. School’s started and the kids are back at college. Labor Day’s done. The pool’s drained. Plenty of signs to give up on summer and pretend pumpkin flavor is even worth talking about.
But despite the orange candy corn bags getting prominent placement and the radio scare tactics for new stormproof windows, there remains a late bloom of summer perched right here next to us. This time of year holds summer’s hidden pocket of promise, like that last slice of pie sitting in the tin plate in the refrigerator, extra emulsified, its own special taste. To stretch out this leftover metaphor some more, there are two kinds of people: those who ignore leftovers and those who derive joy from consuming that slice, standing at the refrigerator, knowing the others don’t know what they’re missing.
We’ve been programmed to shut down summer thanks to the back-to-school ritual that has been Pavloved into us. Swimsuits go to the bottom drawer and barbecues become less frequent. Fall fashion of burgundy and browns have replaced cottons and pastels in the shop windows.
But not so fast. Point your car toward the ocean and you’ll be welcomed by September’s unique sky, a rich velvet blue augmented by whipped-up clouds and a season-aged sun with plenty of punch.
Think of summer’s homestretch as hitting the beach at 4:30 in the afternoon just as the hordes are packing up to head for dinner and there you’ll sit with a cooler and an ever-expanding swath of sand, a new breeze peeling off the waves, a hot day cooling.
There were years where I wasn’t hip to any of this. I was hunkered down to a work life, my eyes looking down the road to fall. Then my girlfriend, now my wife, was organizing a convention in Cape Cod during September. Cape Cod? The place was legendary, but we had no idea. September on the Cape sounds so pompous, doesn’t it? But the bent elbow of land 40 miles off the U.S. mainland lives up to the hype. The woods push up to the ocean filled with seals, and now sharks apparently, on one end. What they call ponds we would call lakes standing hidden in the middle, and the endless low tides of the bay beckon on the east side.
All throughout, the fauna thrived in the absence of people. It was as if September was its own season, summer’s hidden pocket. We vowed to make this place part of our routine, and we did when we could. Every year, we aimed for September sneak-aways before kids, and when they were tiny, we would romp around with the locals and the retired folk.
Of course, those days ended with the kids getting tethered to a school schedule. That didn’t stop me from seeking summer’s bonus track hidden on the yearly playlist. I’d do bike runs up the Jones Falls trail against the shrinking daylight to Cylburn Arboretum, where city arborists and volunteers masterfully maintain the wilderness, including a blazing crop of high grass with these alien-looking flowers curled toward the sky. They seemed to know something, as if somewhere among the petals there was a hidden brain. That’s the power of summer’s hidden pocket — there’s a sense of crescendo.
This year, Amy and I snuck away to Rehoboth, a week after Labor Day, not sure what we would get. The ongoing postings of newly released hurricanes brewing in the Caribbean rendered our weather apps into a joke. It wasn’t supposed to rain until 2, so why are getting soaked at 1? Perhaps there is a reason for a summer season after all.
Indeed, doing the beach thing had a pushback vibe against our back-to-school obedience training. It felt like day-drinking on a Sunday or, in my case, selling off my Ravens Opening Day ticket so I could take bad photos of cloud formations in the sky and text them to my daughter, who supposedly knows weather patterns.
“I think they are cirrus” — wispy patterns that looked like smeared brushstrokes.
My other daughter FaceTimed us and she was bracing for more hours studying in the library. My attempt to show her the ocean complete with surf sound no doubt came off as annoying. Our newness to empty nesting was showing.
One night, we abandoned the car to ride bikes into town, despite the storm that had just finished and a new one on its way. It was just us and the undulation and the smell of fresh rain on asphalt cooling, and we took this marvelous curve that made for easy coasting, and I said out loud how I used to love riding in the dark.
The idea isn’t to seek an everlasting summer, but to get all you can from it, including that one last bit before autumn comes in to overwhelm with its own messaging and beauty.
On the way back, we noticed a few threshing machines had moved into the edge of the cornfields. We stopped by a produce stand, and the peaches were gone, but there were orange tomatoes, a risk to buy this time of year. A lot of times they don’t live up to their ripe color. But these guys tasted ridiculously sweet.
Charles Cohen is a freelance writer, filmmaker and Baltimore native.