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The poignant blues of August

These blues have an almost-sweet sadness over something indefinable that’s gone for another year.

Generations of loons have come and gone from the lake over 30-plus years.
CC/Flickr/Steve took it

FARGO, N.D. — Every summer as August moves to midpoint, I get the blues. Not the big bad blues, you understand. My August blues come together as a mix of melancholy. No acrimony or bitterness involved, these blues have poignancy, an almost-sweet sadness over something indefinable that’s gone for another year.

When our children were growing up, I associated my blues with the end-of-summer countdown to a new school year. With children, June was the month for winding up activities from the previous school year and starting summer athletics and other programs or classes; July, the month for camps, company, and finishing the structured stuff. It wasn’t until August rolled around that summer vacation actually felt like vacation.

But before I could take a deep breath and settle into the long-anticipated pleasure of freedom from schedules and responsibilities, back-to-school shopping and sign-up for fall activities took over. Woe to me if something busied up the first of the month, because by August’s midpoint, summer was on the wane.

And I had the blues.

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I used to comfort myself with the thought that August would be different when the children were grown. Not constricted by their schedules, I’d feel the freedom to revel in the month’s fullness – freedom not possible with children. How distressing it was when I realized that my August dip into the doldrums wasn’t really about the hectic goings-on of our children; rather, it was all about me and my overwhelming desire to hang on to summer. How distressing it was when I realized summer’s clock in our empty nest hadn’t slowed down. If anything, it had sped up.

The year’s zenith

Maybe I should call my August condition wistfulness. Whatever it is, it’s an annual affliction. Whether the summer is wet or dry, cold or hot, terribly this or terribly that, or even darned near perfect, I don’t want to let go. It is the year’s zenith, a time when everything about the natural world is as full and abundant as it ever is going to be. And I love it. So why do I get the blues?

My husband and I are in the 33rd summer in our house and 34th at our lake place. (Sameness to us is a good thing.) Our expectations revolve around the patterns we’ve established through the years, patterns that adjust to the rhythms of the seasons, and of all the seasons, summer’s rhythm is most predictable and most ingrained, chock-full of sensory timelessness.

The lake is particularly confusing in its constancy. Certainly, generations of loons have come and gone over 30-plus years, yet loons parade with their young in front of our dock and call to one another during the night against the background sound of water lapping the shore the way they always have. The heron, slow and awkward, walks across the sand or stands sentry on the dock in morning’s stillness, ever stately and ill at ease. Fish jump and eagles soar.

Children still in bunk beds

The predictably cold water that sends us racing to the cabin after a quick evening dip in early summer feels just as predictably warm and silky — magical — in the moonlight of early August. Foggy mornings invite mystery, sunburn interferes with sleeping, bacon frying brings sleepyheads to the breakfast table, same as always. Children still sleep on the bunk beds my husband’s father built, although now they call us Grandma and Grandpa instead of Mom and Dad.

And somebody always is learning to water ski. Two of our grandchildren are old enough to start on something new called an “EZ Ski.” They don’t seem surprised that their grandparents – who might occasionally complain about pain in their joints – still love to ski. Of course, they don’t yet know what it feels like to take a last ski of the day into the sunset of an August evening, a sensation as wonderful for their parents and grandparents today as it ever has been.

It’s all the same.

Except that it isn’t.

Ah yes, call me wistful.

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A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.


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