Reclaiming Summer

Rhododendron in Pisgah National Forest (Photo credit:

The rhododendron are blooming in the Pisgah National Forest. Milky white with pink centers, in fanning green bushes tall as trees. On my favorite trail they grow like a great tunnel, canopying above. Running beneath them yesterday, the smell was like the forest exhaling summer.

It was only my second trail run since I’d sprained my ankle pretty terribly last month. If you’re a runner, or even a part-time runner, you know what the first run back after a break is like: it’s wonderful. Truly, you feel like a rock star, like you could run for days.

And then there’s the second run. This was yesterday for me, running on very sore legs and a grumpy ankle encased in an Ace brace, my eyes scanning the trail ahead for unruly roots or rocks. My dog (an extremely athletic, almost 9 year-old black lab) bounded ahead, pausing only to drink from creeks or to look back at me as if to say, “What’s up with you? We’re in the forest, don’t you get it?”

Then there was the rhododendron. And soon I was looking up, breathing in. Sure, I felt every jar in my ankle, blinked back sweat from my eyes, readjusted my sloshing Camelback. But when my dog shoots me one of those looks, one of those looks that says, Come on, you ridiculous human, this is the LIFE, it’s imperative that I listen.

At the end of my last post I mentioned seizing the summer, trying to recapture the essence of what made this season so spectacular when we were kids. But it’s hard, isn’t it? Our lives are insanely busy, complicated, and the days pass so quickly that looking at a calendar is a recipe for whiplash. But if we don’t do it–don’t slow down, don’t take a moment to just be–then the moment is lost, and we never get it back.

It’s time to reclaim summer.

Here are three items from my personal “to do” list–things I hope will help me take back summer from the oppressive heat, the jam-packed schedule, the blood-thirsty mosquitoes in my backyard:

1. Enjoy time with my daughter. Really enjoy it. Take her for walks in the woods, for creek adventures and ice cream. Show her how to catch lightning bugs. Listen to what she has to say.

My daughter, 2, baking a cake for her daddy's birthday yesterday.

2. Read as many books as is humanly possible. Even if it keeps me up late at night. Even if I look a decade older in the morning. Read anything I want–magazines, books from the bestseller list, biographies, beach reads. Be brave enough to put a book down if I don’t fall in love with it. (As an English professor, I have a hard time with this.) But summer is far too fleeting to trudge through a book you don’t like.

So far, my reading list this summer has included Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, Melissa de la Cruz’s Witches of East End, Patricia Hampl’s The Florist’s Daughter, Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife, and various issues of Garden & Gun, Southern Living, Poets & Writers, Parenting Magazine, and a little book a dear friend gave me that we keep in the bathroom, called Very Nice Ways to Say Very Bad Things.

3. Breathe. I mean it. Really breathe, deeply and cleanly, inhaling the light (the smell of rhododendron in full bloom, wafting scents from restaurants I pass on my walks around town, my daughter’s giggles, my husband’s clean shirts, the sweet early morning mist) and exhaling the dark (too little sleep, a calendar that would make the most “together” woman I know weep, short tempers, a cluttered house).

After all, it is summertime. And the intrinsic magic of summer never really fades, no matter how old we get.

So what’s on your reading list? (I need ideas!) What do you plan to do to enjoy summer?

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