Midsummer always seems to come and go so quickly. Each year, I look forward to the day the season officially changes, regardless of when the weather actually indicates otherwise.
March 21. June 21. September 21. December 21.
There is just something about the solstice, the moment when the earth shifts and the daylight turns. Ever since December, each passing day has been growing longer, the sunsets delaying their shimmering settling if only a second later. A sort of broadening, of both light and hopefulness, as the scope of the year broadens and spreads like a swelling river. Of which we’ve had a lot of in Iowa this spring–one of the wettest on record. Often in the long, dreary gray days of this past winter, I had looked forward to the warmth of summer. The black dirt, then covered with snow, bursting with green things and fresh vegetables. The warm glow of a windows-down trip to the grocery store. And as the days lengthen and the nights grow warmer, the sense of broadening grows with each extra moment of golden twilight. And then, on a perfect summer evening, the switch happens. The earth tilts back the other way, to a long slow descent through the dog days, autumn’s dying brilliance, and the onset of frost and misty breath in the morning. I always look forward to the longest day of the year, where six months of waiting has come to its apex. And so the day has come–summer is officially here, even as I know (in my head; obviously I can’t notice it yet) the sunset starts to creep back towards the 5 on my clock.
And yet, it hasn’t felt like much of a summer for me. Usually, I imagine that most summers are like this:
a.) that ahhhhhhhh time when you aren’t in school, when you work at a low-wage job, likely doing some sort of outside manual labor. Usually, this means getting really tan and increasing your ability to lift things, if only for a short while. Also, it often means many relaxing evenings on the patio or porch, drinking lemonade (either G-rated or the slightly edgier variety), grilling various meats, and desserting on fruits most likely picked earlier that week from someone’s garden. THE BEST.
b.) having a real job, which maintains regular work hours meaning that I am both getting paid while also living in the adult world of “regularity.” This world includes, but is not limited to, not having to pack your stuff up every few months, a more “well-rounded” bank statement, and evenings (though not a full 3 months) free.
Taking summer classes means you lose the best of both of these options, while compounding their darker sides. i.e. you pay money to take classes which give you more work and take away all of your free time during the best days of the year. Such is the nature of this summer, which is brightened mostly by the fact that so many fun things have been going on on weekends that it’s impossible to be mad at my own life.
I am starting Week 6 of 8 for my summer classes, which are required as a part of my 100-credit total curriculum for Architecture and Community/Regional Planning. The saddest part is that ten credits in eight weeks doesn’t really allow for much of a summer, let alone a mental break. I have spent way too much time working indoors when all I’ve wanted to do is relax at the park, drive around the rolling countryside in the evenings, and eat grilled and barbequed things. I have class every day from 8:30-noon, with an additional class on Friday afternoons from 1-5. My one class is a design-build in which we are designing a park shelter for the local county conservation board, then actually nailing the thing together ourselves so we get a better sense of what our drawings actually prescribe when we make them. Basically, we’re learning both empathy for the builders of things, the contractors and the stone masons and the dirt guys, and literally finding out how the lines we make on a piece of paper get translated into materials and boards and site contours.
In my other class, we’re studying historic buildings around Iowa, then proposing modern additions to these structures. It’s an exercise in both the macro and the micro, as we figure out how best to add to buildings with (often) already-overbearing geometries, while also literally figuring out how to attach something new to something old. I chose to study the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City, which is older than the state of Iowa itself, ironically. Built in 1840, it was the state capitol (it took me awhile to figure out the difference between capitol and capital) for only 17 years before legislators moved it to the more central location in Des Moines (which is French for “The Moines” according to RayGun). To soothe the battered egos of the residents of Iowa City, the territorial government awarded the town the state university, which remains the focal point of Iowa City to this day. It’s hard to find a place more hellbent on supporting their beloved Hawkeyes than Iowa City. Just visit on game day, and you’ll see. The Old Capitol building has come to represent the city, the university, and the dreams of Iowans as a seat of learning and culture in the Midwest. For my addition, I am attempting to propose an underground art museum, which would replace the currently-unusable museum that got flooded out in the Great Flood of 2008. We present final designs in 2.5 weeks–there is much work to be done.
Due to the fact that I have been away from Ames for the last 8 weekends, I have quite a few things to run down. Here are some of the good:
The end of the beard. After 6 months of growth, the facial manliness concluded with a magnificent swan song– a bachelor weekend of mustachioed glory. Then it was nicked in the bud for a clean-shaven remainder of the summer. The only downside was the fact that I aged in reverse about five years. I was asked if I was in high school twice in the next 8 days. Maybe someday I will come to appreciate this.
Amazing weddings. Isn’t it great when two friends whom you like and love invite a bunch of your other friends to a big party where you all hang out and laugh and dance and eat delicious food? I’m a fan. The celebrations of love for Matt and Kelly Dean and Maria and Matt Swartzentruber are highlights of the year already. And it’s only 2 of 4 for this summer!
Snazzy rental cars. I’m talking bright red 2013 coupe with Sirius radio and Pennsylvania plates. Sexy can I.
The Great Gatsby, which I finally finished reading in preparation for seeing the film. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a genius with the words, although the storyline is apt to put you in quite the funk. Also, the soundtrack is AMAZING and you should listen to it right this instant.
- Nieces and Nephew. They are just so fun.
Mennonite Relief Sales. While each has their own unique flavor (both culturally and culinarily), Iowa specializes in fresh apple butter on homemade bread, strawberry pie, and apple fritters. Sweet mama, they are so good. Plus, so fun to hang out with friends.
The Big Ego, a ¾ lb. bacon cheeseburger with two grilled cheese sandwiches instead of buns. Even for me, who prides himself in finishing somewhat obscene piles of food on occasion, this was a 2 meal entrée. Also, popovers, which must be a Minnesota thing. Tip of the hat to you, Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
Per diems. Seriously, when does it get better than when someone else is paying for you to go out to eat? College days aside (thanks Mom and Dad! And all those who’ve ever treated!)
Battle’s Barbeque. Location: Ames, Iowa. As much as I love Hickory Park, Battle’s may have just eclipsed this Behemoth of BBQ with it’s delicious sauce (sold in local stores) and outrageously delectable smoked meats.
And a few things I could do/have done without:
Mishaps on the job site. Last week, a classmate accidentally dropped a 15-foot bracing board on my head while we were framing our park shelter. Thankfully, the bleeding stopped quickly and I didn’t have symptoms of a concussion, so no trip to the hospital nor any lasting harm done. Although my scab is quite itchy.
Subpar rental cars. I’m talking a tan Hyundai Elantra with no cruise and Nebraska plates. Laaaaaame.
Driving from Pennsylvania to Iowa in one long, 14-hour day. Not only is saying goodbye to family difficult enough, but knowing you’ll literally be sore from sitting for over half the day is not an inspiring way to begin the summer semester. Thank you, Tina Fey, for writing Bossypants and then for sharing this laugh track with the rest of us. My knee was also a little sore from all the slapping.
Missing family reunions and Grandma H’s 90th birthday party. It’s so much less satisfying to only be there “in spirit.” Screw that–I’m so much more of an in-person type of guy. Happy 90th Grandma! She still makes the best cinnamon rolls in the world.
Long talkers on airlines. Rookie mistake on not putting in my headphones soon enough. Also, Southwest Airlines makes one feel quite bovine-like as they herd you through their boarding process.
Biking in thunderstorms. That wet patch on the backside of my jeans isn’t exactly drawing moths to a flame, if you know what I mean.
I’m pumped to be back in Virginia in <18 days! It may be coloring drawings at work. It may be moving furniture and making coffee. It may be more exciting than I’m aware of right now. But one I DO know: it will be the off-the-hook-great-hair-day-waking-up-before-your-alarm-getting-cash-in-the-mail-coming-home-surprise-party kind of awesome to be both done with school and in Harrisonburg again. Iowa is getting better, but it’s time to exchange your pork chops and rolling fields for the smell of dead chicken in the Valley and the best of times with friends and family. Including niece Hannah who says “Uncle” each time someone says Michael.
Cheers, friends. I’ll be seeing you.