Summer in the Northern Hemisphere officially began on June 20, the day of the year with the most hours of sunlight, when Earth’s axis is at its maximum tilt — 23.5 degrees — toward our local star.
And yet, already, it feels as if it’s slipping away. “Dad,” a teenage son said, staring down the list of get-the-heck-out-of-the-house plans we’d plotted for him, “I feel like the summer’s going to fly by.” A friend notes on Twitter: “July?? Someone should find out how this happened.”
Well, I’ll tell you — and I have some improvements to suggest.
First, be aware that summer, as currently defined, is a scam; brevity and disappointment are baked in. Tradition holds that the June solstice marks the first day of summer — but then what? It’s all denouement from there; every day that follows is darker than the last, until the solstice in late December. That’s not uplifting. That’s not cheery and invigorating. That’s not the “start” of anything except a slow descent into frigid darkness and death. That’s the start of fall, not summer. Really, for dramatic narrative purposes, the summer solstice should mark the end of summer or at least the middle of it. Which, in fact, it basically does.
Silly me, I had always assumed that “midsummer” was, you know, halfway between “the start of summer” and “the start of autumn” — July 25, plus or minus. But clearly, I haven’t been spending enough time on Wikipedia, where just yesterday I learned that, for large segments of the world, “midsummer” is synonymous with the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, precisely six months before Christmas. Pretty much today.
Yes, you heard that right: Midsummer occurs just a few days after the official start of summer. If it feels as if summer is already half over, that’s because it is. Clearly, then, the simplest way to make summer longer, if maybe not eternal, is to change the start date. How about early May, formerly known (to nobody) as mid-spring? Or push it all the way back to the vernal equinox, when the minutes of daylight begin — you know, start — to outnumber the minutes of the night? Naturally, that would mean starting spring on the December solstice, which, to be honest, would address several problems I have with winter. Another option, less simple: Live elsewhere. Deadhorse, Alaska, maybe. Svalbard, in Norway. Or anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun rises in mid-May and doesn’t set again until late July; the “longest day of the year” lasts for weeks.