Summer creates moments in which time stands still. The moments become time capsules buried deep within your brain, waiting for the perfect trigger, and then, with the right summer sight, sound, or smell, your unconscious will unearth an old capsule for you, and send you back in time.
Here are some of the summer triggers that unearth my time capsules.
The smell of cedar --
I’m at Boy Scout camp near the Russian River, lying on a picnic table staring up through the branches of a gigantic coastal redwood tree, over 100 feet high. The hot sun is directly overhead but the tree’s branches are so thick, the hot bright sunlight filters to a dappled warmth by the time it reaches me. A breeze moves the branches sending the grey shadows dancing. I’m supposed to be somewhere, but I don’t care.
The sound of day crickets --
I’m in the hot hills near Geyserville, CA, walking through tall yellow grass between ancient California oak trees. The insects are so loud they sound like a high-pitched pulsing electric hum. A friend and I are hunting for Obsidian, the jet-black rock that reflects like glass. It’s everywhere around here, mostly in chips and flakes, until we come to a bare patch and I find a piece of obsidian the size of a cantaloupe. When I pick it up, one side is so sharp it slices open my right palm like a surgical blade. I’m bleeding and I’m a long way from the cabin where my family is staying.
The strong smell of chlorine --
I’m shivering with a dozen other day campers as we wait in line for the automatic showers at indoor Larsen Pool. Someone hits the button on the floor and jets of cold water hit us from the side and from above. We’re then herded onto the pool deck for our lesson, which we all dread. Outside it is foggy and grey, so why is summer the time when we must learn how to swim? The smell of new chlorine is so strong a cloud of it seems to hang inside the vast cement and glass structure, stinging our nostrils. The lifeguard blows the whistle and we all jump in.
The feeling of salt water drying on my skin --
I’m on the island of Molokai, standing on a long quarter cement dock waiting for a ferry to take me back to the island of Maui. The Pacific Ocean is a vast blue plate that stretches in front of me, and it seems to curve at the edges. I dive off the dock, climb the metal ladder and dive in again. The ferry never comes, so I sit down and let the sun and hot breeze dry me off, and the salt itches my skin. I’m happy, but I wonder where I’m going to spend the night.
The taste of a root beer float --
I’m with my father in a station wagon, parked at an A&W Root beer and Hamburger Stand on a road deep in the backwoods of Ontario Canada. He loves the Mama Burger and I love the Teen Burger. He tells me that he’s been coming to A&W since he was my age, and he still loves it. He offers to buy me my first root beer float, and I fall in love with the taste. Root beer floats make me happy and make me miss my father.
The smell of menthol cigarettes --
I am in a crowd at Civic Center in San Francisco, watching the Ramones power through yet another free concert. They’ve given two so far in the Bay Area this summer. They announce they are America’s best band, and I believe them. Some young Filipino punks in front of me pass around packs of menthol cigarettes and light them up as the band rips into another three-minute three-chord power pop punk song.
The sound of a water balloon breaking --
It’s carnival day at summer day camp, and there are booths and games in the church basement. When you win a ticket you can either trade it for a toy, or get a kiss from a counselor. What? A kiss from a counselor? That’s something that would never be allowed nowadays, but no one objected then. Counselor Joanie is beautiful, and at her booth you must take a Bic razor and remove shaving cream from the outside of a water balloon without breaking it. I break many water balloons -- splosh, splosh, splosh -- before I finally get good at it. Once I do, I shave a half dozen balloons and make out with Joanie, age 16, who doesn’t seem to mind kissing someone six years younger than her.
The smell of burning metal --
I am driving my father’s Peugeot to Lake Tahoe with Paul Marshall to work a summer job for the weekend. We’re having a blast...until the engine overheats near Auburn. The radiator blows and loses all its water in an instant, and the hot smell of burning metal fills the car as the engine block warps. A highway patrol car pushes us to a gas station where we must pay the man to let us park it there, and we spend the rest of the weekend hitch-hiking back to San Francisco, renting a truck with a trailer hitch, driving back up to Auburn and then towing the Peugeot back to San Mateo. The entire time I know that the car is ruined and I must find a way to tell my father.
The smell of rotting seaweed --
I am on the beach in San Diego, producing a TV show about the Paskowitz Surf Camp and Surfer’s Healing. There are piles of rotting gooey seaweed on the beach and thousands of sand flies rise up as you step across them and encircle you in a cloud. But the day is perfect, nothing goes wrong, and five hundred people are happy running on the beach and playing in the water. I stand shoulder and shoulder with my colleague Susan and we drape our arms around each other’s shoulders and watch the late afternoon sun turn the ocean the color of bright silver. We compliment each other and say that we won’t forget this moment -- and I don’t.
These sights, sounds and smells are stronger in the summer, which makes the memories more vivid, allowing me to live in parallel summers simultaneously. That’s what I love about the season!
What triggers your time capsules?
More next week!