What I didn’t do this summer

“What I Did Last Summer” was always a favorite essay topic for high school writing classes. As a college teacher I fully understand the popularity of any assignment that requires little preparation on the part of instructors and students. Nevertheless, through the years I’ve begun to mull over that same subject with a certain amount of remorse. Perhaps the title “What I Did Not Do Last Summer” is more suitable for mid-August 2010.

The things I wanted to do were on a list I wrote back in June: open-water swimming, cycle rides, hikes, a bunch of fishing trips, and, of course, lots of reading and correspondence. Pretty much all of this went by the boards, so there have to be excuses.

One good excuse: Upstate rains through much of the summer kept the lawns growing right through August. We never had the luxury of letting the grass go brown for three weeks; even cutting the lawns on a 10-day schedule, the windrows of cut grass have been ugly.

Another excuse: Summer teaching proved more challenging than I had anticipated, but I needed to develop fresh notes, whether or not my students appreciated them. And finally, disconnecting myself completely from voice mail and those dreaded e-mails from my university proved impossible. Going online from remote sites was slow and frustrating, and getting through the junk in the mailbox was worse than cleaning out our horse barn twice a day. Also, administrative messages don’t compost.

Dog training took up much of the summer, too. We’ve always had pointing dogs (Brittanys), but never so many competitive dogs all at the same time.

With a couple of older dogs competing for their championships and a couple of promising pups needing training for fall field trials, our field season, for the first time, never paused in the summer. We wound up joining a club with great facilities, including pens of bobwhite quail for release, manicured grounds with long grassy edges to help the dogs run directly to the front, and a fleet of four-wheelers to ride.

In addition, getting the dogs into shape for the season ahead, we got lots of tips from professional and amateur trainers who worked their pointers and setters, vizslas and brits at the same time. The situation was ideal for us, the summer membership fee was quite reasonable, but there was one huge problem. The club was 420 miles away in lower Bucks County in southeastern Pennsylvania! We made six trips, five days each including travel, and effectively carved more than a month out of the summer.

Naturally, summer temperatures in the mid-Atlantic region also present challenges. If someone had told us decades ago that we could run dogs in a location that featured daily highs in the 90s, we would have told them they were absolutely crazy. Still, you do what you have to do in the outdoors. If you need to start the day before dawn, you grab coffee and homemade doughnuts in a “Yum-Yum” coffee shop, pile into the dog-mobile, and get onto the grounds when the mercury is still in the 70s and the scenting conditions for the canines are still pretty good. By 9 a.m. on most mornings, you’re finished.

A look at our calendar tells me I’ll be teaching again in less than two weeks. With such a short time left, a couple of approaches to “the rest of the summer” come immediately to mind. Do we want to cram a lot of stuff into those final days and turn them into an outdoor whirlwind, or, instead, should we turn the page on the calendar and assemble gear for the fall ahead? The shotguns need checking, the boots need a good cleanup, and much of our surf gear has gone untouched since it was put away. There are lures to be put in surf bags, reels to be oiled and rod wraps to check. Hopefully the old hip boots and chest-high waders have neither pinholes nor leaky seams!

Probably the latter approach is the best one. Naturally, that means making lists of repairs and gear for the autumn season. First of all, without even looking remorsefully at the old summer list, we’ll tear it in little pieces and discard it!