Our Summer Selves

towel blue

Here it is, then: the last part of summer. Late August brings earlier sunsets, dry meadows, gladiolas, the scent of warm fir needles and lichen. It holds less excitement than July’s bring-it-on energy but more of a reflective quality to its hours; September feels far away and unlikely to ever arrive, if we avoid all calendars and back-to-school ads.

For me, it means a few more weeks of lake swimming. I’ve been in six different lakes this year, three of them new to me, and after every swim, I emerge a different person, a better version of myself: my summer self.

We are always changing, beyond the known miracle of our cells constantly shifting and regenerating (yes, I believe that the body really does want to return to equilibrium, when it possibly can). We change with moon cycles; even in months where the full moon sneaks up on us under west coast cloud cover, my husband and I cannot sleep as the moon reaches its full impossible circle. We change with weather; so many of my patients bring headaches to me for treatment when the sky is leaden, not to mention sadness when the sun has not shone for weeks. We change, too, whenever we’re around certain people: energy is as real as beams of light to our cells, whether or not we tune into this or admit it. And we change when exposed to the elements, not only what it’s doing outside but the big ones: water, fire, air and earth.

I think this is what summer brings to us: a chance to be closer to these basic and vital elements. With our hands in the dirt, whether we’re planting, weeding or harvesting, we’re reminded of where our food begins. If there’s no campfire ban, we get to watch as flames eat and dance, become mesmerized with this ancient rite of regeneration and destruction. Otherwise, we tune into the fire of the sun, its benediction of warmth and healing after months of huddling inside wool and fleece. The breeze through trees in full leafy bloom brings relief on hot afternoons, or a huge wind brings storms to change the very composition of the air, charging it with ions, electrifying us just a little. Really, doesn’t just being outside more often feel so good, so right? To me it feels like it’s rearranging our inner selves just a little, making space inside of us for whatever we might need it for.

And then there is water. We drink more to cool ourselves down, we eat juicy melons and peaches, we sweat to bring back that balance. For me, it is swimming that brings that balance back, the wonder of immersing myself in lake water that changes me the most in summer. Every time I’m on the way to a lake for a swim, an intensity comes into my body, similiar to the feeling of preparing for childbirth. It’s a nervous impatience: I just need to get into that lake! Once I’m in there, though, I can feel myself relaxing more than I ever do. I am so lucky to feel at home in water; I can let my body float like a petal and feel nearly weightless. This is the biggest gift summer gives to me. The chance for my body to do what it loves best, and emerge a changed person, a charged person, calmer, ready to face whatever the rest of the day might bring.

Maybe it’s not just the fact that we get such short summers in Canada that we lament the changing of the seasons. Maybe we don’t want to say goodbye to our summer selves.