Danny Heitman’s At Random: Summer guided by luck, not design

On Memorial Day weekend, informally known as the first weekend of summer, I rose early and heard crows outside the bedroom window. Although crows live here year-round, I’ve always thought of them as winter birds, their sad caw-caw-caw a kind of soundtrack for cold gray afternoons when the trees are empty of leaves and the hours are empty of promise.

Crows wouldn’t be on my playlist, in other words, of ideal summer bird song. When the weather’s warm and muggy, I much prefer the liquid notes of a few cardinals, or even the screech of a blue jay, which reminds me fondly of rusty swing sets creaking with children.

But rubbing sleep from my eyes, I began to consider the folly of trying to orchestrate a proper musical score for summer, a season that will be planned only so much.

The joy of summer, and its biggest complication, is that it goes its own way, largely unbridled by routine or precedent.

We’ve pretty much ruined Christmas with all the expectations we’ve placed on it, requiring it to meet some ideal of perfection that, in real life, will always fall short.

Even Halloween — yes, homely, homemade Halloween — has evolved into an exhausting exercise in worry, a holiday fussed over by lifestyle editors, talk-show hosts and industry spokesmen.

But summer bravely insists on being its old, sloppy self, the season that saunters up the porch steps in rumpled T-shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops.

It’s not that the busybodies among us aren’t trying to get summer to settle down, comb its hair and follow an itinerary. You’ve seen the summer reading lists, for example, a little tradition that the publishing industry has cooked up to nudge us into reading on schedule.

But the pleasure of summer reading, as we all know, is sampling what we want when we want it, as I’ve been reminded in a funny little essay by Clifton Fadiman called “Reader’s Roulette.”

“By random reading I mean little more than reading for no clearly definable reason,” he tells readers. “To defend it is to defend aimlessness itself. This I do, not endorsing it as a major goal, but suggesting that it merits a minor place in our highly organized lives. The overdetermined mind, like the overdetermined muscle, is subject to charley horse.”

I just came across Fadiman’s essay in “Enter, Conversing,” a secondhand book I got as a Christmas gift two years ago. The book floated back into my awareness last week — resurfacing in my house, as old books do, like some ancient arrowhead unearthed by an accidental turn of the toe.

I’m hoping for more happy accidents like that in a summer I’m trying to manage as little as possible. In this summer as in others, the best gifts of the season will probably arrive by luck rather than design.

Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.