Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Summer won’t last forever

My daughter’s birthday is near the end of May, neatly coinciding with the close of the school year. The timing makes the start of each summer seem like a private gift to her, a small reward for marking another 12 months from June to June.

I also try to think of each summer as a gift, although like many people who live in the Deep South, I often wonder if the season is a blessing or a burden. The question came to mind again a couple of weeks ago, as I left a local restaurant and felt summer’s first furnace blast while walking through the parking lot.

The morning had started cool, continuing the pattern of mild days that had made spring such a joy. But as our family shared lunch and toasted a nephew’s graduation, the afternoon grew flush with warmth, the alchemy of the air perceptibly changing, as if shaken over a flame.

Returning to our car for the drive home, I knew that summer had come to south Louisiana, even if my desk calendar doesn’t note its official arrival until June 21.

Summer brings muggy days, but compensating pleasures, too. Because I taught a college class this spring, I reconnected with the liberation that students feel when school ends. Like them, I welcome days now unburdened by homework. This spring, instead of tending to house and yard chores, I graded papers on weekends. With the semester tucked away, I’m trying to catch up on my personal life. My balancing act suggests the kinds of bargains that full-time teachers make throughout their careers.

Among the items on my to-do list was helping my wife plant a small butterfly garden. Summer heat inspires a spirit of emergency in my wife. She tucks plants under extravagant mounds of pine straw, hoping to shroud tender roots from the bright and unrelenting sunlight that blanches the lawn each July. She strings irrigating hoses through flower beds and dampens the ground through long summer evenings, as if nursing a child through a fever.

Summer can bring real emergencies in south Lousiana, which is why I’ll be testing my generator, restocking the cabinet with batteries, and hoping for a summer untouched by hurricane worries along the Gulf Coast.

I want nothing more intense than a summer blockbuster to stir my life this vacation season — maybe a screening of the new “Great Gatsby” at the neighborhood cineplex.

As a novel, “The Great Gatsby” shows author F. Scott Fitzgerald as a great poet of summer. You can’t beat his description of summer after dark: “The wind had blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.”

Fitzgerald had an eye and an ear for summer, which is the best way to appreciate whatever gifts the season might have for us.

Pay attention to summer, Fitzgerald seems to say. A season that seems to last forever will be gone before we know it.

Danny Heitman can be reached at dheitman@theadvocate.com.