August is the breath before the storm. The lull that signifies that summer is almost over and the fall will be here sooner than we think, that the turn of the season is just around the corner. It’s hot here. Every year, no surprises. Hot and humid, the dog days of summer. The only question is “how hot” will it reach. I look outside and the grass is so vibrantly green, but if you look closely you can see the yellow tinge to the leaves where it is starting to wilt, the brown patches where thin spots are retreating to the soil. The sky is barely blue overhead, the edges of the white puffy clouds blending into the air itself. As August comes, it will fade even more, burning pale under the heat of the sun. I dread walking out the door each day. I brace myself, a deep breath as my hand touches the breaker bar, steeling myself against the furnace that is about to hit my skin. By the time I leave each afternoon, the asphalt in the parking lot has absorbed all the radiation it can handle and has started reflecting it back up into the atmosphere, a layer of stifling air blanketing the ground. You hurry across the lot, quick steps to refuge out of the outside, but the car interior is no better — and on some days (when you forget to leave the windows cracked), worse. Air conditioning cranked up to the coldest setting and the highest fan speed, but mechanical solutions have little sway over the temperature that has settled into the cabin. The steering will burn your hands, the seat belt buckle so searingly hot that it will blister your skin, the fabric in the cushions feeling like they just came out of the clothes dryer. I have a twenty minute drive home, and often the a/c struggles to chill the air until half-way through my commute.
August is the last gasp of freedom, desperate attempts to wring all the possible fun out of summer before school starts again. The school supplies come out and dread and excitement mingle in the aisles of local big box stores. The smells are the same, always — crayon wax, elmer’s glue, the ozone leaching from piles of notebooks. I finger calculators and erasers and pencil cases, wonder what ever happened to trapper-keepers, remind myself that supplies are available year-round and that I don’t need to stockpile for semesters any more. There is a sense of urgency you can feel, to enjoy the lazy afternoons, to get in one more trip out of town, to visit all of the local attractions, to revel in the warm evenings without the pressure of deadlines and homework. We eat local produce, juice dripping from perfectly ripe fruit, the harvest of summer’s bounty. We sit outside, sticky skin coated in mosquito spray and leftover sunscreen from the day, watching lightning bugs flicker in the woods, letting the kids roam the grass and take just one more trip down the slide.
August is the celebration of so many people in my life. Friends and family, children and parents, siblings and sisters-by-choice. While I don’t need to stockpile school supplies, I buy a bulk of birthday cards and prep them to mail at the first of the month so I can just drop them in the box on the appropriate day. Our weekends are booked with birthday parties celebrating the lives of those closest to us. We will eat cake and drink beer and swim in pools and laugh and open presents and stay out too late and deal with cranky babies who should have been in bed an hour ago but we are having too much fun to leave. We will plow through the month leaving a wake of wrapping paper and party cups in our wake.
And on the other side, we will run smack into September, and the leaves will start to drop and the temperatures will start to cool and we will settle into the school routine and watch football and party on Saturday afternoons. We will start planning Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties and wonder why we were ever so worried about the end of summer in August.