(Can I really have more to say about Dave Matthews? Yes, yes I can.)
The new Dave Matthews album is amazing and vital and rich and so, so beautiful. I’ve been listening to it non-stop, not ready to settle on a favorite song, still getting to know them all.
One, though, is a frontrunner. "Dive In," with its wandering melody and strong chorus, makes me tap my foot and nod my head in time. It’s about summer, or maybe a new beginning, and it nails the season as aptly as corn-on-the-cob or a sno-cone.
I love summer, even though it turns Utah into an incinerator in a coal factory, only with dirtier air. It’s gross here from, like, mid-July through August. It’s tough on me; I get cranky in the heat. It only lasts about six weeks, though, so I’m trying not to complain.
Summer in the Laurel Mountains (hills, really), where I grew up, is another story. Cool mornings and evenings anchor hot, humid days, and a house-shaking thunderstorm rolls through at least once a week. I love it all. My skin and hair respond beautifully to the humidity, making my lizard skin and light-socket hair a distant, western memory.
This morning, though, walking into my office, I caught the scent of sweetgrass in the air. It was so home, so Pennsylvania, so rural town, so childhood and high school and college. It was every summer I’ve ever experienced, right there in one breath.
My mind hurtled back to the summer camp I attended for many years—a sports-focused but curiously Christian enterprise nestled in the rolling hills of Boswell, Pennsylvania. God-talk aside, it was the greatest place in the whole world according to the 12-17 year-old me.
There was a lake that created a sweatshirt-worthy breeze in the mornings and a refreshing respite from the heat of the afternoon. We swam and kayaked and zip-lined and sailed little sunfishes and water-skied, and it was summer, as it was, as it should be.
We lived in our bathing suits, emerging shivering from the lake onto the sun-warmed dock, making water-angels, our dripping hair forming tiny puddles in the peeling paint, before running up the hill to paint flowerpots or weave friendship bracelets.
That was where I learned to rock climb, learned to kayak, learned to jog and then, eventually run. That was where I fell in love with the woods and the earth, where I decided to be a river guide, then a climber, then a writer.
It was years later—I was probably out of college—before I realized that the camp was less than an hour from my house. Despite traveling to and from Boswell every summer for six years, it was so different, so unique that I just sort of assumed, just expected it to be hours from anything else, certainly hours from home. A few years ago, though, driving through a nearby town with my mom, I saw a sign for Boswell, and commented, “Oh that’s funny, I used to go to camp in a town called Boswell, remember?”
“Yes, sweetie, that’s the same Boswell,” my mom didn’t seem concerned by my geographical shortcomings.
“What? It can’t be! We’re like an hour from home! It took FOREVER to get to camp!”
And it did. I remember hopping up and down in the backseat of the Jeep, bored out of my mind and feeling like we’d been in the car for days. When we (finally) arrived at camp, I rolled down the window and hung out, searching for familiar faces, for signs of new activities (I almost fell out of the car the summer the zip line arrived), for new girls my age.
It’s interesting, the distance I attributed to Boswell, to camp, to my experiences there. So unlike the other 50 weeks of my life, it must have been far, really far away. Like, different planet far.
And that’s it—that’s my love of summer explained. That’s why I need sweetgrass and fireflies and evocative lyrics like Dave’s (“Summer’s here to stay, and those sweet summer girls will dance forever, go down to the shore, kick off your shoes, dive in the empty ocean.”): they’re beautiful, yes, but beyond that, they remind me that right there, just over that hill, there is peace and joy and escape and an other-worldliness that provides perspective.
And there are those things, too—like music, like lakes, like rivers, like grassy fields—that will always remind me who I am, where I came from. Even if where I came from is a lot closer than I thought.