Summer Under the Big Sky

Summer Under the Big Sky

England, Mike
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I intended to mow the lawn. I really did. Not that I felt any real need to, but I’d seen someone else doing it, so I thought what the heck, I might as well do it too.

But by the time I got around to it, weeks later, demonstrators had set up in the yard with "Save the Rainforest" signs, chaining themselves to eight-foot-tall dandelions. They’d been alerted to my Bolivian backyard after someone spotted a neighbor sunbathing, mistaking him for an endangered South American manatee. They splashed water on him and tried to coax him into a pool of mud near the corner of my triple-canopy tract. I had no choice but to return to my chaise lounge in the driveway and read the paper. That’s one less thing to worry about, I thought, and it makes my life that much simpler.

And simpler means happier.

The fewer things that complicate our daily existence, it seems, the freer we are to simply enjoy being alive. Maybe that’s why we have garage sales and major cleaning rituals in the spring – to unclutter our living space and relieve our minds of the burden of material distraction. Maybe that’s what summer in Montana is all about: taking it easy, relaxing, leading simple, carefree lives.

Few of us are willing to go that far; I don’t really need four fly rods, five backpacks, and three pairs of skis, but I’ll keep them just the same, thank you very much. And I’m pretty darn happy having both a truck and a mountain bike. Besides, a financial analysis puts my net worth at roughly four dollars. If my "estate" were liquidated to pay creditors, all I’d have left would be a toothbrush and a few bungee cords. Not much to worry about.

Summer itself seems to provide the simple, happy existence Epicurus promoted. By the end of May, the frenzied exodus of nonresident college students and seasonal ski bums is over, and the whole state seems to slow down a little. There’s a notable decrease in neighborhood traffic, skateboards, oversized pants, hemp, diamond-studded tongues, and raucous sound waves transmitting "Niiiice tattoo, dude!" and "Hey, killer nose ring!" across the land. It’s as if the broad, heavy hand of discord and complexity has been lifted, and the state lets out a huge sigh. Life is then free to move along, if we let it, with the same aimless lethargy of an IRS audit.

Our attitudes make the seasonal adjustment automatically. In summer, wool, flannel, and fleece are cast off, and cotton shorts and t-shirts hang loosely from our frames. Likewise, we shed our suffocating anxieties for a more comfortable stoicism. As the summer sun pours warmth over the land and those living on it, we abandon our complex network of concerns and become utterly carefree.

Clothes are no longer carefully folded and put away, just loosely arranged on the floor according to level of cleanliness: "mostly clean," "dirty but still wearable," and "soiled as a presidential campaign contribution." We tend to turn the other cheek a little easier, the passion for vengeance receding into the mists of the dreamy summer mind. And with the cold weather gone, its neuroses – that strange wintertime socks-and-sandals routine (sort of like wearing a sweatshirt beneath a tank top) is replaced by the more practical wear-as-few-clothes-as-possible attitude. It’s grab a shirt, slip on the flip-flops, and go.

Epicurus also believed that pleasure is the highest good, and in the summertime, I couldn’t agree more. In mid-August, from a third-story perch on the Crystal Rooftop Bar in Bozeman, I lean back in my chair and soak up the warm afternoon sun. Mentally transporting myself to a bright Caribbean beach, I reach languidly for a condensation-coated vodka-lemonade, wiping it across my forehead before taking a long sip. I sigh audibly, and my fellow rooftop idlers nod their heads in collective affirmation.

Winter is gone, at least for now, and with it the focused ambition, the need to be productive, the preoccupation with the future. It’s summer, and there is time to take it easy, time to relax, time to live for now. With nothing else on my mind, I can look to the horizon and ponder life’s true mysteries: If nothing sticks to Teflon, how does it stick to the pan? Do clothes really make the man, or can naked people have some influence on society as well? If you strapped a piece of buttered toast to a cat’s back and then dropped it from a height, which side would hit the ground?

The fact is that summer, like Epicurus, demands happiness. And as residents of the Gallatin Valley, we have an obligation to display that happiness. We need to show the rest of the world that there’s a reason we live here, high in the Rockies, where summer comes for only two or three months out of the year. We must lounge around, flaunting how carefree we are, how easy and simple life is. It is our duty to make everyone else jealous.

In keeping with this obligation, I refuse to worry about anything. I take another sip of my vodka-lemonade, and think for a moment about going to work tomorrow. But only for a moment – that’s something that will be decided later. For now, I gaze at the mountains, and try to imagine a world with no hypothetical situations.

Later I stumble home and flop down heavily on the bed. The chanting from the backyard protestors keeps my neighbors awake, but to me it seems balanced and rhythmic. I slowly drift off, thinking: Will they be here tomorrow? Maybe. If they’re gone, will I try to mow the lawn again? Maybe. Or maybe not.

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