“I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” – from Frederick, by Leo Lionni.
As summer begins to fade, a plaintive refrain of regret can be heard in places where the season of sun and fun never seems long enough. “It’s gone so fast,” we say. “Can you believe summer is almost over?”
The season we love to anticipate does fly by for those of us who live in northern climates and only get a few months of warmth each year. Once we shed our winter layers for shorts, tees, and flip-flops, it is easy to settle in and forget that fall and winter eventually will return. Then somewhere around July 4, we start saying, “Summer is half over. Where did it go?”
Although I am sensing with everyone else the passing of this season of ease, I am greeting this juncture with less regret, thanks to a teacher friend who introduced me to Frederick the field mouse in the children’s story cited above.
Instead of gathering “corn and nuts and wheat and straw” like the other mice, Frederick sits and collects “sun rays for the cold dark winter days.” He stares at a meadow, storing up the colors of flowers, wheat, and leaves. And when he seems to be half asleep and dreaming, he explains, “Oh no, I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many and we’ll run out of things to say.”
The story ends happily when Frederick comes to the rescue just as his family of mice is out of food and stories. He is ready with his rays of sun and colors that everyone can see “as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds,” and finally, uses his storehouse of words to create an entertaining poem, delighting his fellow mice, who applaud him and proclaim him a poet.
My friend, who would read Frederick to her second-graders, first shared this story with me some years ago during our annual late-summer “beach day.” As we sat on the sand, she suggested that, like Frederick, we could store up sunshine, warm breezes, and a blue sky reflected in the waters of the lake before she would be consigned to a classroom for another school year. It was always a delicious day, one that seemed to prepare us for the onslaught of the winter we knew would follow even the most beautiful fall.
So now, instead of gathering regret at the end of each summer, I try to follow Frederick’s lead by savoring and stashing away the best of the season. This year, that has meant spending many an evening on the front porch listening to the birds as they settle in for the night, and then casting my eyes skyward to watch the bats flying sorties at dusk. It has meant taking time to look over my less-than-perfect garden and appreciate its gifts: the Purple Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans that were and are so stunning this year, the bunches of elderberries on branches that grew from what was a small plant just a few years ago, and the new foliage and blooms that emerged from the bottoms of the dead frames of two beloved bushes I had thought were forever lost.
I have paused to fix in my memory the sun rising over a bean field as I take my morning walk and the swaths of swamp rose mallows lining the causeway at a nearby wildlife area. I have smiled when startled by the Northern Cardinal’s early-morning wake-up call while it is still dark and been soothed by the whistle of the Eastern Wood-Peewee off in the woods. I have tucked away the treasure of wren chatter and peeping hummingbirds, of Eastern Screech-Owls calling back and forth at nightfall and dawn, of a Great Crested Flycatcher visiting my garden, of a newly fledged Red-Headed Woodpecker at the suet feeder with its parent, and of a splendid Cooper’s Hawk on the edge of our garden pond.
If you have slipped into a kind of sadness at the passing of summer, it’s not too late to do as Frederick did. Soak up some sun, and look, listen, and savor the treasures of this season. They will warm, feed, and delight you – and perhaps those around you – as the days grow shorter. Not only that, but they will drive out regret and remind you that summer is indeed endless when you store up and recall its beauty.