The seasons may be changing but the best parts of summer can last the whole year through. With original photography by Nate House and Mark Havens.
The signs are everywhere: the first red leaf, the diminishing light, school supplies at Walmart, the arrival of returning Jefferson University students, last minute day trips to the shore. The end of another summer is upon us and with it comes an impending sense of loss, despite the fact that the average American took only 17.2 vacation days in 2017—a far cry from the luxurious summers of our youth where we were free for half of June and all of July and August. That being said, it may not just be a loss of time that causes such melancholy to set in during these waning days of summer, but also what summer itself represents.
The idea of summer vacation (contrary to popular belief of its roots in the agrarian calendar) started with the idea that students’ brains needed time to recuperate after so much rigorous intellectual activity. University of Georgia History Professor Stephen Mihm writes:
But it was precisely this same era [late 1800’s] that school reformers began voicing the same concerns about “brain work” that doctors had raised about adults. Horace Mann, arguably the most influential school reformer of the 19th century, wrote with conviction that “health itself is destroyed by overstimulating the mind.”
Likewise, the Pennsylvania School Journal voiced anxiety that because children spent too much time in school, they were “growing up puny, lank, pallid, emaciated, round-shouldered [and] thin-breasted, all because they were kept at study too long.
Of course, this idea came from a comfortable middle-class ideology that used this reasoning for parents who could afford to go away on vacation to justify taking their children with them. Since that time, however, according to studies cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, among other publications, it has been shown that while rich kids can benefit from summer vacations, poor kids often suffer academically, causing a renewed investigation of the perils of summer vacation.
Despite the reasoning and pitfalls of summer vacation it remains an American pastime, where visions of beaches, barbecues, roof-top parties with friends and any form of escape from the brutal heat of the city, become vital necessities. It is during the summer where we most actively pursue the kind of lifestyle we want to live, instead of the mundane lives we are often forced to live. Summer is an excuse to seek out as much pleasure as we possibly can in a single season.
The problem with summer, and all it represents, is that it ends. But, as Bruce Brown explores is his epic 1966 surf documentary Endless Summer, why should it? The pursuit of leisure shouldn’t be confined to a single season or single vacation. The happiness we experience spending a day on the beach should be cultivated here in the city, in all seasons, in the form of a bike-ride to work, lunch with a friend, a night at the art museum, a picnic by the river.
As summer ends, our search for pleasure and beauty shouldn’t. In fact, it should become even more of a priority, as the light dims, the air chills, and new, unexpected forms of beauty emerge, reminding us that the vacation can continue in our hearts and minds all year long.
Nate House moved to Calumet Street with his wife Mary Conway several months ago after living on the Delaware Bayshore for two years.Before that they lived in Philadelphia neighborhoods from the Northeast to South Philly. They teach English, Communications and Gender Studies at Community College of Philadelphia. Links to other stories about birds, dogs and magical fish can be found at https://natehouse.wordpress.com/.
Mark Havens’s stunning off-season photos of Wildwood’s famously funky “Do Wop” motels have been featured in the NY Times. See more of his work on his website, and in this list of exhibitions. Read his fascinating interview with Resource Magazine from August 2015, and a review of a recent showing at James Oliver Gallery on Chestnut Street. FUN FACTS: Mark was part of the team who designed EFDC’s bridge-inspired logo. Mark & his wife have have lived in East Falls for 14 years (across from St. Bridget). They have two school-age kids.