Endless Summer

It’s celebrated in dozens of popular songs — Endless Summer, Wonderful Summer, The Boys of Summer:

A little voice inside my head said, “Don’t
look back. You can never look back.”
I thought I knew what love was,
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let them go but-
I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got that top pulled down and that radio on baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
after the boys of summer have gone

For many of us, summer vacation stirs up fond memories — nothing scheduled, nothing that has to be done. “Oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go”. Sleep in, eat slow, laze in the sun or shade, make love, do whatever you feel like doing in the moment. Neil Young, Goin’ Back:

In a foreign land, there were creatures at play
Running hand in hand, needing nowhere to stay
Driven to the mountains high
They were sunken in the cities deep
Livin’ in my sleep.

I feel like goin’ back, back where there’s nowhere to stay
When fire fills the sky I’ll still remember that day
These rocks I’m climbin’ down have already left the ground
Careening through space.

I used to build these buildings, I used to walk next to you
Their shadows tore us apart and now we do what we do
Driven to the mountains high, sunken in the cities deep
Livin’ in our sleep.

I feel like goin’ back, back where there’s nowhere to stay.

And then, as we get older, or the summer fades, dread sets in — we have to return to ‘civilized life’. We try to grab brief pieces of this “magic feeling” all our lives — weekends, two-week vacations, but they’re almost over before they’ve begun. Not like those endless summers of our childhood.

We are taught to believe that the behaviours and experiences of long summer vacations are lazy, irresponsible, decadent, self-indulgent. But I would suggest the reason we love them so much is that they are the way we were meant to live. The way we lived before agriculture and civilization. The way the other creatures we share this planet with have always lived. and still do, except for those we imprison on our farms and in our laboratories or drive out of their natural habitats.

It’s the way we will perhaps one day live again, after civilization falls, and our lives of artificial scarcity, overextended systems, overconsumption and overpopulation have ended.

‘Idle’ summer vacations are about as close to a natural life as most of us will ever experience. 

But for so many, by the time we are ready to retire, we have become so used to our artificial lives, so indoctrinated in the way we have come to live, that the idea of being able to live, at last, a natural life, fills us with foreboding, fear, and doubts about our worth in a society that equates worth with wealth and value with ‘earned’ income.

And more and more of us will never be able to afford to retire, so we will be like the modern Russians, whose life expectancy has fallen years behind normal retirement age. We’ll never know what we missed.

Is it too late? Between our overextended economy, the propaganda of civilization, and our fading memories, could most of us ever rediscover the sheer joy of a natural life, and, more than that, insist on it as our birthright as free citizens of Earth? Perhaps the new hunter-gatherers of civilization, the nearly 1.5 billion humans living in squatter communities in struggling nations, can offer us some clues. Those who know these people say that, despite their poverty, lack of access to healthcare, education and other ‘essential’ services, they are happy, and reluctant to leave their makeshift communities, even when they have the opportunity to do so. “No one is controlling what you do here.”

My April Fools’ post suggested the world would be much better if we all made love instead of working, and it was, of course, mocking the truth, even that of possibility. But could we, just like those of so many civilizations (like the Anasazi) before us, just walk away from our culture of hierarchy and scarcity, just stop putting up with it, not out of necessity like the squatters od struggling nations, but out of choice? Is it really irresponsible to refuse to work and consume and live in debt in a culture that is destroying our world?

We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. The natural life of our endless summer vacations was certainly easy and fun. When will we reach the point where we no longer must turn our backs on natural life in favour of a culture that makes us everybody else? How much say do we have over our own lives? If our lives are movies we script ourselves, who is producing and directing them?

Maybe the first step isn’t natural enterprise or intentional community, a walk on the Edge. Maybe the Anasazi had it right. Maybe the first step is to just walk away, and everything else will follow. But how do we walk away when there are no longer any frontiers to walk away to?

Perhaps the answer is to walk away to right where we are. All we need is love, food, and, in harsher climates, collective warmth and shelter. How much can that cost? In an affluent nation, I calculate it at $14,000 per family, which, for an extended community sharing space and facilities would work out to about $3,000 per person. To be free, happy, and totally in charge of your own life. We could earn this by cashing in what we already have and don’t need, or by working maybe anhour a day or a day a week in a sustainable community enterprise.

We could, most of us, do this tomorrow. Endless summer, for the rest of our lives. Remember that feeling? What’s holding us back? What’s keeping us from just walking away? What will it take to set us free?

(photo off the Internet by Chris Chin)

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3 Responses to Endless Summer

  1. Tracy Puett says:

    Thanks for this piece. Reminds me of what REALLY brings me happiness. That being, food, clothing, shelter, friendship, and love. Looking into another’s eyes and connecting. Feeling rested and appreciative of the moment. Listening to the wind, the birds, laughter. Holding babies. rubbing my dog’s belly. Sitting in silence.Anything past that is nearing the superficial.Blessings-Tracy

  2. Joan says:

    You are writing about me, at least in part! Although I’m not sure at this point if it will last for the rest of my life, I am currently living this kind of natural “endless summer” life, and I am definitely the happiest I have ever been. I quit my job last July (I used to work full-time for large software corporation) and was able to enjoy the most spectacular summer we’ve ever had in Vancouver. Since then I have been traveling, volunteering, practicing yoga, walking A LOT (no car), enjoying the sun and rain, watching the birds at my feeder, spending more time with my friends, playing music, reading… Every day I feel blessed. I’m a long way from living on a few thousand dollars a year, but am slowly learning to consume less and eat more simply, and what money I do spend is mostly on experiences instead of STUFF. Now I’m hoping to find work such as assisting at the local farmers markets, gardening, working with seniors or children… This is real work. This is a real life. By the way, this life change was precipitated in part by reading some of your articles, and some of the books on your recommended reading list. I’m sure I’m not the only person you had a positive influence on. You may not be saving the whole world, but you are saving some individuals. Keep it up.Smiles,Joan

  3. Jon Husband says:

    I assume you have read the book The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guinn ?

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