American poet and literary critic T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month.
Well, April signaled spring’s urgent return, the rough persistence of life and desire, and all that goes along with it.
Yes, the sun returns in spring, but waking up from the sleep of winter means waking up to want. Of course, we all know that it’s the wanting that makes life interesting, but it also frequently leads to pain—it seems you always have to pay the check. And if spring is cruel, then summer is downright primitive.
Think of all things that come out in the summer. The bonfires and the cooking fires and the fireworks, and the scantily clad men and women. In the modern world, it’s sometimes difficult to find any kinship with our ancestors, but summer brings us a little closer to our past.
We cooked around fires for thousands of years, gathering wood and roasting our meat under the stars—no gas lines or electric spirals on our stove tops. We barbecued for centuries before we called it that. In fact, many anthropologists take seriously the idea that cooking led to our rapid cultural, and perhaps even biological, development.
Cooking breaks down the thick cell walls around plant cells, allowing our bodies to more effectively absorb the vital minerals locked inside. There’s more available nutritional value in a stalk of cooked broccoli than a raw one—no matter what raw foodists believe.
Beyond fire's nutritional benefits, however, is its adhesive properties. Sitting around the fire brings us closer together. The warmth, the yellow glow ... there’s something about it that brings our communal broth to a slow and nourishing simmer. We melt around the fire.
Of course, there’s the other side of fire: the side that makes war. And, let’s face it, nothing brings the group together like a good, old-fashioned enemy combatant. All those “bombs bursting in air” is about the best excuse for a barbecue I can think of.
But the best part of summer might be all that exposed skin. The celebration of bodies is reason enough to deal with the heat and the crowds, and all those lines at the Orange County Fair. During the summer, Southern Californians have all the fashion sense of Adam and Eve before the fall.
It’s one of the best things about living here.
So as the long days of summer return to us, take a moment to toast our ancestors who celebrated summer much the way we do—with their bodies and their fires and a perfectly cooked steak.
But please, don’t forget to wear sunscreen; let’s not share our ancestors' life expectancy.