Summer is a place for me. I know it's a season, a recurring bout of hot weather, free time, long evenings. But it's also a cache of memories, sudden images that whisk across my mind when I smell hot pavement or pine sap, or when I hear certain songs ("Tiny Dancer," "Mandolin Wind," Rita Coolidge's version of "Desperado"). When I think about my twenties, it's always summer. There are things about that time that I miss with a sharp yearning, as if I could almost re-experience them. Almost not quite.
The ridiculous media images of the seventies--polyester, encounter groups and Farrah Fawcett hair--isn't what I remember at all. What I remember is a kind of settling of the sixties into people's actual lives. It suddenly became okay to date someone who was a different color, or to swim in the public pools if you were black or brown. Growing vegetables, making your own bread and yogurt and using the sun for heating your home became a real alternative, even in the city. People tried living in groups, or at least forming food coops in their neighborhoods. Instead of the formality of traditional church, Christians and others began to meet informally in each other's homes, reaching back to the very early days of the faith to find a community founded in relationship--with God and one another.
It was a time when, in some places and for a moment, the old courtly ideas of neighborliness met with the new desires to turn our backs on the greed and the hustle of onrushing urban life. Community associations grew; Democrats and Republicans alike promoted environmental causes (Yes, they really did!); politics was based in the slogan, "Think globally and act locally."
Yes, there was the bad stuff--urban and random violence, terrible predations by ever more addictive and mind-wrecking drugs, thoughtless sex that wounded a lot of young hearts, broke up marriages and, by the end of the decade, began the spread of AIDS. Berkeley in 1975 wasn't the friendliest or safest of places, and I do have some dark winter memories stashed there, but also some very happy ones.
As I said, for me it seems now like it was summer most of the time during that decade. I remember riding to Yosemite in a VW van, wearing cutoffs with my bare feet propped on the dashboard, the windows open, "Honky Tonk Woman" blasting, hot Central Valley air sweeping through. In those days, you could still see what John Muir referred to as "the shining wall of the Sierras" from Pacheco Pass in the coastal range east of San Juan Batista.
I can feel the wild freedom of bicycling down a country road through the redwood forest with the young man I loved then, laughing and taking chances as we raced the long slopes dappled with deep shade and dazzling sun. I can almost recall the content of long discussions of values and meaning with a group of Christians I belonged to, in a little cabin perched at the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Later in the decade, there are memories of an old-time music festival in Harmony, Indiana, a bluegrass festival in Texas--actual love, peace and music. More cut-offs and flip-flops, both boys and girls with long hair in braids. Hot summer afternoons at Barton Springs in Austin, in the days before the city had to use chlorine, helping Central American refugees who fled the murderous chaos of their home places. Cutting cheese with my sister for the food coop we ran out of her kitchen.
Was it just our young naivete? So many of us were young then--it seemed like all the world was at a beginning point, that we could take the past and the future and create something that had the best parts of both. It didn't all collapse, even though in the dystopian 1980s and the dishonest and desperate decades that followed, it sometimes seemed that idealism and naivete were one and the same.
What remains, forty years later? We've discovered that the ecologists and climate scientists of those years were right in their predictions. The solar and alternative energy technologies that were then in their infancy are finally yielding their promise against huge push-back by the oil and gas industries. Greed has gone beyond all limits, but the 99% have done their own pushing back. The US is approaching universal healthcare. More people than even in those halcyon days are growing organic vegetables and fruits and keeping backyard chickens. There are a dozen new National Parks. Co-housing is a reality all over the US. The Internet, for all its privacy encroachments, provides vast resources of information for people who want a smaller carbon footprint, who want to connect with others and make some kind of community, who still think it might be possible to change the world.
Whole lives have been lived in the decades between then and now. My food coop managing sister and my fine woodworking husband are dead from diseases probably fostered by environmental pollution. Whole forests have been wiped out by bark beetles, droughts and fires. Cities like New York and New Orleans have been overwhelmed by floods. But I still feel a certain lightness when summer comes, a longing for an old VW bus and an open road, for the hum of bees in my organic garden. Summer rouses a kind of hope that the years don't tarnish, a sense of the possible, of sunny days and friends gathered in creative community, All of us still believing the promise of new life.