Reflections on Midwest Summers | Midwest Living

Reflections on Midwest Summers

Ten famed Midwesterners talk June, July and August in the Midwest.
  • The open road

    "The tired feeling wears off completely and the wind and sun feel good now, making it real. It's happening, just from the warming of the sun, the road and green prairie farmland and buffeting wind coming together. And soon it is nothing but beautiful warmth and wind and speed and sun down the empty road."

    --From the counterculture classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Minneapolis-born author Robert Pirsig

  • Play ball

    "It's about the smells that greet you at the gate: freshly cut grass, grilling hot dogs, popping corn, leather and pine tar and horsehide. It's about kids cavorting underneath the bleachers, throwing a ball around... not really paying much attention to the game but glad to be there just the same."

    --Dave DeLand in the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, saluting the city's River Bats, a summer college baseball team

  • Summer strolls

    "The trail has taught me much. I know now the varied voices of the coyote -- the wizard of the mesa. I know the solemn call of herons and the mocking cry of the loon. I remember a hundred lovely lakes, and recall the fragrant breath of pine and fir and cedar and poplar trees....It has given me blessed release from care and worry and the troubled thinking of our modern day."

    --Writer Hamlin Garland (1860-1940), born in West Salem, Wisconsin, and known for Main-Travelled Roads

  • Stormy weather

    "Eli felt his heart contract at the sight of the sickening green color of the sky. Though rain hadn't begun to fall, the air felt as heavy and damp as a dishrag. Lightening licked the horizon like a snake's tongue. Purple and blue mingled with pea-soup green, a livid bruising of the heavens."

    --From the Christian romance novel Prairie Storm, by Catherine Palmer, who lives in Missouri

  • At the lake

    "The bottom of the lake was rocky and silty--a real incentive to swim, float or tread water--anything to keep from touching the bottom, even in 4 feet of water. When we needed a break, we'd pry the nickels from the knots in the corners of our towels and stand at the candy counter for cherry popsicles, our bare feet uncomfortable on war cement eternally sticky with popsicle juice."

    --From the essay "Twice Upon a Time in Iowa," by Storm Lake, Iowa, native Elizabeth Block, and her daughter, Erin, of Ames, Iowa; from the book Reunion: Essays on Iowa

  • The bugs of summer

    "Denise sipped her tea, listening as insects buzzed noisily around the porch light. An owl called from the darkness. Cicadas sang in the trees. The evening was coming to an end, she could feel that. It was almost over."

    --From the novel The Rescue by Omaha-born best-selling author Nicholas Sparks

  • Heat

    "Four o'clock in the afternoon. Flies dead on the pavement. Dogs wet mops in their kennels. Shadows herded under trees. Downtown stores shut up and locked. The lake shore empty. The lake full of thousands of people up to their necks in the warm but soothing water."

    --From the novel Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920

  • Summer vacation

    "My thoughts go back to summers spent at the river cottage owned by my maiden aunt, Nell Patterson. ... What glorious summers those were. There was kindling to split on a wood block in the shade of huge elms. Countless gallons of icy cold, clear water had to be pumped by hand from the well. A fresh layer of green enamel was applied to the flat-bottom rowboat and to the sleek eighteen-foot Old Town canoe, a watercraft that did as much to shape my life as the nine months spent in school."

    --From Ely Echoes: The Portages Grow Longer by Minnesota wilderness guide Bob Cary (1921-2006)

  • Taste of summer

    "On a summer vine, and low,
    The fat tomatoes burst and grow;
    A green, a pink, a yellow head
    Will soon be warm, and shiny red;
    And on a morning, hot with sun,
    I'll find and pick a ripened one.
    Warm juice and seeds beneath the skin --
    I'll shut my eyes when I bite in."

    --"Tomato Time" by Omaha native Myra Cohn Livingston, poet and prolific children's author (1926-1996)

  • At the fair

    "There's always the hawker barking out his hot dogs, always the rickety Tilt-a-Whirl run by a bored teenager, always the smell of cotton candy yielding to the smell of cow yielding to the smell of the too many bodies too close yielding to the smell, the awful smell, of pig. The crafts and quilts are always the same from year to year, as are the gigantic squash--and every year, we say the same thing: 'How would it ever grow this big? And how would you ever lift the dang thing?'"

    --The description of fairs in the introduction to Autumn: a Spiritual Biography of the Season, coedited by Gary D. Schmidt and Susan M. Felch, literature professors at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan


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