As I have mentioned before, the printed Staten Island book was a selection of the essays I wrote about the Island; there were others which did not make the cut, for various reasons. Of the four essays I wrote about the seasons, the editors wanted to include “Spring” and “Summer,” but I felt that they should all be included or none; and my view prevailed and in the end we left them all out.
“Summer” is one of my favorites, celebrating idleness as always; a friend when reading the book told me that the book was more than anything else a meditation on work. I believe in work, but I believe in idleness too.
The other season essays are here: Autumn, Winter, Spring. The book can be ordered here; I believe a few copies of the first edition are still available. The second edition is being planned. And I think I have a book of essays about the Catskills in me; it’s bouncing around in my head now.
“I maintain that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.” - THOREAU
At the end of my second year we had one of those early-summer days in May, when it is eighty-five degrees and all is absolutely perfect with the world; and since I had no last-period class, I took a stroll through the woods near the Academy; and the day was so perfect that I forgot about my books and papers and jacket which were waiting expectantly for me at school, and walked all the way home in my shirt sleeves, a distance of close to five miles, despite the fact that we had a faculty meeting after school; though I have since been told that I did not miss much. On such days as I pass by all the internal activities of the world, and gawk at the people sitting at their desks, I am inclined to think that there is not much to be missed in all the offices in the world, unless one is particularly interested in the bodily disciplines of all these little devotees of money we call businessmen, sitting in their cells and crawling on their knees to their superiors. I know men who have mocked the Middle Ages’ love of pain, but I imagined I could trace deeper scars in their backs than in any monk’s. If one is going to force the hair from one’s head, why not shave it at once as the monk does, instead of pulling it out one hair at a time as does the businessman?
There are many such ascetics of money who mock the teacher as undisciplined, for while the businessman spends at least fifty weeks a year on his knees in devotion to the golden calf, the teacher idles away at least a third of his time. With all respect, I reply that to pray unceasingly to Mammon is a fine occupation for those with nothing better to do, but we who wish to live in this world cannot spare any more time for such things. And what is idleness? I have walked many a time through the woods. It does not reprove one for being idle, though I have heard a veiled comment or two about being overly engaged. Listen to the cicadas, how they sing. The adult cicada is remarkable in that it has no mouth, and does not eat, its life in the upper world being too short; and though it has no mouth, still it sings through the summer. There is no more philosophic animal than this. Would men fare as wisely, given but two weeks and two wings?
In summer the fields of the mind lay fallow, which they must if they are to sustain a good crop, for we all grow not in the daytime of our activity but the night of our rest. I have seen students arrive in September, having just learned the lessons I taught them in March. They had exercised their bodies, which allowed the thoughts to settle in at last. They had spent some time with nature, and found out something of what the books were about. They had worked, and learned the value of an education, and they had been alone, and learned the true value of society.
The sensuousness of summer is never quite remembered in the colder months. Love seems always at one’s fingertips, or breathing behind one’s neck. Life pulses all around one. The insects fill every gap in the fabric of life, with their immense variety and uncanny beauty. The birds twitter and nest. The trees green the entire island, and the weeds and undergrowth burst out from the ground everywhere. When one may spend these months entirely out of doors, there is probably no greater happiness. The city is lovely in the summer, and the nights are electric, but perhaps it is best to head for the mountains or the shore, to be out of doors as much as possible. It is also beautiful to go to some distant clime, while we have this odd window in history when travel is so easy, for much of the charm of our city is that its denizens have about them the air of the millions of places they have just come from, as a kind of worldwide tribute paid to the spiritual coffers of the city. So we may cultivate our love for the city by loving the other places of the world, and bringing some of their virtue home with us. We wander far and wide in summer, and learn to love our homes.
I have heard the money-men say that they will reform the schools by doing away with this idleness and dissipation, but I assure you, we teachers and lovers of life are planning quite the reverse, and waiting for the day when the businessman will skip out of his building on June Fifteenth, for two and a half months away from dollars, and closer to sense. Diseases are catching, but life is more catching still. Its call will come every year with the solstice, and will not be neglected so long as there as anything in human society worth caring for. We will sing like the cicada in our summer, and have the Julys and Augusts of our mortality for higher business than the type that is accounted for in the ledger-books.