If I were to attach a word to this summer it would be “context,” though, really all summers are about context.
Country singers love context — the circumstances or elements which provide a basis for understanding what’s going on. It’s the fishing, plus the sunset, plus the campfire but they collectively equate to something much larger than the elements simply combined. It’s the interrelated conditions which provide color to a setting.
I could use superlatives to describe the 20-inch rainbow trout caught on a No. 18 elk hair caddis, or the 30-pound king salmon netted on a steadily rolling open ocean, but it would just be numbers and words to anyone who wasn’t there.
I could go into detail about gutting a deer for the first time in my life next to my high school basketball coach’s daughter, who’d never gutted a deer either, and the subsequent foot by foot pulling of said deer up the grab-the-stems-of-three-inch-alpine-plants-so-you-don’t-fall-to-your-death slope of one of the tallest mountains on the island.
But it’s impossible to take the hilarious misery of that three-dimensional memory and properly explain it on paper.
Context is what makes moments and shapes attitude. Context keeps you from eating pizza after assembling your 328th large combination. Context is a song that dissolves the spruce tree you’re staring at into a memory you don’t have to close your eyes to see.
Context is what turns summer from a vacation to life-sucking work. Context is what makes Alaska the epitome of cathartic adventure to one and a slimy, cold, never-ending sleep-deprived existence to another.
A baseball bat is no longer a wooden tool used to smack stitched baseballs, because the conditions under which one was used changed in June. The “definition 1” picture in my mental dictionary for baseball bat is now the short metal instrument Howie uses to dispatch thrashing 40-pound lingcod. Context makes “baseball bat” the funniest two words of the summer when repeated with the proper tone and inflection. It is a hilarious noun now, and thanks to context, whenever I hear a “ping” I’ll think fishing, not baseball.
An empty water bottle is just that, but for about 20 people, the bottle which was anchored so it would float in the same place at high tide isn’t just a gauge of BB gun shooting accuracy, it symbolizes good, worry-free living.
Context means you had to be there. If you were, you understand. Maybe you were the one person who caught the king salmon on a 26-foot boat when the seas were seven feet. Maybe you were the one who didn’t. Maybe you shared in the ten which were released.
People are the biggest ingredient of context, though. Proximity plus a specific setting can turn seasonal acquaintances into close friends. You endured self-absorbed rudeness together. You learned together. You were happy together. You suffered together. You ate way too many burgers and ice cream bars together. Life happened to both, or all of you at the same time in the same space. You can recall it together but it can still be difficult to explain.
In summer’s waning light it’s time to once again ponder the context which drove the past two months and where we go from here.
Life is dynamic, so our context is never the same and conditions never identical. We take advantage of, or miss opportunities. We make decisions and move on into new contexts - some better, some worse.
We are not promised great ones, and some only end up being good when we look back with the benefit of time.
I’m grateful for mine.
To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.