This column, from July of 2009, describes what I aspire to as I take some time off. I wish it for all of you as well.

Welcome to high summer. It starts on July 5th and runs roughly through mid-August. High summer is a lovely long stretch with mostly sunny skies. We do not live in a cloudless clime, and July is likely our sunniest month. With so much rain this year, that would be a particularly welcome sight. This is the portion of the year where I actually look forward to getting tired of sunshine, when a cloudy day becomes a refreshing change of pace. 

At the moment, though, I’m ready for as much sunshine as we can get. It’s good for the spirit and we’ve earned it. Gloomy year, gloomy times. Time for an upswing.

High summer is a glorious plateau where the year peaks and lingers until it begins its slow downward descent. There’s plenty of good weather during the descent, mind you, but this plateau is special. Most of us, I suspect, don’t say to ourselves, “Gotta savor winter because you only get a limited number in a lifetime.” People do say that about summer.

And one of the best ways to savor summer is a perch on a porch. If I could do but one thing each July, I would sit on a wide, well-sheltered porch, reading and thinking and whiling away the time. 

What’s that? You say you can’t imagine spending a long stretch just sitting there doing nothing? Oh, but you do precisely that every time you kill an evening watching TV, and you do it when you go to the beach, book in hand, setting up a chair and gazing out across liquid blue infinity.

Some go to the beach. I go to the porch. This is my beach and my television — the biggest screen around. You might call it “surround-vision.”

I don’t actually own a porch but I have kind friends who make theirs available to me, even when they’re not home. The pleasures are simple: sweet sounds on the wing, sweet scents from linden trees in bloom, contemplating the way sunshine falls on the leaves of our urban forest, filling their translucent filaments with light, the way sunlight illuminates and filters through the canopy, spangling the sidewalks and streets.

If there’s an afterlife, I expect first to be asked, “What, beyond the people you love, do you miss most about life?” I plan to reply, “The way sunlight and the world interface and interlace.”

But there’s more going on here than mere photosynthesis. My friends’ street is well traveled, a conduit from the high school to the south side of town. A steady trickle of summer-schoolers and sports and music campers pass by on their way to adulthood. Some have energy to spare and shrill voices to match; others are listless and lifeless. A few, lost in intimate conversation, seem oblivious to the slice of heaven-on-earth they’re passing through. But some seem to get it: There is nothing quite so content as the amble of a pre-adolescent returning home from several hours at the pool.

Deep in the backyard of the house next door, kids scream with exaggerated excitement as they navigate the perils of a play structure. Dogs on alert probe every cranny for hidden scents as they walk their owners. Insects surf the world wide web of vegetation, swollen and dense from generous rainfall. Cotton-swab clouds sponge the sky as they slide east.

Porch-sitting connects us to an earlier era — before air conditioning turned us all into mad monitors of body temps and desperate avoiders of clammy discomfort. Out here your skin develops a sheen between breezes. But bodies adjust and the payoff is you don’t have to be one step removed from the outdoors.

From my perch on the porch, the day slows down. When you aren’t rushing to stuff it like an unforgiving suitcase, you can match time’s languid pace. Doing nothing is an art, ripe for rediscovery.

Squirrels and birds play a game of chase. Commuters hurry home from the CTA. A solitary cyclist sits up, lets go of the handlebars and triumphantly coasts.

A young man, baseball cap reversed, absent-mindedly dribbles a basketball between his legs as he walks down the middle of the street — backwards.

Sunlight suffuses us all.

It’s high summer. We get just so many in a lifetime. 

Time to sit a-spell.

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