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Paul Turner: The end of summer is a state of mind

A multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit was filed this week at the Spokane County Courthouse, shown here on June 4, 2018. The suit alleges state social workers failed several times to intervene in a case in which three Spokane Valley children suffered abuse that one nurse said constituted “child torture.” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit was filed this week at the Spokane County Courthouse, shown here on June 4, 2018. The suit alleges state social workers failed several times to intervene in a case in which three Spokane Valley children suffered abuse that one nurse said constituted “child torture.” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

I used to delight in writing about the official change of seasons.

You know, the solstices and equinoxes.

One year long ago, I got all excited because the precise transition from one season to the next took place on different days in Idaho. That was because it happened once that year on different sides of midnight in the two time zones.

Eventually though, I came to a sobering realization. Few readers actually care about this stuff. Maybe that’s because most of us do not mark the change of seasons in a way that notes, for instance, autumn officially starts three weeks from now.

But if we’re not going to let the solar system be our guide, how do we know when summer is over?

This holiday weekend is, of course, the traditional milestone. Still, I suspect some of us have our own perspectives.

So I asked around.

Hillyard store owner Karen Tuininga said summer is over when it starts getting too dark to see what she’s grilling for dinner out on her patio.

For third-grade teacher Tiffiny Santos, summer isn’t over until after Labor Day weekend. “Even though we start school sometimes before that.”

Retired public television executive Claude Kistler said summer is over for him in early September when his schedule fills up with activities such as taking his granddaughter to school, attending meetings of his fly fishing club, going to EWU football games and so on. “My wife starts a schedule of increased church activities, painting classes, et cetera.”

David Townsend, communications coordinator for the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, answered this way.

“Summer is officially over when the kids have turned in their reading logs and gone back to school. Informally, summer is over when we put the kayaks away.”

For tax accountant Jeri Self-Merritt, it’s no mystery. Labor Day marks the end of summer.

KHQ-TV news anchor Sean Owsley agrees. “Football starts. Back to school and Pig Out in the Park.”

But some of the traditional signs here in the Northwest don’t necessarily work in other parts of the country.

Don Barbieri, who spends a portion of the year in Hawaii, knows not everyplace is in sync with the Spokane calendar.

“The ocean temperature is 80 degrees and things bloom year around,” said the Spokane philanthropist and social activist.

No sign of frost on the pumpkin there.

Tyson Bird also sees the difference.

He grew up just outside Sandpoint and went to college in Indiana. Now he is based in Austin, Texas, and does digital design and web development for newsrooms around the country.

“To me, summer is more of a state of mind, but it has changed as I have moved around.”

Memorial Day and Labor Day are not universally acknowledged brackets of the season.

“Austin summer is more of an April-October affair.”

Spokane community college instructor Betsy Lawrence could probably get into that.

“I’m a lizard who only has two temperatures: fine and freezing. The day it goes below 80 in the daytime, I’m despondent, freezing, and convinced summer is over and I’ll be cold for the next nine months.”

Of course, sometimes the seasonal cues can be confusing.

“The line between summer and fall gets more and more blurry every year now that pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween stores appear in the latter part of August,” said Eric Rieckers, who sells commercial doors. “I rely more on nature to let me know when summer is over and that is when the maple leaves start to turn.”

Thomas Sherry, head of a landscape architecture firm, uses another yardstick. You might call it a beer-based measurement.

When is summer over? “When the Independence Day stock of Summer Shandy is finally depleted.”

Land use planning consultant Dwight Hume had his own take.

“Summer is over when the lake is too cold to swim in and that neglected outdoor honey-do list is screaming at you to be finished, before it gets too cold. Or is it the Mrs. that’s screaming? Hmmm.”

Rodney Aho retired in 2015 after 36 years with the Bonneville Power Administration. Now he works part-time as a locomotive engineer. He notes several markers for the end of summer.

“The main indicator for me that summer is over is an objective one: My birthday, September 30. After my birthday, it’s suddenly October, which mentally is a ‘fall’ month.”

Another sign harks back to his having grown up in Davenport. “For anyone living in wheat country, seeing that all the fields have been harvested and there’s just stubble left is another sure sign that summer is over.”

For Laura Parker, an EWU retiree living in Cheney, the arrival of fall announces itself in unmistakable fashion.

“The first hard frost.”

Then she knows what some would prefer to deny.

“Winter is coming.”