Welcome to what may be the most unusual summer in recent memory.

People in the Columbia-Pacific region normally embrace summer as the reward for enduring our damp, cold winters. We usually embrace the new season with great enthusiasm but with the dual threats of a pandemic and civil unrest, many are somewhat skittish about how summer 2020 will play out. As we continue to follow social distancing guidelines, we’re faced with adapting to small gatherings throughout the season.

So, what is summer? The word summer is taken from the Old English word sumor. Anyone who’s been to England in that sometimes-soggy season may not understand how the English learned anything about summer at all. Still, much of our traditional summer shore visits were handed down from Europeans. Here in the communities of the Columbia River estuary, wealthy Portland families, emulating their European and Atlantic coast peers, began “summering,” as they called it, in the towns of Gearhart and Seaview in the 1880s. The merchants and services that served these communities gave birth to the tourist industry that has been the backbone of coastal economies ever since.

Astronomers and chronologists consider summer to be the time between the summer solstice, around June 21, and the autumnal equinox, around Sept. 23. In the American education system, summer vacation was scheduled to reflect and serve the agricultural base since most families were large and children helped raise and harvest crops. Here on our coast, people generally consider summer to be the months of June, July, August and September with maybe a pinch of May; roughly, Memorial Day to Labor Day. This encompasses quite a range in temperature and precipitation levels.

What to do?

What can we look forward to this summer, you might ask? Well, like many questions, the answer depends on who you’re talking to. Communities have all cancelled their official Fourth of July celebrations and the ensuing fireworks displays, so the holiday may be somewhat quieter. The family barbecue will have to suffice for those who want to celebrate.

Even though all states have opened in some respects, if you want to travel this summer, be aware some states still have travel restrictions and quarantines. In most states, restaurants are allowed to host guests with restrictions. Washington parks are open for access and camping at some parks at 50% capacity. Oregon also has opened a number of parks for access and fewer for camping. In both states some parks are still closed and those open are operating under strict social distancing policies. National Forest campgrounds and recreation areas are mostly open. This year, it’s more important than ever to make reservations for any campgrounds.

According to some travel experts, 2020 may see the return of the family road trip. RV rental inquiries are off the charts and families are frantically planning and calling for reservations at campgrounds across the country. Hollywood created the powerful term “summer road trip,” and countless movies since have depicted everything from endless hilarity and fun, to outright mayhem. Americans ate it up. Remember the one with the long car ride with kids and a mountain of camping gear, Dad’s gone silly trying to maintain everyone while mom burns the pancakes, oh yeah, and the bear?

One bright spot: sportfishing is open across the Northwest and offers great recreational opportunities. Again, social distancing is recommended at launches and docks.

Virtual vacations have become popular since the coronavirus struck and some people have gotten the whole family involved. This is probably the safest and least costly way to vacation this year.

Sports fans and players are facing the distinct possibility that all team sports will be canceled. This will force parents to find alternative activities for their kids. Adults too, will be challenged to find outlets for all that summer energy. Skateboarding, hiking, kayaking, tennis, horseback riding, surfing, waterskiing and golf are sports in which participants can maintain good distancing practices and still have fun.

One idea I find interesting is a volunteering vacation. Many communities still need volunteers to help offer services to the public during the pandemic. Volunteering is one of those feel-good activities that can help both the recipient and the volunteer.

Time for leisure

I plan a lot of reading this summer. This is a long-held practice from my youth. There wasn’t much spare travel money when I was a kid so I traveled between the covers of books. Sitting in the shade with a good read and a cool beverage while the barbecue smokes away is my idea of a great summer day.

A summer activity that I think has been totally ignored in the modern era is the simple act of doing nothing. Since biblical times, the idea of being idle has been cast as a wasteful act. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is the old saying.

This is something I cannot completely agree with. The times in my life in which I was forced to remain idle for a period of time are those in which I was able to think most clearly and creatively. I have made most of the important decisions in my life in times when I was completely idle so I believe this is an important activity anytime.

The only argument I have with summer is its duration. I guess William Shakespeare’s comment about summer over 400 years ago still holds pretty true today:

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

Now that’s something we can all agree on. Imagine that.

Chinook resident Ron Baldwin writes about our lives and times in the scenic communities of Pacific and Clatsop counties.

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