How back flippingly relieved I am to find that hating summer is more just than me hating summer According to John R Sharp, there’s a summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hereby propose myself as the founding member of Summer Sucks. Is that a bit direct? A bit narky? Disgruntled even? Oh yes. All that and more.
One of the better known poems about Australia was by Dorothea MacKellar who declared her undying affection for a sunburnt country. There are many, many good things about Australia, but I do not agree that its climatic extremes are among them. I’m all for seasonality, just not for extremes. I am on record amongst friends for saying that, for the purposes of balance, and I want to do a winter somewhere snow is normal. Just to say that I know what it’s like. But I am 99.9999etc percent certain that I’m not moving to Murmansk, or Anchorage, on a permanent basis.
But back to Dr Sharp. He cites research undertaken in Townsville which had participants keep a diary of mood, food and bodily function during the hottest part of the year. More, rather than less, reported that they were affected negatively by the weather. What amazed me as an environmental historian is that proof is needed of this. We’ve travelled so far intellectually from our ecological roots that we need evidence of how the natural world affects us. Here’s a news flash. We’re organic. We are the natural world, just as much as the tree outside your window, the sunlight making it easy for you to see your screen and the water in your glass.
Some people did report that they were not bothered by the heat and humidity in Townsville, demonstrating a spectrum of sensitivity. Regrettably I am the other end. Combine our natural sensitivities with the lived experience of sunburn, drought, heatwave and fire, and toss in our cultural expectations around summer, and I could wonder why anyone in Australia likes it. As Sharp says, summer comes with the expectations of holidays, that you should be having a life worthy of an advertising campaign or a no holds barred summer fling. Speaking for myself, I’m wondering how to avoid getting burnt and thanking the powers that be that I’m not trying to soothe toddlers in a heatwave.
In Australia, we also get to toss in the potentially psychosis inducing Christmas ritual into our summer plans. Memories of my mother unwilling cooking roasts while sweltering intrude. Plus, like me, you might have your own particular anniversary dates of hell falling in summer. Like the failure of my marriage…As if all that wasn’t enough, its forty one degrees outside and you can rent your car out as a mobile torture chamber. (There’s another week of this heatwave to go. Oh, and daylight savings, but I’ll stay my rant on that and stick to my topic.)
If I were either less sensitive or some more spiritually evolved kind of person, I’d be able to say (and mean it) that the weather shouldn’t make a difference to me. But it does. When there’s a dessicating westerly howling, I feel miserable. I’m less inclined to be cheerful, to be positive, to be kind. I feel trapped. I am like Goldilocks, seeking the balance between too hot and too cold. Although if I really, really had to choose a pole of the extreme, it’s cold. Looks like I’m living in the wrong country.
The fierceness of summer is what makes me soooooo in love with autumn. It’s mild and kind and gentle. The roses get an autumn flush and don’t get fried as soon as they open their petals. The wind drops, picnics seem attractive again. You can go outside without instantly breaking into a sweat, and it’s possible to leave the house without a head to toe marinating in titanium dioxide. What’s not to like about autumn in Australia? I suspect I long for turning leaves the way northern winter SAD sufferers feel about daffodils. It’s no accident I’m living in a city with some of the most magnificent autumn foliage in the country. The bliss of a yellowing oak leaf. Bring it on.
 Sharp, John R, The Emotional Calendar, Times Books (Harry Holt and Co), New York, 2011.