This is my third summer living in New York City, and I have to say I’ve generally gotten used to it. But my heart and love will always lie in the warm Nebraska summers. My first experience of the sweltering garbage-scented city prompted the following vignette of why the season can only be fully enjoyed in my home state.
I’m a confusing, mixed up conglomeration of country and city. I know I can’t be the only person in the world that feels this way, but i do think that my circumstance is rare and getting rarer as the rural fades into the distance. Even in the country nowadays, you don’t always find people canning, making homemade tomato juice, sewing, doing all of their own (extensive) yard work, building porches and the like. Such word conjure up the image of an Amish community, not for those who can drive to the store and buy canned products for much less time and effort.
This summer doesn’t feel like summer, because I don’t have any of that.
I have a subway that smells like pigeon shit mixed with human urine, only accessible by means of the stuffiest and longest elevator ride imaginable. I have oppressive humidity that can only be escaped in cold showers or Starbucks. I have over-priced organic farmers market kale and arugula.
But I miss catching (or being scared of) lightning bugs and the never-ending itch of a chigger bite covered in clear nail polish. I’d trade those for roaches and the weird bugs that infest my sink any day. I miss the smell of bug spray and the sound of cicadas at dusk. I miss it even though when I was little I was convinced it was the sound of rattlesnakes.
I miss lake days at our pretend “beach” and that disgusting squish of lake mud between my toes. I miss that time I accidentally stepped on an underwater frog and ran for my life. I miss running through fields barefoot, only to learn too late that that particular bit of grass had served as a goose bathroom too recently. There is nothing like the smell of goose shit.
There’s nothing like skinny dipping — jumping off the pier, a little tipsy off of the classic Mike’s Hard Lemonade we snuck on our camping trip, or slipping down the rocks into the shallower sections. I miss swimming in the disgusting lake water, bare and buzzed and smiling while my best friend floats around me, noting the poeticism of the calm waters and full moon just overhead. I miss the feeling that summer, despite the long days, was the most alive at night.
I miss my grandma telling me to “be sure to wash the veggies before you eat them,” although I never did. The juiciness of the peach too tempting to wait the 4 seconds it would take to run it under water. I miss the annual shock at how much sugar is really in a batch of jam, and the taste of the warm sticky sugared fruit that was left behind on the wooden spoon. I miss my grandma’s crock pickles, and my odd method of biting into them and milking them for every last little bit of brine left inside them before chomping away. The taste of dill strong as my dad, best friend, and I sit on the porch swing, talking and cracking jokes during a thunderstorm. The porch swing creaking as the smell of ozone permeates the air. The muted streets pierced by the sirens breaking through the post-storm calmly pattering rain.
I miss the crunch of small town roads and being terrified all over again while riding the ATV between my grandparents’ houses.
I miss the eternal struggle to build a bonfire and the pride when it finally works. The crackle and the nose-crinkling smell when someone throws their trash on the fire. The smell of honey cigars mixing with it all, a layer of sickly-sweet sugar over it all.
I miss the thrill of using the bathroom behind a bush and pressing Xs into mosquito bites with my nail, to no avail. Eating so much cucumber salad and cantaloupe that I don’t want to even think about it ever again (until next year).
Summer outside of Nebraska doesn’t quite feel like summer. Even the parks feel constructed. What I wouldn’t give to lay in a field or on my friend’s driveway, listening to nature as the sun sets. To lay too close to a bumblebee’s nest. To realize that I’m not above or greater than nature. That I’m just a part, trying to eke out a life.
There are days I think that I could live in this city forever. What if that’s a life I have to leave behind in order to live here? They can’t be separate. I won’t let it.