Churchill: A bucket list for a fleeting Capital Region summer


There’s a subset of people I call Rushers, because they seem so eager to hurry us through the seasons.

The guy who gleefully notes on June 22 that the days are getting shorter is a Rusher, as is the twerp who on Labor Day declares that there are only 110 shopping days until Christmas. Har har.

And don’t get me started on the stores that put Halloween stuff out next to the sunscreen.

I am in most respects anti-Rusher. I want to revel in our seasons. But I’ve noticed with alarm that the calendar will soon turn to August, meaning our all-too-brief upstate summer is passing us by.

August? August. It’s like a wake-up call. Folks, we need to suck the marrow out of this summer thing while we can.

I enjoy winter’s cold and darkness but summer is also glorious, a season of promise and liberty. That’s probably true in many places, yet it feels especially so in this region, where the winters are long and where there is just so much — almost too much — to do once the weather warms.

And, of course, this summer is particularly special, coming with the lifting of pandemic restrictions. It’s our summer of freedom, of returning to crowds and community. And like the summers we remember, it’s a season of sweat and sunburns, of mosquito slaps and thwacking screen doors.

In my head, I keep a little bucket list of things I hope to do each summer. It’s aspirational, nearly impossible to complete before the days shorten and the temperatures fall.

There are, after all, only so many summer weekends. The season is fleeting, like the flash of light from a firefly.

Here, then, are some of the things on my annual summer to-do list, in no special order:

— Catch a baseball game.

Last weekend, I went to the Latham home of the mighty North Colonie Bison to watch a few games of the Cal Ripken Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament, which might be baseball in its purest and most entertaining form. If you missed the tournament played by 11-year-olds, well, there’s always the ValleyCats.

— Swim in a lake.

Yeah, upstate water might be cold until mid-August. But the thrill is worth the chill.

— Dine under the sky, preferably near water.

Thanks in part to I-787’s awful domination of the Hudson riverfront, dining on the water isn’t as common around here as it could be.

But the Troy seawall project, completed last year, has wonderfully transformed the riverfront around the Green Island Bridge, making the patios at restaurants like Brown’s Brewing Co. that much more appealing.  

— Line up for ice cream.

Everybody’s got their favorite place, but I’ll take Mac’s in Watervliet for its old-school charm and Emack & Bolio’s in Albany for its watch-the-world-go-by outdoor patio along Delaware Avenue.

— Pretend I’m a farmer

The incessant rain seems to have our tomato plants moping, but our cardinal flowers are thriving (hummingbirds have taken note) and the raspberry patch may swallow the house.

Watching it all unfold, comfortingly familiar yet different each year, is summer ritual and one of the things I miss most in January’s white and gray. Growing even just a few plants — it’s not too late! — connects a person to natural rhythms that modern life, with all its attention-sucking gadgets, encourages us to ignore.

As a Bishop Maginn High School student once told me, “Watching God’s creation grow step-by-step is a very beautiful thing.” Yes, it is.

— Lie on a blanket at Tanglewood

Does declaring affection for Tanglewood, the iconic venue in the Berkshires, make me seem like a self-important muckety-muck eager to hobnob with elites from Boston and Manhattan? Well, so be it.

Tanglewood is awesome. The landscape is beautiful. It’s great for kids. A family can spread a blanket, eat a picnic, toss a frisbee, stare at the clouds. And there’s music, too. Summer.

There are other things on my list: Saturday mornings at the Troy Farmers Market, eyeing up a prize-winning pig at a county fair, a trip to Lake Champlain, camping in a tent, cheering for young thespians at Park Playhouse in Washington Park, reading an afternoon away on the front porch, a fire in the backyard, marshmallows on sticks …

The list could go on. I won’t get to everything. We never do.

That’s OK. Each upstate summer is distinct, a gift with pleasures and memories of its own. The key is to enjoy it, as much as possible, before it’s gone. ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill


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