This is a column by Mark Murphy, a Savannah-based physician and author. He is a regular contributor to the Savannah Morning News.
It’s one of those questions that crops up in conversations at some point in our lives: “What’s your favorite time of year?”
This is also one of those standard interview questions, like asking what fruit you would most like to be (an apple) or what your favorite animal is (a dolphin). But choosing the seasons seems a bit more complex than these other silly things because it really reflects the kind of person you are.
Savannah, being in a temperate climate, does not have four distinct seasons. Autumn creeps timidly into summer’s slope, the leaves falling reluctantly, hesitantly and uncertainly at first, before finally falling in great numbers as average temperatures finally drop below levels typically recorded on the surface of Venus.
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The winter here, which is cold at times and even mild at times, almost never leads to snow. Spring seems to arrive suddenly, as if God had flipped a switch, and is marked by pollen so ubiquitous and voluminous that it makes car washing almost pointless, at least for a few weeks.
Late spring is heralded by an event that has its own off-season and marks the transition to summer: the annual renaissance of stinging insects, mainly horseflies and mayflies. Winter temporarily drives these pests into oblivion, but late spring gives them respite and make their malevolent presence known, tormenting us all relentlessly for several weeks.
A side note here: I particularly hate ephemera and horseflies. I am aware that sand flies are a more ubiquitous nuisance, impossible to get rid of and seemingly plentiful, and as a doctor I know that mosquitoes are far more dangerous as they transmit nasty pathogens such as malaria, zika and west nile virus but the annual Biting plague is a deep plague in Keister.
I can outrun gnats and mosquitoes, but horseflies and mayflies outrun me and swarm around my head in great clouds like squadrons of tiny enemy planes. You have to stay at a certain pace just to keep them behind you. If you stop to talk to someone, the trailing flies are immediately overhead, bombarding your eyes and nose in kamikaze missions that are intermittently and annoyingly successful.
Suffice it to say that between the pollen and the flies, spring is not my favorite season.
Winter in Savannah is dull and uneventful, though it does have the best holidays, which I’ve long theorized are meant to serve as a distraction from the inherent banality of the rest of the season. Despite Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve, I just endure the winter.
Autumn has its redeeming qualities. For one thing, the football season starts in autumn. The white-hot summer temperatures are beginning to ease, and many evenings are comfortable outside.
Of course the mosquitoes will return, but they can be treated by smearing Skin-So-Soft on yourself and putting dryer sheets in clothes. But I hate raking, and late autumn’s abundance of leaves is more than a nuisance. Also, fall contains the worst hurricane season here, so that’s enough for me.
Which brings me to summer.
Summer is undeniably hot. This is certainly a big minus. But even for mayflies it is (thank God) too hot. You can take trips to the beach or to the mountains to cool off and there is always air conditioning.
Still, the real appeal of summer comes from years of working in science, either as a student (for more than 20 years of my life) or as a professor.
You see, summer stands for freedom. Although I now work all summer, and have done so for over 30 years, school has made me think of the year in terms of the academic year (September to May) and the summer holidays (June to August).
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I spent much of my early childhood summers biking through Windsor Forest and Ardsley Park, visiting Daffin Park, the Savannah Science Museum and the Hobby Shoppe at Medical Arts, or Crazy Jack’s records on DeRenne.
We spent part of those summers on Jekyll Island, where my cousin Scott and I would get up before dawn to look for sand dollars on the beach, just as the sun was rising over the horizon.
For seven summers I attended summer camp at Camp Ridgecrest in the mountains of North Carolina outside of Asheville. Summers of childhood were also punctuated by trips to Tybee in the back of our wood-paneled family wagon, visits to the Savannah Golf Club pool, or escapes into the cool darkness of the Weis Movie Theaters on the south side to watch summer movies like Jaws or Star Wars while sipping popcorn munches on butter and drinks ice-cold Coca-Cola.
So yes, summer is my favorite season. Its lazy, sun-drenched days and fragrant, sultry nights are filled with hope and promise like no other season. Summer is magical, transformative — and it’s finally here, thank goodness.