Editor's note: This Autumn Phillips column originally appeared in the June 24, 2005, edition of 4 Points. Phillips will return to the Steamboat Pilot & Today in August.
Tuesday was the longest day of the year.
And it's all downhill from here.
Instead of celebrating the Summer Solstice, I found myself panicking. I saw summer slipping away, even though on the calendar, it was only the first day.
It's a common ailment among mountain people whose summers last just a few weeks. In late June, when even that pile of snow protected by the shade has melted, it's as if you've been let out into the prison yard for a stroll. But the warden didn't tell you how long you will be allowed outside. All you remember is that winter was long, and your cell has gray walls. You don't want to go back in there. Not yet.
For now - for the next couple of weeks - you can walk out in the evening without a sweater. And even if you come home from work exhausted at 7 p.m., it is sacrilege to stay inside on your couch. You go outside with giddy desperation. Stare at the sun if you must, just to soak it all in, because you don't know when the first snow could come. (As we all know, Fourth of July weekend is a good time for 6 inches to fall.)
I didn't recognize my own Mountain Summer Stress Disorder until the other day, when I was standing in my garden.
For weeks, I've carried my tomato plants inside every night so they could sleep in my warm living room like little babies. Then I would drag them out again in the morning before I went to work. Only this week did I dare leave them outside overnight.
I stood in the sun admiring the tiny green tomatoes that were starting to form when the first symptom of MSSD hit me. I started to get a little frustrated with my plants.
Grow, you little brats, I thought. Hurry up. We don't have much time. Winter is on its way.
I don't need a therapist to tell me that plant rage is unhealthy, but I already had moved onto my sunflowers. They are only an inch tall. What's wrong with you guys? Why are you so small? What are you waiting for - August?
I think MSSD sets in slowly during many years. That first year in the mountains, you just laugh when the summer ends in mid-August. Tee hee. That was it? That was summer?
You call your friends on the coasts and say, "You won't believe this. It's August, and we just got a huge snowstorm."
The next year, it's a little less humorous when you have to dig out a scarf while your friends in other states are still at the beach. By year three, you're a ball of "gotta enjoy every minute" summertime jitters. And you're yelling at your tomatoes.
I celebrated the Summer Solstice with a bunch of other MSSD sufferers Tuesday night. Other people were out in the woods, dancing nude around bonfires. We sat on the deck of the Rio Grande Mexican Resturant watching the full moon rise over the mountains.
The air was warm on our skin even though it was dark. We tried to enjoy the moment, remain calm. Then the worst happened. Someone started talking about their plans for the summer.
He was going to miss it all, he said. He had so many things to do - weddings to go to, family reunions, business trips. When all those obligations were over, it would be time to order a ski pass.
By the time he got through July in his conversation, he was bug-eyed and had the shell-shocked look of a severe MSSD sufferer. We looked away and started picking at the chips and salsa.
"Can you believe it's already the end of June," someone said.
"No," we snapped back.
I don't know if there is treatment for us.
Maybe some medication or an intervention by your peers in which they strap you in a hammock and zap you until you stop worrying about the next time you'll have to shovel the driveway.
Until then, I have recognized my illness, and I will try to help myself. Unless the pharmaceutical industry recognizes this disorder soon, I prescribe myself a large dose of Free Summer Concert Series, a gin and tonic and some bare feet. Similar group therapy may be necessary.