Opening Letters

(Sun)Burnt Out

you Wisconsinites tire me out with your make-hay-while-the-sun-shines approach to summer

Zack Gauck, illustrated by Erik Christenson |

Summers in the piedmont of North Carolina consist of hot, sticky days, with the heat index breaching the 100-degree mark and equally hot and humid nights where the best place to be is huddled next to an air conditioner. The languid months of June, July, August, and September are never overbooked, never meticulously planned, never packed. Yes, there are occasional family trips to the beach or water park (if it isn’t hurricane season) or long bike rides or pick-up sports games, but for most North Carolinians, summer is a time to relax – preferably indoors. Wisconsin summers, though, are a fantastic example of collective thinking where entire communities come to the same conclusion individually: diagram the most efficient use of the summer weather (aka pack as much as you can in these three months because the cold is coming).

When the New Year pops onto the calendar, Wisconsinites call every northern lake resort with dreams of warmer weather vacations. These people book lake-side cottages, plan kayaking trips, pick out the perfect tents, climbing gear, and summer sleeping bags, all while enduring some of the worst winter weather. I was blissfully unaware just how active the average Wisconsinite could be, so when summer hit, I wasn’t prepared. I expected a gradual push into summer fun, a little nudge to possibly plan a trip or two, but nothing major. What I found was far from what I consider normal.

Fairfax pool opens in what many North Carolina natives call windbreaker weather – the low to mid 70s. This weather is deemed “un-swimmable” to the folks I grew up around. I’m accustomed to waiting until the water is around 80 degrees before I go for a leisurely swim. As for the supply of flotation devices in the Chippewa Valley, they disappear from store shelves almost immediately. And the event planning is intense!

Every weekend has an activity, from family outings to any number of weddings (do all weddings happen between May and October?), and if there isn’t anything planned, someone will surely fix that with a trip to a friend’s cabin or a spontaneous gathering – no one can fathom just sitting inside watching movies or playing board games. And the weekdays aren’t any better.

    I’ve managed to join a kickball league, a volleyball league, and throw in some music in the park every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, respectively. Fridays are the travel days for whatever the weekend holds (say going to Rendezvous Days in Prairie du Chien or biking to Menomonie), and Mondays, that’s the only day you can really go grocery shopping. Then there are the fairs, the festivals, and other big events that effortlessly paint the calendar in neon highlighter.

The dinner situation has also turned hectic. One has to plan for what days you have to make a “quick meal” so as to get to the evening activity, and then you plan meals around the farmers market or what to bring to so-and-so’s gathering.

In trying to explain how much activity the average Wisconsinite packs into a summer, I realized why it seems so brutal. For Wisconsin, roughly half of the year is spent in frigid temperatures, weather that allows for some activity outside, but is sometimes just too vicious to deal with. For North Carolina, summer has the same effect. NC’s hottest days are atrocious, the humidity has you swimming through the air, dripping sweat constantly; it’s a veritable sauna when you get around brick buildings or black asphalt. The late fall is pleasant, spring is fantastic (unless, like me, you have allergies) and winter is relatively mild (and yes, we get snow).

So if you hear me complain about having too much to do, put it in perspective. When it comes to summer, I’m Pavlov’s dog – just hearing “summer” sparks thoughts of relaxation – so when I end up with a packed schedule where even deciding how to feed myself appropriately is an issue, I get burnt out. All too often I hear “enjoy it while you can,” but around the middle of the summer season, the calendar starts to look more and more daunting and I begin counting down the days until relative normalcy returns. Less than a month until Labor Day.