It is summer when the air is so heavy, it is no longer truly air. It is air-and-then-some; you could almost grab a handful from in front of you and shove it into your mouth, roll it around on your tongue and mix it with your breath. It is not sweet like cotton candy or a sin like cigarette smoke. It is heat.
It is summer when you are conscious of movement, of walking through air, because it is something you must pass through, and you feel it on your skin. Like spiderwebs at night, you don’t see it, but you know when it touches you. It is wet, sticky. Your hands feel dirty after a moment or two, like you’ve been picking up garbage out of the gutter, but you’ve only just walked across the parking lot from your car to the office.
Oppressive, perhaps, you hate the way it feels when your hair sticks to the back of your neck, suddenly damp after no bath, no effort. Not long enough for a ponytail, you try pushing it away, holding it up for a moment until you give up and it falls, limp and not-exactly-sweaty, gluing itself to your nape.
You have to peel your t-shirt from your back as you cross the street. You’ve only been outside for three minutes.
That is how you know it’s summer.
You can’t quite bear it, the way you might breathe enough to drown, but it is not winter, you remind yourself as you wipe sweat from your face again. It is summer, which is your favorite because it’s the season of so much sunshine. You love it. It is never what you want.
But then there’s a storm, violent, loud. You keep tripping over your dog who won’t move away from any place that isn’t right under your feet (she is terrified the thunder will murder her). The electricity in the air fizzes against the wet heat. There is enough rain to leave mosquito-factory puddles for days. But there’s wind. So much wind.
And in the morning when you go outside, grateful that the tree limb that fell out front didn’t land on your house, you take a breath and it doesn’t feel soggy. The air is no longer dirty. It is both smart and soft, being alive in it feels lovely, like sliding into freshly-washed sheets.
The air smells crisp, it smells clean, yet also smells just slightly like dirt. The world smells fresh, brand new. It will age and wilt as the day goes on, but right then, that smell of the morning after a storm, that is the scent of summer.