Last week I had a free afternoon and the smell of sunshine and sand beckoned, so I jumped on my bike and headed to Lake Harriet, on the hunt for that short but sweet slice of euphoria known as that summer feeling.
Sometimes it takes a whole summer to grab it. Other times it happens all in a single 45-minute bike ride.
The truth is, the mantra that is Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” has been, like most summers since I first heard it, bouncing around in my head on a regular basis these swampy, soupy days. I discovered it in 1983, on Richman’s “Jonathan Sings!” album, and I’ve included it on mix-tapes and playlists for family and friends ever since. My brother Terry’s bands cover it regularly, especially in July and August, and every time that sweet melody fills the room or wafts out into the night, heads bob along knowingly, nostalgically, to the chorus.
When the cool of the pond makes you drop down on it
When the smell of the lawn makes you flop down on it
When the teenage car gots the cop down on it
The time is here for one more year
That summer feeling’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.
It’s one of the all-time great summer songs, but best of all, Jonathan saves it from being a paean to the past (“When even fourth grade starts looking good, which you hated”) by singing about how those romantic summer days are no better than the romantic summer days we’re living through right now. To that end, I’ve got a lakeful of summer memories, including this one.
I cruised past The Warming House and Farmstead Bikes, the 3-year-old shop where I bought my beautiful blue bike (model: Twin Cities), then cut through the thick air and lush grass and greenery, whistled past Lakewood Cemetery and stopped for a drink at South Beach. As I pumped the well for some of the coolest, cleanest water to be found on this crippled planet, I heard a chorus of urgent quacks coming from the far side of the beach, where a gaggle of geese had been lounging on the shore, boldly sharing prime beach space with human sunbathers.
Ninety degrees in the shade. A couple of naked toddlers stood surveying the scene as their mother took her time packing up their picnic and putting on their diapers. Suddenly, all at once, the geese waddled off the shore and into the water, having been chased away by a golden retriever. Then the dog jumped in the lake, the geese scurried, the dog paddled furiously and the chase was on.
The wildly honking geese swam nervously towards the middle of the lake as the dog swam hard to keep up. Most of the beach, including the two little dudes with their bums to the sun, watched as the dog barked, and swam, and barked, and swam, and finally gave up, did a U turn, and headed back to shore. Much to the beach gallery’s surprise, as a curious flock of seagulls and blazing sun hovered above, the geese stopped and reversed course, following the dog and stopping about 30 yards from the beach, where I witnessed one of the most unforgettable singing performances of my life.
A single goose came to the fore of the gaggle and proceeded to honk loudly in the direction of the now oblivious dog and beach, and hell if that goose didn’t stop for 15 minutes. The beach emptied out, and I alone watched that goose honk—and honk hard, and angrily, and alone, and into the void, and, well, I could relate and I told him so as I jumped back on my bike.
I landed at the bandshell for a hibiscus punch, then parked my bike on the small dock off main beach and the Rose Gardens. I took in the sailboats and pre-sunset, and noticed a swimmer about 30 yards out, heading towards the dock, where his t-shirt and tennis shoes awaited his return.
I moved to the back of the dock and turned my back just for a second as the guy approached the dock. I wanted to give him privacy as he hoisted himself up, and I was just thinking I should offer the dude my hand, as muscles can be raw after a long swim, when—splash!—the guy knocked my bike into the lake.
“Oh, [bleep], man! I’m so sorry!” he yelled. “All good,” I said/hoped, as I grabbed the back tire and he grabbed the front. We dropped it, and almost lost it to a couple of strong waves, and he apologized again and again.
“No worries,” I said. We pulled my bike out of the drink, picked off the milfoil, and set her on the dock. I fixed the brake and told the guy it was an honest mistake, but he was mortified, sitting at the end of the dock, beating himself up and apologizing. I got on my bike and insisted that all was well and that that’s life on the trail.
I grinned hard as I walked my bike away from the lake, wondering what might happen next. A few minutes later, I had my nose in a natural bouquet of flowers with all my senses engaged at the Rose Gardens, when a women passing by took note of my exuberant inhaling and said, “Well, you are literally stopping to smell the roses.”
I laughed and turned to say something, but the sunlight was blinding and she was just a silhouette walking away, and that summer feeling took hold of me one more time.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com.