In this edition of the Town & Country series, Katherine and Margaret compare how they enjoy their summers. They live in two drastically different locations – one in rural Ontario, the other in New York City.
Katherine: A beachside life
The small town in which I live is nestled up against Lake Huron, about four hours north of Detroit, three hours northwest of Toronto. The area is known for its gorgeous sand beaches and the clean, clear Huron water, perfect for swimming. In summertime, the town fills with tourists who rent cottages by the week. Most are families and have been coming here for decades, so there is a relaxed vibe. It’s not a party town, unlike nearby Grand Bend, Sauble Beach, and Wasaga Beach.
Since I work from home, I’m fortunate to be able to spend the summers with my three little children. Because they’re so small, our days still revolve around the usual requirements of regular meals, naps, and early bedtime, but generally I try to keep our ten weeks of summer as unscheduled as possible. I get up at 5:30 a.m. to finish my work early, then I’m free for the rest of the day.
Whenever it’s hot, we go to the beach. Even though the Main Beach is the biggest tourist draw, I prefer the lesser-known, more beautiful and quiet beaches on the perimeter of town. I usually go with friends, set up a blanket, haul out a basket of digging toys, and settle in for a few hours of fun. The older two swim and dig while the little one sleeps.
It feels luxurious, being able to enjoy such a gorgeous beach whenever the urge hits, not having to squeeze it all into a single week of vacation before heading back to the city. We go whenever we want, early or late, for long or short, and every time I’m reminded how fortunate I am to live here.
Other days, we go on food missions. We visit the Keady farmers’ market, one of the biggest markets in southwestern Ontario that is like a trip into another world. Packed with the usual food vendors, it also has livestock auctions, buskers, antique dealers, and pony rides.
We pick fruit at a local fruit farm – strawberries, sweet and sour cherries, raspberries, and peaches – which I turn into jam or freeze. Picking fruit with kids is surprisingly easy. Give them a container and a task and they’ll go at it with determination.
We spend time biking. A rail trail runs through town, connecting it to nearby communities, so we often head out there, as well as to the lakeshore trail that winds along the edge of Lake Huron.
Much of the time we spend at home, puttering around the backyard. The kids play in their sandbox or kick around a soccer ball while I work in the garden, preserve food in the outdoor kitchen (we have a gas cook top on the patio), or read books (to review for TreeHugger, of course!).
Our nightlife is restricted to drinks on the patio at one of the town’s three bars, sunset walks around the harbor, house parties or epic games of Settlers of Catan with friends. Living in a small community brings people together in a way that I never experienced when living in Toronto. Here we depend on our neighbours for social interaction because there’s nobody else, nowhere else to go, and relatively few things to do.
I realize that my deliciously lazy summers are dependent on the fact that I can work from home, and I’m very grateful for that. My kids benefit from having this chunk of relaxed, unscheduled time for exploration, conversation, and adventure, and I get to know them better.
It sounds idyllic, but remember that, within mere weeks, it will all shut down and instantly shrink. The tourists will leave, the cottages will be shuttered, stores will close, and the streets will empty. By late September, this whole area will be a quiet shadow of what it is now – and that is actually my favourite time.
Margaret: A city of choices
As a freelancer, I have a pretty crazy schedule juggling jobs and gigs, so I don’t get to make it to the beach as often as I’d like. But I do my absolute best to keep my Saturdays unscheduled and I often get evenings free to make the most of everything that is wonderful about New York City summers.
For me, it’s impossible to be bored in New York, because there are too many concerts, movies, museums, and immersive-art-happenings happening at any given time. Life in NYC can be so busy that spending a night on the couch with book or Netflix can be a rare treasure—one that’s reserved for nights with the worst weather or total exhaustion.
If it’s not absolutely sweltering, I love making my way to one of the city’s many riverfront parks. Last night, my boyfriend and I took a stroll to Astoria Park, which has plenty of green space and a glittering view of Manhattan and Randall’s Island. It’s also a fun place to people watch, with older ladies in saris, men smoking hookahs, teens blasting hip-hop from their cars, and families with kids of every color.
When the temperature hits the 90s, the summer is also a great time to take advantage of some communally air-conditioned spaces. On a recent Saturday with particularly high temps, I jumped on the subway and took myself out for a documentary and juice in the East Village.
One of my other favorite things about New York City is the sidewalk cafe culture that blooms as soon as things thaw in the spring. In Brooklyn and Queens, a good backyard can be a bigger draw to a restaurant or bar than anything on the menu or tap. I have a few favorite backyards in my Astoria neighborhood, which are great places for friends to gather and for serendipitous encounters with neighbors.
Summer is also a time when the city experiences an influx of tourists. While some don’t mind the crowds, I personally tend to avoid areas like the shopping district of SoHo or the High Line on weekends. And like most New Yorkers who don’t have to work there, I go to great lengths avoid being above ground in Times Square (the subway transfer is often necessary) during all seasons.
And of course, there’s still plenty of beach in the five boroughs. No city summer is complete without a trip to one them. Spending a day at the Rockaways or Jone’s Beach is one of the few outdoor activities that’s actually better on the hottest days of summer, with the chilly water and ocean breeze to cool you off.