Thursday, June 23, 2011
What better card in the Tarot deck to show us summer in all its glory than The Sun? Who wouldn’t want to feel like a happy toddler with a pony in a flower garden and play all day? Me, that’s who. OK, happy, check. Toddler, check. Pony, as long as it doesn’t stand on my feet, check. Flower garden, check. Ah, but check the wardrobe on our happy sweetums. That’s going to burn for sure.
I know about sunburn. I grew up half convinced that it was me in that Coppertone ad and not Jodie Foster. I had a black dog. I went to the beach. I scorched. Add sand in your britches and scream all night. Nothing like trying to peel out of a swimsuit that feels like wet sandpaper over boils and blisters at the end of a perfect day!
And yet the beach remains my favorite place, rain or shine, summer or winter. I love the smell, the sound, the aquatic life, the differences between soft sand and hard sand, the way you sink into hard sand with each little wave. I love seashells and fish. I love shorebirds running up and down the tides, playing tag with the waves, digging for critters. I love watching a storm cross the Gulf of Mexico and cloud-to-cloud lightning, all before it hits the beach. I love the phosphorescent sparkle at night, the growing hum in the morning, the blazing glare of noon, the cooling breeze of evening. I love losing track of time, except by the tides and the sun. But I hate sunburn.
Of course, you don’t really need to be at the beach for sunburn. One humdinger of a sunburn peeled not once but twice. I was babysitting two semi-angelic little boys, which is pretty good if you think about it, out on their deck under the trees on a breezy afternoon, reading a good book and watching the little darlings romp in the back yard. Like so many sunburns, I didn’t realize I was having an “off-color” experience until the day was over. Then I had the luxury of regretting my folly for days.
My first California sunburn came after a lovely hike on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County to enjoy outdoor theatre at the Mountain Play. The cool breeze and dappled sunlight through the trees were so inviting. Liar, liar, pants on fire! I don’t remember the play at all. I remember later that night, rolling over in bed at 2 AM, gently, ever so gently, hoping my blistering arm would not fall off in the process of rubbing against high-count cotton sheets that were suddenly as rough as a country road.
“Stop, kitty,” I whined weakly, pitifully. The kitty must be having a heck of a good scratch to make the bed move that vigorously. Any movement at all was agony and I vowed never to leave the house again, knowing I would break my vows. The kitty had no mercy for me. The bed moved more violently.
Ka-boom! A noise like a semi-tractor-trailer hitting the house sent the bed and all occupants an inch off the floor. I sat up.
“What’s happening?” I bellowed in my best horror queen voice which must have echoed off the hills north of Sonoma where I lived. It was an earthquake, a shallow one, my very first in California. Its epicenter was reported the next day as being “in a remote area in the Napa Valley.”
“Remote, heck!” I said in disgust, still nursing my burns which surely must be third degree especially after having been ground down by the sheets. “It was under my house!” It took me an entire week to find the two things that tipped over.
Like a lot of people I grew up with, I still have a sneaking suspicion that a little sun exposure gives your skin a healthy glow. I love those sunshiny freckles across their cute little noses. I had only a few freckles but I was sort of hoping they would merge and become a tan someday. My swords-y logical self knows better, knows the dangers of sun exposure in a family with Irish roots. But there are still some fond memories of trying to get an all-over tan in New Mexico one summer without much success due to probably appropriate modesty. And one summer I spent so much time out on Crab Orchard Lake in my friend’s boat in my favorite chocolate brown bikini (this was a long time ago, remember) that my long hair bleached palest blonde, my tan actually lasted a month into the fall semester at college and I developed a new sign of the sun’s unfriendly effects: Skunk hair.
If you’ve never had skunk hair, consider yourself lucky. That darker, normal stripe close to my head was the final proof I needed to stay out of the sun. It wasn’t considered fashionable when I developed my skunk hair. I had put a lot of time into growing it out past my waist, trimming those split ends, giving up on any hope of a wave or a curl. I caved. I became bottle-blonde although my original color isn’t that far from the bottle. It’s just that now, after so many years, I’m not sure what color my hair is. There’s this funny pale stripe from ear to ear across the top of my head someone once called the Crown of Wisdom. OK, that's new. I generally estimate that my “real” hair color is somewhere between “mouse” and “mold,” a sort of greenish-dust bunny color not found in interior paint palettes. I guess the sun’s bad effects saved me from a life of mouse and mold or something. And it’s given me the perfect excuse for saying silly things with the thought that I resemble that remark.
Skin cancer and overexposure to the sun isn’t funny though. I have friends who have lost family to melanoma. My own father thought he could treat his own skin cancer with athlete foot’s powder. After about ten years of that, he went to the doctor, had surgery including a fairly painful skin graft. It was something that could have been avoided with early treatment or wearing the right protection from the sun. (Note to self: Skin cancer is not the same as athlete's foot.)
For Summer Solstice time, the Sun rules. But when you ride that pony around in the garden, bring your sunscreen and hat along. Your life is longer than a day so make your summer SPF-y.