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Essay: There are still ways to truly enjoy summer, even if it’s different this year

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2020 8:51:08 PM
Modified: 5/30/2020 8:51:06 PM

The thing I remember most about my first trip to New Hampshire is the stars.

Where I grew up in northern New Jersey, there was usually too much light pollution to see them clearly. Even family vacations usually took me to the Jersey Shore and while I enjoyed the boardwalk’s bright lights (and the fireworks displays), there, too was manufactured light.

Sure, I’d been to planetariums for class trips. I also have memories of my dad waking me up in the middle of the night to see a meteor shower, and of my grandfather pointing to make sure we watched the Hale-Bopp comet pass through in 1997. But I was 16 the first time I truly remember seeing the stars.

My family was visiting my dad’s University of New Hampshire roommate up in the White Mountains. One night, I went with his friend’s daughters to a golf course where we laid out a blanket and looked up. The stars that perforated the dark sky left me in awe. I couldn’t believe that something so perfect existed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that night lately, especially now that Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of summer — has passed and June begins. It’s no small stretch to say this summer will look quite different than years past for many people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines are starting to ease, the landscape will be different. Vacations will be canceled or postponed. Family visits might continue to happen virtually. Many of the festivals and fairs that I (and many others, I know) look forward to won’t happen.

Summer has a way of bringing people together like no other season. People pack together for outdoor concerts or a chance to sunbathe on New Hampshire’s short coastline. There are summer camps and outdoor sports leagues, barbecues and fireworks displays. Sure, there are also solo camping trips and solitary kayaking on quiet ponds, but for me that’s usually been overshadowed by the desire to gather with people (preferably out in the sun).

Which brings me back to the stars. After moving to New Hampshire less than six years after that first visit, I haven’t gone stargazing. I’ve let opportunities to see meteor showers pass by without giving it much thought. If I couldn’t see an astronomical event from just outside my apartment — or even then, decided it was too late or too cold or too ... something — I didn’t bother.

It’s easy to pass over opportunities like that when they don’t come with perfect conditions or require more than a minimal amount of effort to make happen, when you don’t appreciate them for what they are: moments of pure wonder.

This summer, I’m going to try to channel the feeling I got when the first time I truly saw the stars. I’m challenging myself to go for a swim in a lake, even when I know the water will be too cold. I’ll go for a bike ride, even if rain is on the horizon. I’ll go for a walk even if the air feels too heavy with humidity. In previous summers, I might not have wanted to take the chance for a sunny day to turn to rain on a mountain or to deal with black flies, instead holding out for conditions I deemed to be “perfect.” During a global pandemic, that kind of decisionmaking seems silly now.

I might not be able to gather in a field with hundreds of other fans to hear a band play. The road trip I had vaguely planned with my partner likely won’t take place. But I can go outside and look up on a clear night. I can park my car near swampland in the evening to hear the frogs chirp.

Summer is going to be a lot different this year, but there will still be plenty of opportunities to find joy.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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