Sarah Geller has already made playlists for her campers, memorized the traditional cheers, and purchased the pink and green clothing she’ll wear on certain days as a counselor at Camp Hi-Rock in the Berkshires.
The only thing left to do is figure out whether the summer of 2020 is still on.
“I’ve been trying to put good vibes into the universe,” said Geller, who is 20 and has attended Hi-Rock for nine summers. “All of my most fun memories in life probably come from camp.”
As the sun comes out and the flowers burst open, new questions are arising that few of us are ready to contemplate: What will summer look like in the middle of a pandemic? Is it even really summer when “sitting, sunbathing, and other stationary recreational activities” are prohibited on state beaches, when public pools and harbors are closed, when concerts and ballgames and festivals aren’t happening and basketball courts are off-limits, when ice cream shops are only doing takeout and even visiting Grandma’s house is basically out of the question?
Summer? "I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Eian Woodman, the general manager of Woodman’s classic clam shack in Essex, which has been serving up fried clams for over 100 years. (Woodman pointed out that although it’s a strange moment, his family’s shop has weathered the flu pandemic of 1918, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the Great Recession, and a host of other catastrophes, so it will likely survive.)
We all seem to be making our own private negotiations with the universe these days, as we move from denial to bargaining. We’ll never complain about the crowds at the beach again! It’s fine for the neighbors to play loud music in the backyard! Just please don’t let us be cooped up in the middle of July. . . .
At the same time, people across New England are already tweaking the rituals of the season, reckoning with the fact that some of the things that make summer so special are exactly what must be scrapped.
For now, Woodman’s is doing curbside pickup only; minivans line up in the parking lot and people eat lobster rolls inside their cars before driving back home. The harbormasters in Rockport are begging visitors not to bring their boats to the summer haven just yet — check back in July.
And with the CDC and the American Camp Association expected to issue national guidance in the coming weeks about whether summer camp should even happen, the YMCA of Greater Boston is considering what socially distant camp might look like: Spread-out campfire circles? Morning and midday temperature checks?
“We’ll also just keep our eye on children. We don’t want any clumping,” said James Morton, the president of the YMCA of Greater Boston.
Ah, summer camp and the foregone joys of clumping.
Summer is something of a deal breaker here. After nine months of gloom, Boston lights up, and fills with festivals and parades and music. Memories of waiting for the T in the bitter cold and trudging to work in the snow fade. The sun comes out and suddenly, we all live in a glorious place.
The highlight for Stephanie Perez, who is 28, has long been the Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts, a three-day extravaganza at City Hall Plaza filled with music, rides, and abundant food. Perez, who is Puerto Rican, grew up going to the festival, and now her five children look forward to it every year. The kids wave Puerto Rican flags and thrill at the cotton candy.
“I just eat everything," said Perez, who was studying to be a nail technician before her classes were put on hold. “They have the rice and beans, the chicken, they have the piña coladas I try to get every year."
But this year — no surprise — the festival has been canceled. The kids will be limited mostly to the backyard.
“Yeah, you can play music in your own house," Perez said, but it won’t be the same. At the annual festival, “there’s so many different people, and everyone you know is there.”
The same goes for Salsa in the Park, a free outdoor dance class and performance series that draws hundreds of people to a courtyard in the South End on Monday nights in the summer. There are two DJs who play each week — salsa music on one half of the mobile dance floor and bachata on the other.
The joy comes from “seeing people go from zero to feeling free to dance in the street,” said Eli Pabon, who produces events like Salsa in the Park with the Latin dance company MetaMovements.
But what typically makes the dance events so special is also what makes the series troubling as its organizers contemplate the summer ahead.
“A lot of the Latin dances are contact dances,” said Pabon. “I have some anxiety around dancing with someone so close, and holding their hands, knowing that I don’t know about this person’s hygiene.”
Even ice cream sprinkles now seem suspect.
The SoCo Creamery Scoop Shop in the Berkshires is usually flooded with summer campers on day trips, visitors from Jacob’s Pillow and the Tanglewood Music Center, and locals looking for a treat. When people picture an ice cream place in the summer, said Erik Bruun, the shop’s owner, they envision a whole experience. They want to stand in line, taste samples, trade licks. All that is out the window now, with the shop only open for takeout, delivery, or curbside pickup. The cultural events that would have brought people to the region are largely canceled.
And one of the most classic summer delights, a cone dotted with rainbow sprinkles, now has to be altered.
Because of the fear of spreading infection from an open, communal bowl of sprinkles, “we’re not going to cover it in rainbow sprinkles anymore," Bruun said. Instead, the shop will hand out 2-ounce cups of sprinkles, individually capped.
“Does that take away from the experience? Pre-pandemic, it would,” Bruun said. But maybe now it’s worth it, for people to still get a taste of ice cream and feel safe at the same time.
“The day-to-day challenge is how to not simply exist in these circumstances, but to live. And the prospect of a cone of ice cream is a living experience," Bruun said.
Summer traditions closer to home are on the rocks, too. Wellington Matos, a sophomore at Fenway High, tends to spend long summer days at his grandmother’s house in Roxbury; cousins flow through, windows and doors are propped open for the breeze, and the smell of pastelitos fills the air. On the Fourth of July, the family hosts a cookout in the backyard, with music playing from early afternoon until the fireworks pop in the night sky. Matos hopes it will still happen this summer, but he’s guessing it won’t.
“Yeah, I feel like the traditions won’t happen, because it’s just a lot of people," Matos said.
Vacation spots around the region that have become almost too crowded in recent years are also bracing for an empty season. Robin Canha, the owner of the Vineyard Arts Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, had big plans for this summer. She was planning to cohost a grand party on the Island for prominent photographer Elliott Landy, whose work is showcased in her gallery, and she was already helping to promote a separate three-day music festival on the island featuring Beck and Norah Jones. She imagined visitors crowding the gallery just like last year, in high spirits and on vacation.
“Everything was just headed to be a wonderful year,” she said.
But of course, the party’s probably off, Landy likely can’t visit, and the festival has been canceled.
To make matters worse, she’s not sure how she’ll pay rent on the gallery space without any visitors — and she has no idea how long any of this will last.
Like for other businesses that rely on summer tourists, summer is shaping up to be less of a balm and more of a threat. More of the same, in other words, which is exactly what summer is not meant to be.
“I’m scared to death actually," Canha said. “I don’t know if I should be emptying it out and taking my sign down or hanging in.”