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What They Say in New England About Summer

Epigrams and folk wisdom

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The summer season inspires far fewer sayings in New England than spring, fall or winter, probably because it’s so short and so cool. And when it does happen, who wants to spend their time writing down epigrams and folk sayings?

'The Long Leg' by Edward Hopper, courtesy Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

‘The Long Leg’ by Edward Hopper, courtesy Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

After all, New Englanders consider three straight hot days a heat wave. They view ocean temperatures of 65 degrees as warm.

“Yes it was a lovely summer,” goes the old saw. “The day was sunny, clear and beautiful.”

Others say it’s one of four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.

Vermonters say their seasons are ‘nine months winter and three months of damn poor sleddin’.’

Mainers say they have two seasons: winter and August.

Parka and Shorts

New England actually went without a summer in 1816, also known as “Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death.” It snowed six inches in June and there was frost on the ground every month of the year.

These days, true New Englanders know what it’s like to wear a parka and shorts at the same time.

Sometimes the only way to tell if it’s summer is to find out if the local Dairy Queen is open. Or if the snowbirds have returned from Florida.

Gladys Taber, described in My Own Cape Cod how she knew it was summer:

Now I know summer is here, no matter how cold it is at night, for when I went out to the car this morning, the windshield was dusted with orange and the whole shiny dark blue of the body was powdered. The pine pollen has come! This is a thick, almost oily deposit that penetrates everything. If you close a room and lock the windows, the sills will be drifted with the pollen the next morning. The floors turn orange.

Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Summer Sayings

Here, then, are a few of the things New Englanders used to say about summer:

Black flies will not disappear until after the first thunderstorm in June.

 

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay.

A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm of bees in July
Isn’t worth a fly.

 

If it rains on the Fourth of July, the rest of the summer will be much wetter and colder than usual.

 

When the leaves of a poplar tree turn bottom-side up, it will rain within an hour.

 

If the sun rises red, the next day will be hot. If it sets red, it will not.

Then there’s Henry James’ quote about summer. Though not a native New Englander, he lived in Boston and Newport, R.I., and wrote novels about New Englanders:

‘Summer afternoon, summer afternoon’; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

This story was updated in 2023.