The Late-Summer Sadness of the Adirondack Chair

By Neil King Jr.

You see them in twos, threes and fours, clustered along lake shores and ocean fronts, the white ellipses of imagined sunsets. You swoop past a mountain cottage and see them silhouetted in the yard, overlooking a meadow. You spot them from a sailboat perched along a bluff. You see them out on your own lawn maybe, remembering when in the spring you hauled them from a shed, dusted off the spiders and mold, and positioned them there, so redolent of the promise of a summer still to come.

The Adirondack chair speaks to us of stolen moments and whispered conversations. You see a pair from the road and think of the uncle who may have sat there, tipsy, telling jokes to his niece. The one at the end of that pier has you in it, at all of fifteen, legs tossed over one its arms, devouring The Great Gatsby. You imagine a wedding where, as an old man, you sit there in the fading light, sipping champagne with the bride. 

But as the summer meanders into late August, as the cattails droop and the yard yellows, these chairs assume a subtle sadness. You have walked or driven or sailed past a thousand of them all summer, it seems, and seen not a single one occupied. At your own place the pair by the pond has been moved for the mower but never used for that cocktail that was a certainty in May. These chairs are ideas unrealized, like the boats in the harbor that never set sail. The floating dock no one ever swam out to. 

This sadness is not dire and far from fatal. It’s not a crushing disappointment but more a reminder of small aspirations unmet. We want to be the ones who say, “Come on, let’s take our cocktails and sit out there.” Or we fleetingly think it would be fun to write lyrics in that solo chair out by the willow. But we worry the bugs might get us. The walk and the grass both seem unnecessarily long. It is a tad humid, isn’t it? You fret you may run out of witticisms just as you sit down. Is that gull crap I see?

It is not just us who harbor these aspirations, these fleeting images of the little ways a life should fit together. The chairs themselves are also to blame. They are built for sitting back while looking out. Their wide flat arms call for putting a margarita or a morning coffee atop the stack of paperbacks you’re determined to read. That rigid slouch that still cries comfort makes them the ultimate emblem of passing leisure and idleness. Maybe because of all that we steer clear, look away, take a different path. It’s all too much. 

By Labor Day all those chairs atop cliffs or peering across prairies have lost their look of welcome. They have sunk a tad into the earth. Grass is growing shaggy around their legs. They have become faintly accusatory. You’re not sure, but you think you heard one snickering. You feel relief when you lovingly drag them back to the shed and bring the leaf blower out to start getting rid of the leaves. 

Along the Chesapeake

–Neil King Jr. is the editor of Gotham Canoe and a writer who, when not at home in Washington DC, is very happy to be elsewhere.