My Dragon Summer

There are lots of contenders for the saddest lines ever written.

''For sale, baby shoes, never worn.''

That one was ascribed, unproven, to Hemingway, and this is E.B. White on Charlotte, who had a web: ''No-one was with her when she died.''

But it's a lesser-known line that gets me every time, more for the pathos of it than pure sadness.

It's in a book by Gina Wilson about Ignis, a dragonlet, who is searching for his fire.

On his quest he spends lazy, secret days with a little girl called Cara and when they part ways, she says, ''This has been my Dragon Summer. You only get one.''

It is more poignant by far than when Puff the Magic Dragon ceases his fearless roar and slips into his cave.

And that's saying something.

I've read Ignis at least a zillion times, to offspring and nephews and overnighters.

To any unsuspecting child who strays my way.

Partly because it's so good and partly because reading aloud into the hug of a small person is one of the best things in life.

But until I typed Dragon Summer into the googler for this article, I never knew it was the title of a 1963 book by Ruth M, Arthur, about a girl revisiting a house she knew as a child.

It's also the name of a United States college transition programme, which invites you to come to university early and get ahead.

Which sounds more like a draconian summer than a dragon one. But anyway, the book.

According to the reviews, there's a ghost and an aunt and lots of symbolism and it's all very gentle and nice.

My Dragon Summer is not imagined like that. (Though, of course, it's yet one more book now to add to the must-read list.) Nor, do I imagine, was Cara's.

In those lines I hear a certain heat, a summer between innocence and beginnings, knowing there is only the one.

It's the realisation that things are finite.

Dragon Summers are all the better in the southern hemisphere because they contain the definite finiteness of the going and coming of calendar years.

This year, I am having a deliberate Dragon Summer.

Two thousand and fourteen was a year overshadowed by endings and if I have a resolution, it's to celebrate everything while it lasts.

So far, even the bothersome bits of 2015 have been given good dragon breath, like the collective amnesia that hangs in the air here, making it seem like a good idea to head, high season, into town.

My Dragon Summer has seen a tail of important groundhog cars snaking their impatient way into Wanaka township; owners aping their vehicles, scaling through supermarket queues that stretch to the back of the aisles.

The heat sometimes shows itself there.

But it's outside too.

Tongues of hot wind lapping Dublin Bay then circling, circling away, leaving nothing between us, the sun and the lake for days.

Has there ever been a summer like it for stillness and sun? Probably, in parts, the last one and the last one.

There are always Dragon Summers hiding - with dragons, you have to be imaginative to remember they even exist.

It's the same with the long, long holiday days - so much time to do so much with sticks.

Ignis and Cara spend their summer making daisy chains, climbing trees and eating Cara's gran's strawberry ice cream.

For me it's more like lake swims, well-placed caffeine, projects on a whim and reading to whoever is handy.

But the principle's the same. It's for the now.

We know it can't stay on, like whatever weather system we're currently enthralled with.

And doesn't that make life all the more epic for it?

The most epic dragon in my Dragon Summer has been Smaug.

I've seen him die twice now, once in 3-D, and I still can't believe that the Reign of The Two Trilogies is over bar the DVD idolatry. Such a journey.

But you can't hang on to a Dragon Summer. Everything and everyone has their time.

As Tolkein himself wrote (in surely another contender for that choked-up line), ''So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings''.

I'll enjoy my Dragon Summer while it lasts.

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