Keep it Elemental: Our formula for a stress-free summer

St. Louisans, lean in close and grab a seat — we have some bad news for you. You know that vacation-planning you're doing right now? And all those softball leagues you've signed up for? And your imminent tour of every St. Louis water slide? Yes?

Well, we hate to tell you this, but you're doing summer wrong. Just stop it all right now.

Yeah, that's right: You are pre-ruining your own summer. Not intentionally, of course, and there's definitely nothing wrong with any of these pursuits, individually and in moderation. But, see, the entirety of your summer isn't supposed be complicatedly prearranged from the first pitch all the way through to the final glint of a spent pyrotechnic in the waning summer sky.

dan zettwoch

During these warm-weather days, you'd be better served if you slowed down and concentrated on simplicity, like, say, the ancient Greeks. They (along with many other peoples) came to believe everything — everything — was made from earth, water, fire and air.

That way of thinking is so minimal, right? There are no what-ifs, no elaborate periodic tables. And you know what? With some focus and a little guidance from your friendly neighborhood newspaper, your summer could be as uncomplicated as these classical elements.

You just have to follow one simple rule: Choose to partake in only one, or possibly two, activities from all of those below, and then spend the rest of your summer sipping Arnold Palmers in a hammock. Agreed?


Earth's Mirth
Let's begin with the basics. When the earth isn't shaking beneath your feet, you don't pay it much mind. Yet thanks to gravity, you're pretty much always attached to some form of ground or another. But what if that ground you were standing on were far below the surface?

Thanks to Missouri's many, many caves — there are something like 6,000 of them — you can be completely surrounded by earth after a short drive and for just a few dollars. Some of these wonders are incredibly well publicized, and others, including the two that follow, are a little more, um, natural.

Check out Crystal Cave, which is north of Springfield, Missouri (7225 North Crystal Cave Lane; 417-833-9599 or www.crystalcavemissouri.com), for earthly formations with names like the "Washington Monument" and the "Castle." Admission to this attraction costs $5 to $9; call ahead for hours.

Then, there's Lake of the Ozarks State Park with its Ozark Caverns (823 Ozark Caverns Road, Linn Creek, Missouri; 573-346-2500 or www.mostateparks.com/lakeozark/cave.htm). Three tours, depending upon your age and interest, interpret this underground oasis' geologic features, including something called "Angel Showers." Your trek through this cave will run you from $4 to $6, and the schedule of tours is online. Plus, more helpful underground information can be found at www.missouricaves.com.


Water, Water Everywhere
Without water, you perish — it doesn't get any more fundamental than that. Of course, spending swelteringly hot St. Louis summer days near the wet stuff is nothing new. You've been on float trips, you frequent the pool, and you appreciate a good run through the sprinkler. But you haven't learned any new skills through these pastimes.

So why not try rowing? The St. Louis Rowing Club (314-434-8299 or www.stlouisrowingclub.com) offers three instructional sessions over the course of the summer at Creve Coeur Lake (13777 Marine Avenue, Maryland Heights). For $250 you can safely learn the technique and terminology behind this sport.

And if there's only $25 in your pocket, that's just enough to participate in a Full-Moon Paddle, happening on Saturday, July 19, and Saturday, August 16, at Simpson Park Lake (1234 Marshall Road, Valley Park). These nighttime canoe-fests also include a bonfire and weenie-roast, so advance registration is required. Call 314-615-4386 to reserve your spot, and visit www.co.st-louis.mo.us/parks for more information.

Now, for those who are really buying into our doing-nothing-is-better mantra, merely watching sailboats glide along is perhaps the ultimate in minimal activity. Beginning at 2 p.m. roughly two Sundays a month, the races held by the Creve Coeur Sailing Association (www.sailccsa.com) make this serene dream a reality at Creve Coeur Lake. Bring a blanket, choose a spot of shore, and get your stare on — it'll be a lovely afternoon for racing, indeed!

Playing with Fire
When the caveman discovered fire, it was a pretty big deal. But you, you've had flames at your fingertips your whole life. You don't appreciate the power of fire — at least not like the glass artists do.

To gain some of their burning desire and understanding, look no further than the Third Degree Glass Factory (5200 Delmar Boulevard; 314-367-4527) and its Flameworking I class. Throughout this two-day beginner course, offered in June and again in August, you'll learn how to make around twelve types of glass beads, and you'll pay $175 to do so. Sign up for some knowledge at www.stlglass.com.

Then, when you want to find out more about the cooking kind of fires, your neighborhood Lions Club might be able to help. Several of these groups host fundraiser barbecues, and the Webster Groves club is one of 'em. Feel the heat and taste the meat the second Friday and Saturday of each month, except July, at the Sappington Farmers' Market (8400 Watson Road, Webster Groves). A plate of delicious eats will run you less than $10, so you might as well go back for seconds. And thirds. Overeating is definitely a simple pleasure.


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