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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Nights and Memories

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 

I have always enjoyed, nay, reveled in the changing seasons.  The progressions of nature are very much the rhythms that move inside of us.  My favorites are the temperate weeks of spring and autumn.  Spring is a time of rebirth, when the trees and grass rebound from winter’s sleep in an explosion of life.  Trees bud, then leaf out as their limbs dance in unison to the warm breezes.  This is a time when grass grows green again, and flowers dazzle the landscape.  Birds, silent and absent for so long, fill the air with their joyous songs.  After huddling indoors from winter’s cold and storms, it is exhilarating to go outdoors and feel the warm sun on faces and arms that have for too long been covered in coats.

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  The heat and humidity of summer has finally released its grip.  The air is cool, dry, comfortable.  The sky has shed its milky summer haze for a blue that is vivid beyond words.  And as time glides through the season, the trees withdraw chlorophyll from their leaves, leaving their natural tones, bright yellows, vibrant reds and oranges.  In those areas fortunate to still have forest land, the landscape fluoresces especially when lit by that butter-colored sun as its light beams among the trees.  Life has become more intense.  The kids are back in school, and the clock-driven tension of football moves to center stage.  The days are ever shorter, but that only pushes us to higher activity levels in the knowledge that we have less daylight to finish what we started.  Fall has an aroma, a musty scent all its own as the leaves begin to fall and cover the ground.  You can smell it in the forest, and even walking through the neighborhood.  Kick up a pile of leaves, and there you have it:  Eau de October.

Winter has its own form of excitement as we witness the first flakes of snow, and the beauty that a heavy snowfall gives to the land.  But the romance is short, and soon, the damp cold, the continual shoveling, and what snowfall does to traffic around here, combine to make life miserable.  One of the biggest reasons that spring is so gloriously welcomed is the reprieve from the assault of Old Man Winter.

Then there’s summer.  It is my least favorite season.  I grew up in Missouri and most of the memories of summer are of the blazing hot sun and the humid air that lay on the skin like a warm, wet wool blanket.  You could take a shower, get all primped and primed, only to have all your preparations collapse in the short walk between the front door and the car.  While it was a time of vacation, the weather was so miserable that it forestalled most activities.  Even the solitary peace of fishing was disrupted by the hot weather and the continual assault of horseflies, wasps, and tics.  As an adult, summer days are like any other day of the year, spent at work.  We do take trips from time to time, but the heat and humidity that seem to be everywhere wear me down and tend to make me a bit cranky. 

But there is one thing about summer that I do find pleasurable and peaceful.

I am a nightowl.  My life long, my body fought against rising early in the morning, and has likewise resisted the call of bedtime.  I enjoy the nights.  And even though the air is still warm and humid, at least the fiery sun has gone away for a few hours.  I was a Boy Scout in my youth, achieving the rank of Eagle in 1971, an accomplishment of which that I remain very proud.  Summer was the time when we did our camping overnights.  We went out to a campsite in the country, usually a place well covered with trees with creeks burbling along among their roots.  We would go far enough south beyond the glacial plains into the more rough and tumble terrain of the Ozarks.  There we would climb, hike, fish, and build rope bridges.  We would study the different types of trees and crouch in the underbrush while observing the actions of various forms of wildlife.  We would identify and classify insects.  I remember one time when one of our adult volunteers brought along a portable microscope and we discovered the universe that lives in a drop of water.  I remember that moment of amazement when my universe suddenly expanded beyond the boundaries of my experience.

When night fell, and we had cleaned up after dinner and campfire, we crawled into our tents and I would lay there as one by one, my fellow Scouts, exhausted by the exertions of the day, dropped off to sleep.  But the forest was anything but quiet.  Crickets and frogs would warm up their concert as the sun closed on the horizon.  The nightbirds added their calls, including the inscrutable owls.  But overlaying it all was the steady sound of the cicadas.  There are dozens of types of them, each one with its own particular sound.  The trees seemed to amplify and echo that sound throughout the forest.  It was for me, a peaceful sound, one that still resonates even today. 

I love my life.  I have finally found the perfect job, one that fits the odd patterns of my personal rhythms, and one that challenges me in my strongest areas.  My wife and I are deeply in love and now that the kids are grown, we have time to spend with each other that just didn’t exist before.  We are enjoying our growing grandchildren, amazed at how quick they learn and develop.  I still ride my motorcycle, within the bounds of my other responsibilities, loving those times when I can explore the magical back roads of the Virginia countryside.  I write, although not as often as I’d like, but still manage to find time pour my feelings into words. 

Driving home, after midnight these days, I roll down the window and turn off the a/c.  I plan my route so that I purposefully travel through areas where the forest remains a dominant feature.  And as I roll along, I listen to that friendly chorus among the trees.  In those sounds, a memory rises from deep inside the wellspring of my past.  Suddenly, I remember what it was like to be young and lying in a tent in the night of a Missouri forest.

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