The sounds of summer

By Todd R. Nelson


“That is such a summer sound,” said my daughter Ariel.

She was helping me hang the wooden screen door on the front of the house, so she had the privilege of letting it slam for the first time. The hinges creaked, the door swished toward the house and wood met wood with a clap. Suddenly we were transported to the zone of lazy afternoons, popsicles and flip flops; transported to numerous prior houses and neighborhoods and numerous seasons by this mnemonic of summer.

The calendar records the celestial and mathematical onset of summer. But I prefer the granular, sensory details that let us know we’ve arrived — or are arriving — finally. We are accustomed to summer showing up gradually, dressed in longer and warmer days, and sightings of migratory species returning: goldfinches are back at my feeder, the bears are out, new deer are tentatively following their mothers and summer people are taking the thermometers out of their front windows and airing out the porch furniture. Contractors are picking up the pace to finish winter projects in time for clients’ return. Golfers soon abound.

But I’m noticing that summer arrives more secretively, stealthily, as sounds. The trees will have their rattling voices back as leaves unfurl and catch the breezes. The peeper choir is pumped up to arena concert volume. And there is a Romeo bullfrog near my window who moans to Juliet about true love nightly at 1 a.m. My porch drip edge has a special patter that only spring rain seems to make. Can the annoying whine of the mosquito be far behind? In this aural solstice party, even the sound of lawnmowers has a certain welcome auspiciousness — which won’t be the case by August.

On our day of proto-summer chores, it was sunny and warm and the tree buds itching to rip out on the maple branch. It was time to hang the hammock, and Ariel rummaged in the basement to find where we had stored it last October. Soon we had it strung in its dedicated spot between a fir and cedar tree. The woven ropes clinched tight and the hanging chain creaked on the trees, like rigging flexing under sail — there’s another summer sound. The hammock is always linked to languorous hours with my nose in a book. If summer reading makes a sound, I’m hearin’ it. I think I even hear the sound of raspberries “intending to appear,” to borrow a phrase by John McPhee talking about moose.

Last weekend, you could also hear the lupines growing, the purple blossoms intending to appear. To me, they augur graduation since, by the time they blossom, someone will be picking them from local fields to make the flower arrangements for eighth grade graduation ceremony — where the school community will listen to the last songs for this year, and the speeches and tributes delivered in honor of the class ending their elementary school careers.

Our hummingbird feeders are up. We await our inaugural sighting. But, of course, we’ll hear them first. Just when I least expect it, there he’ll sonically appear, ferociously darting around the beak of the nectar bottle and fighting off his ruby-throated brethren. Heavy metal drone symphony. What are your sounds of summer?


Todd R. Nelson is a writer in Penobscot. Ariel R. Nelson is an MFA candidate at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland.

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