Garrison Keillor, in his classic “Lake Wobegon Summer of 1956,” calls it Summer Music.
He reminisces about the familiar sounds of summer, some of which we first heard as kids and nostalgically remember for the rest of our lives: the drowsy drone of a lawn mower in distance, the swish-swish-swish of a lawn sprinkler, the creaking of a rocking chair on a front porch, the contented sigh of an old dog dozing under the steps.
I thought of one we don’t hear any more: the squeak-squeak of a handle being cranked on an old-fashioned wooden ice-cream bucket. Fidgeting while waiting for the home-made ice cream to become frozen in its bed of rock salt whetted the appetite. When the lid was finally opened and the ice cream dipped out, we ate so much so fast our heads ached.
Nowadays nobody hand-cranks an ice-cream bucket. It’s done electronically, and the hum of a motor somehow doesn’t sound as delicious.
Re-reading Keillor’s book for the umpteenth time the other day got me to thinking about summer music of the outdoors variety. Since this is an outdoors column, here’s some I came up with:
The gurgle of a summer brook. In the summertime the creek behind my house is reduced to a trickle, and that trickle over the rocks sings a gurgling lullaby – a far cry from the rushing cascade when the creek is wintertime high.
The trill of a mockingbird. Every summer mockingbirds set up housekeeping in a bush outside our bedroom window. For the first 30 summers their constant nighttime chirping kept me awake. Now I can’t sleep without it. Our granddaughter named one resident Mr. Sing-Along.
Bullfrogs: As teenagers we used to hunt bullfrogs as they sang bass in the reedy banks of farm ponds beneath the glow of an amber moon. Frog hunting was mostly just an excuse for my buddies and me to get out at night and ponder such cosmic wonders as homecoming queen Mary Jane Wattenbarger.
Whip-poor-wills. Old folks claimed their mournful cry signaled an imminent death. Last summer during trip back home to visit an aging relative I heard my first whip-poor-will in many years. It made me sad. How did it know?
Train whistle. I guess it’s not technically an “outdoors” sound; I used to listen to a train moan off in the distance as I lay in my bed at night and imagined all the exciting places it was bound for. But we also could hear the lonesome wail during camping trips, so it counts.
The pop and crackle of a campfire: speaking of summertime camping trips, we didn’t need a campfire for warmth, but it was a requisite for heating beanie-weenies and providing atmosphere.
Summer rain. Whether it is whispering through overhead leaves or pattering on a tin roof, a summer rain is different from a winter rain. A winter rain is drumming and harsh. A summer rain is gentle and soothing.
Katydids. The most nostalgic of all summer music. As a kid I used to listen to them argue outside my open window at night: “Katy did!” “Katy didn’t!” “Yes she did!” “No she didn’t!” I wondered who Katy was, and what she was accused of doing that had those little green bugs in such a dither.
Now decades later I sit on the porch on warm summer evenings, like those so long ago, and listen to the katydids’ serenade. And I still wonder …
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected]