The greens were subdued. Weathered by a summer’s worth of sun. Pockets of real color … gold … orange … rust … red … clustered in the branches above and gathered along the walkway. But the gentle yellows called quietly. Ahh … the soft, subtle yellows, practically sighed.
Such strange, strange times.
It was cloudy for weeks on end, it seems, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw stars in the sky. And the moon? I think I saw a pretty crescent around twilight a week or so back.
Thursday night, I shut down my computer and switched off the lights, and the patterns on my desk took me by surprise. The old familiar lines and squares angled across the wood. So bright it lit up the dark room. My response was something like, what’s that? oh, the moon. Then one of those feelings that come with a smile, like … oh, the moon.
My eyes followed the trail of light out the window and upwards to the almost-full moon high in the sky, shining bright behind the leaves at the top of the trees
It’s high up there, over 100 feet, and you wouldn’t think I could see the silhouette of individual leaves from so far. But I could see them, the ones at the top, the highest ones, reaching upward, and with the aid of bit of a breeze, swaying and dancing around in the night sky. For a minute or two, the bright beautiful almost-full moon was right there with them, surrounded, framed, almost decorated.
Me? Well, I should not be surprised, should I, to see moonlight coming through a window. It’s a rather regular event. My days are full. I’ve got projects, plenty to do, exercise, walks. Life. And there are weightier issues, for sure. But this sameness, day after day, after a while, it dulls some kind of sensors in us. Well, in me, anyhow. Some strange malaise of the brain.
I looked out the next night. I guess I hoped to see the moon again. It was cloudy and I couldn’t see the moon. But … I saw a single star out a side window. Yes!
This is an old photo of mine from last year.
The little bright light was unmistakably the flash of a firefly. It was almost dark, and I was by the dogwood in the front when I saw it. At first, I thought how wonderful. And then I thought sadly, oh little guy, you’re way too late. This isn’t gonna work out for you.
I made my way to the back door, and whoah, another light flashed. And another. And seconds later another in the furthest part of the back yard, under the trees. At least four different bugs. After that I lost track because fireflies cover some distance between flashes. If I knew how, I would have said, hey, there’s a guy in the front looking for you.
It seems late for fireflies, but it’s been a strange year.
That isn’t a dogwood in the picture, and those aren’t fireflies. It was a little too late to take pictures, but those last bits of light call to me. Still, the fireflies were for real. I’ve been wordy of late. The end of summer puts thoughts in my head. Thanks for patiently reading and taking the time to tell me what you think.
Is it still summer? Yes, technically. But not really. We know it, don’t we?
The bugs are merciless and the cicadas are still noisy. The birds? I haven’t seen it just yet, but the same robins who would almost fight to the death over a strip of land in July, gather like one big happy family in September. A bunch hanging together on the gutter, looking down at another group picking the yard for worms. In my imagination, it’s something like happy hour. The offspring are hunting the lawn, and the grown-ups are up there standing guard, smoking, and telling the summer’s war stories. Bad talking the feral cats. Mocking the hawks. Like … hey, you remember the morning that loudmouth blue jay helped us fight the accipiter hawk? Chased that guy right out of the oaks, almost knocked that napping sap-sucker from its nest in the poplar, and we didn’t let up til our squawking hawk friend crash landed somewhere inside the big sycamore.
Territorial lines are gone now, I guess.
Not the hummingbirds though. They’re still in it to win it. I’ve never seen hummingbirds willing to share. I’m not sure they even share with their loved ones. That nectar must be something worth fighting for.
It happens every year. The catbirds finish nesting there, and the hummingbirds take over. One guy (the defender) claims the feeder and sets up perch inches away. And waits for interlopers. I can see the bird there right now.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but hummingbird competitions are fun to watch. One zooms in from nowhere for a sip of that intoxicating nectar, and the defender guy moves at light warp speed to intercept. Where do they get those reflexes? All that sugar, I guess. And the fight is on. They fly off after each other, at unbelievable speed. You’ve seen hummingbirds, you know what I mean. Synchronized turns. Timing. And angles that defy aerodynamics. Then the original defender guy returns to its perch.
The roses are fading, and the tomatoes are struggling to redden. But there are warm days left, and the hummingbirds have energy in the tank to fight on. One day soon, one day in September, they’ll leave.
And that … that is the end of summer.
It’s wonderful, one of the best of sounds. Soft, the sound of gentle movement up, up around the treetops. But there’s a rhythm to it. Not pitter patter. Maybe pat, pit, pat. But way more subtle than that, and quicker than pat, pit, pat.
I guess by this time of year the weathered leaves near the top of the canopy are dry and leathery. And strong. Strong enough to hold onto raindrops for a minute or two. And let you listen, while the air down below, where you stand, surrounded by trees, is quiet. Insulated and quiet. The kind of quiet we hear in a room with heavy drapes and thick carpet.
The pit-pats are soft enough the subconscious eventually has to tap you on the shoulder, and say, what is that? Wind? Rain? Yes, rain. And if you like, you can stand still. Or you can saunter along on your way. And listen. For as long as it lasts, you can listen. As long as the leaves up there protect you, you can listen.
I feel I should pause here, because there is a delay in the way this all happens. Besides, the moment deserves a pause. Like it would be inappropriate to rush it.
Then. Then the rain picks up and leaves give way to the weight of the moisture. Soft pit-pats become a drenching swish, a swish that makes it down past the leaves to the air that surrounds you. Down to the shrubs and small plants that grow near the path. Down to the dirt. It’s a different kind of rain sound. The kind they overdo in movies. Why can’t they get that right?
Then, I guess it’s time to move on. Make a dash for it, find a dry spot.
Evening walks feel different now. Sundown comes earlier, for sure. But it’s more than that.
Is it the seasons? People? Maybe people are tired of walking the same paths, the same trees, the same curves and dips in the surface. Parents tired of getting their kids and their bikes down to the trails, skinned knees, everybody trying to get along and enjoy nature. Or maybe it’s the kids who are tired of it. Maybe they’re getting ready for school, however school is going to work this year. I think there are fewer people walking the trails.
But it’s not just people. What was alive, thriving, robust, a month ago is starting to fade. I’m avoiding the words.
I look around and I see sad. Maybe lonely. Past the prime. On the way to a harsh reality I’m not ready to deal with.
There are fall flowers, but the brush is almost down to leafless sticks in many places. It can make you careless because there’s still poison ivy among whatever is growing. Already in September, trees are skimpier. Not bright fall colors and dropping leaves en masse, but leaves are weathered, and when you look up now, you see more sky than lush green. In July I could only hear moving water somewhere behind all the green, but now I can see right down to the creek.
Even the dirt looks pale, anemic. Surely the dirt doesn’t change.
September sunsets are lovely. Pale bits of amber light make it past the lowest branches. And September’s pretty wildflowers let you pretend. For just a little longer. But, ready or not, change is on its way.
Tonight the air’s full,
and the best I can do is breathe deep.
Sit and rest in the shadows
let the dull,
Tonight the sky’s full of light.
And its air fills my soul.
George Harrison is a special soul.
Forty-nine years ago, August 1, 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh. In reality, two concerts. Performed to raise awareness, and funds for relief, of refugees caught up in the war in Bangladesh.
Earlier that year, Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician and friend to George, told him about the desperation in Bangladesh and asked George to help. The short of it is George said okay. A couple of months went by without a real plan, but another five or six weeks and George pulled together his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Star, and the band Badfinger, and Ravi Shankar recruited another Indian musician, Ali Akbar Khan, and they all performed at Madison Square Garden on the first day of August.
The back story covers a lot of musical history, and intersects the lives of some well-known and talented people. In 1961, George was 18 and performing in Germany with an early pre-Ringo version of The Beatles. Fast forward ten years, the musical group called The Beatles exploded into THE BEATLES and took over the world, until the individual Beatles went their separate ways in 1970. George was more and more interested in spirituality and eastern philosophies and music traditions, and was evolving musically to bring these influences into his craft. By 1971, he had his own solo albums and was producing the soundtrack for Raga, a documentary film on Shankar. Nevertheless, he hadn’t performed on stage as a solo act yet.
That summer, George was 28 and organizing in my memory one of the first big, really big, aid concerts in modern history. Dealing with the venue, performers, filming, recordings, the tax man, and everything else that’s involved in planning an event like this, with the goal (and determination) to get the money to where it was needed, in Bangladesh, and not everywhere in between.
So. Picture this. The end of the concert. George at the microphone. The master of ceremonies. The other performers were done. Clapton was dealing with some serious addiction issues and barely made it through his bit with George. And George didn’t know at this point if Dylan would perform. The day before, Dylan told George he was too nervous. About the crowd. For every one of us who’s stumbled over our own words because looking out at faces brings on brain freeze, there’s the idea of a nervous Bob Dylan. Are we all human or what? Bob Dylan, yes THE Bob Dylan, was nervous about the crowd and not sure he could perform. Whatever was happening in his life, he hadn’t really performed in concert for a number of years, and wasn’t sure he could do it. Why does this awkward little detail appeal to me?
George looked around the darkened stage, bright lights in his eyes, to see if the big act would come out and sing.
And yes, Bob Dylan was the big act. There was in fact a question mark next to his name on the concert playlist. What was George thinking during that flash of a minute? It must have been something like, “Oh shit, what am I doing here?” I haven’t seen that quote, but what else would be going through his head?
Then, yes … there he was. Bob Dylan. To paraphrase George’s description, his denim jacket, his harmonica, and his guitar. Dylan looked young and uncomfortable, but the music started. It was A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, and he knew his song well.
Forty-nine years ago.
the fest for beatles fans
snf your beatles station
At the end of the day, what was left of the sun splintered into pale pink and bronze spots of light. Bits of sky angled past the foliage, down to the the creek, and bounced back from the still water with the same soft hues.