A nostalgic rite of summer passing
“The passage of the nighthawks carries the passage of summer and so I wait for them as the evening sky fades in shades of blue toward the darkness.”
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I sit in the dusk and wait. The back yard is shadowed; the sky holds early evening light. It is the time that leads to sundown, the transition when late afternoon becomes early evening; then full evening; then darkness.
I sit in the back yard and wait for nighthawks to fly. This is the time they move on the high thermals, swooping and arcing, flocks of them moving inexorably south. I wait for them; surely they will come. This is the time of their migration and with their flight, summer ends. The nighthawks bring the closure. When the nighthawks migrate summer is no more, it is gone with their flight.
So I wait for the nighthawks on late summer evenings when seasons hang in balance and the nighthawks will tip the scale. I wait for them. I wait for the changing.
They come in the evening, a solitary bird, then another, and more. They stream across the sky and late day sun will catch them in its glow. The sun will set and still the birds will fly. In time the sky will go dark and I will not be able to see the birds. I will not care. By the time of darkness I will have seen what I need.
I wait. I sit on a small bench with a backrest that is angled back and my eyes lift to the sky. I wait for the birds. I wait one evening, a second, a third. The birds do not come.
A friend tells me, “I saw them over Lake George last night. They were so low I could see the white on their wings and throats.” But I do not see them. They do not fly over the houses and the streets of town. I wait.
I wait in a sense of sadness for the season passing, a season too short but one that must pass as all things in life pass. I feel a loss at the passing of all seasons.
I pity those who live where the seasons merge into a sameness and the only change is heralded by the sound of pages flipping on a calendar. I would rather feel the sorrow of a season passing for only in that can one truly appreciate the season, know that it is transitory; best to treasure each day for it will not last. In this land of northern woods one knows the seasons, knows them with an intimacy when they are here, feels a longing when they pass. I would rather feel that than not.
The passage of the nighthawks carries the passage of summer and so I wait for them as the evening sky fades in shades of blue toward the darkness. This week the birds do not come, not to me.
The season will flow past whether I see the birds or not. I know that. August will give way to September and with that summer will pass into autumn. I know that. I know also that we have our traditions, our markers of the seasons. I know that one of mine is the flight of the nighthawks on evenings of late summer. Summer will fade no matter that I see the birds above. But I want to see the nighthawks. It is my tradition. So I watch the evening sky.
But there is more. I know that the melancholy I feel in the shadow of August is not simply for the season that slides to memory. I know in the coolness of the August night that it is not simply for the passage of nighthawks and summer that I feel somber. It is for now distant days and times now long gone.
It is, the sadness and a sense of loss, for the nights of summer times decades gone now. When I was younger the nighthawks were part of summer nights in this town. They were part of the hot evenings of July and August when I grew up. In those nights the nighthawks soared overhead in the summer heat. They would sweep and dive and their flights would crisscross the dark sky as if they were tending the warp and weave of the fabric that made up the crazy quilt of my youth.
We would watch them in flight, young kids with upturned faces, wide-eyed in wonder. The white feathers of their wings gave every appearance as if a gap in the feathering and until I knew better I assumed they had feathers missing. They would appear out of the darkness over the light of the city then bank a sweeping turn and disappear in to the dark night again.
But more: there was the call of the nighthawks in flight and in the darkness of the summer night I would hear their cries and know that the birds were there. They would ride the night and their calls would echo.
Now they are gone. I don’t know when I last heard a nighthawk in summer.The nights are quiet save for the humdrum sounds of a small town in Northern Wisconsin. The nighthawks no longer fly and call and define the nights of summer. They are no longer here except in silent m igration.
It is for that I feel the melancholy of late summer and wait for the nighthawks. It is in that passing of those now long-past summers that I feel a sadness. Those days are gone and the time when nighthawks found a home here is gone and kids today will never know their calls. It is a different world now.
So I sit in the backyard in the evenings one more time waiting for the flight of nighthawks. In the gathering darkness I sit with the memories of summers long gone. I wait for birds. I wait for the sign of summer gone. I wait for the memories.
I wait for the call of the nighthawks but I know it will not come.
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