The Sounds of Summer

Today is the first Saturday that actually seems like summer will arrive this year, and while not as hot as it will be all too soon, my mind was wandering (as it often does) to summers past, and to sounds.

One of the finest sounds of a summer Saturday is the first mower being started in your neighborhood…mind you, not the best, but one of them. To explain – I am generally up early on Saturdays….but of course, being a professional insomniac, I’m generally up early most days. And the problem with being up early is that I’d like to get a head start to the day and mow the lawn. Pam, however, insists that I am not allowed to be the first mower in the neighborhood and be responsible for waking everyone up. Fine, dammit…if I can’t be the first to pull the cord, I’ll damn sure be second. And so I mill about, drinking coffee, chasing the cats from underfoot, and listening. Always listening. And there it is – the first one. Within minutes I’m in the back shed, pulling the mower out, filling the gas tank and inhaling the pungent fumes from the spills onto the mower deck. A few quick pulls, and I’m off.

This year is starting much better than the last few…the mower quickly enters it’s droning sound, like a squadron of bees attacking. I used to listen to my iPod while mowing, but I stopped, since it seems too disconnected from what’s at hand. For the last few years, our mower hasn’t been right. I’m not allowed to say who, but someone ran it over a stump a couple of years ago, and bent the shaft. It still worked, but instead of a steady humming, it cycled wah-wah-wah-wah as you worked it. And that was just wrong….the sound didn’t work, and actually increased the tension in my shoulders and neck as I mowed. Recently we bought a new Husqvarna mower, the one with the bigger engine. This one sings like a church choir…this one is right.

But still, even the Husky isn’t the best sound. That comes later. 

And so I wander, and wonder, about the yard for an hour or so, listening to the mower, sweating a little, getting thirsty, and allowing myself to get lost in my thoughts. Before I know it, it’s over, and I’m finished. One of the other nicest sounds of summer is actually the silence you hear when your own mower stops. The buzzing and ringing is still there, you think, but is it? You shuffle about, cleaning up and putting away, tinkering at the other little projects (where was the pile of dog doo you almost stepped in while mowing?)

I go in and Pam has made fresh iced tea, and a cold glass is sitting there on the counter. Is it OK to call it a glass when it’s really a stainless steel cup? I’ll have to check with someone about that, but why not – it’s a glass, since a ‘cup of tea’ implies it’s hot, and that wouldn’t work at all. Maybe I’ll grab an apple from the fridge, or some cheese, or something leftover from last night’s grilling session, and head back outside. By now, the temperature has come up, and it’s plain old hot and  the sun is glaring. As I find a seat in the shade to eat my lunch, the air is filled with other sounds…the neighbor kids are squealing about something, maybe a game of sprinkler tag? Doors slam, tires crunch through the streets, and in the distance, the tinkling bell of the ice cream truck can be heard, but only if you try. Crickets are chirping out the temperature, for those who believe that they can and that they do.

This is close, but still not it. But this, as the Eagles sang, surely a peaceful, easy feeling. As I finish the apple, and take the last long drink of the iced tea, I setlle into the chair and close my eyes.

And that’s when it happens. A mechanical pull, and a cough. Then another, and the mower slowly sputters to life. It’s not my next door neighbor – those mowers always shout guilt-inducing epithets. “My yard is nicer, my grass is greener”. so one has to get up and find something else to do. No, this sound has to come from three or four houses away, at least. The dull hum of that mower no longer sounds like the mosquitoes, but like a temple full of Buddhists chanting “Om” continuously. I recall vaguely reading that Om is the sound and the resonant frequency of the universe, and just now, listening to that Buddhist mower down the street, I finally understand what they meant. And if it isn’t the resonant frequency of THE universe, well it certainly is the resonant frequency of mine today.

I breathe the sound in deeply, and the chanting mower mixes with the fresh aroma of my own just-cut lawn. The heat continues to rise, and sweat runs down my face and I taste the salt as the drops hit my lips. The high pressure area I saw on the weather report, it’s there too, and weighs heavily on my chest…every sense is engaged and I am alive. I know I have to take it in deeply because, while this IS the perfect sound of summer, it won’t last long. 

And sure enough, the screen door slams, but Mary’s dress doesn’t wave – it’s my son, shouting “Dad, can you take me to Luke’s…I have to finish a project”. Right behind him is Pam, adding “If you’re going out, pick up something for the grill tonight”.

And that’s why that momentary glimpse of the universal sound is the best. At it’s best, it’s transitory and fleeting, but it’s perfect, and the feeling it brings stays with me for the rest of the day. Fritjof Capra related Buddhist philosophy to quantum physics…he could have made it a lot easier and just mowed his lawn.

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