An Ode in Prose to the Southern Summer Night

Hannah with the ultimate Southern summer fruit (the BEST are from S.C.)

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It’s more a sensation than a sound: cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers, constant as tide, webbed things in and out of the water, dusky air heavy with wetness, a cloistered heaviness that, paradoxically, calls to mind the oxygen-deprived air of higher altitudes as it greedily absorbs your warm breath.

Sometimes there are bona fide sensations that leave a proof of purchase: the no-see-um pricks of coastal pests, shallow pale welts from thirsty mosquitoes, a sheen of delicate sweat where skin folds upon skin – at the elbows, knees, neck, armpits, between your feet and your $3.99 flip-flops.

There is no night like a Southern summer night. It conjures the memory of lukewarm water flowing over pitch black dirt, weaving over bottomland and lapping witch hat cypress knees. It speaks of hot humid air made no less hot or humid by your rolled-down window going 65 miles per hour on rural blacktops. It hems you in on a front porch rocker, a paper plate with peanut butter-covered pound cake in your hand, a floor fan oscillating among the forest of woven chairs and bare legs. Its insect roar lullabies you to sleep with windows open and ceiling fans whirring.

Southern summer nights sing out the sweet strings of “Tara’s Theme.” They grate the coarse steel guitar of “Hold on Loosely.” They fiddle the quick fingers of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Then they pause in their insect chorus just long enough for you to recall your grandmother’s voice retelling the tales of your crazy Uncle Ben – mixing fact and fiction, bequeathing a tight, if not-quite-seamless, weave of family ties.

Southern summer nights are pregnant with memory – is it perhaps only here, bafflingly, that a state of expectancy is defined by what was, not what is or will be? So warm you are transported to childhood and adolescence, as though reaching back through time for the warmth of your mother when you were new to her. So warm you sit still and think, and your thoughts go not to grand plans for future days, but rather to rock in the gentle warm waters of yesterday, and yesterday’s ease and slowness, its familiar places and paces.

Summer nights are dark elsewhere, of course. Summer nights are hot and humid elsewhere, too. But they do not carry the weight, the volume, the sheer enormity of memory that a Southern summer night carries so effortlessly in its cricket arms, so buoyantly in its humid breath. They cannot compare with its dark, rich, potent sound or sensation. There just is no night like a Southern summer night.

Samuel, transferring mud from the beach to the lake; undoubtedly a brilliance to this we cannot see

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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