For many, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of Summer, but here in the northern climes where I reside, this artificial demarcation is more a function of culture than weather. Despite the strong likelihood that we will enjoy at least several more weeks of hot daytime temps better suited for T-shirts and cut-offs, schoolboys in shoulder pads and cleats will enthusiastically perform jumping jacks at the behest of a burly coach wearing a whistle; a band shell designed to provide the public with musical entertainment stands silent in a park; a nearby popular beach appears abandoned overnight.
If Memorial Day is a happy bracket that sets off the unofficial start of Summer, then, for me, Labor Day is its melancholy counterpart, a harbinger of barren branches and gusting snows that are certain to come. I too easily can envision myself trudging outdoors into a blustery cold night under the cumbersome weight of layered winter clothes. I can almost feel the sting of blowing snow against my exposed face. I can recall its taste on my tongue. Slowly and carefully, I must negotiate an icy and snow laden back staircase, a shovel in hand providing additional footing and aiding balance. I am headed for my garage, which lacks good artificial lighting.
Of course, between Summer’s end and Winter’s onset there is always Fall, perhaps my favorite season. I enjoy the physical changes that occur to the landscape and there is a sense of anticipation accompanying this transformation that lifts my spirit: Warm days, cool nights; changing colors; birds overhead flying southbound in a slightly askew V-formation; frantic bees; a thickening carpet made up of fallen leaves. Fall might be my favorite season at Deer Tick Manor, but its arrival means it is nearly time for Lee’s marvelous gardens to fade and go dormant until Spring returns six months hence.
From personal experience I know that, except for the evergreens, the trees at Deer Tick will steadily surrender their leaves to Fall until the last branch is completely shorn. Every year Fall arrives to thin out the curtain of green foliage that surrounds me, but there are a few fair trade-offs. For one, I get a peek at a wooded creek that is not otherwise visible. Each season I also can count on occasionally thrilling glimpses of low flying hawks, owls, and other large birds, darting acrobatically at velocity through my trees. Although many of their calls sound familiar to me, the birds are themselves rarely visible this deep inside of the woods. Hawks are not so rare at Deer Tick, to be sure, though I rarely will see them up close at such low altitudes. Over time the woods seem to acquire new depth and breadth. When the bare trees are blanketed by fresh snow, then I will know that it is time to shut down until Spring.
Except for Winter when there are no leaves, the salubrious sound of the wind passing through the trees at Deer Tick is a special feature of the place that draws me home. Yet, I hardly am alone my wonderment and esteem for this natural phenomenon.
Indeed, “pstihurism” is a noun that used to be employed to define the whisper or sound of rustling leaves or wind through the trees. Today, it is considered obsolete by the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary. The verb “susurrate,” which means to make a whispering or rustling sound, easily fits the sound of the wind passing through the trees. And I even know of a third word, “sough,” which means roughly the same thing, has yet to be declared obsolete by anyone insofar as I know, and possesses the apparent added advantage that it can function either as a noun or as a verb. More precisely, sough describes the quality of the sound that the wind makes.
Numerous writers, including poets, have tried to capture the effect. For example, the naturalist John Muir, who would attribute the wind’s “song” to types of trees, seems to have been partial to the song made by the wind passing through a pine tree. Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau as well as a 14th century Chinese scholar named Liu Chi shared Muir’s preference for the pine. I must listen more closely in the future.
Unfortunately, I lack the artist’s sensibility for nuance. In fact, I do not believe that I ever heard music in the wind through the trees. Its soothing sounds simply make me feel good. Anyway, I would just as soon hear voices on the wind, loved ones departed, hearkening me from places too deep to be easily reached.