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GUEST COLUMN: Early Summer

Posted by kinchendavid on July 19, 2006

 


By Perry Mann


Hinton, WV The days are long, filled with light and twilight from dawn to dusk. The sun comes early and leaves late. Noon is a golden queen whose writ runs farthermost now. The night’s reign is imperceptibly truncated until the Summer Solstice. Then, with little notice, minute by minute, night extends itself until by September it contends equally for sovereignty of the northern heavens.

 

Summer with it green and warmth is the matured promise of spring, full freedom from the white and ice of winter. One walks with his face to the sky’s horizon charmed by the infinite blue mottled with great puffs of soaring cotton clouds and thinks how rare the days really are in June. And this June has had more than its share of rare days.

 

May was all rain. But rain brings grass and grass is hay, when mowed, baled and barned. And the sight of a new mown field is arresting and causes one to gaze upon its newly shorn and uniform appearance. Today hay-making is relatively a sweatless task, done by tractor and machines that cut the grass and pack it into either bales or rolls. There is no need for a pitchfork, a tool that was as indispensable as a hoe and an ax in my grandfather’s day, when horses pulled a mowing machine that cut it and a rake that windrowed it for hands that followed with pitchforks to shock it, load it on a wagon and pitch it into the barn loft. The use of a pitchfork in June at noon under the sun in a hay field broke sweat from brow and body and gave exceeding value to a dipper of spring water and to the table fare the women prepared.

 

All the rain has greened the hillsides and meadows with emerald shades not unlike an Irish landscape. The temperatures have been mild, the days warm and the nights cool. The streams have a look of life and health, not that sickly, septic, emaciated look that comes with drought. The oak in the back and the maple in the front lawn are oases of shade and breeze. And the birds are everywhere.

 

The phoebes raised two families on one of the porch posts, preempting my use of the swing most of the summer. Then after the phoebes had left, a barn swallow dabbed a nest atop what the phoebes had built and as of yesterday there were five swallows’ heads vying in a frenzy for what mother carried in. The grace, glide and manoeuverability of a barn swallow is a show I never tire watching. A ballerina is an ox in comparison. I have watched through the door glass a parent streak across the porch and light like a feather at the edge of the nest. A marvel of aeronautics and aesthetics.

 

A humming bird came through an open screen door into a screened-in porch and exhausted itself against the screen and ceiling until it fell to the floor apparently dead. I picked it up and held it in my hand with its underside up. Its wee feet were entangled with spider webs, which I pulled away. I noticed some life and after a minute or so it moved, turned over and took to the air and away. A jewel of a creature. An incredible creation. I thought while holding it of lines from William Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a Heaven in a wild flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour. “

 

I have been introduced to another creature this summer, a creature marvelously adapted and fashioned to prosper. But its prosperity is my garden’s poverty. It is a short-tailed shrew, an animal I have had no acquaintance with until this summer. Its occupation of my garden was first noticed when a luxuriant row of pea vines produced no peas. Something, I discovered, had eaten all of them. Then the beets when pulled had large cavities hollowed out and the same with the potatoes and the cucumbers, and the half-runners disappeared. I began to see the furtive flight under cover of vegetation of a strange critter and found many holes in the rows of everything that was near the ground. Although the shrew is a another marvel of nature it does not stand in my estimation equally with the hummingbird. In fact, I am devising ways to rid my garden of shrews, whatever it takes short of destroying the garden in my efforts.

 

Sitting on the porch fanned by a sweet breeze, I thought of the disparity of my attitude toward the birds and the shrew. Both have a place in nature and both are miracles of creation but the former I smile upon and the latter I frown upon and would dispatch with a hoe if I could aim well enough and were fast enough. I concluded tentatively, always tentatively, that man’s ethics and morality encompasses and extends only to man and not any other form of life, nor does it encompass or extend to men of other tribes in times of hostilities with them. Man can bait a barbed hook and lure the unsuspecting to the frying pan. He can set traps and use decoys to kill. He can sit quietly at dawn in a tree stand and assassinate animals doing nothing but having their breakfast. And he can bomb cities destroying infrastructure and killing the young and the aged indiscriminately and then pin medals upon the chests of those who kill with the most efficiency. Man’s morality apparently has little to do with the morality of God, who created the swallow as well of the shrew. Man’s moral perspective, save the radicalism of some eccentrics, is basically limited to homo sapiens and to that species only if it is of the right nationality.

 

Sitting there with a rare day in July all about, looking on the shaded lawn and watching the swallows come and go, I thought of more of nature’s manifestations: The movement of the winds, the flow of the waters, the sail of the clouds, the rise and set of the sun and moon, the leap of a deer, the patience of brutes, the green of summer and the yellow of fall, the tears at a grave, the tithe to a cause, and others displays that fills man’s days, nights and seasons.

 

I put out of my mind the other prescriptions of nature, those unfavorable to man’s welfare from his perspective but propitious to other species, such species as fleas, bedbugs, spiders, snakes, crows and shrews.

 

Summer is when the living is easy. But its very beginning is the beginning of its end, just as birth is accompanied by death, which tags along until its time. For man and shrew it has been a good summer so far. But I have in mind, I confess, making the remainder of summer not so good for the shrew.

 

* * * *

Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a regular columnist for the Nicholas Chronicle in Summersville and Huntington News Network. Born in Charleston, WV, in 1921, he lives in Hinton and on a farm in Forest Hill, Summers County, WV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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