Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From My Nature Journal: A Sure Sign of Summer

The nighthawks are doing their evening dance, flitting higher and higher, butterfly-like, then rolling into their booming, wind-jamming and wing-jarring dive. One just scared the bejeebers out of me with his sonic boom not fifty feet away.

“Pete!” they call, “Pete!” as if they all have the same nickname…

Last night I listened to them late into the night, long after I had crawled into my sleeping bag. And every time I stirred awake overnight I could hear them, far away or close by, even until dawn.

I’ll not forget the first time I ever heard the boom, years ago while on another solo campout. I had squirreled a day aside to spend on retreat, early summer as now. Up over the hill to the south came this strange sound. From a distance it almost sounded like the propane flame intermittently fired under a hot air balloon, ending with something of a small pop. I actually climbed the hill to look to the sky. Nothing. So then, was it an animal roar of some kind? It was hard to pinpoint the sound’s direction. A surprise it was to realize it was a small bird doing aeronautics. It didn’t seem to be going after prey, so I guessed it was some kind territorial or mating display. Yet maybe it was just doing it for the sheer joy of it, just because it could. I suppose if I could do that, I would.

Now that I think of it, the sound, if it could be lengthened beyond its half-second duration, is also like the sound of a semi going the opposite direction from across the median of an interstate highway. Strange that I have to compare it to two such contrary notions, a hot air balloon and a truck, but I can think of no natural comparison.

Perhaps it was doing it just for the
sheer joy of it, just because it could.
I suppose if I could do that, I would…

I see and hear nighthawks everywhere, from here in the boonies to the roof-top deck of my sister’s Chicago-urban-core condo. I also remember watching them as a kid on warm summer evenings up at the Michigan family farm. It might even be the first bird I learned to identify, what with its evening apparitions, its fluky juking and jiving, and its easily-seen white chevron underneath each wing. But it is odd I don’t remember the dive or the boom, such a unique characteristic.

Anyway, it is both a current delight and a pleasant memory.

I will speak of the glorious honor of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works. (Psalm 145:5)

~~ RGM, from an early entry in my nature
journal, adapted June 28, 2017


  1. My Dad would call them Thunderbirds.

    1. That is a cool thought, Brian, not only about the bird but about your Dad. Thanks for sharing it!