Of the many joys that summer brings, some of the best occur at night.
There is something immensely satisfying about sitting on the deck or in the screen porch talking with friends as the sky turns toward purple and the whippoorwill begins to call. Later, when darkness rules, the dots of light appear: stars overhead, fireflies to the side, a candle flame atop the table.
It is then that the conversation grows best and the words, coming from faces barely visible in the night, take on a depth and power otherwise missing.
Not that all talk is about things of surpassing importance. Some of what's said is humdrum. We're getting low on milk again. Don't forget to mail that letter in the morning. Did anyone hear the weather forecast? Any chance of rain?
But on occasion the mood turns serious, and words are measured and weighed before being spoken. Were we right to send troops to Afghanistan? Where will the next trouble spot be? Iran? North Korea? What about the price of gasoline? What about pharmaceutical costs? Are we being gouged unfairly? And what do you guys think about gun control? Is there any workable way to prevent school shootings?
Then someone tells a joke or remembers a funny anecdote about Aunt Mabel and laughter wells up out of the darkness and washes away some of our worries.
Another glass of wine? Anybody need another beer? Iced tea? Lemonade? Don't be bashful, folks. It's summertime, remember? Enjoy.
And so the evening passes, voices lapping softly like waves against the shore, rising and falling like the point of flame above the candle on the table, giving you the sense of being passengers aboard an unseen ship moving gently through the night.
Gradually the intervals between words grow longer. Someone yawns. An owl hoots from somewhere in the woods. A plane drones past above, its warning lights blinking like a high-altitude firefly beckoning to its less daring cousins.
Someone strikes a match and for an instant faces blossom in the darkness, only to recede when the match goes out. Another person yawns. A joke is told and laughter follows, but the sound of it is softer than before. The candle flame gutters low for a time, then flares brightly, then goes out.
"Well, I guess it's about that time."
"Anybody want to go for a short walk? The stars are really beautiful tonight."
No one replies.
"Oh, well. Probably time to hit the rack anyway."
A chair scrapes. Then another.
"Careful. The dog's lying right there in front of you."
"Oh, wow! I would've stepped right on her."
The whippoorwill offers a final chorus and then it is silent again.
"God," someone murmurs. "Summer nights."