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The greatest orchestra


During college, I played piano at a restaurant on the weekends to help pay for school, entertaining people as they dined. In the summer, patrons tended to linger and, fortunately for me, the tip jar reflected their approval of my work. But on those nights, I didn’t start the long drive home until after 2 a.m.

When I’d finally arrive at our farm, I’d steer my old Mustang down the tunnel of pines that lined the long driveway, cut the headlights, slip it into neutral, kill the engine, and coast to a stop just short of the house. It was hard to gear down after that kind of evening — the people, my music, the energy — all of it. To try to unwind I would hop onto the hood of my car, roll up my jacket and tuck it under my head, lean back on the windshield, and just lay there staring up at the sky for a while.

Pre-dawn summer at the farm was like a different world. The smell of fresh-cut hay drying in the field, the sound of the corn stalks crackling in the night breeze, and the calmness of the cattle grazing lazily in the dark, relaxed me. Overhead, the night sky was speckled with pinpoints of light on dark canvas as if someone had been dabbling in abstract art.

When there were no clouds or moon, I could see the dusty path of the Milky Way overhead flecked with white and blue and yellow and red. It was like a gigantic bottle of multicolored glitter had been spread over black felt. Sometimes, I would catch a glimpse of a shooting star or two. It was so spectacular; no Hollywood movie effect could come close.

Enamored with the stars, everything around me seemed still, silent. But what some people might call ‘silence’ was actually pretty noisy, and musical.

The car hood was like the perfect concert seat, and like something out of a planetarium show, nature had her own musical score to go with the spectacular view I had. There was a natural orchestra tuning up and it soon began the overture as if someone raised a curtain at just the right moment. I was surrounded by the ratcheting sound of crickets filling the air from all directions. Like bass clarinets in a philharmonic, the deep, throaty call of frogs courting their mates echoed from the pond all through the valley around our house.

The percussion section punctuated the frog song as the century-old oak tree nearby rang out like tympani when an owl landed with a hard thud on one of the upper branches. In the bowels of the old tree, the owl’s white, downy chick was rousted from her sleep and began to screech her impatient hunger.

Off in the distance, one of the cattle groaned long and low as she watched over her sleeping calf. Not to be outdone, the pre-dawn breeze created a wind section that played the treetops in harmony with this early morning melody. I lay there, immersed in the sounds, sights, and feelings, soaking it all in and trying to capture every moment of it for later recall.

Sadly, the orchestra was coming to the last measure now as the sun was about to enter, center stage. I saw the slight orange glow on the eastern horizon and the stars had already begun to disappear. My private, drive-in concert show was about to end, and a long yawn escaped me. I looked at my watch. “Geez,” I thought, “it’s four in the morning already.” But now, I was calm. Now I could sleep, and I generally did.

That was more than 30 years ago, and my life has certainly changed a lot since those days. Back then, the excitement of the future lay before me and wouldn’t let me sleep for fear of missing something. I’d like to think I didn’t miss anything along the way. But, for all that’s been good in my life, what I wouldn’t give to lay out there on the hood of that car again watching the best show Hollywood never made, listening once more to the greatest orchestra ever assembled.

Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.