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In search of lost time

September 07, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

The calendar tells me that autumn doesn't officially begin for a couple of weeks, but signs that it's happening are evident.

The morning sunlight coming in my bedroom window has shifted. I've heard the Canada geese honking as they start to head south, and some of the neighborhood birds must have left already. Reveille has gotten quieter except for the percussion of acorns dropping on the flat roof.

There still will be high-temperature days and my flowers will need watering for a few more weeks, but the air feels different. It's less humid. It's clearer. Nights are cooler. Days are getting noticeably shorter.

Sigh.

I'm happy to live in a region where I can enjoy four seasons, but I gotta tell you, I always have a hard time letting go of summer.

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This one has been wonderful - or at least, I've been really aware of its wonders.

Summers in Western Maryland are different from the summers of my New Jersey shore youth. I'll never stop missing the surf crashing on the beaches where I spent so many easy-living days. For years after I'd moved away, a whiff of suntan lotion from the bottle I kept stashed in a closet could conjure up a day at the ocean.

Proust had his madeleines; I had Coppertone.

Here and now, day and night, the air is loud with the buzzing of cicadas and the chirping of crickets. They sing at different pitches and rhythms. It's a lovely alternative to the sounds of the coast.

Hagerstown Municipal Band concerts in City Park are quintessentially summertime events in these parts. Fireflies provide special lighting effects, and an occasional squeal of delight travels from the playground equipment to the band shell.

Although I made it to just one performance in this, the ensemble's 94th season, I was delighted by the variety of the musical program and the range of ages among the players and audience members. There's a wonderful small-town and old-timey feeling about the evenings. It's like being on the set of "The Music Man."

And how about Hagerstown's boys of summer - Hagerstown PONY League 14 All-Stars and Federal Little League 11-12 All-Stars? Each team played all the way to their World Series. Way to make the hometown proud.

Speaking of cool, I've rediscovered ice cream this summer. I'm not one for big banana splits or fancy sundaes. A single dip of coffee ice cream on a sugar cone will more than satisfy, thank you very much. I've come to look forward to that occasional treat, and I'm not alone. The lines have been long at Maugansville Creamery and Nutter's in Sharpsburg.

Spring is unquestionably the season of beginnings, but fall always seems like a fresh start to me.

The feeling is a holdover from my childhood, I suppose. If I close my eyes, I still can summon those first-day-of-school butterflies - a combination of nervousness and excitement. I loved the fresh new notebooks, unsmudged pink erasers and sharpened No. 2 pencils.

I trust that there are educationally sound reasons for starting school in August, but I'm glad I grew up in a place where classes didn't begin until the first week of September. It seems somehow sacrilegious to start school before summer's over, and in my hometown, it was Labor Day that marked that turning point.

I'll be ready to eat soups and stews as winter approaches, but while I can I'll savor every last kernel of Silver Queen corn, every peach dripping its sweet juice and each local tomato - eaten as is or with leaves of fresh basil from the planter just outside my kitchen door.

Author Henry James wrote, "Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."

I feel that way about summer mornings and summer evenings, too.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail.

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