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Summer's Song

by Michael Sargeant

The recent suggestion of a story wedded to the lyrics of a personally significant song (from almost fifty years ago), moved me to weave 'Summer's Song' from the threads of memories of my years in Arizona.

The events in this story are a blend of my experiences with companions, human and otherwise, over the past forty years of discovery of self, people and places in my adopted land.

Michael Sargeant
Tempe Arizona
February 2008

'Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone'
Summer stayed Tom Cloudwater's hand, "I want to hear this one through."

'Let's pretend that we're together all alone'
Tom returned his hand to the shift lever and was silent, his eyes sweeping the road as he picked his way 'round rock and rut.

'I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go

Whisper to me tell me do you love me true
Or is he holding you the way I do
Though love is blind make up your mind I've got to know
Should I hang up or will you tell him he'll have to go

You can't say the words I want to hear
While you're with another man
Do you want me answer yes or no
Darlin' I will understand

Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let's pretend that we're together all alone
I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go.'

The signal faded with the sun as they dropped off the Rim down the shortcut from the Forest Service headquarters. Summer turned the radio off. There'd be mostly static till they reached the fire-watch tower at Aztec Peak.

"New hit for Reeves?" Tom asked.

"Should be," said Summer.

Tom eased the '54 Chevy ½ ton into first, let out the clutch, leaned back and swept his fingers through his long black hair. "All downhill from here. Let the engine hold it."

The bed was loaded. The pair was making the move to the Peak as the Forestry Service expected an early summer monsoon that would bring lightning-set fires throughout the 6000 foot plus Mazatzal Range forests. Tom was a little taller than Summer. Both were still slender but muscular from the winter sawmill work.

"You like that one," Tom guessed.

"Yes and no. Reminds me of someone I met during the Mc Fadden watch last year," murmured Summer as he cranked the window down to counter the rising temperature at the lower elevation.

"Anyone I know?"

"Don't think so."

Patches of sun penetrated leaf and bough, momentarily blasting the windshield with light that plunged the shaded way ahead into relative darkness. Tom touched the brake as he swerved around a fresh fall they'd cut out on the way up. "More pin-stripes," he grinned as the pine branches clawed the fender and door then dragged the tarp-covered load.

Summer was becoming more pensive than usual. Tom read the signs; short answers, long periods of silence. He'd known Summer since the start of reservation school fifteen years ago. As a result of his quiet nature he'd been named Summer Dawn. This was their second season together fire-watching the western edge of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

Off the forest road and back on the broader, better-graded state route, Tom settled back in the bench seat, rubbing the tension of the drive off the Rim from his neck with both hands while steering with his knee. "So tell me 'bout it," he suggested as his hands returned to the wheel.

"Too complicated," Summer insisted

"More complicated than me 'n' Val?" Tom asked. Tom had completely fallen for Valerie Morris, an English exchange student the last year of high school. They still exchanged letters but knew a future together, if ever, was a long way off.

"Way more complicated," Summer opined. "'Sides, it never amounted to anything. The whole thing was a comedy of errors 'cept nobody laughed."

Tom noticed Summer's abandoning of his terse answers and knew he wanted to say more.

"Intriguing," Tom encouraged.

Summer sighed. 'Now or never,' he thought. The subject had arisen by the chance encounter with the Jim Reeves single that was slowly moving up the charts for the Summer of 1959. If he couldn't tell his best friend, who could he tell, and he had to tell someone. He and Tom had never double dated though opportunities had arisen, well for Tom anyway, and he couldn't keep putting the matter off. Hell, his folks were starting to make 'when are we going to see grandkids' type comments. Telling Tom while he was driving eliminated a face-to-face conversation that took away some of the embarrassment and maybe lessened the chance of Tom's over-reacting.

"Open mind, man. OK?"

"Sure thing Summer," replied Tom.

"OK. As I said it was at the Mc Fadden tower last season. Soon after I got settled I was on the key and by chance raised the tower way up on Colcord Road just under the Rim. Operator's name was Sandy. We traded watch experiences then spent the days describing the wildlife, weather and family and friend stuff.

"One rainy afternoon, Sandy up and started talking about missing how guy's got it on and wished for a guy to spend the night with and all. Since I'd never heard of a woman doing fire-watch, I figured that Sandy was queer, lonely and horny. I was fascinated to find someone who was so open about it. I was also attracted to Sandy's manner, forthright, mature, worldly...and increasingly friendly."

Tom shifted busily in his seat.

"I want to make something clear before I go on. I've never done anything queer but I just feel more comfortable with guys than with girls. OK?"

Tom glanced at Summer and gave a tenuous, "OK," as reassurance and encouragement.

"So even though this stuff was going out all over hell I started making overtures, drawing him out. It wasn't as if I'd admitted to anything. I just figured he didn't care and could handle it. That night when I mulled over his description of giving a blow job I knew I had to give myself a serious talking to 'cause I was thinking some pretty heavy stuff and not with a girl either."

Summer glanced at Tom, who was elaborately adjusting the sun visor, then continued.

"Now what was passing back and forth needed a lot of reading between the lines, being in code and all. But the gist was there. I was kind of glad no other tower was butting in. I wanted Sandy all to myself.

"Anyway, I started to show more sexual interest than I probably should have on the air and Sandy kind of pulled back after that, saying that he'd revealed more than he should have about his sexual escapades, of how he felt when the boyfriend and he would climax, you know, stuff like that."

Tom gave a non-committal 'Mmmm' and leaned forward as if judging road conditions.

"Next thing I know, Sandy's telling me how he had this guy named Tom up in the tower and he was going to have to stay the night because of this huge storm that was raging through the whole west slope from the Rim to the lake. Now I was really confused and figured that he had this sort of permanent thing going with Tom, who he said didn't read code, and was letting me down easy. I got this sudden jealous feeling that really stirred me up and I told Sandy that I didn't want Tom there overnight and that he should leave now. Then Sandy said something really confusing, that it was only 'natural', and he emphasized the word natural by transmitting 'natural, you know natural?' and 'I'm sorry my tastes aren't your tastes.'"

Tom shot me a long glance as the road straightened out, "Hey man it wasn't me."

Summer grinned, "I know, I checked you were home soon as I signed off with Sandy."

"You said you were jealous? Of me and Sandy? Ohhh...I get it. You feel that way 'bout me?"

"Well, my best friend and a guy...alone all night...'n' I thought I knew you..."

"Geez Summer I'd never do a thing like that."

Summer turned his head suddenly and stared out the open window. Tom reviewed his last comment. "What I meant to say was I..."

Summer interrupted, "I know what you meant Tom."

"Yeah like I guess there's nothing wrong with feeling that way about a guy if that's the way you are...well you know how I'm trying to put it. I just can't think of doing it with some guy...I didn't know," and he took another quick look Summer's way.

Summer smiled coyly then continued. "I had no further need to communicate with Sandy that summer. I couldn't quite understand the bizarre thought processes at work, mine and his, and no one ever brought the matter up though I had occasional communication with two other towers besides yours."

Tom grinned. "I caught some of it. Names were not being thrown around, so unless someone was listening in from the beginning one would have thought someone had been working a girl from some town down below for a while...for code practice. "

"What did you think?"

Tom studiously maneuvered the long curve as they passed through Young.

"Wellll...I've seen how you are, or aren't, with girls so I kind of figured you were working a guy, maybe in one of the towers," Tom shrugged.

Summer appreciated Tom's perception and acceptance as it made all this a little easier.

They always stopped in Young for a soda and to say hi to Jimmy Hightower, a school dropout a year older than Tom and Summer. He ran the combination bar, package store and general goods emporium on the straight stretch on the west side of the road just before heading south up the hill. Summer was surprised when Tom drove by without stopping and shot Tom a questioning glance. "We're into something too personal and important to interrupt," was all he offered.

Summer nodded his thanks.

Now as they started up the hill out of Pleasant Valley Tom continued cautiously, "Yep. Guess that would have been confusing all right. Anyone else know how you feel? You know about girls...and guys."

"No way. Never told anyone." Summer shifted position to address Tom more directly. "But later it got more confusing."


Summer sniffed a sort of hmmf-like sound. "A bunch more. You remember the end of season get-together we had at Kohl's Ranch? I was going around looking at name tags when I spotted one that was startlingly familiar, 'SANDY'."

Tom hit the clutch and brake and pulled to the side of the road. "Geez man, that Sandy? But...he was a she!"

"Tell me 'bout it!" muttered Summer.

Tom slapped the heel of his hand to the wheel. "I should have guessed. The only girl I've ever seen you say more than two words to. But..."

"It took a little more than two words to sort that one out," Summer snorted. "Sandy was one of three girls to be placed for the first time in the towers nearest the Rim HQ. The girls had not met but did know there were three on tryouts that season. It was not broadcast about that there were women in the towers as HQ wanted the trial to go as naturally as possible to see how it would all work out without any leniency toward the women, and for their personal safety. Sandy assumed from my name that I was one of the other girls and shared a few boyfriend experiences with 'one of the girls' only to be put off when I made some rather sexually-toned overtures toward her, hence the 'Tom' thing to put me off and show 'Summer' that she didn't swing that way."

"That must have been a lulu of a first few minutes."

"Was. Went something like this. 'You're not the Sandy from Colcord Road tower.' You're not the Summer from Mc Fadden.' Then two 'Yeses' followed by two 'Oh boys,' then an awkward silence. No one was smiling."

"I guess," murmured Tom.

"Sandy immediately became cold toward me. She half turned away as if to leave. Then she hesitated, turned back and took me aside. 'I suppose I should explain 'Tom.' I thought by your name that you were one of the three girls up here for the first time this year. There are things I would not have told you had I known you were a guy. I can see why you made advances. I must have seemed rather...encouraging. I thought I'd encouraged a lesbian and invented a 'Tom' who did not read code as a way of showing I was not oriented that way. I figured she must have known somehow that I was one of the girls on tryout and wanted to try me out. It must have been very confusing to you.'

"Having no attraction toward Sandy as a girl, I did not show any particular willingness to accept her explanation as an apology of sorts and simply said something like, 'It was.' I began to suspect that she was attracted to me and was trying to make amends for her appearance of fickleness. It was then that I realized I could not confess to her my mistaken belief that she was a guy, and that my disinterest in her apology would hurt her unnecessarily."

"Geez Summer that must have been a mess in your head." Tom was staring at the dash, shaking his head and gripping the wheel.

"There's more. Under that uniform was the male Sandy I'd been visualizing all summer. I wanted to be understood by 'him' but was confronted by 'her.' I could not just walk away leaving her with nothing but the words 'It was.' I started to thank her for her explanation and that I had to leave and that it was nothing she'd said or done, that it was me that I had to leave for.

"She was close to tears, disappointed, confused. 'Did I say anything this summer that could not be forgiven in light of my misunderstanding? I'd really like to get to know the real you now that you know the real me...oh...oh dear, the real me is not what you thought...I think I understand why you must leave and why it is you that you must leave for.' Then she placed her arms around my neck, kissed me lightly on my cheek and whispered, 'Now I really understand why Tom had to go. May you soon find him...'"

Tom was silent for a long moment. Then he put the truck in gear and eased back onto the gravel. Almost reverently he said, "I remember seeing her put her arms about you...the kiss...a moment of power and uncommon understanding...I felt it. Now I understand the deep meaning for you in the words 'And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go.' I too hope you find him."

Summer hung his head. "I was beginning to hope I had," he said to the floor mat.

Clutch! Brake! Roadside! "Summer..."

"It's OK. I know what you meant..."

"I meant besides me," said Tom quietly and he reached for Summer's hand across the seat.

Summer jumped at the touch.

"You've got it bad," observed Tom.

Summer looked up. "How would you feel, alone with someone you cared for, never being able to say the words for fear of spoiling the time together?"

"Put that way...must be tough. I think we need to get to a place...more continue this," and Tom swung back onto the road.

* * *

There is a traditional open recognition and acceptance in Apache culture of those having dual spirits despite the white man's smothering of that acceptance with homophobia, as was taking place at that time. Tom was reaching into that traditional acceptance as he took the forest road to Aztec Peak. One was not contaminated in any way by contact with the female spirit regardless of its host.

* * *

Sundown atop 7694-foot Aztec Peak brought coolness to the breeze. To the east across Cherry Creek, Sombrero Peak, a turning point in the western boundary of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, vanished in the purple haze of evening. Tom and Summer would eat and sleep at a curiously-made camp near the tower, a relic of the WPA era. Huge flat slabs of granite had been stacked as tables and seats, some with backs, around an enormous sheltered fireplace. This early in the season there was little chance of a night rain. That would change as storm clouds insinuated themselves into the region a little more each day. By then Tom would be established in the lookout post atop the tower and Summer would be set up at Mc Fadden.

But there remained tonight. As they went about the familiar routine of fire lighting, food preparation and bedroll spreading, each would occasionally glance secretly to gauge the other's mood. An aura of studied masculinity surrounded the activity as each attempted to deny the approach of an appointment of a gentler nature that hung awkwardly exposed like the panoply of stars now fully revealed above; stars that would see, hear and keep secrets of quite a different nature than Tom and Summer had ever shared with them in the past.

The night's chill forced them to draw their bedrolls closer to the fire and to each other than earlier propriety had dictated. Wrapped in blankets, each in his thoughts, they stared into the breeze-tossed fire. As humans seem capable of doing, they both spoke at the same moment. "Tom." "Summer." "Go ahead." "No, you spoke first."

Summer's intense desire momentarily emboldened him. "Tom, you can imagine what I'm feeling from what you now know of me. Whenever we've been alone in the past, I've been able to keep my secret desires under control because they were secret. Now the desire is exposed and I don't know how to continue. This is as new to me as it is to you. I'm entering a completely foreign human relationship in which I have no experience, little guidance from the traditions of my culture and no guidance from my folks."

Tom nodded and moved a smoldering branch back into the fire. "New to me too. Grandfather told me before I took the first fire-watch season how to embrace a new experience. He said I must create a vision of the world I'm about to enter, make it a personal part of me so that I feel I'm returning to an old and familiar lodge. He called it Centering. In your mind, you surround yourself with a circle and fill it with power. To make the power strong you furnish your circle with symbols that mean something to you, a fine weapon, stores of food, blankets. He was speaking of things from his experience. He said I could use my truck, my fishing gear, my winter jacket. Then he said I'd have to activate these symbols and that I'd need the help of a Companion from the Dream Time."

"I've heard this spoken of. We can use the power of Centering to weave a tradition before the fact to ease the way for us," Summer agreed. "And I have a Companion from the Dream Time."

"When did this happen?" asked Tom, greatly surprised.

"Mc Fadden last summer. After the Sandy thing I was feeling very confused but had no one to talk to. I'd read of the sweat lodge traditions. Built one just after the first rains damped everything down. Wouldn't do for a fire-watch ranger to start a forest fire. Hot rocks, steam, smoke, pans of cold water. Took most of the night."

"And?" Tom encouraged.

"It happened during the third sitting in the lodge. Smoke from shaki plant on hot rocks made me dizzy. Went outside. Cold. Needed heat. Began to feel something wrapping about me, warming me, making me secure. Then my Companion became visible, a huge snake with the colors of a sunset and the kindest face gazing into my eyes with curiosity, looking for acceptance, the bond of Companionship. I wrap him about us often..."

"Us?" said Tom.

"I liked to think that the Companion could gradually draw us together."

"He seems to have done that," said Tom softly.

"I know. I brought him here to help me talk to you this morning. He's here now," said Summer as he leaned forward to feed the dwindling fire.

"Share my blanket," Tom offered as he raised one corner with a sweep of his arm. Summer scooted over and pressed against Tom.

"It doesn't start with sex," Tom informed Summer. "With Val we crafted our own tradition, guided by the ways of a boy and a girl that we've all heard of, a little at a time. You and I will build our own tradition, then there will be no fear, only understanding."

"And love," added Summer.

"And love," confirmed Tom.

* * *

That season on the mountains of central Arizona, Tom and Summer built a tradition. Starting with the Companion vigil, Summer advised, 'Expect it to start here,' touching Tom about a hand's width below his navel to signify where the heat arises out of which the Companion is born. During the sweat lodge ceremony, aided by herbs gathered along upper Workman Creek in the wet meadowland where the aspens grow, Tom met his Companion, the White-tailed Deer, a gentle doe that came to him as deer do in the twilight before Summer Dawn.

* * *

*Sung originally by Billy Brown with words by Joe and Audrey Allison, Reeves style and velvet voice pushed the hit to the top by February 1960.

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