When I recently flipped the page on the kitchen’s wall calendar, the realization we’d reached summer’s final full month caught me off guard.
“Can it really be August so soon?” I muttered to myself.
August came sneaking in more than a week ago. However, I’d apparently become a bit stupefied by July’s relentless heat and thus failed to pay proper attention—which isn’t all that surprising.
Summer generally puts me into a mood somewhere between drowsy tranquility and lazy oblivion. All those sweltering days and sultry nights are just too much balmy serenity for my psyche to handle. And the anesthetic background ratcheting of incessant cicadas doesn’t help.
By mid-July, I’ve usually been lulled into a state of slow-cooked senility.
Still, you’d think a fellow who writes a nature column and spends an inordinate amount of his time rambling around woods and fields and along slippery creekbanks ought to be more on top of things when it comes to tracking time and the seasonal passage.
There had certainly been ample signs and indicators—starting with the diminishing light. Dawns are coming later and dusks earlier.
We’ve already lost more than an hour’s worth of daylight since the solstice. And we’ll lose an additional hour by month’s end.
Another missed clue was the wildflowers.
Late-summer’s wildflowers are not at all like the diminutive and delicate pastel offerings of early spring. Instead, this period’s bloomers are typically bold of color and sturdy in their structures. They’re often waist-high or taller. And it isn’t uncommon for a single species to dominate an entire field.
While a spring wildflower enthusiast frequently needs to get down on their knees in order to have a close look at some dainty prize, the late-summer wildflower aficionado can rack up plenty of bloom-spotting points while zooming down the highway.
Doubtless the most noticeable flowers currently have to be the goldenrods. There are goldenrods gleaming yellow everywhere you look—acres of them blanketing old fields, roadside borders, fencelines, and vacant inner-city lots.
About 22 species of goldenrods can be found in Ohio. Most are members of the Solidago genus, though a few have recently been reassigned elsewhere.
Goldenrods can be confusing, and I always have to rely on a good field guide when I want to identify a particular species. But you don’t have to know their name to enjoy their beauty.
For me, goldenrods make up half of what I consider later-summer’s royal duo—the pair’s counterpoint being ironweed.
I love ironweed, which has been called the “royal scepter” of late-summer’s blooms. Indeed, there is something decidedly regal about this tall, strikingly-hued plant. You often see one standing ramrod straight and alone—a solitary purple flame—amid an otherwise yellow goldenrod sea. Scattered amethysts among a treasure chest of gold.
In a nearby woods I sometimes visit, there’s a low hill with a good smattering of shagbark hickories. The other morning I noticed a sort of rustiness to those hickories’ leaves—a dusty fading, as if their efforts at chlorophyll production during months previous had left them a little shopworn.
Here along the Stillwater, the stand of water willows covering the gravel bar across from the cottage, recently flaunted a bight patch of pale yellow in their otherwise green midst.
A portent of things to come?
I often take my morning coffee outside. I like to sit in the rocker, sipping and watching the river sliding past as the rising sun varnishes its burgeoning light downward from the tops of the towering sycamore lining the opposite bank.
Though my brain might not yet be fully functioning, my senses are awake and engaged. And I guess that for awhile, I’ve subconsciously known some seasonal milestone had been passed. I just hadn’t gotten around yet to admitting this to myself.
August is not just an extension of July. Sure, they are both months of full summer—but distinctive portions of the annual cycle.
It’s August … already!
You only have to look a bit closer—be a modicum more thoughtfully observant—to note the indefinable and unmistakable sense of time’s certain passage.
There’s something different in the very air. A whiff of maturity and ripeness—a hint of completion, of a job well done.
You can also scent a greater change just over the horizon. And that faint sound? Why, that’s just the whisper of time floating down the river.