Jim McGuire: Aging August

August is winding down. In just over a week, September will arrive to take its place.

Summer is aging, maturing—no longer a season in its youth with lots of time ahead. Instead, it has reached its senior stage.

Sure, if you go only by the calendar and almanac, and their seasonal divisions based on astronomical reckoning, then summer still has another month to go.

But I’m more of a fundamentalist regarding such matters. A naturalist in viewpoint. I look to the earth rather than the stars, interpreting the information at hand as truth and reality, rather than relying on some mathematical calculation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not against science. But seasons are inexact, ever-shifting, not something which can be positively and objectively quantified and measured. You simply can’t stuff a season into a formulated space.

A friend who lives in upstate New York recently e-mailed me several photos. She lives near a village, on a small farm surrounded by huge tracts of woods.

The half-dozen images were taken from a drone hovering high above her home. Views showed the house, barn, chicken coop, an enviable pile of neatly stacked firewood, and her huge vegetable garden.

Beyond the fencelines, dense forest stretched away in every direction. I was startled to see how much of the forest’s canopy already sported a brilliant autumnal patchwork of reds and oranges and yellows. Huge, multi-acre clumps of color!

“Aren’t these maples spectacular?” she gushed, then gleefully added: “Autumn is here! Yippee!”

Well, without question, autumn had sure enough arrived in her backyard. And you can bet your bottom dollar it’s also heading our way—marching steadily southward at the rate of a few miles each and every day.

Do you honestly think my New York friend looks at those photos—or out any window in her house!—and sees summer? Do you believe she expects summer to hang around another full month?

I don’t, on neither count.

I think seasons are best viewed subjectively. Particularly when it comes to their beginnings and endings. Which are always original transitions.

Some years these transitions occur slowly. The change takes its time, do-si-doing back and forth, as if reluctant to make a commitment.

Then there are those years when the transition is fast and progressive as if the changeover is determined to get its business quickly finished.

Seasonal transitions can also come early or late.

Affixing a date and time—i.e., summer will end and autumn begin at this exact moment—is, to me, the height of folly, and I pay it little attention.

You can’t schedule seasons…nor much else when it comes to nature. You can only observe and loosely predict. Watch the signs, infer their message and act accordingly.

Time and season are on the move.

Meadows and old fields are now gaudy with patches of purple ironweed, clouds of Queen Anne’s lace, lavender thistles, pink burdock, and a treasure of bright goldenrods.

Joe-Pye weed nods from the damper corners.

If you know where to look—you can find delicate gentians, orange butterfly weed, scarlet cardinal flowers, and that ancient symbol of the spurned lover, wild columbine.

Our local prairies are ablaze with black-eyed Susans, spiderwort, vervain, yellow coneflowers and a few of their now fading purple kin. Ox-eye, blazing star, sunflowers, daisies, and the early asters are also blooming.

The wind-swayed, head-high stands of big bluestem are beginning to turn the winy color of old burgundy.

August is indeed winding down. And its implication and report perfectly clear.

You can be hiking along a wooded hilltop, following a grassy pathway through a prairie or meadow, or fishing your way up a favorite creek. All it takes is a moment—a certain dusty slant of light, a whiff of something on the wind, the rustle of drying leaves or the purling of a brook’s riffle. Just that singular, mysterious, indefinable bit and you know in your heart of hearts summer is almost over and autumn awaits in the wings.

That’s really what these final weeks of summer deliver—transition in progress. An overlap season between summer and fall, a separation time of lush growth from ripe harvest…and the portent of days to come.