Jim McGuire: Summer’s season-end celebration

Early-September is a transitional month—part finale, part prelude. Summer’s colorful last weeks lead to the autumnal equinox on the 22nd—while along the way, giving a subtle but certain reminder the season is about to change.

Fields are still spangled with wildflowers. Both purple ironweed and magenta Joe Pye weed—admittedly somewhat past their peak—continue to hang around and add their lovely touch. Brilliant red cardinal flowers also remain in bloom, as do bright yellow Jerusalem artichokes, pink bouncing bets and orange jewelweed. Pastel thistles and burdock nod in the midday sun.

Prairies hold pinkish-purple blazing star, yellow ox-eye, dock, whorled rosinweed, compass plant, and various glowing-yellow sunflowers. A few coneflowers can yet be admired, though most of their blooms are now droopy and sun-faded.

Rich woods host white snakeroot, yellow wingstem and the last of the mysterious and ghostly Indian pipes. Golden coreopsis is on the wane.

Best of all, if you know where to look, there are fringed gentians, whose breathtaking hue was aptly described by William Cullen Bryant as heaven’s own blue.

September indeed saves many of its best blooms for this final fling—a season’s-end send-off that spreads acres of festive color everywhere.

Yet arguably the most widespread and eye-catching duo of all during these cumulative weeks just might come from a mix of yellow goldenrods and amethyst asters. This visual paring—a royal juxtaposition—now dominates many local meadows.

But wildflowers aren’t the only pleasures early-September brings.

Pawpaws—my lifelong favorite wild treat—will now start ripening and turning golden-yellow. Plump, sweet, custardy fruits so delicious I can hardly wait to taste that first bite! I look forward to pawpaw season with the same uncontainable excitement and hyper-anticipation I felt as a kid during the weeks before Christmas.

We incorrigible stream anglers who live to haunt the creeks and rivers in our quest for smallmouth bass, know the first stirrings of the autumnal feeding binge are now beginning.

On the flipside, all this rampant seasonal splendor is simply a cue—a nice way of telling us time marches on.

Earlier in the week, as the day was drawing to a close, I stopped at a rural café for an infusion of high-octane coffee, and—should their offerings look especially tempting—an accompanying slice of pie.

“I can’t believe it,” said the pretty waitress after she’d filled my mug with something which resembled liquid tar and remained practically unfazed by two of those miniature containers of half-and-half.

She was staring out the nearby window. The view overlooked a weedy pasture and a dense woods beyond. The setting sun was invisible somewhere beyond those trees. Twilight was fast creeping in, casting murky shadows, as it enveloped the gloaming.

“Seems like summer just got here—yet the days have already grown so much shorter,” she said, sighing wistfully.

She was right, of course. A month earlier, at this same time, we’d still have had almost a full additional hour of daylight remaining before sunset.

“Seasons come and go,” I replied, trying to not sound too downbeat, yet unable to come up with a better answer.

She turned and looked at me directly. “Yeah—but why do good times always end way too soon?”

Good question. One for a wiser philosopher than me to answer. I could only shrug and gently shake my head.

“I dunno,” I said.

Twenty minutes and two cups of coffee later, I was back on the road, having foregone thoughts of pie. I’d decided to bail when the caffeine jolt had me thinking I might just jog the remaining seventy miles home.

As darkness claimed the land, I followed the asphalt ribbon and pondered the waitress’s question.

Popular belief holds that wisdom comes with age. At best this is only partially true. Sure, we learn things over the years, add a few more tricks and counter-moves to help us avoid pains and pitfalls. We tend to be a little more thoughtful and a bit less impetuous. And most of us eventually figure out we can’t keep taking the same path—make the same mistakes—yet somehow expect a different outcome.

We do become savvy—but not notably smarter. At least that’s been true in my case.

Life’s big questions, the ones that stymied you the first time they cropped up—questions that truly matter—tend to remain enigmatic, baffling, beyond comprehension.

Rather than finding answers and solutions, my personal experience indicates you’re more apt to accumulate questions. The older you get, the less you know—and I’m not talking about cognitive decline.

Why do good times always end way too soon? I haven’t a clue!

What I do know is this: September is a time of passing plenitude—summer’s season’s-end celebration. But the party only lasts a few short weeks. Like Cinderella at the ball, we need to keep our eye on that ticking clock.