Hurry up, summer!


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

Spring is nearing its end. The soon-to-pass solstice will deliver us into summer — and 10 days after that we’ll bid adieu to June and begin making our way through July.

Days, weeks, months, seasons…time is always moving forward. The earth turns as it whirls along its great parabola through the cosmos.

Change is, indeed, life’s only certain constant.

Even now, field corn has rushed from yellow seed to green stalk and is racing onward and upward to tassel. Eggs have hatched and become fledglings which soon abandoned their nests and got busy testing new-found wings.

The seasons follow one after another in an eternal cycle, a never-ending chain of bloom and bud, growth and maturity. Leaves open, turn chlorophyll green, have their time in the sun — then color up and tumble. And with their autumnal fall, usher us into those dreaded interminable weeks of icy-cold winds and snowflakes.

It seems to be human nature to name and catalog, try to predict and correlate. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. We’ve set arbitrary dividers based on solstices and equinoxes, fashioned calendars, invented clocks — all to help us keep track of things in case we’re too busy to notice the passage of, say, the longest day of the year.

But sometimes these chunks we call seasons seem too slow in their going and coming.

In spite of the fact June tried to fool us with a couple of days when temperatures edged above the 90-degree mark, few long-term Buckeyes were hoodwinked into thinking it was suddenly summer. We recognized wishful hope when it tempted us.

So we kept our warm jackets hanging on their peg by the door. And sure enough, as a lesson to the newbie residents and those optimistically mistaken who needed a bit of straightening out, a few days ago we were given a last-hurrah cold snap to set things straight.

June weather in Ohio is inevitably volatile. Spring always unfurls with intimations of summer and reminders of winter in its mix.

But now, June wanes and spring is ending. The solstice will pass and we’ll soon be immersed in the confirmation of summer’s genuine arrival — real, true, for-sure summer!

I can hardly wait!

Summer proclaims it presence in a thousand voices.

You can hear it in the soft velvet whisper of an afternoon breeze rushing through lush green leaves. In the melodious songs of backyard birds—robins and orioles, catbirds and cardinals.

Summer is harrumpingly proclaimed by a basso bullfrog down on the moonlit riverbank. The smacking kiss of feeding bluegill sipping a mayfly off the surface of the Cottage Pool the following morning says the same.

You can hear summer’s truth from the wavering screech owl in the woods along the river. Or the muttered rumble of westerly thunder in late afternoon.

Last week I gathered my final mess of poke salad until next year. The plants were big—already waist high—and getting taller each and every day. Their season as tasty fare has all but passed.

There are still dandelions—though honestly, there are always dandelions if you’re highly selective in your picking and willing to adapt your cooking process.

Plus there’s rhubarb!

Unfortunately, fresh rhubarb gets more difficult to find every year. At least the tastiest homegrown stalks. Many of the old dooryard patches are being allowed to die out. And fewer roadside farm markets offer it for sale.

Given my fondness for rhubarb pie, this is becoming an appalling personal dilemma.

When I was growing up rhubarb was often referred to as “pie plant.” To me, a much better name than one whose roots can be traced back to the word “barbarous.”

Rhubarb pie is one of my flat-out favorites — and I’m not referring to those rhubarb-strawberry conglomerations, either. When I say rhubarb, I mean the straight stuff. I even like a simple dish of cooked rhubarb — especially when topped with vanilla ice cream.

Unfortunately, as spring ends and summer begins, the rhubarb season begins to wind down. But one season’s end is also another’s beginning, and summer certainly gives us a wondrous supply of fresh vegetables — half-runner beans, sweet corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons , peaches and cherries, too.

Moreover, wild foragers will soon be able to bring home buckets of blackberries and raspberries. A delectable cobbler will go a long way toward assuaging my grief over the demise of fresh rhubarb’s availability.

On a recent evening I sat on our backyard riverbank and watched a pair of nighthawks swoop for insects in the gathering twilight. The birds would flap slowly overhead in an erratic circle, calling regularly, before suddenly diving earthward. During this plunge you could hear the curious rattle-buzz caused by wind rushing through feathers, which occurs just as the bird turns steeply upward at the bottom of its dive.

This unique sound is why Grandpa Williams referred to nighthawks as bullbats.

The perfectly named whippoorwill — another common nocturnal bird of summer — is a nighthawk cousin.

Whippoorwills are lonesome midnight singers whose haunting call epitomizes the night’s isolation and emptiness. Notes that stir a yearning deep and innate. Nothing can surpass the whippoorwill’s melancholic poetry when heard distantly across a hushed and dark-clad valley, with myriad stars glittering in the inky summer sky while fireflies twinkle like mirrors below. Hank Williams recognized this longing and mentioned whippoorwills in one of his finest songs.

Watching those ol ’bullbats dive, thoughts of whippoorwills and Hank Williams spun in my head, as memories of my beloved Grandpa tugged my heartstrings. I felt my eyes moisten.

I realized this year — more than any I can remember — I need summer … need the season with its warm wealth of soft, sweet, familiar gifts.

So hurry up, summer! I can barely wait!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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