July is here!


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

July is here—summer’s first full month and arguably the season’s quintessential standard.

It begins noisily with the sparkle and bang of fireworks, along with the hoopla and celebration of Independence Day parades. Providing the weather does its part by delivering the essential mix of heat and rain and sunshine, the month’s passing days will work their annual magic—and this seventh month will end with a prelude fresh-from-the-garden feast of green beans, sweet corn, and home-grown tomatoes.

July’s name derives from Julius Caesar, whom Marcus Antonius wished to honor, after first having tried—unsuccessfully—to have him crowned Emperor in 44 B. C. Unfortunately, the well-intentioned compliment did little to protect poor Caesar, who was fatally stabbed by Brutus later that year.

On another historical note, bequeathed to us from the ancient Greeks, July’s last couple of weeks are also smack in the middle of the sultry old Dog Days period—when heat lightening strobes the night and distant thunder frequently rumbles like a pioneer freight line of Conestoga wagons rolling across the prairie.

Indians of the Eastern and Great Lakes regions recognized this latter natural fact. While Buck Moon was the most often used July moon name among various tribes, an almost as common variant was Thunder Moon.

You’ll also sometimes find July referred to as the Hot Moon or Heat Moon, a title it sometimes shares with June. And I’ve encountered a few instances in old journals where July was called the Hay Moon—though I have no doubt this particular designation was purely an invention of early European settlers.

Whatever you call it, July is a treasure—a month sporting many jewels in its sparkling crown. Gifts to daily assail the senses…often to the point of being delightfully overpowering.

Consider just the mints. Catnip. Spearmint. Gill-over-the-ground. Peppermint. Wild mint. Horehound. Pennyroyal. Bee balm.

Especially bee balm!

All it takes is a casual brushing while ambling through an old field dappled with balm. Suddenly the air is filled with the released tangy-rich scent of the plant’s spicy oils.

And the same holds true for pennyroyal—though often those bushwhacking through the undergrowth, and inadvertently stirring the plant’s distinctive scent, are puzzled by the odd fragrance released into the hot air, unable to put a name to what they’re smelling.

Besides the mints, what about July’s honeyed aroma of honeysuckle or clover? Or perhaps the insistent heavy sweetness of milkweed?

If your nose and olfactory senses are even in mediocre working order, there are at least a dozen singular fragrances nature regularly serves up throughout the month of July—perfumy scents, capable of stopping you in your tracks.

On the other hand, there are also July colors certain to assail the eye. Hot colors. Colors in shades unmistakably summer.

July’s onset always puts me in a patriotic mood, so I’ll begin with the colors of our star-spangled flag—red cardinal flowers and royal catchfly; the white froth of elderberries and Queen Anne’s Lace’s delicate floral doilies; and finally, a pure, sea-t0-shining-sea blue of chicory and tall bellflower.

Or you can, if you like, choose your own red, white, and blue trio. July offers a month-long array of multiple alternates.

How about seasonally-themed hot-sun colors? There are plenty of those, too!

Bright orange jewelweed awaits down along the creek. A few orange and yellow day lilies still bloom in the roadside ditches. Tawny hawkweed blazes like bottles of fiery salsa. Pink and fragrant sweetbriar weaves along fencerows. And black-eyed Susans spackle splashes of van Gogh orange in a forgotten meadow.

For yellows, look to primrose, butter-and-eggs, moth mullein, golden ragwort, cinquefoil, and the ancient mood-altering herbal St. John’s wort.

Of course, now is the time when showy big sunflowers stand tall and open wide—huge blooms that can’t help but catch your eye with their dazzle.

July days are torrid, its nights sultry. The landscape is green and lush—no longer under the near-frantic growth pressures of spring. But don’t let this seeming slackening fool you—summer is nevertheless a growth industry in the plant kingdom, and July is all about this serious business, just in a more quietly languid sort of way.

If you need convincing, go stand awhile in the middle of a cornfield thick with waist-high stalks, each sporting the first of their new green-leaf banners…then just listen. You can almost hear the plants rustle and hum, stretching ever upward, aiming for the sky.

For a few moments, contemplate the natural miracle that occurred to create this surrounding scene.

A hard yellow seed was dropped into turned earth. That small, dry kernel somehow came to life—sprouted, rooted, and sent out a light-seeking tendril that emerged from the ground’s sun-warmed darkness. One tiny plant—but part of the multitude of photosynthetically-driven vegetal factories now in view in every direction throughout the field’s countless rows.

Most importantly, don’t think for a moment that each and every one of those young corn plants you see sprawling all about you like a pale-green Lilliputian forest isn’t working—and working hard, at full speed!

Between now and autumn’s harvest, there’s a job to be done, a mission to be accomplished. The plants must keep shooting upward, becoming taller than the proverbial elephant’s eye, adding leaves along the way. They will tassel, pollinate, develop their cobs—and eventually be ready for autumn’s harvest.

Yup, summer is a busy time, but thankfully, ours to savor. There’s no better time for backyard grilling, picnicking at the park, or doing s’mores around a cheery campfire.

July is here…yours to enjoy!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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