Time, season and August’s light


August is already a week old. That means summer’s official reign is now halfway over … though this fact is probably not a reality check many folks want to hear.

I felt a bit disconcerted after recently turning the page on our kitchen wall calendar.

How could so much of the season have slipped by so fast? Where did the time all go?

Good questions — ones mankind has pondered throughout the ages. Shakespeare mused about “devouring time,” in one of his sonnets.

Our lives are governed by a great celestial clock. Seasons come and go as time continues its eternally relentless march. We’ve already lost daylight since the solstice — and we’ll lose an additional hour — incrementally trimmed, minute by minute, from our mornings and evenings — before August’s end. Moreover, by the time summer gives way to autumn, we’ll be down more than three full hours!

Plants track and react to this progressively lessening illumination. Somewhere deep within the mysteries of their DNA code, there’s a switch that gets tripped as August’s light changes.

With some plants, it may be the actual angle of the sun that instigates certain responses. Though for most, it’s the length of the day — the amount of the light’s duration. “Photoperiod” is the fancy term.

Whatever you call it—no matter whether that plant is an oak tree or a stalk of sweet corn — light sends a fundamental message from leaf to stem to root.

Various plants react differently. Some commence a final growth spurt. Others release seeds or unfurl colorful blooms. Fruits, nuts, and vegetables ripen. Many begin shutting down for the season; a few start to die.

Make no mistake, the plants — wild and tame — blanketing our fields and forests, yards and gardens, fence row hedges and weed-tangled roadsides in multiple hues of verdant green … each and every one is governed by light.

Change the light and you change the plants. Once the solstice has passed and daylight slowly but steadily begins to wane, the magic miracle of photosynthesis concurrently slows.

Leaves began to seal off their stems, suppressing the delivery of the masking chlorophyll. Eventually, autumn’s patchwork reds, yellows, and oranges get revealed, to dazzle us on a crisp October afternoon.

Even now, merely at summer’s midpoint, and before the nearby begin to gleam bright with yellow goldenrod, you won’t need a tidy proclamation from an almanac or calendar to know fundamental seasonal change is happening. There are signs along the way.

If asked to point to specifics, I might be prone to hem and haw and mumble initially about something in the air. To me, a lung-filling breath of August is unique — it just smells and tastes different than July or September.

After that, I might go on and mention how hickories are starting to turn rusty. In fact, there’s an overall musty, dusty, faded look throughout the landscape — as if energy efforts expended during previous months of hard-pushed growth had overly spent from the well of available vitality, leaving August a bit blanched and shopworn.

August typically brings brassy hot days and sultry nights. Cicadas drone from treetops.

If you’re an incorrigible small mouth angler, about now your favorite waters are typically low and clear, decidedly anemic, running slower, and showing wide muddy bands along their edges. However, this year we’ve had abundant rains for weeks on end. Brooks and creeks and rivers have remained full since spring — more so than during any previous year in memory. A welcome exception.

Forager friends report the wetter weather inspired a tasty bonus of blackberries. Gardeners I know say they’re expecting a bumper crop of tomatoes … though I remain a skeptic and refuse to believe their claim until a few donated samples have found their way into my BLTs.

Such blackmail aside, you really don’t have to be overly attuned to nature’s nuances to notice the world beyond the doorstep grows increasingly infused with a sense of time’s certain passage.

We are indeed moving along, finishing summer in order to step into autumn. That’s evident even on days when temperatures soar, the sky is cobalt blue, and we can’t quite believe this delightful time and season won’t last forever.

Change is unfailingly a corollary of time, and both are inescapable — whether you’re talking about their binate effects on men or mountains.

The earth spins and tilts as it journeys along a prescribed elliptical pathway—part of that slow-but-precise planetary waltz around the sun. A whirling, twirling blue-green dancer among the glimmering stars, bestowing day and night, darkness and light, weeks and months, seasons and years.

“Leave me alone,” wrote poet E. Nesbit, “for August’s sleepy charm is on me, and I will not break the spell …”

How well I understand that sentiment! Time, change, and season are beyond our control.

August days are lazy, languid, sultry. An absolutely ideal time for free-spooling contemplation and pleasant dreams when a lingering sprawl in the side-yard recliner turns into a catnap.

What good is temptation if you can’t occasionally give in and enjoy it?

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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