By James McGuire
August draws to a close.
The eighth month’s final days are fast trickling away through time’s bottomless hourglass.
In short order, September will step in to take its rightful place—a new month, but one in which more than two-thirds of the thirty-one days are still deemed summer…at least officially.
Even so, the landscape is changing, undergoing a subtle transformation—the first hints of this annual changing cloak.
Leaves on the shagbark hickories turn a rusty yellow. Sour gum and spirals of twining woodbine go purple-red. While roadside clumps of staghorn sumac don their blazing scarlet head-dress.
I often find myself tooling slowly along a country road with the windows down and the radio off, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells.
The dominant color overall is probably yellow—the yellow of goldenrod and sunflowers, prairie dock and primrose, jewelweed, mullein, false foxglove, Indian cup, ox-eye, rosinweed, the rare compass plant, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, Jerusalem artichokes, tansy, coreopsis, wild lettuce, rattlesnake weed, sow thistles, and the occasional handsome Michigan lilies which adorn roadside ditches.
Of course, there are still plenty of purple ironweeds, blue sailors, asters, gentians, magenta-pink Joe Pye weeds, and the luscious bright red of the cardinal flowers roundabout to add variety.
These last weeks of summer don’t simply fade and wither away—they celebrate their transition in a bright and colorful hurrah, a glorious all-out display like the spectacular finale at the end of a fireworks show.
Birdsong—at morning, evening, but especially throughout the day—is noticeably sparse and muted. Though the sprightly robin still sings his morning matins to the dawn, and the white-throated sparrow seals the twilight with his lonesome vespers.
But the starlings and blackbirds are already gathering into flocks. And any day now, if it hasn’t happened already, the nighthawks will begin their autumnal migration—disappearing until their reappearance next year.
This can be a surprisingly busy time for an inveterate forager.
There are hickory nuts to collect, along with walnuts and maybe a few butternuts. Also choke cherries, elderberries, wild apples, fox grapes, and perhaps even a mess or two of tasty chanterelle mushrooms.
Tote sacks and a walking stick are de rigueur accouterments for any and all rambles and outings since you never know when luck might place a windfall of tasty wild goodies along your way.
Foremost on my collecting mind and radar are pawpaws.
Pawpaws are my hands-down favorite wild treats. I truly adore them and never get my fill. But their season is brief, and the months between this savored pleasure stretch unbearably long.
Unfortunately, most of the pawpaw patches I once depended on have disappeared. So every year it gets harder and harder to scrounge up enough for even a cursory fix. I just pray I can find at least a few during the weeks ahead.
I’ve had to wait to begin those investigatory reconnoiters, though. A matter of life and breath, and possibly melting into a pool of rendered fat.
As an experienced Buckeye, it really came as no surprise when recent temperature highs climbed into the mid-90s. What would an Ohio summer be without at least one obligatory heat wave to tax our air conditioners and give our sweat glands a workout?
A bit of rain the other evening did little to assuage the sweltering heat, but merely added to the humidity.
Practically everyone I’ve spoken with has complained about the hot weather. And it has, indeed, been stifling hot—though as Ohio heat waves go, this one has been on the mild side; oppressive but not insufferable; nothing above the century mark, temperature-wise…at least not so far.
The weather folks are doing their part. Excessive heat advisories have been issued; folks are regularly warned to limit outdoor activities.
For some of us, it didn’t take more than a few personal experiments to realize there was a fair measure of common sense in their advice. We soon found that meadows had turned into a high-plains desert; the deep woods felt like a tropical jungle.
Everywhere, the air was heavy, smothering, lacking in oxygen.
My dog-walking routine initially became limited to the hours of early morning—as soon after sun-up as I could manage. Any later and we were both gasping after a few hundred hards.
Too, the length of our walks quickly got whittled down considerably—becoming shorter every time we headed afield.
Eventually, even those abbreviated forays seemed more like ordeals than outings. I suspect Daisy the dog actually figured this out before me—but being a good companion, she plodded and panted along, fulfilling her faithful amigo role.
I finally smartened up. By mutual agreement, we put our trail walks on temporary hold and currently make do with excursions around the yard plus expeditions up the driveway hill to the mailbox.
Daisy wisely decided on her own to cut back on ball-retrieving sessions and zooming around the flower beds.
As you might suspect, I have thought about an escape by going fishing. And initially, wading a bass creek might seem an appropriate beat-the-heat response. After donning shorts and sneakers, I could spend the day shuffling along chest-deep through cool pools—startling the turtles sunning themselves on nearby logs.
Moreover, I might even catch the occasional fish!
While such a scenario sounded temptingly logical, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it called for a certain level of energy and physicality, which in my state of lethargic ennui, I couldn’t hope to muster.
In the end, I’ve settled for cold drinks and developed a supine relationship with a zero-gravity outdoor lounger cannily situated in the deepest patch of backyard shade I can find.
Daisy sprawls companionably nearby. She does seem pleased at having finally managed to teach me something about proper loafing.
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