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Most folks don’t want to admit it but things are changing outdoors in the most subtle of ways. Working on firewood these past two weeks, I’ve been in the woods most of every day, and when I’d take a break from cutting, hauling, splitting or stacking, I’d notice one more little signs that suggests summer is on its way out.
One obvious sign visible here and there among the still-green forest are hardwood leaves, branches or entire limbs that are turning color. Maples are the most common species, but dogwoods are showing their colorful edges, and a few poplars flutter their trademark yellow leaves in the cool August breeze.
One of my summertime rituals is an evening ride along back roads, ostensibly to look for deer in the back corner of some secluded pasture, but mostly to get to the local ice cream shop before it closes! Throughout the summer the grass and weeds had been green and lush, but now there’s a definite pall of white on the fields and along their edges, dead and dying grass signaling the end of the growing season.
I have noticed another sign of summer’s end that’s not necessarily a natural one, but more an act of necessity. Everywhere I go I see my neighbors engaged in the gradual movement of firewood from stump to shed. Some folks are still in the tree-length stage (a long way to go before snow flies!), others are in the cut-to-length phase (ready to split) and still others have their splitters gassed and ready for Saturday morning. On weekends I can hear the distant whine of chain saws and droning splitters, some continuing well after sunset, a sign that the operators know that time is tight and it’s time to get the job done.
A few industrious (retired?) folks have had their wood cut, split and stacked since mid-July. I have always considered a finished wood pile as an icon of wealth and satisfaction. There’s a lot of work and sweat in every cord of wood that’s put up to dry, and when it’s done there’s a sigh of relief that can be heard county wide. Each arm load of wood will be a source of warmth and cheer on a cold winter’s day, and it’s a good feeling to know the job is done and ready to feed the insatiable stove.
At the end of a long day’s work I like to relax on the porch and soak up the ambience of the approaching sunset. All summer I’ve enjoyed the evening calls of the wren, the wood thrush and the chickadee, but now there seems to be an odd quiet all around. Just before sunset the crickets chime in, a late-summer reminder to get that wood in.
Equally busy are the hummingbirds, which only a month ago were polite and willing to wait their turn for nectar. Now, the pre-migration battles have begun. All summer they barely visited the feeders, but now they are constantly buzzing around them, shouldering each other out of the way, each one (apparently) trying to keep all the nectar for himself. They should know it’s free and there’s plenty of it, but the fighting goes on. A careful look in the bushes lining the yard may reveal four or five of them, some perched on the edge of an up-turned leaf, just sitting and waiting for some interloper to dare get a drink.
This diminutive standoff will go on for the next several weeks, but then sometime in mid-September the hummers will be gone and the feeders will come down for another year.
Even if all the other signs of summer’s waning have escaped you, surely you’ve noticed that we’ve lost nearly an hour of daylight since June. Suddenly it’s sunset at 7:40 p.m., and we’re losing a minute or two of precious sunlight every day.
Finally, the day ends and the curtain falls on dead quiet. In the distance a loon calls once, a melancholy yodel that seems to announce the official end of another day. At that moment there’s a breath of coolness in the air that we would have paid good money for in July.
Small hints, indeed, but these are proof enough that fall is just around the corner. I say all this, by the way, not in a negative vein, but because the end of summer means great things for the outdoorsman. The 2010 bear hunting season will open in just a week, some great bass, trout and salmon fishing takes place in fall, and bowhunters are already tuning up for the September expanded archery season. The next 12 weeks are what Maine sportsmen live for, and when the small signs of summer’s end suggest that the time to get ready is near, there’s an air of excitement and anticipation that’s far from melancholy. Not even Christmas compares! One cool day can send even the most occasional outdoorsman into a frenzy of activity, repairing gear, looking for paddles, sighting in rifles and sharpening knives. Despite the languid pallor that hangs over these last summer days, a sense of urgency prevails among those of us who plan to spend most of their fall days far away from the patio or the recliner. We tend to ignore the sage advice of those who say, “Don’t wish your time away.” Summer’s great, but fall is what it’s all about, and we are on the cusp of another great autumn – read the signs, get the chores done and be ready to go when the leaves begin to turn in earnest. Summer went by fast, but fall is even more fleeting. Don’t waste a moment of it.
I was reminded of this last week as I was polishing my aluminum canoe in anticipation of some fall fishing. I had to pause several times to brush away the blood-red maple leaves that kept falling on it. The temperature was close to 90, but you can’t ignore the signs at least I know I can’t!
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