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This is the time of year when Maine folks begin the dreaded countdown that began June 21: “We’ve lost four minutes of daylight already!”
I think I’ve heard this lament a dozen times just this week, which may be a record considering that I was not even in the conversation, just overhearing others making note of the change in daylight hours.
I have not seen this much attention paid to the steady tick of the clock since my days at the Dexter shoe factory in Milo. Those of us who were lucky enough to escape at 3:30 p.m. were out the door just as the second hand hit 12. Our coworkers doomed to staying till 4:30 glumly returned to their machines with stooped shoulders and aching backs. We all had to endure that extra hour’s work from time to time, but one eye was always on the clock, especially as the daylight hours began to wane in midsummer. By the end of November we’d be coming to work in the dark and going home in the dark – no reprieve from the clock all winter!
There’s no need to worry about that now, however. With only four or five minutes shaved off our July days, we can still do anything and everything we could have done last month. Things are changing out there, of course, but you have to look for the changes to notice them.
Clue No. 1 for me is the first cutting of hay, which seemed to begin a few weeks ago and is still underway from the looks of the farms I pass in my travels. A June cutting means it’s possible to get another haying in before fall, but rain early or rain late could affect those plans. Rain makes good hay, of course, so we want rain, but not so much that we can’t harvest the grass. Wet grass, baled and stored, is a natural fire hazard. The process that turns wet grass into fuel is a fascinating one, but costly if the fire originates in the barn.
By this time most of our feathered friends have nested and fledged their young. I enjoy seeing the new crop of birds learning to fly, chase bugs or even hop around the dooryard. They are not much good at it and provide some entertaining moments. For example, we have a young raven (big, black and gawky) hanging around the pasture. He’s learning to fly and not doing very well at it. One day recently I saw him perched on a dead limb at the corner of the field. With much cajoling from his parents he took wing and did an impressive nose dive straight into the grass – which had just been cut. For a moment there I thought he was dead! He lay in the field, wings outspread, for several minutes, his parents swooping and diving around him all the while. I brought out my binoculars to get a closer look and, after some time, spotted movement. The young raven picked his head up, hopped about 10 yards looking for all the world like a black plastic bag being blown in the wind, squawking at every step, and suddenly he was airborne.
I admire ravens and always enjoy their aerial and auditory antics, but now I see that all that grace and artistry comes only with much practice. All week the young raven has been fluttering around the pasture, squawking incessantly while working on his flight skills.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice the appearance of bats and lightning bugs as dusk falls every day, and the crickets in the background remind us that they are late-season singers, staying up later every day as the hours get shorter.
This year I’ve had the unique opportunity to see the growth curve of a calf moose on a more or less regular basis. The cow moose that decided to take over the back swamp as her home range has definitely had her ups and downs. Last year, sadly, her calf was killed by a vehicle collision last fall not 100 yards from my front door. The neighbors who had been watching the pair were saddened by the event, but cow moose being the hardy critters they are, she took the tragedy in stride. There were at least two bull moose in the area last fall (not sure which one she fell in love with) but this spring there she was, calf in tow.
When I first saw the calf it was barely as tall as his mother’s knee, wobbly and unstable. Already he is nearly up to her brisket, and thanks to the constant rains this spring and summer he’ll grow taller and heavier. We’re all hoping he will stay out of the road and away from bears, coyotes and stray dogs – it’s not easy being that big yet that low on the food chain!
The deer around us have been showing up more often now that the leafy cover is thick and succulent. The bucks have velvet antlers now, some with identifiable forks. Where they will be in November is anyone’s guess, but it’s good to know that they are out there.
Speaking of deer, another sign of midsummer is that hunters may now apply for their 2011 any-deer permits. The process is easily completed online by logging onto The deadline for any-deer permits (a.k.a. doe permits) is Aug. 15, just over a month from now! Doesn’t that make it sound as if summer is about over?
Folks who are keeping an eye on the clock will only become more anxious as July turns into August and then September. To avoid the “Where did summer go?” blues find a way to rejoice in today, not tomorrow or next week. Shorter days are coming, no doubt, but avoid projecting – get outdoors as often as possible and enjoy each day right to the flash and flutter of the bats and lightning bugs!
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