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Not that I want to be the harbinger of bad news, but I was told the other day that school was going to start up again in another month, and while I’m thankfully beyond the threat of homework, lunches and extra-curricular sports it did occur to me that kick-starting the educational process is but one sign that, alas, summer is over!
The evidence is all around us, subtle indications that it’s nearly time to get the flannel sheets out and the firewood in. Gazing out my window at the hay field beyond huge patches tall grass that has matured, flattened and turned brown right before my eyes. The geese on the pond are no longer leading around groups of cute little goslings; they are now nearly old enough to fly and in some cases they are as big (and hungry) as their parents.
The little birds at the feeders have grown, too, in just the last few weeks. I had a troupe of six nuthatches that followed each other up and down the dooryard oak like carnival targets, each one taking a seed off the feeder and hiding it in the bark of the tree. This has gone on all summer but now I have noticed that they don’t show up en masse anymore. It’s one at a time and they are hiding their plunder farther away from the back deck.
I was lamenting the passing of the blueberry crop in my area as recently as last week. There are more berries to pick but now there are huge numbers that are dried up and gone by. August means raspberries and blackberries, and already the canes around the field are heavily laden with big, fat fruits that, compared to blueberries, are a joy to pick. I can fill a quart bucket in just a few minutes; not so when blueberries are on the agenda.
Perhaps most telling (for me, anyway) is that while cruising a local vegetable farm in search of ground hogs, crows and other scavengers I found a Yellow Transparent apple tree that actually had a few ripe apples on it. These are among the earliest (and sweetest) apples of all, and there’s no doubt that grouse, deer and bears will be along to clean them out, but the point was driven home as I sampled a few of the waxy fruits that I could reach from the bottom limbs: Summer is fading!
No one likes to hear that and I realize that I risk being tarred and feathered for even bringing it up, but I’m a student of the natural world and it is telling me it’s time to make a change. The woodland ferns are turning brown and the farmer whose vegetables I protect has been picking corn for weeks now, trying to get his share before the crows, raccoons and deer take over.
In fact, he’s even been reporting an increase in coyote damage (yes, coyotes will eat corn – and anything else they can fit down their throats).
Soon the bears will start to move in, and if there’s ever been a sign of summer’s end it’s a black bear fattening up on late-season produce. Most of the females and cubs will eat their fill and head for their dens by the end of October, which, calendar watchers know, is not that far off!
Of course, there is plenty of time left before we have to start thinking about real cold and snow, so I take these little reminders for what they are – invitations to do more, get outdoors more and make the most of the great days that are upon us. This is a great time for canoeing or kayaking, taking long hikes in the woods or just following an old logging trail just to see where it goes. Deer flies are still an annoyance but a few squirts of repellent on the head, shoulders and elbows will keep the majority of them at bay.
If you are not into chemicals, my old friend Carleton Reynolds taught me to use a “woodsman’s fly swatter,” a leafy maple or oak twig that is waved about the head while walking in the woods. It definitely keeps the bugs away and even provides a cooling breeze; a fly swatter and fan rolled into one!
Though it is still going to be warm, even sultry, during the day, the mornings and evenings have already shown their cooler sides. I have been getting outdoors at 5 a.m. lately just to take advantage of the lower temperatures and when I’m guarding the vegetable patch in the evening I can feel the sudden drop in temperature just about the time the sun dips behind the trees. Sunset, by the way, is occurring almost an hour earlier than it did in June. I notice it more now because instead of ending after 9 p.m. a month ago the day is now done a little after 8. Subtle, but noticeable.
Again, there’s no reason to panic, just be aware. When I first picked up on the clues I made sure I purchased my 2012 bear-hunting permit, my duck stamps and applied for my antlerless deer permit. These, too, are signs of changing times and there are plenty more to come. Bear hunters are already out there pre-baiting, which may explain the sudden dearth of donuts where you get your morning coffee. Some guides have already contracted for all the leftover pastries these shops will produce in the next month or two, which means do-it-yourselfers will have to find other sources of bait. That means dog food, breads, honey, candy and all sorts of sweet food items will begin disappearing in large quantities rather suddenly. Another sign that summer is rapidly coming to an end? The “back to school” sales have started up and local restaurants are already working to replace my favorite college-bound summer waitresses. The signs are all there; ignore them if you will.
Don’t blame me – I’m just saying!
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