The saying is that if you don’t like the weather in Maine just wait a minute, although I’ve heard the same mantra in every state, province and country I’ve ever visited. We don’t have a monopoly on sudden climate changes but, of course, we live here so here is how we measure things.
Signs, of course, are what keep us going, be it signs of spring, summer, fall or winter, and those who pay attention to such things (most of us) know that the decline of one season invariably means the blooming of another.
I thought about this just a few days ago when I noticed that the hummingbirds had stopped coming to the feeders. Since May 1 I’ve been able to look out my windows and see as many as five hummers fighting over the endless supply of food I put out for them, always amused at how territorial these little mites can be. No matter how many feeders I put out there’d is always cause for discord.
Some of these mini battles seem to be calculated confrontations. I watched hummers sitting on tiny twigs in the shadows of the front-yard oaks just daring another hummer to come down and try to steal some nectar. This would go on all day – one hummer lording it over all others. Such a colossal waste of time because I keep my feeders full and there is no dearth of sugar water.
Anyway, there I was lamenting the disappearance of the hummers (and summer) when my yard was suddenly filled with an invasion of grackles. I rather enjoy their “rusty hinge” song and the loud “chack” that keeps them in contact with each other. As soon as I heard it I slipped to the window and looked out. The yard was full of grackles – they were on the porch, on the railings, in the bird bath, on the stone wall, in the trees, on the roof, all over the yard . . . there must have been 100 of them but only two or three were “talking.” Later in the fall when the cold winds drive them south they’ll show up in even greater numbers, all squawking at once and wiping out my reserve of sunflower seeds in just a few minutes. They don’t come along very often and they don’t stay long so I don’t mind their sudden rampages. In fact I rather like seeing them, spring and fall, because it means change is in the wind.
Though fall is undeniably on the way it is surprising that summer has lingered so long, just as last winter was very reluctant to give up its frigid hold on us. What stands out for me is how long it’s taking for my garden to mature. I’m still waiting to harvest apples, dry beans, watermelons and squash. The plants themselves have long withered and dried up but the fruits seem to be hanging on, not quite ready to give up the vine. I check them every day but they all seem to be in perpetual limbo. Will it take a hard frost or period of cold temperatures to finish them off? I hope that the mice, squirrels and porcupines leave them alone long enough for me to get my share.
Speaking of squirrels, I’ve noticed that the local population of bushytails has not been sitting around waiting for seasonal changes to dictate their behavior. They’ve been busy harvesting acorns for weeks and, lately, I’ve observed increasing numbers of them carrying wads of dry leaves into the treetops. One nest (or bed, as some like to call them) is 90 feet off the ground, which some also like to say is a harbinger of the amount of snow we’re likely to get this winter. I’d say if we get enough snow to cover that nest we are in serious trouble!
And speaking of conflicting signs, I was clearing some brush the other day in the cool of morning and noticed one of those vicious white-faced hornets on my glove. It was rather docile due to the cool temperatures but as I stood up I asked, “Where did you come from?” As I turned my head I had my answer. I was face-to-face with a basketball-sized nest just a few feet from my head, and it was covered with semi-dormant hornets – hundreds of them! Had I cut the next sapling the nest would have come crashing down on top of me.
Last year I was stung about 50 times while doing various yard chores but this year, at least so far, I’ve escaped the stinging hoards. In fact, there seems to be relatively few of these aggressive, angry insects this year. But, what struck me is that the nest was only 5 feet off the ground, which, according to one soothsayers’ camp, means we can expect a mild winter. I don’t know if the squirrels will win or the hornets, but I’m hoping for a winter with less than 90 feet of snow but more than 5 feet. We’ve had snowless winters before and they are not nearly as fun as enjoyable as one might think.
I think the most telling sign of fall is that my own level of activity has suddenly increased. I’m sure the birds and animals around me are amused at how much yard and garden work is getting done. I’m in the wood shed more often now, sorting and stacking, making kindling, securing windows and doors . . . the summer residents of the wood shed seem to find it amusing that I’m in and out a dozen times every day carrying or moving or storing one thing or another in anticipation of fall. The flying squirrels, mice and wrens just move out of the way and let me pass as if they know that I’m no threat to them.
What drives me is not necessarily the need to prepare for winter but October is just around the corner, which means for the next two months I’ll be spending most of my daylight hours in the woods. Who has time for chores when hunting season finally opens? One thing I’ve learned over the years: If it doesn’t get done by Oct. 1 it is not going to get done!