Thursday, August 3, 2017

Au Revoir, Summer!

It’s August - better known as the month I ruin by complaining the whole time that the summer is almost over. I love spring and early summer: the birds, the soft sunshine, the longer days, and the relaxed let’s-get-together-outside nature of friendships. But in August, the birds grow more quiet. The garden goes from abundant to weedy and overgrown. The sun seems too hot and the days too short. And the first day of the coming semester looms like a shadow over my carefully-cultivated summer-break calm and tranquility.

"Baby Eastern Bluebird" by Mark Theriot CC BY-NC-NC 2.0
But, as often happens when I take a long walk down our country road, nature had a lesson to teach me this morning. I was reminded that life comes in seasons and the fullness of life doesn’t diminish in fall and winter. It simply changes. Even though the birds may get quieter and begin to migrate away, there is still a wonderful bird-ness about August. Today I saw flocks of blackbirds and Canada geese feeding on the cut grain fields. I saw young, speckle-breasted bluebirds, trying their hand at hunting for insects, which are plentiful in the August heat. In fact, I saw lots of juvenile birds, and heard them, too; the beauty of the dawn chorus has been replaced by the amusing sounds of recent fledglings trying to mimic the adults. I heard a Northern Flicker cry out over and over again, in a time with the adults have mostly grown silent - it even attempted drumming a few times against the hollow wood of a snag. A fluffy little blue jay, in a rare moment of vulnerability for such a tough, canny species, cawed over and over again.

"Mother's Love" by Victoria Samuel USFWS CC BY 2.0
And then I looked through binoculars at a funny brown spot at the edge of the distant wood and made out a turkey, and then another turkey, and then lots of turkeys straggling in and out of the boundary of the wood: four hens and the twelve poults of their collective nursery. Later I saw a fawn, grown quite big but still with spots, looking at me curiously. Then it followed its mother across the road and disappeared into a cornfield. August is still alive - and magical.

And I relearned the rather trite lesson that everything has its season. We must move on to fall, and fall will be beautiful in its own way. Then there’s Christmas, and winter, and those first couple of snowfalls are indeed breathtaking. There may be fewer birds left at that point, but they’re easier to get to know. They spend their time nearer to us as we bring food to the feeder and crack the ice on the birdbath, and we can observe them more readily on the bare branches of trees. Then, just when we think we can’t take winter any longer, there are those marvelous days of March that hint at spring. Slowly, once again, the world comes back to life. And then I spend another August trying not to lament the end of summer.
"Sunset over Cornfield," by Johan Neven CC BY 2.0

I think we’re seasonal creatures living in a culture that tries to erase the seasons. We live a moderate-temperature life in our homes, no matter the weather outside. We buy strawberries and apples all year round. Christmas decorations show up in Walmart starting in September. It feels good to be outside on an August day, observing the specific pulse of life that happens only in August, and to bid summer au revoir rather than adieu.

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