And so it begins, in this my now 64th summer; the creep of fall. The changes are unnoticeable, imperceptible even, to the young. They are still drunk with the sun and fun that is summer, and the transition is ever so subtle. Of course, as we all know, the length of the sunlight in the sky changes every single day, as does the location of the sun in the sky. After the summer solstice the light of day grows shorted every day until we arrive at the winter solstice and the reversal begins. But one day to the next? The difference is lost between yesterday and today. But then compare the 4th of July to this day now at the end of August and the difference is startling: later sunrise and earlier sunset. And the sun is the same, in a relevant way – but in a different place. (With apologies to Pink Floyd.) Over the long term the changes are immediately recognizable and evident, but are often too subtle to spot from one day to the next. Yet if you pay attention and truly observe each day, you can see the changes – they are there and can be witnessed from day to day.
Leaves are beginning to turn – not blazingly and en masse – but one here and one there. And not all at once but a spread of color change slides through the leaf like a glacier creeping forward until it is no longer green. I have perhaps a scant handful of leaves throughout back woods that are now yellow or red. The fall plants are springing forth as the summer plants die and fade away. The cicada and heat bugs are silent, handing over the stage to the nightly concert of the crickets. The squirrels are increasing their activity, getting ready to forage and store their winter’s food. Each August day, another leaf hands over its vibrant green in exchange for a fall coat, another bull frog goes silent, another bee balm or trumpet vine flower tumbles to the ground, and the sun says good morning a minute or two later and says good night a minute or two earlier. Two or three minutes a day, every day, summer fades to fall.
The change is not unwelcome; as much as I love the summer, those first crisp mornings are always appreciated. The heat of a July day is delightful, intoxicating even. I never grow tired of stepping out and feeling the sun on my back. But… working out in the summer sun is difficult. The first couple of times the workout is refreshing – working hard and sweating heavily can be quite enjoyable. But after a while, day after day, it begins to wear on you – well, on me anyway. I find that, much like the length of daylight, my work times outside in the sun grow shorter as the summer progresses. I still enjoy it, but just not quite so much. And by mid-August I may well find myself putting off an outdoor project to wait for a cooler day. In fairness of course, August brings humidity as well and frankly, humidity can be more taxing than the heat of the sun. So yes, those low 60-degree and high 50-degree nights and early mornings are greeted with at least a hint of a smile.
We’re all driven my circadian rhythm, none so much as the animals in nature of course, but all of us. But more so than that, we are driven, unconsciously mostly, by a seasonal rhythm. What drives the migratory birds to begin binge feeding in order to prepare for their departure? What triggers the crickets to suddenly being their nightly songs? What turns off the chlorophyll flow to a leaf and enables the revealing of the red or yellow or orange? There are, of course, exact and precise scientific explanations for each: birds migrate to pursue food sources and habitat (weather mainly), crickets sing their mating song in late summer to enable the correct timing of breeding and babies, and leaves change due to time of available daylight, temperature, and water. But all those individual “triggers” add up, cumulatively, to seasonal changes: shorter days, longer nights, lower sun angles, and cooler temperatures.
It is predictable and dependable, variable only in the smallest details and timing; the movement of seasons is as rhythmic and consistent as are the tides and full moons. Life mimics nature and nature mimics life – they are inexorably linked to each other, at times contrasting each other and at other times complimenting each other. Neither can exist without the other, another example of the classic balance of existence. The more you look, the more you see!
Despite these signs of change, don’t pack away your summer things just yet dear reader! There are plenty of “dog days” still to come for us. But there ae fewer rather than greater remaining so waste not, want not – grab hold of the last few weeks of summer. Go out and sweat a little, get an ice cream cone, make some lemonade, smell the summer, feel the heat. Go to the beach if you can, or a pond or river. At least get your feet wet if you can’t swim. Step outside at night, or at least open your window, and listen to the crickets. Smell a summer rose before it is gone. Stay well dear reader!