Housatonic — As summer nears its virtual and calendar end, every country roadside blooms; every meadow is a garden of delights across the spectrum. Clouds of chicory, blue as the August sky, lover of the sparse, waste places, hugs the roadside. Joe Pye weed paints the hollows lavender.
Black-eyed Susan’s and a few diehard lilies look out of place among the sere grasses and monkey fists of drying Queen Anne’s lace. Early aster asters taste the air.
The goldenrod, the last new bloom of summer, cascades the hillsides, flooding the low places, clinging to a cracking pavement, or marching along a bristling hedge row.
A few volunteer goldenrods have slipped like spies into the corners and margins of my gardens. I know their persistent roots will bully themselves along through the garden pushing their less hardy brethren aside. I’ll leave them alone for this year and only a worry about sending them if they outstrip their welcome. Then, even if I talk up a couple of handfuls, I’m sure they’ll be enough roots left to start a small thicket of goldenrod growing again next year. Besides, as long as they mind their manners, their strong and untamed yellow, perfect in the late summer sun, is a welcome addition to the garden’s palette.
Back in the day, we’d use goldenrod for other purposes. Its leaves stripped from the stem, its flowery head snapped, all that remained was its sturdy shaft. When fitted to a string stretched taught along a sapling bow, made a very acceptable arrow
The English, mindful of the turning of the seasons, of the swinging arc of time’s passing, call goldenrod “farewell summer.”
August becoming September is a poignant time. We watch the last summer flowers fade, and realize another season has passed us by.
Boys fire off barrages of goldenrod arrows. Men let a few of bunches hang around in the corners of flowerbeds.
Brave arrows to delicate flowers. Boys to men. Summer to fall, then to winter and spring and on and on again.
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Mortality in August
Some people complain about August as much as they do of March. However, when either month is freed from human expectation, and considered only a fraction of the year, neither month is more disagreeable than any of the others.
August writes its own book which each of us reads as his own, translating the eighth month into terms of his own experience.
August is the ultimate and final resolution of the gardeners April covenant with the earth.
In its finality, August, by my lights, lives a double life: a brazen, wilting day at first, a day as crisp as October the next.
August is a black-haired young man on a Ford tractor, certain of his skill, cutting a field with a fussy, intricate, sickle-bar mower. He loves what he’s doing; he thinks there always will be fields to cut on gentle evening like this.
August is a white-haired man among his narrow patch of pumpkins and rows of corn. He’s happy with his own grown bounty and forever in love with August and the changes it carries. Despite it all, he might secretly wonder where that other August man has gone, the one confidently bearing his skills and his potentials as he rode high and handsome over the wide vistas that in other Augusts seem to roll on forever.
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I don’t read science fiction often. I simply don’t like the stuff. But the other night I was sitting in the garage (I used to think old people’s sitting in garages was weird.) enjoying a Churchill, not the politician, but a sweet and mild 7-inch cigar.
For some reason I recall only one science-fiction story regarding some scientists sent from the earth to colonize Mars. The people chosen to prepare the settlement arrived and set right to their tasks getting things set up for more colonists. However, day by day, they lost more and more of their interest in science, becoming so laid-back they completely forget about earth, let alone finishing their mission and heading home.
At the end of the story we discover the Martian wind was the culprit, scrambling the scientists’ cells and elements, wearing them down until they really didn’t give a damn what happened.
I figured the story might be a metaphor for the end of August when the hot wind, the brassy light, and the heavy, expectant air begin to wear things away.
At first glance nothing seems to have changed during the last month or so. Most everything’s still green, the sun’s still high, and locusts still buzz, warning us that the rest of the day will be hot and humid.
But high up in the trees, the leaves look limp and tired, seem as though they’ve just about had it, and might give up the whole thing, turn color and fall off overnight.
The other day the wind blew an apple from my tree. It landed crimson side up on the lawn. The ants and bees hadn’t gotten to it, so I took a bite. At first it was cool and tangy, but after I chewed for a minute, I decided it was still just too tart to really enjoy. There was a promise there, however.
The corn has pretty much run its course but the fruit from my 7-foot tomato tall plants continue sweet and soft and rich with fulfillment as August itself.
Whatever the causes, we can sense there’s change. But it’s still August, still summer, but summer a little tattered at the edges, fraying slowly away.