The old Celtic and Gaelic calendars marked the beginning of autumn at August 1st, and here in farm country that makes a great deal of sense. While spring has a feeling of galloping joy and summer a tone of happy waiting, now there is a small but noticeable tension. It’s time to start thinking about the approaching winter – the countdown has begun.
The first cutting of hay is in and the second underway, tree fruits are in or waiting, fields and vegetable gardens are bursting with ripening crops. Even if crops aren’t ready yet, a practiced eye can see what the yield will be, and there’s no more time for adjustments: we’ll get what we get, and any changes will have to be made next year. Stores are full of canning supplies; man and beast alike are stashing away the bounty.
Looking down over the swamp (we prefer the term “wetlands”), where a month ago it was pink and blue with wild phlox, cornflowers and mallows, now it’s the deep rose of Joe Pye Weed and milkweed, with fluffy white Queen Anne’s Lace and touches of early goldenrod.
The flower beds have hit a lull, with only echinacea (thank goodness for all the new varieties!), Phlox “David” and “Bright Eyes” and a few lingering daylilies still in bloom. Mums haven’t cracked color yet. The summer annuals are still in bloom, but are starting to look a little tired – time to gather seeds for next year and make notes in the garden journal.
The birds aren’t as full of conversation as a month ago, now that the babies are fledged, but crickets, grasshoppers, humming bees and a few cicadas are heard during the day, and the full chorus of katydids at night. Still a few frog voices, but not as many. I haven’t seen any monarch caterpillars on the milkweed yet, but they should be along any day now.
The skies darken earlier, of course, and are more likely to be free of haze. We’ll be watching for shooting stars around the 15th!
Karen Albeck is an amateur naturalist and natural journal-keeper who watches for Signs of the Season in central New York state.
Photos were provided by Karen Albeck.