John Clark watching a nighttime thunderstorm move eastward toward Penobscot Bay. We’re a couple days away from September, but I’ve had August’s unique personality on my mind for the past couple weeks. While (for me, at least) June and July often blend together, August is a different breed of cat. October is my favorite month, but August and September do a darn good job of setting the stage. Below are some thoughts as to why.
At some point in August, there’s a subtle shift. Yes, the days begin to be perceptibly shorter, but there are ones when humidity vanishes and the hint of cool portending fall rides in on quiet breezes. Those are the days when our back deck casts a spell on me that’s more powerful than anything smacking of responsibility. Even the hummingbirds flitting past my head to sip nectar at the two feeders, seem to voice their silent approval of my spending hours on end baking in the warmth, sipping brewed coffee and reading while jets overhead leave stubby contrails as they wing west and south. The nights that follow are equally seductive. After sweating through two months of summer heat and humidity, a few cool, dry nights make sleep easy for Beth and I.
June had us tending and weeding the garden, watering daily as it was so dry. July found us watering almost as often while reaping the first veggies of the season. August, however, is a month of satiation and assessment. We seek out neighbors and friends as well as bring excess to the Tri-Town Food Pantry because there’s no way we can eat everything the garden produces. It’s also a time to assess what failed to grow, or grow well. Last year, we had more broccoli than we knew what to do with. In fact, the plants looked more like high bush blueberry plants by early September. This year, we’ve barely gotten a meal a week. Our cauliflower is equally disappointing. The plants are dwarfed and have yet to head out. We had four cucumber plants in June. Now we have one and it produces in fits and starts. Critters (either coons or a bear) decimated our corn.
There were successes, too. I fooled the wildlife with a backup corn patch across the road that’s providing delicious ears aplenty. The melons that were a bust last year, are making up for it. Ditto the yellow beans and our row and a half of soybeans are busting their humps to shoot out pods everywhere. I planted thirteen year old eggplant seeds, but expected nothing, so Beth bought four plants. The ancient seeds all sprouted, so we’re lavishing two kinds of purple goodies on eggplant lovers near and far. Chard was another surprise. Beth thought we hadn’t planted any, so she bought a six pack of plants, only to realize that one row she thought were beets turned out to be rainbow chard plants. As a result, we’re knee deep in the stuff. Good thing we like it…And let us not talk about basil. It’s flourishing on both sides of the road along with red, green and Chinese cabbage.
There are other visible reminders of the coming changes that are unique to Maine. As the air cools sharply overnight, it triggers river fog that snakes through the valleys of Somerset County. As you travel south on I-05, it’s easy to see where the Sebasticook River lies and even easier to follow the Kennebec as you near Fairfield. When the moon and nighttime sky cooperate, the Perseid meteor shower gives us an excuse to stay up later and sit on the back deck late into the night. We talk about drifting across Great Moose Lake in our canoe some night to get the full benefit, but my bad knee refuses to let that happen. Sunsets also seem more flamboyant in August, perhaps in hopes of outdoing September’s.
The dry days also encourage farmers to get their haying done, filling the air with that wonderful smell, akin, but distinct from a freshly mown lawn. Neighborhood kids start to panic, quietly at first, then more openly as they realize that seemingly endless summer vacation is about to end. The familiar sound of an early morning school bus stopping just down the street began two mornings ago, while at our monthly book discussion last Tuesday evening, talk turned to who was heading south and when. Those of us who stay put, were bemused by a description of a 55+ community one couple was going to in South Carolina. The entire complex stretches close to three miles. I’ll take my pellet stove and pile of books any day.
The bean plants have been pulled, apples raked up (although that will continue for another month at least), with the best ones made into applesauce. Blackberries are picked and adorn breakfast cereal, while we’re at that point where the tomato crop is finding its way through our Foley food mill before we add basil and other goodies to make spaghetti sauce. What does August mean to you?