Finding Beauty on an August Day
“The scales have tipped and the days have more of early fall than early summer in them. Mornings dawn with heavy mists that burn away in time. The annual overturn in sound has already taken place. The chorus of singing birds has diminished; the music of singing insects has swelled.” Edwin Way Teale, from A Walk Through The Year, August 16.
For some August is the last month of summer. Autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd with the Autumnal Equinox, but for many the summer season is connected to the school year calendar and this month teachers and children begin to return to school and the promise of a new academic year to come. Summer 2021 is going by in the flash of falling star but there is still so much beauty to behold in the month ahead. Here is what I’ll be looking for.
I am not sure if something can actually “taste” beautiful, but for me the most anticipated taste of August is the glorious combination of fresh picked sweet corn from local farm stands and farmer’s markets and sun warmed tomatoes plucked right from my garden. Yesterday my wife brought a single ripened cherry tomato from the garden and placed it in my hand. It was delicious and a harbinger of the succulence of my August vegetable garden.
We have several milkweed plants in our yard and are happy to help them propagate on our property. Milkweed is the primary food source for caterpillars of beautiful monarch butterflies, and we maintain a few patches in hopes of attracting these favorite insects to our property. Monarch butterflies in our region lay their eggs usually in July and August when milkweed plants are mature. There were no caterpillars on the plants when I checked them July 23, but I hope August provides more luck.
July rains have left a lushness to the land. Ferns in deep shaded woods have benefitted from the moisture and they are thick with tall green fronds. I’ll be looking at the undersides of the tall fronds for brown dots of spores, one of the unique ways these beautiful plants reproduce. Ferns have been around since the Devonian period and predate even dinosaurs and most plants. There are many varieties in our region with ostrich fern and cinnamon fern my favorites due to their tall spreading fronds.
Has this been the summer of amazing sunsets, or does every year produce beautiful sunsets and I am just noticing them more this year? As a teenager there was a large field about a half mile from my house with an expansive western view, perfect for viewing sunsets. Many an August early evening found me there.
I live in Putnam now and the downtown area faces west over the Quinebaug River. The spacious view provides a good location for sunset watching. Just before sunset on July 20 a blood-red sun hung above the horizon. The eye-squinting white yellow of the afternoon skyline was replaced by a mean red-faced orb. The color was a result of smoke particles in the air from the ongoing Bootleg wildfire, thousands of miles away in Oregon. This beautiful, startling and hopefully very infrequent occurrence is a reminder that despite long distances we are all connected by a vast ecosystem and the very air we breathe.
August is also the month when beautiful Perseid meteor showers are visible in the night sky. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as witnessing a shooting star or meteor shower. The person I turn to for questions about astronomy is Geoff McLean from Norwich. Geoff is a TLGV Ranger, and each year conducts several programs for us. He is also a Volunteer NASA Solar System Ambassador and a wonderful resource for learning about the wonders of our solar system. I checked with him about the Perseid meteor showers and here is his response.
“The Perseid Meteor showers, as all such events, are named so because of the constellation from which they appear to come from. The Perseids are actually the dust particles that were blown off of comet 109P/Swift Tutle. As Earth orbits the sun, we end up colliding with these leftover particles. The Perseids have been around a long time dating back to before the 1830s. Many of the individual meteors leave a long fluorescent trail as they incinerate in our upper atmosphere. To see these “persistent trains” look about 45 degrees away from the Perseus constellation. The Perseids have an awesome reputation for a dazzling show – and they are amazing. August 12 is the peak during the early morning hours with up to 2 meteors per minute.”
August is here and summer is on the wane but a month of showering celestial flashes, local farm raised foods, colorful wildflowers, lush forests and the ever-revolving sun awaits our presence. We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley. Enjoy it. Care for it. Pass it on.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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