August always sneaks in on me.
Maybe my brain just gets befuddled by July’s heat and humidity. Or it could be a case of chronic drowsiness caused by the persistent background buzz of droning cicadas.
Whatever the reason, every year I’m again surprised by August’s arrival. “How did it get here so fast?” I wonder.
This personal peculiarity probably isn’t the smartest thing for an outdoor scribe to admit. I’m supposed to be keeping a close eye on such matters.
It’s a shameful truth, both embarrassing and a bit worrisome.
How competent at reporting can I be when I fail to realize one month has ended and another begun? And to make matters worse, it’s always the same month — always August. How many times do I need to get bushwhacked?
July unwinds its days with their torrid allotment of sun and rain, sweating and swelter, and I plod along in a near stupor, oblivious to the ticking clock, and paying not the slightest heed to the calendar, almanac, or any electronic devices with their digital reminders.
But while I’m never prepared for August’s coming, neither do I take it for granted once I’ve awakened to its presence — since I too well know the constant measure of time’s dimension, the truth within nature’s enduring circle.
August is summer at full-bore, the season’s final whole month. Hotter, drier, more baking than steaming, this pinnacle eighth month undeniably proclaims time’s relentless passage.
Ragged roadside fields will soon become swathed in eye-catching color with shining seas of bright goldenrod. Spattered throughout this vast yellow treasure will be complimentary splashes of jewels ironweed’s regal purple jewels.
I’m a fan of both these lovely commoners — but I’m especially enchanted by ironweed.
Ironweed has long been one of my favorite wildflowers. And yes, I do call it a wildflower even though a lot of folks see it as nothing more than a pesky weed.
The ironweed’s deep-amethyst purple is an old-fashioned color that always reminds me of a dress my grandmother wore. The plant itself seems rather stately, even a bit aristocratic — while a field of blooming ironweed is nothing short of spectacular.
My mother regularly grew a few ironweeds near a corner of the front-yard fence. She chose this location so the blooms could easily be viewed from a seat in the creaky metal glider on the porch, or when sitting in the living-room rocker and looking through the window.
No doubt this has much to do with my lifelong ironweed fondness: Mom loved ironweed and so do I.
The plant’s genus name, Vernonia, was given to honor William Vernon, an English botanist who came to North America in the late Seventeenth Century to collect and study our native plants.
A member of the daisy or composite family, ironweed gets its common name from the toughness of the reddish-green stem and the tenaciousness of its root system. Anyone who has ever tried to break off or dig up an ironweed can attest to the name’s appropriateness.
Spotting clumps of blooming ironweed in a nearby field during a recent outing was what triggered my awareness that July was over and August had begun.
August may be a month without fanfare, but that first splash of regal purple in a country field undeniably proclaims time’s relentless passage. Evidence both empirical and unassailable.
While I’d been overcome by comfortable lassitude, summer had been sneaking past. The purple proof was now staring me in the face.
Thus, August steals in — the old Green Corn Moon of the ancients. Again, I’d been caught unaware — and as it always does, the realization initially prompts me into thoughts of frantic reaction. I feel the need to do things, get out and go — cram as much as I can into these dwindling days of summer’s last hurrah.
But I now resist this foolish response because I’ve finally managed to learn a few things about heeding such wrongheaded notions. Instead, I try to savor and enjoy, to find abundance in limitations. The last thing I want to do is squander August’s virtues through excess.
There’s a grace to an August afternoon that’s never quite the same as afternoons in July or September. An indolent elasticity of time that bids you to come sit beneath the backyard maples and find ease in their cool shade.
Snatches of birdsong can still be enjoyed — though you’ll not hear the vigorous proclamations of spring and early summer. Melodies are now quieter, more conversational.
August is for picnic-table feasts of just-picked sweet corn, boiled or roasted, slathered with butter and salt. And handfuls of luscious tomatoes, ripe, sweet, their juice still warm from the sun. I can eat tomatoes with every meal; in fact, they sometimes are my meal.
Late in the afternoon, I like to drive to a nearby pond and watch the remains of the day ignite the blue of the western horizon with hues of pink and orange and lavender. Sometimes I take along a rod and reel and pretend I’m fishing. But mostly I just sit back in my folding chair and sip from a thermos of icy drink.
The day fades and twilight flourishes. Birds twitter sleepily from the thickets. Bats arrive in the gloaming, twisting, turning, sifting the air above the meadow in search of insects.
Often, as the first stars begin winking overhead, a granddaddy bullfrog harrumphs down by the cattails. A few lightning bugs add their twinkle. Katydids and crickets fiddle stridently.
It’s during these times most of all that August comforts me like a contented sigh, drawing me in, sharing the gift of tranquility and peace.
Summer’s final portion is now underway.
August is sweet, easy, unobtrusive. A soothing, genial pause.… a found solace.
Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected].