Today marks August’s final curtain call. A new month’s show debuts tomorrow. And if the stage is properly set, that means September’s opening act will begin behind a veiled curtain.
You see, that’s how I always think of September … the month of misty mornings — a time when blankets of luminous fog hugsthe low ground and wispy tendrils rise through trees like restless spirits.
Wonderfully moody mornings for taking a walk. The air is cool. And though the sun is up, it remains invisible — only a suspected promise somewhere in the general direction you take to be east, unable to do more than transfuse the shifting landscape with pale amber light. Sounds in this strange, gauzy world are, paradoxically, both muffled and magnified. A familiar path takes on an eerie, alien quality, as if you’d stepped through a time-space warp and landed, say, somewhere in the Mesozoic Era.
Alas, by mid-morning, the special effects are over. A hint of their coolness lingers, however, along with shimmering droplets of dew.You notice it seems to take the sun longer each day to put things in order.
The month is still mostly summer, but as a season it’s definitely starting to wane. Look close. Things appear droopy, used-up, worn-out — revealing an overall tiredness, as if the preceding months of rampant growth had taken every last vestige of energy. Maples have lost their velvety sheen. Hickories show a little rusty around the edges. Sycamores are decidedly yellow.
Conversely, September’s fields are a riotous splash of boldly vibrant wildflowers — asters, ironweed, goldenrods, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, and the last of the back-eyed Susans. Along moist edges you might find purple vervain. Woodland borders harbor Indian cup and jewelweed. Prairies hold dock and wingstem, Jerusalem artichoke, coreopsis, cup plant, blazing star, perhaps a few lingering coneflowers, thistles, ox-eye, rosinweed, and on a few southern hillsides, compass plant. If you know where to look there are bottle gentians, too.
But for my money, the plant which most loudly trumpets news of the seasonal corner’s turning is the sumac. One day, driving along a country road whose boarders are still summery green … and suddenly, like a burst of flame, there’s a lone sumac — as brilliant red as any mid-October maple!
A sumac in such gaudy attire can’t be argued with, can’t be dismissed as a simple botanical anomaly. Truth is written all over the plant’s scarlet leaves. One look at a single sumac decked out like a Sioux war bonnet and you know it’s message is correct … autumn is busy claiming its place.
For fishermen, September is a time to dust off tackle and rekindle your relationship with local lakes and streams. Fish sense the changing seasons, too — they’re on the move and feeding. And from now until the cold of early winter comes some of the year’s finest action.
Bluegill begin deserting deepwater summer haunts, moving into fairly shallow water — not exactly springtime depths, but fishable places easily accessible to the light tackle angler. Crappie tighten into loose schools now, and once located, can furnish excellent day-long panfishing opportunities. This is the prime time to fill your freezer with fillets to see you through those bleak months of winter.
Bass, too, perk up. Your favorite largemouth lakes and farm ponds should be visited regularly, as any day could present you with the year’s best fish. And stream smallmouth are downright feisty, going on a feeding binge as the cool nights bring water temperatures down.
September is also squirrel time. Regardless of whether you prefer woodlot fox squirrels or hill-country grays, I know of no finer way to enjoy the woods than by watching the dawn materialize while scrooched quietly under a cutting tree, awaiting that tell-tale whoosh of dripping leaves which announces your bushytailed quarry is homing in for breakfast. It’s the essence of what hunting is all about.
The wild forager hasn’t been forgotten, either. September brings tasty windfalls of walnuts and pawpaws, tangy crab apples and scrumptious shaggy manes, black haws, wild plums, fox grapes and puckery persimmons.
Yup, the month of September could have been created with outdoor folks in mind. Check out the wine-dark big bluestem on the prairies. Watch fragile monarchs fluttering past on their long journey to Mexico. Smell the morning air.
September is a changeling. A 30-day, misty-morning smorgasbord of natural pleasures. Summer’s final serving, plus an autumnal appetizer. Something for everyone, yours to savor and enjoy.
Just don’t count on it lasting forever.