By Jim McGuire
Wow! We’re already two-weeks deep into September, now amid summer’s last hurrah, and just 10 days away from autumn’s official start.
How did the time pass so fast?
Yet there’s certainly no mistaking our position—just look around. Once September arrives, summer’s end become all too apparent. It’s as if the pathway through this latest stretch of seasonal country has led us to an overlook where we can gaze about and see exactly the shape and distance of the journey — both recent and upcoming.
September’s arrival is thus a presage — a handy mark on time’s wheel which brings with it the unremitting certainty of passage ahead and astern. Summer is fast winding down as a brand new autumn awaits, soon to be ushered in with the passing equinox.
The lush greens that characterized August are starting to fade, like a grocer’s produce left too long on the shelf. In their place are shades of yellow and brown, orange and purple — with an occasional hint of red. A great many plants look decidedly listless, a bit faded, thin, tattered, as if all that sprouting and growing, leafing, blooming and going to seed had worn them out.
Yes, the landscape is still mostly green, and the weather remains warm and sunny. Why not? It is, after all, still summer.
But there’s an underlaying mood … a pervading urgency — as if time had been put on an abbreviated schedule and everything was suddenly feeling a rush to maintain the quickened pace. A message as fundamental as it is unmistakable.
Those long, languid days, whose number seemed practically endless back in the heady richness of July, are now quite obviously in fast- dwindling supply. Daylight’s span is already noticeably reduced. Dawns arrive later, dusks settle in earlier. And our daily light allotment keeps getting lopped off from both ends with each successive 24-hour cycle.
A worrisome reality to those of us who still have a considerable amount of outside work to get done before the onset of bad weather — including a whole heating season’s worth of firewood to cut, split and stack. If we think about it too much, that sense of mild franticness can easily mutate into full-blown panic.
Better to embrace and enjoy. Change is good — and mid-September has plenty to offer, starting with a rich and heady ripeness to the very air.
A tangy windfall scent that speaks of red wild apples along the edge of the old meadow. Winey-sweet fox grapes draped on purple-clustered vines down by the river. And plump golden pawpaws hanging on big-leaved trees in the little cloistered hollow up the road.
There’s the sharp smell of sun-baked grass, drying leaves, and fecund muddy sand in the exposed gravel bars along the river, which is now at its end-of-season pool—low, flowing seductively slow, shot through with light turned a translucent citron green.
What a time to go fishing! I know local stream smallmouth are on the prowl and feeding eagerly.
Except I’ve been keeping an eye on a certain not-too-distant woods. Hickories there are looking a bit rusty. Loaded with nuts when I checked a couple of weeks back, with cuttings from what looks like an army of feeding squirrels on the ground underneath and littering nearby stumps and logs.
Moreover, along the edge of the back fence, the long row of mature walnuts — a dozen or so huge trees — held a bumper crop of big green orbs…ample choice eats for fox squirrels who relish walnuts.
Hmmm … hunt squirrels or fish for smallmouth?
Ohio’s squirrel hunting season came in the first of the month. But I’ve never been a big fan of hot-weather hunts. Squirrels ought to be hunted no earlier than the cusp of autumn—on mornings chilled with dew, when the wind which stirs the woods an hour after dawn rattles leaves sporting an occasional hint of color.
So I generally wait for weather and some inner sense of order and propriety to tell me when it’s time to go squirrel hunting. Just as it tells a fox squirrel when to begin cutting those fence-row walnuts.
I do believe that inner-alarm is about to sound.
Bronzebacks or bushytails? A tough decision when lots of outside work awaits, with only a limited number of good working days left ahead — and you’re trying to be a semi-responsible adult.
Summer dwindles, autumn looms.
There’s a feeling of ripe fulfillment to the land. A sense of seasonal peace and rest and completeness. But also a concurrent quickening, a mood of excitement and possibility — of adventures to experience, gifts to savor. September’s message is deliberate but gentle — a slow, swaying waltz along the final downhill stretch of the road leading to autumn.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org