July is simply the heart of summer

By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

July begins. The first full month of summer, ushered in by yesterday’s celebratory Independence Day parades, family cook-outs, and the stirring boom and sparkle of Technicolor fireworks lighting a night-sky.

Of course, ever since summer began a couple of weeks back, this year’s incarnation has proven decidedly uncharacteristic. More like a Buckeye version of monsoon season, with incessant rain, lots of clouds, and disturbingly cool weather.

But while a few showers also fell during July’s initial days, keeping area streams high and muddy, at least the month now seems willing to serve up more summer-like temperatures. If its going to be damp and soggy awhile longer, at least we can be warm.

However, regardless of weather vagaries, each successive July day grows incrementally shorter. An inescapable post-solstice fact. As paradoxical as it may seem, winter’s countdown began at the moment of summer’s arrival — now the seasonal pendulum swings slowly but inexorably in its new direction.

Between the month’s beginning and end, we’ll lose 44 minutes of precious daylight. Which is good reason to get outside and appreciate this midsummer month to its fullest — not that anyone needs an excuse.

July brings long, lazy days made to order for leisurely country drives, two-hour picnic lunches at the park, refreshing mid-afternoon swims…and countless opportunities to snub your nose at the food police by unrepentantly partaking of those luscious double-dip cones from your favorite ice cream stand.

Moreover, how can anyone not adore the many natural treasures July so abundantly proffers?

As befitting its summery status, many of July’s colors are strong and eye-catching, almost tropical. The blood orange of butterfly weed and roadside day-lilies and prairie butterfly weed. The Van Gogh orange of black-eyed Susans nodding in an abandoned field. The showy south-of-the-border orange of jewelweed along the creek.

Plus the primary yellows of mullein, evening primrose, ragwort, sunflowers, and cinquefoils.

Of course July is also the time when chicory blues the meadows and Queen Anne’s lace adds elegance to fallow pastures, while elderberry bushes sport frothy white blooms and daisies stand in clumps of charming innocence.

There’s a honeyed sweetness to July’s air, a fragrant mix of blooming clovers and flowering milkweed, with perhaps a dash of wild bergamot thrown in for that hint of mint and spice.

Walk a quiet prairie path about the middle of the month and sniff this richness for yourself. And if July’s uniquely sweet perfume reminds you of something familiar … switch senses a moment and listen.

Hear those humming bees?

No, admittedly not as loud and numerous as in decades past. But still there, thank God, a few, anyway, humming as they work, pollinating as they go, busily storing summer’s very essence in their sweet geometric combs of golden wax. Thus today’s balmy scent will eventually become next winter’s honey — a delectable replay of July for your mid-winter breakfast table.

Birdsong has diminished noticeably from the month before, although it has certainly not ceased entirely. Robins still carol in the twilight. Mockingbirds run their repertoire whenever the mood strikes. And indigo buntings, yellowthroats, fly-catchers, and vireos call from rural lanes, stream-side corridors, and brushy woodlots.

July’s dusks come late and linger, filled with soft twinkles of myriad lightning bugs rising above dew-damp grass. Yet even as night settles in, the late-in-the-day air often remains redolent with a lingering hint of heat and dust.

Bullbats swoop and roar in the darkness. Bullfrogs harrump in rhythmic basso from cattailed ponds. And in the hill country, whippoorwills resonate monotonously from dusk until dawn.

By month’s end, we’ll commence enjoying those indescribably delicious first harvests of home-grown veggies. A “feasting festival” list topped with succulent sweet corn, juicy-ripe melons, tender half-runner beans, and sublime sun-ripened tomatoes — the penultimate quartet of backyard-garden delights.

Blackberries are the wild forager’s main fare. But chanterelle mushrooms also appear — highly prized and expensive in France, pretty much ignored hereabouts. Tasty treasure for the cognoscenti.

Yep, July is simply the heart of summer — both bright and bold, yet also languid and lovely. And the perfect month for enjoying the season.