22 August 2014

This most lovely August



     “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,
Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high,
       Your daddy is rich, and your momma good-lookin’,
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry”

 GERSHWIN, IRA / GERSHWIN, GEORGE / HEYWARD, DU BOSE


sung by Ella Fitzgerald


Summers in the Pacific Northwest have seldom been so hot or long lasting.

Usually, it doesn’t stop being cold and rainy until the 5th of July. Yes, the 5th. Usually it’s raining and cold when one goes out to see the fireworks on the 4th.

For two weeks after the 5th of July, the temperatures are torrid, with highs sometimes reaching 100 degrees. Being that we are above the 45th parallel, the same latitude as Frankfurt and Southern England, it shouldn’t be surprising that our summers are usually short and cold.

Frustrating my attempts to grow tomatoes, (especially) and other hot weather loving plants, the thermostat seems to plummet at the beginning of August. Tomatoes and beans not only like hot temperatures, but they also need a lot of ‘solar units’, meaning long hours of sunlight. Nope, again, right after summer solstice on 21 June, the PNW  sun shortens its work day.

This summer, however, has been an exception (although I believe it is the first summer of global warming normal). It got hot in June and has stayed hot. We’ve had but two days of rain, which we badly needed, as the West (East, to me) is burning. Literally. Wildfires have consumed over 400,000 acres just in my state alone.

Still, true to form, late August still is cooler than July. Today, the temp was 43 degrees and foggy on our morning walk.  It warmed up quickly, as it has all summer long, and right now is a balmy 74.

Growing up in the hot, humid, sweltering Midwest, I used to hate August. There was no escaping the heat (my father couldn’t afford air conditioning), and I used to suffer headaches that now, I know, were due to dehydration. What did we know then? 

But now, living in the PNW, I am loving this August. The temperature is perfect. The California poppies are still blooming, with fat, happy bumblebees wallowing in them like tiny buffalo. This year’s batch of onions is hardening off in the sunshine before I split it-half goes into our chest freezer, half goes to the food bank.

The lawn and gardens have senesced, meaning the only mowing I need to do is to behead the weeds. The flowers that aren’t still blooming have gone to seed, providing us the opportunity to watch goldfinches hanging upside down to harvest them. 

The bedsheets I washed this morning are drying on the clothes line. I’ll make up the bed with them this evening, and go to sleep with the scent of sun and wind in my nostrils.  

All my winter bedding, the comforters, the wool blankets, have had a good long day in the sunshine. My feather pillows have had the same treatment.
The goldfinch babies are now teenagers, no longer begging from their fathers for food. The ravens are klonking in the trees just beyond our property line. Despite their predatory ways, I love the ravens, if for no other reason than they keep the damned crows away. Cooper’s hawks have raised a pair of babies, and our barn owl babies are still coming out, late, late at night now, shrieking for mom and dad to bring them a rodent! They’ll be leaving soon, as will our purple martins. This is the first year I had martins nesting here, and only one pair raised up a couple of babies. They’re still in the area, getting ready for their migration to Brazil. They will be back, I know. 

While the birds have finished singing their summer songs, the crickets have taken over. There is something about crickets that just sound summery. It's a peaceful sound, a sound you only hear when it's warm, and dry. 

The wasps, as usual, didn’t get really going until the beginning of this month, but have made up for lost time in an explosion of nests.  While I appreciate the job they do killing nasties such as gypsy moth larvae and cutworms, still…my husband is allergic to their sting, and I don’t like being harassed when I’m weeding my gardens.  They have five acres in which to play, they don’t need to live in my eaves. We’ve sprayed over a dozen nests, and are still finding them.

We are actually getting summer chores done: cleaning and tightening gutters (very important in our rainy winters),cleaning out the garage (arrgh),  fencing the apple trees in hopes we get SOME of the Liberty’s before the deer do, cleaning bird boxes preparatory to sealing them off for the winter, putting up corn, marionberries, green beans and onions, and waiting for my fabulous black beans to completely dry before shucking. 

As I write this, we’ve got Jordan’s shed almost completely dismantled. Tomorrow I take the old siding/rotted out roof wood to the landfill. Last Tuesday, we’d filled up Tomboy (my trusty pickup truck) with a load of shingles and tar paper and took it to the landfill. After handling those things three times in less than 24 hours, I was glad to see them go for good.

It’s sad, in a way, to see my beloved geldings’ home taken down, but I know myself. I won’t be keeping a horse here, probably not ever again. It’s a ton of work, and my knees, back and shoulders can’t do it anymore.
But, I have money set aside. If I ever come into possession of a horse, I can board him for quite some time.

We battled tansy ragwort on the prairie from late Jun to early this month. We filled 35 garbage bags with tansy tops and toes, donating over 125 hours to the non-profit organization that oversees the restoration operations. We are still hunting for the late bloomers. Whether we’ve made a dent on the infestation, I don’t know. It’s been a wonderful year for tansy, as well, and it’s evolving to survive hot summers. The cinnabar moths only eat the first flush of tansy flowers, then pupate. The tansy blooms recover almost immediately and try to go to seed.  What a bummer. It’s a lot of thankless labor, especially as it’s all voluntary.

But the prairie knows. She’s given me so much, how can I not return her generosity with my own? There is a huge sense of satisfaction to go out on the preserve and see no tansy, knowing it’s all due to my husband's and my long hours of work.

Besides, nothing tunes up one’s birding/hunting eye like hunting tansy, a DYC that sneaks in amidst other DYC’s like St. John’s Wort and ragweed. (for the non-biologist/botanist/environmentalist/tree hugger, DYC is shorthand for Damned Yellow Composite, a description of the most common types of flowers. It’s in the same league as a birder’s LBJ-Little Brown Job ). Not that I intend on hunting deer this year, although we could use the meat. But we’re considering a camping trip to California, to see redwoods and wildlife. Migrating fall warblers are hard to spot and even harder to identify, so a sharp eye is a must.

We have spent the vast majority of the summer outdoors. It’s been fabulous.

I’m writing this, probably, for myself. Because, in six months, it will be February, with days just a few hours long, when the sun is down by 4 PM and the skies are gray for months at a time. There will be snow, rain, icy roads, and power failures. The foyer will be cluttered with a dozen pairs of boots in various stages of wet, drying and dry, the scent of wet clothing ponging the indoor air. We'll have to dress in layers, waddling like the Michelin Man, but not so cheerfully. Doing anything outside will be an exercise in exposure to the elements. 

Riding will be an effort. Horses don't really care to have an icy cold bit put in his mouth. Cold leather tack is frustratingly hard to work with. One either fumbles trying to buckle a bridle with gloves, or freeze one's fingers (or worse, tear off a fingernail) if one tries it barehanded. Blankets get wet and stay wet, adding a hundred pounds to your efforts at caring for your horse. You worry about horses not drinking enough, muddy paddocks sucking the shoes right off his feet, not daring to do anything more than a tentative walk for fear of his slipping and falling on ice, rain rot if he's not blanketed, icy conditions keeping him in his stall, and wondering if it's worth driving in the rain, the snow, the dark to look at a horse you don't ride in the winter.

So, I suppose I am blogging for myself.
I will scroll back through my list of posts, and see this title, and read it, remembering this lovely day. 

Oh, August, month of barbecues and home made lemonade, of sunscreen and clear blue skies, spiders weaving webs on my lawn mower, gossamer shining in the evening sunshine,  watching the cats stalk grasshoppers and preying mantises in this, the Year of the Horse (2014).  August, here’s to you. It's been lovely.

1 comment:

  1. No, you're not blogging just for yourself. I read every word, and it was a joy to get a glimpse into some of the many relationships you have with your immediate surroundings. I loved this: "...The California poppies are still blooming, with fat, happy bumblebees wallowing in them like tiny buffalo."

    Can you really freeze onions? Our very short summer here in eastern Canada has left us with few tomatoes, little cilantro, and no peppers. The onions did well, but I worry about not storing them properly.

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