The little bright light was unmistakably the flash of a firefly. It was almost dark, and I was by the dogwood in the front when I saw it. At first, I thought how wonderful. And then I thought sadly, oh little guy, you’re way too late. This isn’t gonna work out for you.
I made my way to the back door, and whoah, another light flashed. And another. And seconds later another in the furthest part of the back yard, under the trees. At least four different bugs. After that I lost track because fireflies cover some distance between flashes. If I knew how, I would have said, hey, there’s a guy in the front looking for you.
It seems late for fireflies, but it’s been a strange year.
That isn’t a dogwood in the picture, and those aren’t fireflies. It was a little too late to take pictures, but those last bits of light call to me. Still, the fireflies were for real. I’ve been wordy of late. The end of summer puts thoughts in my head. Thanks for patiently reading and taking the time to tell me what you think.
Is it still summer? Yes, technically. But not really. We know it, don’t we?
The bugs are merciless and the cicadas are still noisy. The birds? I haven’t seen it just yet, but the same robins who would almost fight to the death over a strip of land in July, gather like one big happy family in September. A bunch hanging together on the gutter, looking down at another group picking the yard for worms. In my imagination, it’s something like happy hour. The offspring are hunting the lawn, and the grown-ups are up there standing guard, smoking, and telling the summer’s war stories. Bad talking the feral cats. Mocking the hawks. Like … hey, you remember the morning that loudmouth blue jay helped us fight the accipiter hawk? Chased that guy right out of the oaks, almost knocked that napping sap-sucker from its nest in the poplar, and we didn’t let up til our squawking hawk friend crash landed somewhere inside the big sycamore.
Territorial lines are gone now, I guess.
Not the hummingbirds though. They’re still in it to win it. I’ve never seen hummingbirds willing to share. I’m not sure they even share with their loved ones. That nectar must be something worth fighting for.
It happens every year. The catbirds finish nesting there, and the hummingbirds take over. One guy (the defender) claims the feeder and sets up perch inches away. And waits for interlopers. I can see the bird there right now.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but hummingbird competitions are fun to watch. One zooms in from nowhere for a sip of that intoxicating nectar, and the defender guy moves at light warp speed to intercept. Where do they get those reflexes? All that sugar, I guess. And the fight is on. They fly off after each other, at unbelievable speed. You’ve seen hummingbirds, you know what I mean. Synchronized turns. Timing. And angles that defy aerodynamics. Then the original defender guy returns to its perch.
The roses are fading, and the tomatoes are struggling to redden. But there are warm days left, and the hummingbirds have energy in the tank to fight on. One day soon, one day in September, they’ll leave.
And that … that is the end of summer.
It’s wonderful, one of the best of sounds. Soft, the sound of gentle movement up, up around the treetops. But there’s a rhythm to it. Not pitter patter. Maybe pat, pit, pat. But way more subtle than that, and quicker than pat, pit, pat.
I guess by this time of year the weathered leaves near the top of the canopy are dry and leathery. And strong. Strong enough to hold onto raindrops for a minute or two. And let you listen, while the air down below, where you stand, surrounded by trees, is quiet. Insulated and quiet. The kind of quiet we hear in a room with heavy drapes and thick carpet.
The pit-pats are soft enough the subconscious eventually has to tap you on the shoulder, and say, what is that? Wind? Rain? Yes, rain. And if you like, you can stand still. Or you can saunter along on your way. And listen. For as long as it lasts, you can listen. As long as the leaves up there protect you, you can listen.
I feel I should pause here, because there is a delay in the way this all happens. Besides, the moment deserves a pause. Like it would be inappropriate to rush it.
Then. Then the rain picks up and leaves give way to the weight of the moisture. Soft pit-pats become a drenching swish, a swish that makes it down past the leaves to the air that surrounds you. Down to the shrubs and small plants that grow near the path. Down to the dirt. It’s a different kind of rain sound. The kind they overdo in movies. Why can’t they get that right?
Then, I guess it’s time to move on. Make a dash for it, find a dry spot.
Don’t wish it away
Don’t look at it like it’s forever
from Elton John’s “That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
lyrics by Bernie Taupin
photographed september 4, 2020
Evening walks feel different now. Sundown comes earlier, for sure. But it’s more than that.
Is it the seasons? People? Maybe people are tired of walking the same paths, the same trees, the same curves and dips in the surface. Parents tired of getting their kids and their bikes down to the trails, skinned knees, everybody trying to get along and enjoy nature. Or maybe it’s the kids who are tired of it. Maybe they’re getting ready for school, however school is going to work this year. I think there are fewer people walking the trails.
But it’s not just people. What was alive, thriving, robust, a month ago is starting to fade. I’m avoiding the words.
I look around and I see sad. Maybe lonely. Past the prime. On the way to a harsh reality I’m not ready to deal with.
There are fall flowers, but the brush is almost down to leafless sticks in many places. It can make you careless because there’s still poison ivy among whatever is growing. Already in September, trees are skimpier. Not bright fall colors and dropping leaves en masse, but leaves are weathered, and when you look up now, you see more sky than lush green. In July I could only hear moving water somewhere behind all the green, but now I can see right down to the creek.
Even the dirt looks pale, anemic. Surely the dirt doesn’t change.
September sunsets are lovely. Pale bits of amber light make it past the lowest branches. And September’s pretty wildflowers let you pretend. For just a little longer. But, ready or not, change is on its way.