Maine is renowned for its dramatic changes of seasons. Our seasonal shifts are clear and decisive; one following the next with signs and signals that make it abundantly clear that time is passing at a measurable pace.
Most of us keep a watchful eye on the primary transitions – fall to winter, winter to spring – but even in mid-summer there are tell-tale signs that time is marching on. For example, I noticed this morning that we’ve already lost 15 minutes of daylight since June 21. The difference will become more noticeable as we get into August and September. I like to end my summer days with a cup of hot Hyssop tea on the back deck, relaxing in the shade while the garden sprinklers are running. Since mid-June I’ve had to start my evening ritual about 20 minutes earlier than usual. A small sign for sure, but proof enough that our balmy summer days are slowly waning.
More evidence of summer’s passing is that the Japanese beetles have begun to infiltrate the gardens. I found the first beetle of the year on one of my potted marigolds on June 25. I immediately set out a phalanx of beetle traps to counter the infestation that was sure to come, and already I’ve had to change the bags on two of my traps. I’m not an entomologist by any means but I can tell you what time of year it is just by the types of insects that are present. Generally, the ticks, wasps and hornets show up first, with black flies close behind. Mosquitoes are next and linger longest, still annoying us all well into October. In late June the beetles and deer flies begin to pester, and shortly after the dreaded moose flies (those giant, black, blood-sucking beasts that can chew their way through a new pair of blue jeans in seconds).
Come October’s warm days and the attack of the house flies begins. I’ve seen hundreds of them flitting around the South side of the house in early fall, and one year I literally had to shovel them out from between the attic rafters. I suppose these carrion eaters do us all a great service by removing gross and disgusting stuff from our environment but I’d much rather they spend their winters somewhere else. I don’t have much around the house that flies want so they are not an issue most of the summer. They lurk all over the yard, of course, and a few get inside where they knock themselves silly against the window glass, but for the most part they are harmless pests. It’s only in fall that I notice them in great numbers wherever the warmest rays of sunshine linger on the outside walls.
Those who stay up late at night may have noticed that the fireflies and crickets have become much more active these days. Two weeks ago I had one firefly in the yard but now the fields are full of them. The crickets, too, seem to have gotten more numerous and more enthusiastic. I enjoy hearing them outside my window at night even though I know their energetic fiddling is a sign as well.
Another indication that summer is soon to be behind us is that my raised beds of strawberries have “gone by.” I was harvesting a quart or more per day for several weeks but now production is down to a few berries per day, just enough to make it worthwhile to check on them. This year’s batch of plants was newly planted in April so the best years are still ahead. I eat a few every day but freeze most for winter.
I could lament the loss of my strawberry crop except that the blueberries that grow wild on the homestead are just about ready to pick. My high-bush berries will be especially abundant this year as they were last summer, thanks no doubt to the long, cool spring and lots of rain. I have found that the low-bush varieties seem bigger and more fruitful but they are a long way down there! When the low-bush blueberries are in I forget about bending over and picking them. I just lay down on the ground with them and pick all I can reach around me. On a good day I can fill a quart container in 20 minutes or so, which seems reasonable considering that I only use them a quarter-cup at a time for Sunday pancakes or muffins in the dead of winter.
The red raspberries are at their peak now but seem to be less abundant this year. I’ve found a few berries on various plants, enough to sample in passing, but so far there have been few places where there were enough to do some serious picking.
I use my raspberry picking forays as an excuse to see what the local deer herd is up to. There are plenty of tracks and trails through the woodland openings where raspberries thrive, but I have not seen a live deer in some time. It will be a while before it’s time to think about hunting but it’s always good to see that whitetails are nearby.
Additional proof that summer is about to end comes in the form of the many empty robins’ nests scattered about the woods. There are four such nests that I can see from my back deck, busy places in April and May, but now the fledglings are gone and the nests are slowly eroding in the wind and rain. The swallows and bluebirds have also finished raising their broods, although they can still be seen diving and swooping for insects in the pasture.
I have enjoyed the relatively cooler weather that has dominated this summer of 2017 so I’m in no hurry to see the first signs of autumn. The garden can stand another weeding and it’s far too early to put the lawn mower away. There are still eight weeks of summer before us and plenty to do before the next seasonal change begins. Just don’t blink!