Time Watching for Late Summer
But I shall see the August weather spur
Berries to ripen where the flowers were –
Dark berries, savage-sweet and worth the wait –
Richard Wilbur from “Blackberries for Amelia”
Moon TIme: The Blackberry Moon and the Cricket and Katydid Moon
Dark blackberries flavor the season of late summer. When they are ripe enough to pick, then all the crickets and katydids sing through the nights, and the first bird migrations are underway.
August 2: Lunar apogee (when the moon is farthest from Earth)
August 7: The Blackberry Moon is full at 1:11 p.m.
August 14: The moon enters its final quarter at 8:15 p.m.
August 18: Lunar perigee (when the moon is closest to Earth)
August 21: The Cricket and Katydid Moon is new at 1:30 p.m.
August 29: The moon enters its second phase at 3:13 a.m.
This month, the sun moves halfway between summer solstice and autumn equinox, entering Virgo and reaching Cross-Quarter Day on August 23.
A total eclipse of the Sun occurs on August 21, visible in its entirety in an area from Oregon through the central and southeastern states. A partial solar eclipse will begin in much of the nation around 1:30 and last and will last until about 4:00 in the afternoon.
Moving retrograde above Orion into Gemini, Venus holds on to its position as the morning star. Mars, in Cancer, is still hidden from view. Jupiter remains in Virgo, low on the western skyline at dusk. Saturn lies below Hercules at sundown, disappears into the west after midnight.
August is the month of the Milky Way in the eastern early night sky. Cygnus the swan can be found there, its formation a giant cross. Below it is Aquila, spreading from its keystone, Altair, like a great eagle. Almost directly overhead, Vega of the constellation Lyra is the brightest star in the heavens. Hercules stands beside it. June’s Corona Borealis and the huge Arcturus have moved to the west.
The Shooting Stars
The Perseid meteors peak August 11 through 13 in the east an hour or so after midnight below the Milky Way in Perseus. This shower can produce up to 60 meteors in an hour. If you look too far to the east, you will see Orion emerging out of the trees. If you look too far west, you will see the Great Square. The gibbous moon may limit the number of meteors you will be able to see.
The first week of ragweed time is the first week of late summer. It is the time that wood nettle goes to seed in the bottomlands, the time that wild cherries ripen, and hickory nuts and black walnuts drop into the undergrowth.
Blackberries are ready to eat when ragweed blossoms. And the season’s second-last wave of wildflowers – the biennial gaura, Joe Pye weed, monkey flower, tall coneflower, clearweed, horseweed, white snakeroot, jumpseed, prickly mallow, willow herb, virgin’s bower, white boneset, field thistle and Japanese knotweed – come into bloom throughout the woods and open fields.
Golden and purple coneflowers and red, pink and violet phlox still dominate the gardens. Orange trumpet vine still curls through the trellises. Ephemeral resurrection lilies replace the day lilies, the Asiatic lilies and the Oriental lilies. Mums and stonecrop appear in the dooryards. In the cool shade of the woods, leafcup is the dominant flower, sometimes the only one in bloom. Along the lakeshores, orange dodder spreads across the tattered black raspberry bushes. Milkweed beetles start to die as milkweed flowers turn to pods.
In the mornings, cardinals and doves still sing briefly half an hour before dawn. Robins still give long singsong performances throughout the day. Blue jays still care for their young, whining and flitting through the bushes. Bullfrogs still call in the ponds. But soon meadowlarks and plovers fly south, leading the first sizeable bird migrations of the year’s second half.
FOUR SONGS AGAINST LATE SUMMER
Through much of my life, my most unsettling dreams have been those in which the world that should have been familiar has changed, and the old streets are no longer what they were. The houses and trees that used to serve as markers no longer look the way they used to look. No one knows who I am.
Seasonal transformations remind me of the truth those visions hold. It seemed to me just a little while ago that summer would last forever. But the leaves darken and start to fall. The times of peonies and iris, yellow sweet clover and meadow rue have been covered over, and the old way is gone.
At the cusp of summer, against the looming, repeating dream of autumn, I hold tightly to images of presence: late black raspberries, bright zinnias, fields of black-eyed Susans, the chant of the cicada.
There is no recourse to the uncertainty of past or future dreams, nothing but this lily or that butterfly.
The experience of altered time and place is not a trick or a gimmick or an illusion or a nightmare fright. The warm tomato and sweet corn and the blood-red dahlia from the garden today are the only allies we have, and the awareness of their presence is the gift of great price.
The Meaning of Summer
Once in a while, I wonder about the meaning of summer, and that, of course, is a thought too far. So, I tell myself, just stay with what is here in front of me. If I go back to spring or early summer in my memory I throw the wheel of time way out of kilter, and I wobble in its remnants and its chaff and clutter: the fallen mulberries and the sweet rocket seeds, the hay and the straw, the fledglings grown and the turquoise eggs that were flung and lost in the storms of May: regret and nostalgia and reminiscence.
And if I go ahead to the future, I burst headlong into the clutches of autumn, its thrilling, disheveled embrace that leads, of course, to bare and chilling winter.
In the face of all that, there is nothing like the firm, bright world that seems to lie before me today: Tall coneflowers still so strong. Bumblebees in the sweet milkweed. Along the roadsides, Canadian thistledown coming undone in wads, spreading puffed and unruly across the fields. Sticky burdock in bloom in the alley, buckeyes almost full size in the park. The first elderberries turning purple by the pond. The first field cricket chirping, grackles gathering in the afternoon.
So long as I am able, I will collect and hold the immediate pieces of the world. There is no God outside these things, nor should there be – I mean the God made flesh, of course: All things flutter and sing within that presence.
Talking the Walk
It seems to me now that the spin of the world is speeding up, that time is moving more quickly than it did just a month ago. It seems that late summer is sinking around me, and that the entire year is collapsing, and that there is too much left to feel and do.
I struggle to find footholds with which to keep my balance in time
I want to understand everything that is happening to nature and to me, but I get distracted by thinking and trying to know, and then I lose my place and fall away from the path.
Of course, there is nothing except the summer itself if I simply talk the walk: Only words make the world. Nothing exists outside the reach of a voice. I look at the ground and turn it into truth: two ants, a clump of grass, a dandelion gone to seed, a housefly, a mosquito near my foot, a broken twig.
If I pause or stop or wonder or wish or want, the real summer becomes longings and nostalgias and regrets and reminiscence,
So I pull myself back and talk the walk again: the black walnut fallen to the sidewalk, the fat Osage fruit thumping to the back garden.
I exercise the discipline of litany and of listing events, trusting that events in words accumulate, that more and more and more will be enough.
This is wishful thinking, I am well aware. It is nervous chatter that distracts me from what might really lie behind the shortening of the days.
Still, memory and hope are the vultures of the word and the present. They rip and tear the flesh of my litany, my summer chant.
So if I can stay here, without stopping, without looking back or forward, I will keep my balance. I will talk and talk the walk.
Once when my wife was in the hospital and we were waiting for her to be discharged, we ran out of words and thoughts, and we ended up just watching the lanky altostratus clouds that slowly moved across the sky outside her window.
It was a muggy and windless day in August, and the clouds barely moved or changed their shapes. Sometimes they seemed like animals, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they gradually faded back into the haze or disappeared into the dark green trees of the horizon below them.
Eventually, we divided them up, chose which clouds were mine and which were hers. Sometimes mine seemed to move faster than hers. Sometimes hers seemed to move faster than mine.
There was no point to any of our judgments except that they focused us outside the room, outside the waiting, and we accepted that nothing was actually happening. And it was all right that nothing was happening.
Now these late summer days, I watch sleepy, languid clouds with more intent than I ever did before. When the weather is sultry and still, they remind me of the arbitrary shapes of that August afternoon, and I think about a new awareness in me that has prompted resolutions – like to always play with my dog when she wants to play and to always give my cat the most expensive cat food just because he likes it. .
Since 1984, Poor Will’s Almanack by Bill Felker has provided a guide to living in harmony with the Earth. Bill’s weekly and monthly almanack columns currently appear in more than a dozen regional and national publications. Learn more about Bill Felker and the history of Poor Will’s Almanack »