The format of all my notes in this daybook owes more than a little to the almanacs I wrote and continue to write for newspapers, magazines and NPR. The quotations, daily statistics, the weather outlooks, the seasonal calendar, and the daybook journal were and still are part of my regular routine of collecting and organizing impressions about the place in which I live.
The 147th Day of the Year
Wandering new meadows,
Gathering the roses of passion,
The lilies and violas of love.
Sigebert de Liege
Day’s Length: 14 hours 43 minutes
Average High/Low: 76/55
Average Temperature: 65
Record High: 99 – 1911
Record Low: 33 – 1961
As the sixth high pressure system of the month moves off to the east, the likelihood for cold temperatures decreases, and the 27th is one of the nicer days in late May. Although chances for rain are close to 50 percent, the sun shines through the clouds 85 percent of the time. Highs are in the 90s five percent of the days, in the 80s thirty-five percent, in the 70s on 35 percent, in the 60s twenty-five percent, and the possibility for frost is remote.
Pickle planting is completed throughout the Lower Midwest by now, and farmers are harvesting zucchini and squash. The earliest field corn is six to twelve inches tall, soybeans three to four. More than half the winter wheat has headed. South along the Kentucky border, one tobacco bed in four is typically full of plants. Off the beaches of the Southeast, shrimpers fish for shrimp at the peak of the season.
1983: First peony noticed on Pleasant Street, first roses seen in town.
1984: Mill Habitat: First grasshopper. Frogs croaking.
1985: First blue-bodied damselfly, and the first fireflies. Yellow sweet clover and parsnips in full bloom dominate the landscape with their June yellow.
1987: Osage flowers fall. Roses are at their best. Most mock orange season is over. Siberian iris holds on. At the river, 7:45 p.m., no crickets heard, fish leaping in the dusk, geese and goslings swiming by. First fireflies seen.
1988: Apples an inch long, three-fourths of an inch wide. First fireflies signaling in the wildflowers along the river after dark.
1993: Geese fly over the house at 5:25 a.m. for the first time in months. At South Glen, long-tailed blackflies mating. The canopy is complete except for the locusts (which are still in full bloom). Sweet Cicely gone to seed, daddy longlegs maybe half grown, bleeding heart and azaleas completely gone.
1994: Ash and locusts in full bloom, tulip tree flowers falling.
1995: Now the sweet rockets are coming to the end of the cycle in the south garden. Tulip trees are in full bloom around town. Lindens have buds and pale yellow seed pods. My green ash has also made its slender pods. The air is fragrant with mock orange and locust, peonies and iris. Along the boulevard of High Street, the garlic mustard has almost all gone to seed, mulberries have formed, and grape vines are in full bloom. In the backyard, the high locusts still have a few flowers left.
1997: First Siberian iris opened today, would have been yesterday except for the cold and rain. White mulberry leaves have suddenly developed to maybe a third size over the past week, after waiting until almost all the other trees had leafed out.
1999: First water iris blooms in the pond. Cottonwood cotton drifting through town today. Lamb’s ear tall and flowering. Late peonies hold, late flags. Poppies continue in the south garden, gone most other places. More miniature Turk’s cap lilies open. Fleabane late full, water cress holds, arrowhead leaves taking on some width. Wild water iris holds its pollen phallus. Hollyhock and yucca heading up.
2000: Nodding thistles have been blooming west of town for about a week, the earliest ever. Achillea opening in the north garden.
2001: First primrose opens at ten this morning. Tree buds and two flowers on the red water lily. Last of the mock orange, peonies and blue flag. Japanese honeysuckle has replaced the regular honeysuckle.
2002: First water lily opened today. Azaleas, sweet rockets, ranunculus, daisies, spiderwort in full bloom. First red admiral seen.
2003: Robins strong when I got up at 5:30. Doves called at 5:47 a.m., blue jay and a blackbird at about 6:00. No cardinals singing in the neighborhood.
2004: Peonies are tattered. Mock orange is almost all gone. Japanese honeysuckle is in full bloom.
From a correspondent in Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
“The tababuias usually bloom for about a month, starting sometime in March or April. Same with the Saraca, except the variety I have is supposed to put out blooms that appear right on the trunk at one time of year and then blossoms on branch-ends at another time. My Saraca needs to grow for another year or so before it blooms at all. … Currently mangos are coming into season and should be ripe in a week or so. Our jacarandas are still in full bloom from over a month ago – their blossoms are bright blue-ish purple. And this year the fire tree or Royal Poinciana has started blooming early. Today I saw one where the blooms were so plentiful on a 40-foot tree, that no leaves were discernible—definitely a fireworks special! Last year the RPs didn’t start blooming until July, but lasted through November.”
2005: Into South Glen with Bella: The canopy is almost complete now, and it feels like summer in the woods. Birds were calling throughout the walk; the most insistent were two pileated woodpeckers. I must have been too close to their nest. One called long and hard, flying over me once, leading me away another time. Finches and song sparrows also heard. Geese were honking on the river. Wood nettle was overgrowing the sweet Cicely where the red 17-year cicadas first emerged last year. Ironweed and some touch-me-nots were waist high. Silver olive shrubs were done blooming here, and many honeysuckle flowers have rusted. Sweet rockets lined the paths. The first parsnips were just starting to open. Green-bottle flies, newborns, clustered together on the leaves of a honeysuckle branch. A very young fawn found half eaten by coyotes or dogs. In the yard, the blue flags are at their best. The Korean lilac is still fragrant even though its flowers are mostly done.
2006: Most locusts are complete in the countryside, petals falling here also. Along the roadsides, parsnips are in full bloom, hemlock well underway. Korean lilac has been gone several days. Lambs ear and pale violet swamp iris opened all at once. Multiflora roses are in full flower throughout. A few poppies left, many peonies. Mock orange still full, privet buds getting ready to open. Long-jawed orbweavers noticed in their webs above the pond this morning.
2007: Ruby-throated hummingbird seen this morning about 9:30 at the salvia and sweet rockets. Cedar waxwings continue to feed through the day in the white mulberry tree. Japanese honeysuckle bloomed yesterday, was heavy and sweet when I walked by the hedge with Bella last night.
2008: Peonies are in full bloom this morning, the most flowers the bushes have ever had. Like the hawthorns burned back by the heavy frost last year, the peonies are reacting like pruned shrubs, sending out even more blossoms than ever before. Privet buds cracked, white showing. On the way to Wilmington, I saw early parsnips and poison hemlock flowering by the side of the road. Along the bike path near the college, full bloom of fringe trees, chionanthus virginicus. Yellow poplar seen in full flower on my walk with Bella tonight.
2009: I was up at 5:00 this morning, and the robin chorus was faint in the distance. The volume grew until cardinals began at 5:35, and then the doves came in at 5:40 and then the blue jay bell call at 5:45. The sky was becoming red and violet then, high alto stratus broken by the sunrise. By the time the grackles woke up at 6:00, the chorus was loud and vital. Squirrels joined the grackles at 6:05, crows at 6:10. When I went to wake Jeanie, the intensity of the calls was still growing. By the time I had finished my shower at 7:20, all the excitement was over. First orange candy lilies opened today. Roadsides lush with hemlock, parsnips, daisies, wild roses, red and white and yellow clovers. Henry Meyers called tonight to say he’d seen the first firefly.
2010: Small black swallowtail butterfly seen on the driveway today. First box elder bug seen, first skipper. Dutch iris bloom has ended.
2012: The first zinnia opened, the first dahlia started losing leaves. In the Southeast, another tropical storm, the second of the year, is moving toward Jekyll Island. Record high temperatures recorded throughout the Midwest. Five starling fledglings together at the pond today, exploring, trying to get a drink.
2013: Inventory in the yard: Knockout roses gathering momentum, first flowers on Jeanie’s yellow tea rose, still full sweet rockets and mock orange, peonies, Japanese wisteria, catmint, allium, clematis, spiderwort and weigela. Tall primrose, stella d’oro and other lilies budded (one stella d’oro just opening at the mall). Green-bottle flies noticed in the garden after the rain. At Ellis Pond, tulip trees are in full bloom. Thistles are budded. Black raspberries are getting ready to set fruit. Garlic mustard has all gone to seed. Poison ivy is spreading through the undergrowth. Hemlock, brome grass, orchard grass, fleabane, water cress, tall ragwort, sweet rocket all in bloom, and drifts of corn salad along the stream. Pecan trees are well leafed but still have long flower tendrils. The bur oak and the hickory tree have tiny fruit buds.
2014: Liz’s yellow rose in full bloom. Decorative grasses at Annie’s are waist high. This evening: steady, rhythmic calling of tree or wood frogs, beautiful robin singsong vespers until just a little after 8:00 p.m.
2015: Poppies holding (and Jeanie’s lone poppy in the middle of all the bamboo), privets almost ready to come out, primrose, stella d’oro lily, and ditch lily buds prominent now. Starlings continue their raspy calls. Tonight I went outside to look at the moon and saw fireflies; they must have come out days ago.
2016: The first stella d’oro lily opened in the overgrown east garden overnight. The sidewalks are covered with spent honeysuckle flowers, brown and slimy on the damp walkways. Some tulips and hyacinths cut back. Emily Faubert and her father saw fireflies this evening.
2017: Mateo’s weigeila is suddenly down. At the quarry, not a single tadpole in the pools, daisies and yellow sweet clover predominant across the barren rocks, with budding small-flowered (panicled) dogwoods, a patch of dogbane with one flower, a clump of common cinquefoil, a clump of crown vetch, a few cattails with thin pollen stalks rising, some honeysuckle berries ripening, a number of diminutive plants that were sprawling with thin, opposite leaves, reddish stems, flowers similar to blue vervain only smaller (probably verbena simplex: narrow-leaved vervain). Coming home, Jill and I saw a catalpa in full bloom along Trebein Road.
Journal: Strawberry Summer
A wave for the sea,
Flower for fruit and fruit for tree,
A part for the whole,
A kiss for the soul,
Ambrosial lips: you for me:
Those fond of classical letters might be familiar with the figure of speech called synecdoche (pronounced sin – EK – deh – key) in which a part of something is used to refer to the entire object – or vice versa. In natural history, this verbal device is even more useful than in literature, an isolated flower or scent or taste easily able to conjure whole seasons, call up memories that cross lifetimes.
In early June, strawberries are a single tip of summer. But with synecdochic power, their odor and flavor expands time and space, envelops a totality of events in its maturity. With strawberries come the longest days of the year and the completion of the forest canopy. The planting stars, Arcturus and the Corona Borealis, are overhead at night, Hercules not far behind them to the east, followed by the Milky Way, middle summer’s Vega and the Northern Cross. Scorpius follows Libra across the southern sky.
One ripe strawberry implies all of the flowers of early summer: chamomile, clustered snake root, white clover, red clover, yellow sweet clover, yarrow, blue-eyed grass, angelica, prairie false indigo, hemlock, blackberry blossoms, wild roses, swamp iris, meadow goat’s beard, feverfew, blueweed, black medic, daisies, wild mallow, fire pink, water willow, motherwort, white campion, parsnips, honewort, moth mullein, heliopsis, quickweed, lychnis, astilbe, swamp valerian, moneywort, scarlet pimpernel, catalpas, meadow rue, dogbane, sundrops, privet, spirea, poison ivy, tea roses, Miami mist, spiderwort, snow-on-the-mountain, daylilies, stella doro lilies, bindweed, thistles, sweet Williams, and crown vetch.
Strawberries are a sign that mulberries and pie cherries are getting ripe, black raspberries not too far behind them, a sign that quail are whistling for their mates, that box turtles are laying their eggs, that spiders are weaving their webs across Glen paths, that the spring field crickets are mating, that fireflies are glowing, that skippers visit the garden, that maple seeds fall, that May apples are an inch across, that cattails and yucca stalks are four feet tall, that timothy is ripe for chewing.
The catalogue of objects and events could go on and on. And not only is each term in the list convertible from part to whole, from microcosm to macrocosm, the psychic possibilities for reminiscence and fantasy contained in each evocative fragment outstrip any kind of organization or reason. Overcome by the chaotic convergence of synecdochically charged spirit and matter, we reel under strawberry summer, feel lost, elated, nostalgic, confused, sad, excited, lonely, in love, full of regret, full of longing.