The 199th Day of the Year
Heavy July. Too rampant and too lush;
High Summer, dull, fulfilled, and satiate.
Nothing to fear, and little to await.
The very birds are hush.
Dark over-burdened woods: too black, their green.
Day’s Length: 14 hours 40 minutes
Average High/Low: 85/65
Average Temperature: 75
Record High: 101 – 1888
Record Low: 51 – 1911
July 18th is almost always a Dog Day par excellence. Temperatures climb above 90 degrees an average of 50 percent of the time, more often than during any other 24 hour period of the year. Highs in the 80s occur on 45 percent of the afternoons, with cool 70s coming just five percent. A thunderstorm moves across the area one year in five, and the sky is clear to partly cloudy almost all the time.
Katydid Season marks the third week of July. Katydid Season parallels Seedpod Season for all kinds of trees and flowers, including the catalpas and trumpet creepers. On farms along the 40th Parallel, the katydids announce the Second Cut of Alfalfa Season, Summer Apple Season and the end of Wheat Cutting Season. Elderberry Picking Season replaces mulberry time. Blueberry Season accompanies Peach Season and Resurrection Lily Emerging Season. Throughout pathways between woods and fields, Wingstem Season spreads bright gold. Field Thistle Season mixes purple in.
1983: Large cricket seen in the yard.
1984: Last black raspberries picked.
1987: Fewer fireflies now, their numbers closer to those of the first week of June when they were just emerging. First katydids heard at midnight. Cicadas were strong this morning. Shrill cricket cries increase after dark.
1988: After the first rain in months, the woods recover from the drought in just a few hours. The first burdock suddenly blooms, the first lopseed. Touch-me-nots straighten up, filled with moisture, and even the wild ginger stands up again. Carp are still feeding in the shallows, climbing over the submerged branches, sucking leaves, making slurping sounds. A mother mallard with eight ducklings maybe three-fourths grown seen along the river.
1989: First day of full cicada song.
1992: No cicadas yet in this cool summer.
1995: At the triangle park, the spruce trees have completely absorbed their spring growth now, the pale green of the new needles having darkened to match the rest. The box elder seeds are drying, the last spring-red leaves of the red maple have turned to match the green of the other maples. I feel nostalgia, midsummer sadness, in the pause between June’s fresh abundance and August’s lush defiance.
2000: Tonight, katydids were in full song at 11:00. A few crickets were joining in the night chorus, the first time this summer I have heard them in the yard.
2002: Half a dozen robin fledglings played for almost half an hour in the sprinkler again this morning.
2004: Cicadas strong through the day. Crickets continued for the second night, katydids joining in for the first time this summer.
2005: Everything is so quiet and dark this cloudy day, the birds receding, the insect sounds still not appearing to replace them.
2006: Sitting at the back table, Jeanie and I heard something that sounded like squirrels in the trees. When we looked closely, we saw the sound was coming from four or five baby crows, maybe just out of the nest, talking to their parents, being coached into the world.
2007: We heard whining crows on the 28th of June this year. Hard rain last night. This morning, the lilies seem on the wane, even though the many of the plants are still bright and full. The alley shows tall coneflowers just starting to unfold, lots of blue chicory, burdock budding, goldenrod and great ragweed very tall, a patch of sow thistles and a few fences of blue morning glories full bloom. Weed locust trees have taken over one area, euonymus and poison ivy growing back on the old asbestos-sided garage. Several tiger swallowtails today. Whistling crickets heard this evening when I walked Bella.
2008: Young grackles still in the yard. The alley’s coneflowers have just a few petals unfolding. Cicadas heard at 8:50 this morning. For the past week the oakleaf hydrangea petals have darkened, some greenish, some rusting. The ones in front of the library have practically turned red.
2009: Only doves and distant cardinals early. Giant green June beetle in the daylilies this afternoon. Starling feeding its young. Lil’s burning bush pale at one corner. No cicadas yet, weather near record low high temperature. Validictory cardinals song at dusk. Oakleaf and hobblebush hydrangea petals turning green, the oakleaf adding a tinge of rust.
2010: Heat wave continues – the past six months having been the warmest since records were started in the 1870s. In the alley, starlings clucking and chirping, robins talking back and forth. The first winterberry/euonymus buds have opened by the old alley shed.
2011: A very quiet day in the yard, only sporadic cardinal and sparrow calls, few birds feeding at the feeders, even the hummingbirds infrequent. One spicebush, one tiger swallowtail visited the butterfly bushes. A violent storm took out the lights about ten this evening.
2012: One spicebush butterfly, robin peeping at 5:30, eleven lilies flowering. Heat wave continues in the warmest year on record so far. The Turk’s cap lilies on Limestone Street continue full bloom. Young crow heard, and an adult with food glimpsed as I walked Bella this morning. False buckwheat in bloom at Don’s. The chirps of field crickets were now common in the neighborhood when I walked Bella this evening.
2013: At 5:15 this morning, a few cardinals were singing, robins peeping – but not singing, sparrows chirping, nuthatch calling in the back yard, a very subdued start to the day – until the cicadas came in after sunrise. Male tiger swallowtail at the butterfly bush this morning, also in the afternoon. Monarda past full bloom. A short burst of yellow locust leaves fell past me as I walked out from the wood pile. Twenty-four lilies in bloom. A squirrel has started to chatter in the back trees this week, the first time I have noticed that this summer. Arrowhead budded at Ellis Pond; black walnuts there are full size.
2014: Twenty-seven lilies blooming today, the number of blossoms going down quickly. On my walk, I found the flowers of false buckwheat. And I heard my first cicada at 11:00 in the back yard. First white phlox opened by the peach tree (which had no flowers or fruit this year).
2015: Thirty-nine lily plants in bloom today. One male tiger swallowtail at the zinnias this morning. A fair number of fireflies this evening.
2016: Twenty-three lily plants in bloom today, most just single blossoms – thanks to the deer. Mid-season hosta flowers are in decline, reaching the top of their stalks. One hummingbird moth seen in the monarda, no butterflies except one or two cabbage whites.. There is a golden glow to the foliage in the enclosed yard this afternoon, seems very different from bright June coloration. On our evening walk, fireflies thick, Jill heard cicadas and field crickets.
2017: Eighty-one lily blossoms today. Temperature in the 90s. Two monarchs seen in the north garden near the milkweed! A few wingstem flowering along the bike path, Jill’s violet phlox continue in full bloom.
2018: One hundred and thirty-seven lily blossoms this morning. A hackberry butterfly noticed on a purple lily flower. A spicebush swallowtail on a castor bean leaf. A giant swallowtail along the bike path, an azure, many cabbage whites.
2019: One hundred eighty day lily blossoms this morning, 12 ditch lilies. The Deep Summer heat wave settles in. A young bat found alive on the porch. I let it hide under the hutch, will check it in the morning. Spiderwort cut back in the north garden, ending Early Summer there. Fireflies still flying at night, but quite diminished from a month ago. No katydids heard.
2020: Lily count: 163 day lily, 1 Asiatic, 13 ditch lily blossoms. More heat predicted for the week ahead. One sulphur butterfly in the lilies.
Journal: Counting Lilies
It is lily blooming season, and I am counting lily blossoms in my yard.
I accept that my practice has no socially redeeming value. I accept the fact that no one else cares (nor should they care) about the number of lily blossoms in my yard, and that the actual number does not interest me so much as the counting itself.
I record the results of counting in my daybook, but the record does not support theories of climate change. In fact, it supports nothing at all. I am not invested in lilies, and although I like lilies, I am not trying to grow more or more beautiful lilies.
So why do I do it, really?
First, when I am counting lilies, I am not thinking of other things. For a few minutes each July day, counting lilies disconnects me from national and world problems. I do not worry about the future nor do I ruminate about the past. I just count.
Second, counting lilies is a form of procrastination. The more lilies there are, the longer I can delay doing other things that other people might find acceptable, or things that I actually should do or need to do.
Third, summer, like everything else, is a matter of accumulation of sensations. More is more. The more I see, the more I get. The more I count, the more I have.
Fourth, counting my own lilies is an utterly free practice. I compete with no one. No one else counts my lilies. No one else’s lilies count. And no one sees me counting lilies or knows I count lilies (except you). Safe in the meaninglessness of counting lilies, I am loose in the world, unfettered by what is good or bad.
Fifth, I watch myself counting lilies. The more I count lilies, and the longer I count, the more years that I count, the more I learn about myself. Little by little old self-definitions become diluted. What other people may or may not think of me does not matter. I am no longer this person or that person. I am neither successful nor a failure. I am neither socially responsible nor socially irresponsible, neither educated nor uneducated, strong nor weak, loved nor unloved, old nor young, respected nor disrespected. I am just a person on whatever day in July it happens to be, for a few moments, counting lilies.
Notes on the Drought of ’88
Written for the Yellow Springs News
March was cold. Ice storm on the 3rd and 4th. Rain on the 9th, the 12th, light snow through St. Patrick’s Day. More rain the 23rd, the 24th, the 29th, the 31st. Thunderstorms April 3rd and a heavy downpour on the 6th.
The drought began on the 7th. Local woodsman Vern Hogans saw it coming: “I even told people to plant no garden this spring. ‘It’d be useless if you did,’ I told ’em. ‘It’ll be so darn dry, it’d be just useless.’ Then they come back and tell me ‘You shore was right.’“
Skies cleared April 8th. Between that date and July 18th – when the drought was finally broken in Yellow Springs – there were only six totally overcast days, only fourteen light showers carrying, altogether, less than three inches of rain. Spring patterns of barometric pressure, usually dramatic and stormy, were listless. The last frost burned sprouts the morning of April 29th.
Late spring and the heat came in together May 1st. Ten days in the 80s, two in the 90s during the 5th month. The rain, which always falls as strawberries ripen at the beginning of summer, never came. Debbie Bush said she lost most of her berry crop.
“They started out all right, then they dried up.” Next in line were the green beans. “We lost them too.”
Early pastures gave no sign of things to come. On the 2nd of May, the fields were full of violets, henbit, gold wintercress, white pennycress, and spring beauties. Clover was bright green. Blue cohosh was in bloom, along with wild phlox, garlic mustard, and Greek valerian. Buckeyes were flowering right on time. The first Mayfly was out. Frogs were chanting, and chubs were mating in the river.
Hogans, however, knew what was coming. “Well, I don’t know exactly where I get all this from. I guess I practically live in the woods, lookin’ at different things…. Well, if you notice the hair on the different animals, when the hair starts gettin’ thinner and thinner, then you look out. That’s how you can tell it’s gonna be dry. And that’s the way it was this year.”
June: Eleven days in the nineties. Record high of 102 on the 25th. July: Six days above 100.
“The lakes got low; I mean they got low, low as I’ve ever seen ’em in all these years I been fishin’,” Hogans said. “The drought, it slowed the fish down some, that’s for sure. It was worse than in the ‘30s, I’d say. This year, all the creeks went dry. Animals couldn’t find no water. Raspberries was nothin’ but knots. Back then, you found some decent berries. Not this year.”
By the first week in June, damage began to be visible. Fireflies, often out by the 7th, didn’t start mating until the 16th. Lawns and the roadside brome and orchard grass were turning brown. Touch-me-nots and nettles began to wilt in the woods. Red clover withered.
“Sweet clover, it bloomed, but there wasn’t nothin’ in it,” said Dan Rhoads, who sells his honey at the Yellow Springs Farmer’s Market.
“The nectar dried up right in the buds. I had eight hives in a clover field. Only got 100 pounds of honey out of the whole field, and I don’t know where the bees got that from.”
His harvest was to be 1,500 pounds.
“Flowers didn’t do so well. You can see that,” said Inez Shultz. “Didn’t blossom like they did last year.
“See that big orange rose bush?” She pointed across the street. “The roses are usually this big.” She spread her hands out. “Now they’re just coming out like little single roses.
“And the zinnias aren’t getting the size they used to. The impatiens aren’t doing so good either. The ants are eating them. All the sun and this 100-degree weather gets on them and it’s just like it bakes ’em.”
By the 12th of June, even thistles were drooping, heads undeveloped, foliage limp. Wild game, usually made restless by the Dog Days of July, was on the move a month early. Heat and the lack of rain made them roam farther in search of food and water. Bird flight became erratic. Sparrows and cardinals flew into cars.
Debbie Bush complained of groundhogs, raccoons, squirrels tearing up her plantings, but Hogans saw all the animal activity as a favorable sign for fall. “Hunting will be good,” he said. “Wasn’t many rabbits last year, but I been noticing so many killed on the road this summer, and so many in the woods. Game’ll be plentiful come October.”
The midsummer rains didn’t fall during the first week in July. That week was supposed to be the last best chance of the drought to break, and it passed over dry. Sunsets were red every night. The moon rose red. By the 8th, some sycamore, Osage and maple leaves were coming down. Wild ginger and jewelweed were prostrate in the woods. Clover was black. Thistles had died in the middle of their growth; bumblebees dug for pollen in the dry seed heads.
Dock was crisp and brown in the fields. Poplars, cottonwood and wild cherry trees were turning yellow. Redbuds and multiflora roses were dying. Poison ivy was blanched and drooping from the heat. Soybeans were six inches tall. Corn was only waist high. The river was down more than a foot. Hundreds of carp wallowed in the shallows, feeding along the lizards tail, lifting themselves over roots and fallen branches, sucking sycamore bark, some lying out a little ways from the bank, mouths to the oxygen at the surface of the water.
On July 18th it was all over.
First a half an inch of rain. Then a full inch all on the same day. Two and a half inches on the 20th. More on the 23rd, 25th, and 30th.
The woods recovered within hours. Grass was greener overnight, almost back to normal in a week. Corn finally tasseled, three weeks late. Wildflowers began to blossom again.
Katydids started singing on July 24th, just nine days later than the earliest katydid call in my records.
At the Farmer’s Market, two weeks after the rains, there were a few drought stories, but not many. Rebecca Ramsey Fenton was selling houseplants and fish emulsion. “I guess this all has made me conservative about using water,” she said. “I was bad before, but now I’m even worse.” She had bought a small tractor for mowing the lawn. The grass didn’t grow, but the tractor “sure came in handy to haul water from the pond to the garden.”
Albert Moore showed off “a lot of little bitty potatoes,” maybe an inch in diameter. He picked up the biggest one: “It’s only half a pound. Last year, we had two pounders all the time.”
But his fruit hadn’t suffered at all. “We didn’t water’em either. The grapes are the size of these potatoes,” he said.
“Good year for grapes,” his wife agreed
“The peaches did just fine, too,” said Albert. “There are fewer apples, but the ones that set fruit are fatter than last year’s. I don’t know how the trees did it, but they did. You’d go out and look at them every day and wonder if they were going to make it. Well, they did. And this year’s melons, with the help of some irrigation, are as fine as anyone can remember. Sweet corn, by the truckload, is even sweeter.”
Brad Morris, a creative writing major at the local college, managed the school farm all summer. On Saturdays, he came downtown to sell what he had. Out of the 77 plots he planted, only 12 produced.
“But I’ve been reading Henry David Thoreau,” he said, “and Emerson. Independent living and simplicity…that really appeals to me.”
So he read and tended his shrinking vegetables and went off to the woods to play his ambira, a kind of African thumb piano. “That’s what I’m into now. That’s what I wanted to do this summer.”
The drought? “You’d hear people talk about it, I guess; it was a gossipy kind of thing, not really an urgent matter,” said Brad. Like many of the other suburban farmers, he saw the eight-week crisis as more of a curiosity than a catastrophe.
Still, the weather wasn’t over, Vern Hogans told me. “What I’m lookin’ at again is the fur of the animals. And I can tell you. pardner, it’s gonna be cold, awful cold. I don’t look for much snow, but cold, yes. It’s gonna be tightenin’ up the last of October. Then there’ll be a real spell in November.”
Vern’s wife, Elsie, listening to our conversation from her recliner, seemed skeptical. “Oh, we’ll see,” she said.
“No, it’s gonna be bad,” Vern defended his prophesy. “And you can carry that to the bank. You all gonna be wishin’ for some of this hot weather then.”