Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.
A lot of folks likely share my belief that August is the least appealing of all the months. After all, there’s not a lot positive to be said about the heat and humidity which typically characterize dog days, and all sorts of other negatives can be tacked on the month. For fishermen low water and high temperatures mean trout and other fish are far less active than they were two or three months earlier. Yellow jacket and hornet populations are approaching their seasonal highs and the stinging rascals seem to be particularly ornery. The glories mountain gardens displayed in late June and early July have given way to weeds and cornstalks turning brown, and if you wander around in them much chances of an unwelcome encounter with a packsaddle are all too real. Add snakes on the move and a general sense of lassitude associated with August, and you begin to get the picture.
Additionally, if you are a youngster, there’s the supposed misery associated with the beginning of a new school year. Truth be told, I always looked forward to resumption of classes with a great deal of eagerness, but as my teenaged granddaughter puts it, to have come right out and admitted as much would have been “social suicide.”
Never mind the anxieties of August though. They are behind us for another year and September is at hand. It’s a grand month, made even more so by the fact that it is the harbinger of what those who love the natural world consider maybe the finest of all months, October.
September in the hills is a visual sensation sporting a coat of many colors. Among those colors none are more vivid or readily noticeable than the many shades of red and scarlet. Dogwood leaves beginning to redden even as the tree’s shiny berries reach lovely maturity to make an arboreal outfit of matching color. Sumac leaves showing splashy splendor along field edges while forming a perfect backdrop to the plant’s reddish-brown clusters of berries. Black gum leaves, looking so slick to the eye that it seems nature has given them a coating of wax, foretell fall with their ruby hue, while the carmine coloration of aptly named cardinal flowers dot branch banks and islands in larger streams.
Ginseng hunters keep an eye out for the tell-tale red of that plant’s berries, perhaps the easiest way to spot this vegetative treasure during the fall harvest season. Similarly, the berries of jack-in-the-pulpit in shady spots encourage one to harken back to the blooming of that graceful wildflower in the greening-up days of spring, and it’s impossible not to wonder how a plant with such a wicked (and deserved) name as devil’s club can be adorned by spires of lovely red berries. Nor should the blood orange clusters of mountain ash be overlooked, because at higher elevations they immediately bring to mind the words of the Romantic era poet, John Keats, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
While nothing stirs the viewer’s eye in quite the same way as those portions of the color spectrum associated with red, it shouldn’t for a moment be supposed that other hues can or should be ignored. Take purple, for example. Tall, graceful Joe Pye weed attracts lovely hordes of butterflies–tiger swallowtails, monarchs, spotted purples, and all sorts of skippers with its dainty purple flowers, while the striking brightness of ironweed draws attention in pastures as one drives along country roads. Pokeweed berries, late maturing elderberries, and American beautyberry all fit into the same color scheme.
Then there are the many and varied hues of yellow. Leaves of poplar trees are among the first to change as autumn approaches, and especially in dry years these tall, straight, and fast-growing succession trees will show significant splotches of gold by Labor Day. Hickories, though, are the true sentinels of fall. Once their foliage turns flaxen with the changing season, the minds of old-time squirrel hunters forthwith focus on being atop a ridge in a grove of these nut-bearing trees as night gives way to light. One of my fondest memories of boyhood traces back to just such a setting high up on a steep ridge where I killed my first bushytail.
Goldenrod, an aptly named plant if ever there was one, may be the bane of allergy sufferers and considered a nuisance in the eyes of farmers, but who can resist a ditch bank, field edge, or roadside laden with this plant in all its glory? Similarly, all of the many varieties of tickseed (coreopsis) sport yellow blooms, and this is their season to shine.
September, in short, is a month of beautiful colors, surpassed only by the palette of October. With that in mind, let’s finish with a few suggestions on how to savor September colors and other aspects of the magical, mesmerizing time when summer gradually gives way to fall.
*Take a walk in the woods and pay close attention to your surroundings. The diamond-sparkling dews of dawn, with temperatures comfortably cool, are a grand time for such jaunts.
*Do a bit of roaming in the gloaming in a local cemetery. If looking westwards towards the sinking sun in such a setting, with rows of tombstones beneath your feet stretching away as if trying to reach the last fading light of another day doesn’t move you, there’s a hole in your soul.
*Sit beside a flowing stream or near a musical waterfall and do nothing but rest, relax, and perhaps contemplate. There are few things finer for a troubled mind than such a respite, and there are few places anywhere more suitable for meditation than right here in the heart of the Smokies.
*Listen while you look, taking note of screaming hawks, busybody crows, perhaps the eerie eight-note call of a barred owl signaling his time to prowl (night) is at hand, and most of all songbirds instinctively recognizing that they best celebrate comfortable weather while they can. Like songbirds, September sings a sweet, seductive song, and her siren call is, at least for me, irresistible.
I hope you enjoyed Jim’s post as much as I did! Be sure to jump over to his website. You can sign up for his free monthly newsletter and check out the plethora of books he has for sale.
Last night’s video: 3 Of My Favorite Cushaw Recipes.