Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dog Days, August 2017


I have never noted the presence of Sirius, the Dog Star, the harbinger of sunrise during the hot days of waning summer.  Our farmhouse, situated at the end of a winding gravel lane, is tucked into a narrow valley between steep ridges.  Oak, maple and ash crowd the slopes, blocking the earliest view of morning sun.  Mist hovers above Spruce Pine Creek and drifts across a neighbor's field, shredding and dissolving as it reaches the comparatively open spaces surrounding the lower house and barn at the bottom of the lane.



The 'dog days' have been identified from antiquity as a 'period of stagnation or inactivity' arriving yearly to stifle inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere.
 Greek and Roman astronomers reviewing the notes of their predecessors, added their own observations of August weather, linking excessive heat, drought, or violent thunderstorms to all manner of ills--lethargy, fever, human passions run amok, maddened dogs. Any vague malevolence or domestic uproar occurring in August might prompt a sage waging of the head and the rhetorical question, 'What would you expect?  Look at the weather!'


This summer has spared us the usual weeks of heavy heat and turgid humidity that can begin in late May and linger into September.
Fresh July mornings drew us to our south-facing porch to welcome the day, admiring the hummingbirds who dart and swoop around the feeders, enjoying the company of the outdoor cats as they [ignoring the birds] pounce on grasshoppers or poke cautiously at the bees whirring through clumps of lavender.
Cool dusky evenings found me again in one of our new Amish-made rocking chairs, book in hand, tea beside me on the table--and often with a sweater around my shoulders.  We have chuckled over the necessity of turning down the A/C and bundling an old comforter onto the bed--in July!
Country folks are in tune with the seasons, and as day followed clear and sunny mid-summer day, we often heard the pessimistic warning, 'We'll pay yet for this weather!


Inevitably, August has reverted to form. 
The needle on the thermometer moved into the 90's F. 
The air has felt weighted with moisture released in mid-morning torrents or gentler nocturnal rainfalls.


Tomato and pepper plants, heavy with ripening fruit, sprawled onto the drenched soil of the garden.


The delicately feathered stalks of cosmos prostrated by onslaughts of heavy rain have continued to bloom, their petals a bright splash in the tangle of wet grass and weeds.


The perennial borders, so carefully tended in the milder weather of spring, are now choked with weeds.  It is too hot to crawl about digging and twitching at what seems to be an endless proliferation of unwanted greenery.
Still, in the untidy shade of the over-arching oaks, deep pink Spanish foxglove and a white variety have bloomed.  Butterflies enjoy the leaning spires of phlox and cleome. The scent of Joe Pye weed and goldenrod mingles with the smell of rain-pummeled garden soil and damp grass.



Jim picks tomatoes daily, delivering them to the kitchen by the basketful.
I sort them onto the newspaper covered shelves in the washroom, bringing the ripe ones in to be canned, trying to cull out those that are collapsing into vile smelling lumps.
The last chore of the evening is swabbing the sections of kitchen floor and counters that have been spattered with tomato juice and scalding water.


The cats who have house privileges scoot out when the rain stops, then hurl themselves, bedraggled and wet-pawed, at the door when a new deluge begins. 
Willis makes his rounds early each morning, keeping to the graveled circuit of the dooryard or clambering onto the retaining wall at the front of the house where he can keep tabs on our comings and goings.  His patrol finished, he retreats to an old folding chair on the side porch.


When approached he stretches, opens a baleful eye, and with a yawn, resettles himself to sleep through the heat of the day.
Jim and I, though exchanging mild complaints re the heat and humidity, have not succumbed to lethargy or weather induced madness.
I will admit to sleeping poorly,  to feeling beset by inconsequential irritations and the need to keep a firm rein on my temper; still, I tackle a number of interesting projects when not hovering over the tomato harvest.
Jim concedes no such moody fluctuations, but I note that he abandons his shop work mid-afternoon in favor of a cool shower, clean shirt and iced tea, followed by a rest in his leather recliner.


We are a cossetted generation: ceiling fans, portable fans, A/C units with remote controls; we do our errands and outings in vehicles with temperature selections for both driver and passenger, shop in air-conditioned stores. 
If, in spite of these domestic niceties, we are reprimanded for being 'tetchy' or unreasonable, dull-witted or [heaven forbid!] lethargic--we can point out that we are behaving as untold generations have done while wallowing through the dog days of another August.






Tuesday, August 8, 2017

An Unlikely August


In the cool dusk of Sunday evening we sat late in our rocking chairs on the side porch. 
The afterglow of a subdued pastel sunset cast a hint of apricot over the white walls of the lower farmhouse; fireflies flickered through the rough grass at the edges of the lane.

As darkness fell, cicadas began their rasping tunes from the trees beyond the retaining wall.  Lightning flashed in the southern sky, but there was no sound of thunder. 
"That storm is halfway to the Tennessee line," announced Jim, 'but the rain is headed this way."

A breeze stirred, the hummingbirds made a last visit to the feeders hanging at the edge of the porch.
Charlie-cat plodded up the steps, his shaggy coat a pale blur; he jumped into my lap, trod about, plumped down for a moment, bounced to the floor, complaining.  Willis crouched on the walk, a grey shape in the pool of yellow light spilling through a living room window.

The high pitched bleating of goat kidlets reached us and we noted B's headlamp moving about near the stable as she settled the goats for the night.
A small wind stirred restlessly, sending an empty plastic flower pot skittering across the porch floor.  The air cooled sharply and there was the scent of distant rain.



A few spatters of rain fell as Jim headed upstairs at 10. By the time I followed him nearly an hour later, rain was pounding on the roof.
I lay in bed, watching the occasional flash of lightning through the parted window curtains.  A particularly heavy burst of rain brought me out of bed to investigate whether Jim had closed the west windows on either side of the hallway.  He hadn't--and as I padded toward them I felt the fine mist of rain driven past billowing curtains.
Several cats followed anxiously at my heels as I made my round of inspection, trudged back with me to the big bed where the warmth of a shabby duvet offered comfort.

We woke Monday morning to a heavy grey dawn and the realization that we had overslept.
 Sidewalk and steps were slick with water; so much rain had accumulated in the pot of zinnias that I had to tip it out to rescue them from drowning.


The sun broke through mid-morning, although banks of grey clouds loomed in the north.


This is a strange beginning to August in Kentucky.  The stifling heat of other summers has visited us in short spells through July, rarely unbearable, though we've been grateful for the A/C units which keep the downstairs cool by day and the bedroom pleasant at night.
The garden has been unusually productive as there has been no prolonged time of intense heat or drought.
Along the lane and in the pastures late summer wildflowers are already in bloom.

Brown seedheads of Queen Anne's Lace tower above the yellow glow of goldenrod.


Short stems of Queen Anne's Lace have revived along the fence in the wake of Jim's lawn mower.


Goldenrod sprawls above a leaning pasture gate.


Joe Pye weed looms in the shade along the wooded hillside.


In a moist corner of the upper pasture--beyond the goats' browsing range--a mad tangle of Joe Pye weed, Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod.


Boneset stands tall against the dark treeline of the ridge.


Jewelweed glows from deep in the afternoon shadows.


Beneath the tulip poplar at the edge of the lane fallen leaves are an early harbinger of autumn.


 Tomato plants have responded to the kindly balance of sun and rain, thus far resistant to the blight that usually spoils the crop.
It is the season for sharing and for 'putting up' the bounty of the garden, a time of kitchen counters laden with baskets and buckets of tomatoes, jars, kettles, all the satisfying untidiness of canning.
Life is busy--and I am content that it should be so.