The great celestial clock is forever ticking—days and weeks spending themselves, one after another, in steady unspooling.
“Devouring time,” is how Shakespeare characterized this endlessly swift passage.
August is already more than a week old, and like it or not, less than half of summer’s bright, propitious season remains.
How could it all go by so fast?
We’ve already lost more than an hour of daylight since the solstice, and we’ll lose an additional hour before month’s end. By the time summer gives way to fall, we’ll be down more than three full hours!
Plants know this, of course—or more accurately, they inherently track and react to late-summer’s lessening light. Deep within the mysteries of their DNA code, there’s a switch which gets tripped as the light changes. With some plants, it may be the actual angle of the sun which instigates certain changes. For most, though, it’s the length of the day, the amount of light. “Photoperiod” is the fancy term.
Whatever you call it, it carries a fundamental message from leaf to stem to root. No matter whether that plant is an oak tree or a stalk of sweet corn.
Various plants react differently. Some commence a final growth spurt. Others respond by releasing seed or unfurling colorful blooms. Fruits and nuts ripen. Many plants begin shutting down, while others immediately start to wither and die.
But make no mistake, each and every one of the plants which make up the verdant green overlay of summer are governed by light. Change the light, and you change the plants.
Photosynthesis slows. Message delivered.
Trees leaves began the stem sealing-off process, which will suppress delivery of masking chlorophyll, eventually allowing autumn’s patchwork reds, yellows, and oranges to dazzle us some crisp September afternoon.
August’s landscape already looks drier, dustier, and somehow a smidgen duller. Not so lush. July’s green monotone is beginning to lose its luster. Summer is slowly, subtlety—and quite literally—starting to fade away, like an aging light bulb growing dimmer and dimmer, with much of the fading occurring during this eighth month.
Yet, while August’s span of daylight is on the wane, scorching heat is often on the rise.
Yes, some years July can be just as hot—or hotter. And considering last month’s string of sweltering days which topped the 90-degree mark, I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be one of those exceptions.
Still, more often than not, August delivers the majority of summer’s highest temperature days. Days which become blazing hot before noon and remain nearly insufferable until just before sundown. Furnace-like conditions that can stubbornly continue until September.
August’s heat can indeed be a factor in enjoying the outdoors. Over the years, I’ve regularly sought to beat the heat by escaping to the hill country on a camping trip.
While a lakeside campground might seem the ideal destination, I’ve repeatedly found such places are also apt to be muggier and buggier. After all, lakes are situated in the low portion of a landscape. Too, if you’re not set up under sun-blocking shade, even the most airy tent can turn into a canvas oven during the day.
I tend to favor ridgetop campgrounds—with or without a nearby lake. They’re shaded and sit high enough to catch any errant breeze and generally prove the more comfortable location.
Closer to home, I cool off by going fishing—either wading a nearby smallmouth bass stream, or poking about a couple of smaller lakes in a canoe or float tube—searching their darkest nooks and coolest shady coves for bluegill.
I’ll admit my midday August angling endeavors are seldom wildly productive. Most fish are not inclined to actively feed during the hottest, brightest hours. So serious piscatorial efforts are reserved for those crepuscular periods around dawn and dusk, plus the witchy hours after dark. August is a great catfishing month, and when the stars come out, channels and flatheads go on the prowl.
What better way to beat the heat than sitting beside a moonlit lake or river, surround by the saw and whir of insect fiddlers, croaking frogs, and hooting owls—perhaps the roar of a diving bullbat—plus the liquid gurgle of water…watching your lantern-lit rod tip for that first giveaway twitch?
August delivers many gifts. Fields swaddled in purple ironweed and rich in goldenrod—a royal combination. And on the table, sweet corn, melons, and those luscious, chin-drenching tomatoes—heavy in the hand, red and sweet and dripping, the genuine article for a connoisseur of BLTs.
Summer will continue beyond August, but this is the heart of the season—and time’s a’passin’.
Enjoy all you can.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org