Taking stock of summer

This spring peeper came out from under some cold stone in Troy and got lost this August. Note the toes, suitable for use in witches hell-broth.
Dana Wilde | BDN
This spring peeper came out from under some cold stone in Troy and got lost this August. Note the toes, suitable for use in witches hell-broth.
Posted Oct. 09, 2011, at 9:01 p.m.
Last modified April 22, 2012, at 1:17 p.m.

The usual summer frameworks were somewhat disjointed this year. Around our house snowbanks lingered into May, the timing of some wildflowers was way off — starflowers weeks late, lupines a month early — and in the end I did see small green rose hips at the end of July, which I had predicted might be a sign the environmental apocalypse was finally bubbling out of the fog and filthy air of other places. Not long afterward I dreamed of a ragged-edged, broadsheet-sized newspaper with Chinese headlines and a large banner in English that said:

WORLD IN DECLINE

It was unsettling, but by about mid-August what was done was done and summer regained its footing, more or less. The martins finished up their breeding cycle and delicate haunting of the summer air right on time. Late summer was warm and gorgeous, though rainy spells kept the brook running through what is usually a dry time. By luck, or something, we dodged double hurricane trouble and an earthquake.

There were some other weird anomalies, though, which — to turn Macbeth’s sentiment inside out for purposes of hopefulness — may or may not signify anything. An inch of ice fell in the yard in early August. In the goldenrod, willow herb, and aster thickets in Unity, which are usually a veritable house of arachnid horrors, hardly a banded garden spider was to be seen. My amateur speculation was that the April snow killed off most of the new generation of spiderlings, but I don’t know. There seemed to be more dragonflies (especially reddish-brown Halloween pennants and big white tails) and blue damselflies than usual, which may or may not have been related to the absence of 2-foot-wide orb webs. Many more mourning cloak and white admiral butterflies than deer flies were patrolling the driveway this summer, a welcome irregularity. Like everybody else, we found prickly hickory tussock caterpillars practically everywhere.

On the edge of the dark Troyan forest — i.e., in our yard — raccoons completely commandeered the bird feeders, and hardly a chickadee or nuthatch was seen this summer. Perplexing, because for years they’ve run the show whenever the blue jays were elsewhere. The blue jays’ battle shrieks still strafed the yard, but less often. A number of goldfinches winged through, unusual because our acre-wide clearing is basically hidden under hemlocks, pines, spruces, oaks, maples, birches and ash, among others. We heard a wood thrush in there from time to time, one of the cheeriest summer tunes, but less often than in past years. The hummingbirds are tough and kept to the integrity of their schedule, vacating by mid-September.

An inordinate number of frogs and toads lurked in the lawn this summer. Practically every time I stirred up the grass a frog or toad would hop out and take cover under some cold stone or less natural hiding place like the deck or the shed wall. A spring peeper stowed away in one of the plant pots, rode it into the house when we were preparing for Hurricane Irene, and climbed the rigging in the kitchen window. We put him back outside with the rest of the amphibian overpopulation.

Otherwise, skunks bleached the air a couple of times and a porcupine ambled through the garage. Foxes terrorized the driveway a couple of nights. There were several incidences of loud snorting and crashing just out of sight in the trees. I spent a little while in mid-September on the height of the Ward Hill Road looking west, and all seemed quiet. A flock of Canada geese heading south honked and flapped over the still, somber Burnham woods.

All in all the weather seemed to regain its measure, time and place. August became warm, fragrant September. As of this writing, I have not seen any juncos blow back through in their fall flee, which is strange. That witches cauldron on Wall Street appears to be boiling. But you can’t be losing sleep over dreams and other things that have no remedy, right? All may be well.

Dana Wilde’s collection of Amateur Naturalist and other writings, “ The Other End of the Driveway,” is available electronically and in paperback from Booklocker.com.

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