Suddenly, fall is in the air

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday Edition
Currents section, p. 2 | Link to article
August 21, 2016

By Kathryn Taylor

The end of August really annoys me.

Not that year-round summer appeals to me. I genuinely enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s just that the end of August seems to come so . . . suddenly.

Consider the transition from fall to winter. When does that happen? No set time. Snow can fall on Halloween, and the sun can bring out T-shirts for running on Christmas. The leaves take forever to come down, with week after week of raking. Our township makes leaf pickups from Nov. 1 through Dec. 10. Holiday madness builds a gradual crescendo from September on, and the winter solstice takes no one by surprise.

Consider the onset of spring. I’ve always thought that February gets a bum rap as the dreariest month. In fact, February has nearly as many daylight hours as October. But no one notices as they hunker down around their fireplaces. The first snowdrops come up in February to make way for crocuses in March. There’s plenty of time to prepare for April, with its early forsythia and daffodils even while the trees are still bare against the sky. So when did winter end?

In late April we might put in the screens on the side porch and set out a couple of chairs. Three weeks later we might retrieve the grill from the garage, then wait another week or so before planting the impatiens. We can even wait another week before we buy the hanging baskets for the front doorway. And then it’s Memorial Day. Summer can come that gradually.

But right now the end of August is slamming into fall like a hurricane making landfall. No subtlety about it. Almost overnight the world has gone from early coral streaks of light and chirping birds at 4:30 a.m. to dark silence as late as 6 a.m. On my morning run, I was loping past the woody landscapes of my neighbors when I smelled it: the pungent odor of decaying leaves. The impatiens that only yesterday were perky now look spent, with snubbed nodes on their stems instead of incipient buds. Recognizing the inevitable, I’m tempted to stop my rounds of watering. Why bother? Can’t stop the decline now.

I remember last summer. We had been up on Cape Cod for several weeks in early August, came back to our suburban Philadelphia home, and then returned to the Cape less than two weeks later. The end of August had done its damage up there. Our cottage’s planters and baskets of flowers that had thrived all summer through extended absences and benign neglect looked like props for the Addams Family, dead stems collapsed over the sides of their containers.

Our friends across the sandy lane had left only a week previous, yet their black-eyed Susans that had reigned in glorious sunny gold for three months stood stiff with nothing left but charred tops. Although the thermometer said it was 82 degrees, an undercurrent of chill raised the hair on my forearms and my husband, Jon, wanted to know if he could build a fire.

The scrub trees edging the pond were pockmarked with leaves the color of dried blood, and at our favorite farm stand pumpkins were pushing aside the peaches. There was no more reading on the deck until 7:30 p.m.: We couldn’t see the pages of our books. We had to turn on the lights to eat dinner.

All that change in less than two weeks.

Soon we will go back up to Cape Cod for an extended Labor Day weekend visit. In defiance of August’s end bearing down on us, on Aug. 29, Jon and I will put a steak on the grill, boil up some corn, and have a salad with heirloom tomatoes. Afterward, we’ll walk down to the landing of the pond. The breeze will be soft and the moon shining so brightly that the water shimmers silver and we can see our shadows.

The moon won’t be blue, but we will be. Goodbye, summer.