Each July has that day when we wake to see summer start to wrinkle with age, its face’s youthful freshness yielding to a weathered ruddiness after too many hours of sun and wind exposure. Summer, we know that day, has pulled us into its greatest depths of heat and humidity despite its inability to show its vulnerability.
The season can’t hide its midlife crisis.
We don’t always notice changes such as those that day presents. It’s like not noticing ourselves aging because we see ourselves in the mirror each day – but old friends who haven’t seen us in a while taking quick note about how much we’ve aged.
I notice it here in the northern Driftless Area when I step outside and see corn tassels poking through the top of the early morning haze hanging over the cornfields rolling up and down Eimon Ridge. Those tassels have set into motion the corn’s final processes – moving it from youthful survival and growth to the noble and mature business of creating nourishing seeds.
Seeing the tassels is a signal for me to look in other directions for signs that July’s turnaround day has arrived.
I look down and see the previous night’s dewy sweat glistening on white clover heads, the blades of grass that had been so lush with green having started a mid-summer rest that allows the clover to thrive. The lawn, overall, has become an uneven green sprinkled with a bit of brown and yellow to go with the clover’s white.
Over in a road ditch I see only remnants of the purple clover that a couple weeks ago had been bursting with sweetness. Some of the purple remains, but it’s become less inviting for a farm boy to chew and even less enticing for bees to visit.
The Timothy grass that May and June give us to chew has turned into brittle toothpicks, its seeds starting to drop with every touch.
A grasshopper, still sporting most of its summer green, appears out of the grass and hops across the road. Its appearance makes us remember childhood days of seeing the sticky-footed critters bounding around oats-filled bins, one of the most certain signs that the summer has climbed across the line fence.
One of the local farmers drives through with a combine. The harvests have gone from sweet smells of the first freshly cut hay to the seemingly endless season of second-crop and third-crop haying, with thoughts of crunchy-dry grain harvests coming to mind.
Even the tasseled corn’s leaves’ wind-whispers are getting louder, sometimes overwhelming the whispers heard from nearby trees.
I take a drive and see that even the summer’s road construction has taken a new look. Though such projects are seemingly endless, that July day’s work signals the construction is getting closer to completion than it is to the commencement.
Early summer trips have been completed for many folks I know in our region, them staying home more to celebrate summer’s final weeks with the first thoughts of a new school year starting to enter minds.
Summer sports leagues are heading toward championships.
Crickets make nightly calls for those among us who still can hear them.
We realize a need to arrive at Buena Vista for the brilliant sunsets closer to 8 p.m. than 9 p.m., the moments of daylight waning by a couple minutes every day.
The day tells me the planning is heavy for our late-summer community celebrations.
It would be easy to feel dismay when that July day arrives, us thinking about summer seeming to be passing so quickly. But those who take time to pay attention to this countryside’s ridges and coulees know there’s plenty of summer left, complete with some good spurts of so-hot-and-humid-you-can-hear-the-corn-grow days and with a few cool autumn-like nights.
We see the northern Driftless summer maturing, and it’s up to us whether we want to make the best of what’s left of it or whether we simply want to get the coming weeks out of the way in autumn’s favor.
— Scott Schultz