Sensations of Summer’s End


It seems it’s always August before my brother Tom and I make our almost-annual visit to Mill Creek Park. It’s not because that’s our favorite time to go, but because we put off setting a date and then hastily work it in before summer is gone.
We sat at a weathered picnic table overlooking Newport Lake, agreeing that it sounded like fall. We heard cicadas and crickets, and Tom went into an explanation of cicada cycles that interested but eluded me. He’s always been a bit like a walking encyclopedia, and I am lulled into lazy dependency on just asking him if I want to know something (often scientific or medical stuff) rather than learning it for myself.
A pileated woodpecker landed high in a tree between us and the lake and we tried to imagine what things looked like from his point of view. A fluffy-tailed squirrel moved almost like fluid from tree to tree and we wondered what that must feel like. Too bad Merlin and Madame Mim weren’t invited on our picnic so we could have changed into all sorts of wildlife on the spot.
We put our minds on the ground again and set our feet on a trail. The “poppies” were ready to pop – I don’t mean a variety of poppy flower. My kids nicknamed this wild plant for the little pods that, when pinched, unfurl with a tiny burst delighting the popper.
We arrived at Hiawatha falls and remarked that this was a good time to really appreciate the natural basin carved below the waterfall because the flow of water was narrow due to the dry spell. We made our way back to where we’d parked and smelled the wood smoke of a backyard barbecue drifting into the park. We noted how much shorter the days already were as we turned on our headlights for the drive home.
Many lawns looked slightly brown, not only from lack of rain, but because the grass has slowed its growth. Yet some feel they should mow their lawn as often now as during the first part of summer.
My neighbor girl’s feet crunched the dry grass when she came over to return the bottle of Clorox she borrowed to get Kool-Aid stains out of her grandmother’s tablecloth. I was thankful the cloth was white.
Beautiful goldfinches have nearly stripped my thistles clean (the thistles that prove I’m a crazy fool because I let them grow tall just for the birds, which only makes more to deal with next year). Scratchy little chirps from “pizza birds” echo across the dark, empty parking lot as I hurry into the office to drop off my column. I think they’re some kind of chimney swifts that live in town and sound off at night. We first noticed them as kids when my family stepped out of a pizza parlor after a late family dinner, and for us they became “pizza birds.”
Late night air reminds me what blankets are for, and I reach for another when it drops near 50 degrees outside my open bedroom windows – just a hint of colder times ahead, but not enough to scare away the hope of fall’s warm beauty.
It reminds me of my mother when she returned from a few winter weeks in Florida. She was always glad to be home. “I love Ohio,” she’d say, “I love to see the changes in our seasons.”
I do, too. Can something like that be in our genes?

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