Season’s Change

Daucus carota, from a grocery store carrot planted this spring, blooms alongside perennial Geranium in our garden.

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We feel the season’s change every time we open the kitchen door and step outside.

The air is soft and thick, perfumed by millions of tiny white flowers opening now on the uncounted Ligustrum shrubs surrounding the garden.  It smells of summer, stirring some nearly forgotten restlessness echoing across the years, from summers long, long passed.

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The sweetness permeates the warm breeze, full of promises and  vague intrigue.  In the early morning, the breeze holds an invitation and a dare, drawing us outside to ‘seize the day.’

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By noon it grows oppressive, rank with humidity and pulsing with summer’s heat.

The air buzzes now.  Bees mind their business, methodically working flower to flower, unless startled into a quick evasive maneuver out of range.

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Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, blooms along Jones Mill Pond on the Colonial Parkway.

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But mayflies and mosquitoes buzz in as close as they dare, waiting for a flash of skin to light and drink, waiting for a moment of distraction to attack.

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Birds call out to one another, chirping at the cat napping on the deck, warning intruders off from nests.  Ever vigilant, ever hungry; the swoosh of restless wings cuts the thick air, in pursuit of another bite of summer’s bounty.

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Our garden explodes in growth.  Warm, humid nights coax even the most reluctant perennials to pulse into life.

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Verbena bonariensis stretches towards the sky even as it spreads across the garden.

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Responding to the season’s magic, stalks rise and leaves open to the cadence of  croaked and clicked incantations wafting on the evening air.

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The air is thick with leaves, trees now fully clothed make living green walls and ceilings around our garden’s rooms.  Bamboo arises, thick and green, sealing us in from the wildness of the ravine.

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Flowers appear in every shade of purple and gold, white and ruby.  They sparkle through the sea of green, enchanting in their transience.

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Wildflowers nod along the bank of Jones Millpond on the Colonial Parkway in York County.

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Spring’s flowers have come and gone.  The last few foxglove, beaten down by the rain, limply bloom at the ends of stalks swelling with seed.

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A few Iris pods swell, too; overlooked in my pruning.  Daffodil leaves have grown limp, yellowing and fading to make room for something new to arise.

Summer’s flowers replace them, filled with nectar and bursting with pollen, a magnet for every sort and  size of pollinator.

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We feel the season’s change every time we step outside the haven of air conditioning and window screens.  When we dare leave the shade in the afternoon, a fierce sun burns down upon us.

We want the smaller shades offered by hats and sleeves; the relative safety of socks and gloves and thick jeans protecting us from ‘the bities’.

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Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown, where wild prickly-pear cactus bloom in summer.

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As the days grow longer and the nights warmer, we feel ourselves drawn to the top of the year.

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Mid-summer beckons, only days away.  Nature calls us to come out and join our own human voices in the buzzing, clicking, croaking, swooshing, chorus of life.

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This is the time of sweetness and abundance, full of promises, eternally youthful and energetic.

Summer at last.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Brunch, Or, One Thousand Shades of Green

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I took Sunday brunch in the garden today, feasting on the sounds, smells, and beautiful sights the garden offers on this mid-summer’s Sunday.

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It is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  In Williamsburg, our sun rose today at 5:47 AM and will set at 8:30 PM for an astronomical day length of 14 hours and 44 minutes.

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Interestingly, our period of the summer solstice began on June 17 this year when the sun rose at 5:46 AM and set at 8:30 PM.  Our days will remain this exact length until June 24.  The sun will rise a single minute later on June 25, at 5:48 AM.  The sun will continue to set at 8:31 until July 6, when it will finally set a single minute earlier at 8:30 PM.   By then, the sun won’t rise above the horizon until 5:53 AM, a full six minutes later than today.

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The sun is felt, even after it has dipped below the horizon.  It stays light now for more than an hour past the moment of ‘sun-set,’ and it stays hot from dusk to dawn.

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We had violent thunderstorms move through Virginia again last night, feeding off the muggy heat which envelops us.  We were among the fortunate who kept our power and our trees as the storm passed.

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And this morning dawned rain soaked, hot and bright.  Opening the slider to the deck, I inhaled the greenness in the morning air.

Our cat slipped past my ankles to drink the fresh rain water collected in his dish overnight.  He lingered a little while to listen to the birds chattering from their hiding places in the overhanging trees.

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But he lingered only a little while.  He was ready to slip back inside to the shade and cool of our house when my partner appeared at the door.  Wise old cat, he knows this heat can be deadly.

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He was asleep behind a chair when I suited up and headed out to the garden an hour later.  Camera in hand, I went only to appreciate and record the morning’s beauty.

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But you know the truth of good intentions.  Before long I was deadheading something here, pulling a weed there, and finally succumbed to the lure of the herbs we picked up on Friday morning still waiting in their tiny nursery pots.

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I was in the lowest, sunniest part of the garden planting a Basil when my partner’s voice reached me.  He was back out on the deck, searching for a glimpse of me in the green forest below.

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His voice broke the spell the garden had woven around me. 

He reminded me of the heat, and called me back inside.  It was only then that it registered that my clothes were soaked with perspiration and I was exposed to the fullness of the still rising sun.

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We lost a friend this past week.  We lost one of the kindest, gentlest, most loving people in our circle of friends.

Long retired, he was a tireless volunteer in our community; a gardener, caretaker for stray cats; devoted husband, father, and grandfather.  Our friend was out walking in this relentless heat mid-week, and collapsed.

He was doing what he loved, out of doors, and left us all peacefully and swiftly.

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The news reached us yesterday morning.  As much as we will miss him, we are so grateful that he left us all on his own terms, and was active until then end.  May it be so for each of us.

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And yet his passing in this way is a stark reminder to all of us. 

We must respect this extreme weather, and remain cautious in the face of the heat and sun.  Our children, our pets, our elderly and even ourselves need a little extra consideration during this hottest part of the year, in the northern hemisphere.

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The sun burns, and burns quickly.  The heat overpowers our body’s cooling systems.  The heavy, humid air makes it that much harder to breathe.

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I will not pretend to understand climate change; but I can see the signs that our climate is changing, rapidly.  And so we must change and adapt.  We must shift our behaviors to survive.

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Our friend’s passing was only the latest in a string of untimely loss this week.  I won’t rehearse the litany of loss; I trust you’ve been watching the news, too.

But the common denominator in all of these heart wrenching stories boils down to this:  People going about their business, doing what they have always done, were caught in extraordinary circumstances.

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There is a a message here for each of us.  Perhaps it is no longer, “Business as usual.”   Perhaps we all need to be more mindful of our changing environment and plan for the unexpected to touch our lives.

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It is summer in Virginia.  Our theme parks and beaches are full of tourists.  There are festivals every weekend, and holiday traffic fills our roads.

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And our garden is full of fragrance, color and sound.  Something new blooms each day.  Blackberries ripen, bees buzz from flower to flower and the herbs release their perfume to the caress of the sun.

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Everything is growing so fast.  A thousand shades of green filled our garden this morning. 

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Most people, when asked, will tell you how much they love the summer; and will give you a long list of things they love to do in these few sweet weeks from June through August.

May this summer be filled with joy for you and yours. 

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And please, remain mindful of a few simple things you can do to keep yourself and loved ones safe and healthy during this special season:

1.  Stay hydrated, and always carry water with you for everyone in your party when traveling.

2.  Keep your head and skin covered when outside.

3.  Wear sunscreen, routinely, to protect yourself even further from the sun’s rays.

4.  Stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day.  Seek the refuge of shade.

5.  Pace yourself.  Don’t overexert when it is hot and muggy.

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6.  Watch the weather forecast, several times a day, and plan accordingly.  Stay off the roads when heavy rains and are expected.

7.  Keep pets indoors when it is hot, and keep fresh water available.

8.  Never leave a child, a pet, or a companion waiting outside in a car during the heat of the day.

9.  Remember that our environment is rapidly changing. Expect the unexpected.  Remain alert to these changing conditions, and prepare in advance to survive potential hazards and extreme weather events.

10.  Balance pleasure with vigilance.  Enjoy the fruits of summer and all of the special experiences it brings.  But do so smartly and cautiously, so all survive to enjoy many more summers to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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With fond remembrance of our treasured friend,

Lt. Col. Alden George Hannum.

May his memory always bring  joy to those who loved him.

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