We were out on the lake the other day with Colin. One of our last hurrahs before the end of the season. It was clear. The air was slightly cool as the sun went down. Along the edge of the lake we could see that the trees are beginning to change. The deep greens of summer are beginning to give over to paler, dustier greens. The early changers like sumac have begun their turn around; so dark reds were seen here and there along with yellow and gold.
In our garden there are some obvious changes as the hours of sunlight decrease and the sun’s intensity diminishes. The morning glories, once so bright climbing up the back rail are still giving it their all, but their leaves are curling and many have fallen so, as Sasha and I go out to get the paper each day there are fewer and fewer bright blossoms to greet us. The Angel’s Trumpet with its big bell shaped flowers, so fragrant you can smell them from the road, has stopped blooming as well. Its spent blossoms lay withered on the ground, a faint testament to their former glory.
We have a small garden out back that is only for cutting flowers for the house. I don’t know the names of them all but there are Gerber daisies and Black-eyed Susans. All the blossoms are nearly gone now and our inside flowers are changing over to little yellow wild flowers, the last remaining hydrangeas and some tall grasses.
Overhead there are geese in their familiar formations, honking shamelessly, advertising their relocation to warmer climes. Some will stay I think, but those loud, strict V shaped formations are not the same as the lackadaisical v-like flying patterns for short distance during the summer. No, they’re taking off. Let them go. They don’t know what they are missing.
This is my favorite time of year. This change. This cusp on the edge of something quite different in the natural world. Insects and spiders are hurrying to get their jobs done. Many of my students have brought in cicada shells for us to examine in our science area. These short-lived adults don’t have much time to advertise, find a mate, and reproduce. As adults they don’t even have a digestive tract. No, it’s all about making babies and saying good-bye. They'll soon be recycled into something else.
In our classroom we have had the breathtaking excitement of observing black swallowtail butterfly eggs hatch into caterpillars so small that you can barely see them. We have watched them eat and grow and molt when their skin got tight - and eat some more. We’ve been there to bear witness to them clinging to a twig, tucking into themselves and shedding their final skin to emerge as a beautiful brown or green chrysalis, so camouflaged that you wouldn’t have a chance to spot it on a bush or a branch or a twig unless you knew it was there. And we'll be there to watch them appear as an adult, ready to go out and mate and lay more eggs.
I miss my mom this early fall. Last year she was still around. At this time last year, she was still healthy, still grieving the loss of her husband just a few months earlier. But last fall she believed that she had time left. She was looking forward. She was still writing to me about the change of color, the trips she planned to take, how beautiful the water of her little lake was with mist lifting off its surface in the morning. She was still getting out for her usual walks along the water’s edge. She would not miss observing the natural world if she could help it. My mom loved the changing seasons. Perhaps that’s where I came to love it as well.
And now there are the crickets. There are crickets all summer long, right? But during summer they have to compete with the night sounds of chorus frogs, katydids and cicadas. As the frogs quiet down with the chillier evening temperatures, and as the cicadas and other insects begin to die, the crickets seem to have renewed energy. As Heidi and I walked last evening in the final rays of evening twilight and on into the night, we heard mourning doves in the distance, and this beautiful mockingbird who would not give it up and go to sleep. And we heard crickets.
Our lives have these rhythms. Some are artificial – like the school timetable, which has governed my existence since I began school in 1963 and has continued on through high school, college and into my professional life as a teacher. My mom had this rhythm in her life too. She was a teacher before she retired.
But there is this other, deeper, more primal rhythm as the earth spins on its axis and makes its yearlong journey around the sun on its crazy tilted axis. The seasons.
Like so many things, I would have loved to share my feelings about the edge of fall with my mom again this year. I would have loved to drink a cup of her hot, strong black coffee on her early morning porch, and look out over her lake, and watch as that mist lifted and that water began to sparkle, and those morning birds began to sing their daybreak songs. I would have loved to share that feeling of being on that cliff just before fall, that sense of being poised and ready to plunge pall mall into the cool, the crisp leaves, the smoke tinged air, of jackets, and Halloween, and color and color and color.
And I know that missing her is just another part of the cycle, the long rhythm of life, the comings and goings of lovers and family and friends, of times and places. Of the seasons.
The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed. Lurvy, at work building a crate for Wilbur, heard the song and knew it was time to dig potatoes.
”Summer is over and gone,” repeated the crickets. “How many nights till frost?” sang the crickets. “Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!” From E. B. White's Charlotte's Web p. 113-114