Posts Tagged ‘summer’

August on Parade

Last week I was stuck in traffic on route 581 and wondering if people have simply forgotten how to use an exit ramp. Out of nowhere came the bouncy flight pattern of a bright yellow bird. Who would have expected to see a goldfinch right here and right now? I should have got out of the car and cheered.

A monarch flies by. I have been seeing a lot of them lately. I follow it to a milkweed patch where I find a future monarch full of colorful black, white, and yellow stripes. This is where monarchs, future and present, go for dinner. I am not much interested in joining them for dinner, but I think it would be fun to join them for an adventure to the Sierra Madres. This is what the fifth generation of monarchs do for a good time.

I watch a cormorant swimming on the surface of the lake when suddenly he is gone. Only to appear again about thirty yards further ahead. Cormorants are excellent divers and capable swimmers. They also appear to have quite an appetite. I also like the orange color of his chin. Not too far away I find a Wood Duck blooming into his fall colors.

While near the water, I can’t help but notice the number of Whitetails. They are in front of me, behind me, and on both sides. They fly by and hover close as if they are trying to figure out what I might be. Of course, I am referring to a black and white dragonfly called the Common Whitetail.

Not far into the forest I find a spider web. At first I don’t even notice, but on the way by when the sun hits it just right, I am greeted with an incredible work of art. How did she know I would be passing by this way? I wonder if she finished it just for me? Is she looking for applause?

I was walking a trail when I spotted a peregrine falcon. This is undoubtedly the fastest creature on earth. As soon as I get close enough for a look, she flies off. Surprisingly, not too far ahead I catch up to her and again when I get close she flies away. Unbelievably, I find her again further up the trail. I begin to think of how the tortoise became so famous when he beat the hare. What are people gonna think of me when they find out I am keeping pace with a peregrine?

A loud crack gets my attention and I quickly look to where the noise came from. I expect to find something large looking my way. Instead I watch as a tree topples over. (So if I weren’t here to hear it  – would it have made a sound)?

I am astonished at the colors I find on the forest floor. I am talking about the fungus. I have found golden yellow (and it was shaped like a butterfly). Glowing oranges and burnt oranges and bright whites. Strange shades of purples and reds, some of them spotted. Crayola should take a field trip into the forest and take notes.

Early one morning I find a snake on a rock and turtles sunning on a log. They don’t move as I pass but I wonder if they are cheering as I walk by. Like I cheer the finch, the web, and the falling tree. And the whole time the August sounds of cicadas by day and katydids at night are like a band playing for all our comings and goings.

It is as if creation is on parade. Sometimes we walk right past it, other times it marches on by. We watch and we are being watched as the band plays. We join August on parade. And we wonder, did we walk through August? Or did it pass us by?


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Summer Stuff

This morning, I was standing in the middle of Sherman’s Creek under a clear blue sky. There are so many reasons to love summer. One of them is fishing on days like this. Another one is berries. And I have tasted the first wineberries of the season. It has been a great year for berries, I have been eating black raspberries. But it will be hard to beat this year’s mulberries. I remember spreading a sheet under a mulberry tree and climbing it to shake the ripe berries out. (For the record, that is effective). This year I did not use a sheet, but I did think about standing underneath a tree with my mouth open until a ripe one fell into my mouth. (For the record, not so effective). This past week, we ate blueberry and mulberry pies. They tasted like summer.

We also grilled asparagus and corn on the cob and spiedies. I was introduced to spiedies while living in upstate New York as a teenager. They are tasty marinated meats and quite frankly I can’t believe they are not a nationwide delicacy by now. Anyway, spiedies cause me to reminisce.

It has been hot, a perfect time to roll the windows down and belt out what happens to be playing on the radio. Recently, I have been enjoying Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song.” Yes, they remind me of Led Zeppelin. It was a Led Zeppelin song that became the theme for our senior prom. I did not attend prom and did not listen much to Led Zeppelin. Not because I disliked them, at the time I pretty much listened only to Waylon Jennings. And of course to Willie Nelson, whenever he sang with Waylon Jennings. Anyway, over the years I have become a Led Zeppelin fan and that is probably the reason I like Greta Van Fleet.

I really like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.” What can I say except Chris Stapleton rocks. He reminds me of one of my favorite singers, Mac Powell. But I suspect the real reason I like him is because he does a great job singing covers of Waylon Jennings.

The more I think about it, summer seems like a time for reminiscing. And I recently heard a song I would hear once in a while when in high school (when I wasn’t listening to Waylon Jennings). Gerry Rafferty sang a song called “Baker Street.” It was never my favorite, but I could listen to the Foo Fighters sing that song all summer long. I especially like the live versions. What is not to like about the Foo Fighters?

The more I think about it, I am a reminiscing fool. All this thinking about school and music makes me think I should put on my Angus Young schoolboy shorts and scoot across a stage while singing “Thunderstruck.” But, Lebron borrowed that outfit and hasn’t returned it yet. Anyway, I will be leaving next week to go back to school. Hope the berries are ripe in Kentucky. Hope I get to wade in a creek. Maybe being back in school is the reason I am so reminiscent. Whatever the reason, I know what I’ll be listening to on the ride. Hope Lebron gives my clothes back before I have to leave.

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Summertime Serenade

There is something enchanting about the forest at night. I was gathering firewood and setting up the tent when I first noticed the volume of background song being offered by cicadas. This continued while I took a short hike, while I read by the fire, and while I cooked meat on a stick. Cicada song is so common in the summer that we do not always notice when it is there. What is even more surprising is that I did not notice when it stopped. It was nearly dark when I realized the only song I could hear were katydids. It made me wonder what this sounded like at the transition. Is there a moment at dusk where harmonies can be heard as cicada song fades into a katydid chorus? The katydids were still singing after I had laid down looking up into a starry sky.

I awoke in the middle of the night, startled by a light shining directly into the tent. I turned slowly to see where it was coming from and was relieved to find the moon had positioned itself perfectly overhead to wake me with moonshine (don’t tell my mother). I lay back down and noticed the katydids were quiet and the constant background sound was now provided by the nearby stream. A whip poor will added occasional notes as I faded back to sleep.

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Here is an excerpt from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now. Thank you for checking it out and double thanks for passing it along to a friend. I hope it is more pleasure than it is torture…


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I have been reading The Book of Deadly Animals by Gordon Grice.  There, he tells of a boy who walked along a trail when “a ridge of leaves reared to bite him on the foot.”  That ridge of leaves was later identified as a Copperhead.  I am reminded that Annie Dillard once sat beside a quarry pond, fascinated by a Copperhead, and brushing away a mosquito.  When suddenly, she watched the mosquito land on the snake and it “seemed to bore like a well drill through surface rock to fluid.”  She watched until the mosquito finished its deed “and sluggishly took to the air.”  Earlier in the book she had declared that “any copperhead anywhere is an archer in cover.”  In this instance, it appears that the archer became the target.  I tend to notice mosquitoes most when I am the target.

It is beginning to get warmer.  Many of us look forward to warmer weather.  But if there is anything we can count on to be the companion of warmer weather it is more pests.  I have already logged at least one mosquito bite.  Many of us have itched and scratched our way through many summers and mosquitoes have often been the source of greater problems, even fatal disease.  (Millions continue to die from malaria today).

Both genders of mosquito feed on plant juices but the female also takes meals from the blood of animals including us.  She requires the extra protein when she is about to produce eggs.  Grice describes the process like this; “she cuts through the layers of skin with her sawlike parts of her proboscis, then inserts its central tube for siphoning.  In the process she injects saliva into the wound.  This saliva contains anesthetic substances to prevent the victim from noticing the bite until it’s too late.”

Fortunately, warmer weather causes the brown bat to become more active also.  Just one of these little flying creatures is able to eat as many as 1000 mosquitoes an hour.  Open the caves.  Make room in your attics.  Leave the tall trees.  Hang a bat house.  Let’s do anything we can do to get these flying critters living close by and gobbling up these pests each night.

There was once an orchard just outside the borough.  Long after it stopped bearing fruit, the orchard continued to produce morels.  Along with mushrooms, I would always bring home a number of parasitic arthropods.  The one that concerned me most, the blacklegged tick (sometimes called the deer tick), is a well-known carrier of Lyme disease.  The disease is transmitted when the tick takes its slow blood meal from us.

Untreated, Lyme disease can affect skin, joints, heart, and the nervous system.  It can affect concentration, short-term memory and sleep.  It can even cause brain inflammation.  Some who are diagnosed with Lyme disease complain of anxiety and aggression.  On a Sunday morning in March 2009, Terry Sedlacek, diagnosed with Lyme disease, walked up the aisle of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill and shot the preacher through the heart.  This has prompted some debate whether Lyme disease is related to violence and mental illness.

I have heard that chickens, guineas, and poultry are an excellent means of tick control.  I am not sure that there is a lot of data to support it, but I am for it.  Turn loose the chickens!

Still it would hardly make a dent in the population.  As Grice points out, “any objective observer taking stock of Earth’s fauna would note that arthropods – creatures with external skeletons and jointed limbs – outnumber everything else put together.”  We do not often fear insects because we know that we can defeat them one on one.  Yet, Grice goes on to say that “fair fights are rare on our planet, and, as it turns out, some insects are better at killing us than any other animal.”

I have fond memories of summer days at Litwhiler’s Pond.  On one of them, I ran out of bait before I ran out of desire to fish.  A walk around the pond prompted a number of grasshoppers to leap out of my path.  I decided to place one on a hook and discovered that catfish were fond of them.   I have always liked grasshoppers.  Even earlier, I would catch them just for the fun and place them in jars.  It was good child entertainment to hold one between your fingers and watch the brown spittle come out that we had learned to call “tobacco juice.”

But grasshoppers are more complicated than I then knew.  When grasshoppers gather in great numbers, they begin to change.  Their body grows in size.  Wings grow clear and strong.  Their shape shifts to accommodate flight.  They whirl in the air like dust devils and swarm for miles.  And they eat with shocking voracity.  This phase of the grasshopper is called a locust.  And when this phase occurs, they may be our greatest rival for food.  Grice states that this is the cause for thousands of deaths every year.

I am sure that Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians could tell us a few stories.  Grice tells one from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She talks of a dark cloud that came in without wind.  Insects fell and sounded like a hail storm.  This was followed by the sound of chewing “like the sound of a thousand scissors, some said.”  Until everything was gone.  The prairie grasses, the family wheat crop, everything – gone.  Grice tells it like this “the family fell on hard times, and at night they could hardly sleep for the sensation of crawling on their skin.  On Sunday they arrived at church, their best clothes crawling with grasshoppers and stained with brown spittle.”

And if you are able to avoid the mosquito, the black-legged tick, and the grasshopper; you still might be living with another arthropod, their cousin, the dust mite.  According to Grice, scientists have discovered that even in clean houses, our pillows are up to forty percent dust mite feces.  (Bet you didn’t want to know why your pillow felt heavier than when it was new).   House dust mites live on the scalp and in the eyebrows of humans as well as in bedding.  Grice claims that half of us are infested.

And while sleeping on that pillow, do not forget the kissing bug.  Or, as it is also known, the blood sucking assassin bug.  We are told that it is attracted to carbon dioxide.  So, while you sleep, it will bite around your lips.  Therefore, the name ‘kissing bug.’  “Sleep tight…”

The United Nations may be preparing to launch a counter attack.  Last month USA Today published an article stating that we are looking at bugs as a way to help feed the world’s twenty first century population, projected to reach 9 billion by 2050.  “Bugs are plentiful and nutritious.  Besides a satisfying crunch, insects provide high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content.”  There are 10 million different insects and some likely taste better than others.  Maybe it is time to bite back, and discover which ones are the tastiest.

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The Summer Olympics have been great since before the opening ceremonies.  A little scary early as France jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the first fourteen minutes of the first USA soccer match.  But, the girls rallied to win 4-2 behind two goals from Alex Morgan and three assists from Megan Rapinoe.  These girls are fun to watch and are the obvious favorites to win gold.

Then, the hosts put on a great show including British rockers and the fictitious James Bond escorting the queen to the games where she promptly jumped from a helicopter.  If you love the cheesy humor of public television, you loved this!  I have been talking in a British accent ever since.  I am actually writing this in a British accent right now.  Doesn’t that take the biscuit I say?

Other things become known outside the actual games like the USA swim team video where Missy Franklin solidified her stardom by joining team mates and lip syncing to “Call Me Maybe.”  I do not like that song, but I love this video.  It is good to know that the team has fun together and reminds me of teams that I have been on (it is probably a good thing we weren’t making videos).  Whatever “it” is, Missy Franklin has it.  And what fun would it be to be there when she returns to school this fall and everyone is asking one another “what did you do this summer?”

Brady Ellison represented well.  In a year when Hawkeye of The Avengers, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, and Merida of Brave are shooting arrows across movie screens; Brady is the real deal.  Granted, he was eliminated early.  A hunter, maybe he would have fared better if the competition included a charging bear while archers fired their arrows.  (What would that do for television ratings)?  But how about the legally blind archer from South Korea?  Or the Italian who shot a perfect ten on the last shot to defeat team USA.  Was I cheering for him, no.  Am I impressed by those who can make such a clutch shot, yep.  And we are just getting started, the fun will continue with a myriad of events in the upcoming days.

Meanwhile, the soccer team has gone on to defeat Columbia and North Korea.  Abby Wambach recovered from a punch to the face.  Carli Lloyd seems to have a knack for scoring during Olympic matches.  Hope Solo and Christie Rampone did the worm on the pitch that Manchester United calls home.  This team has a flair for the dramatic.

I am still convinced that this team will not be beat.  But, I do have questions “what is up with Hope Solo criticizing Brandi Chastain’s commentary?”  “This is the Olympics, how does she have time for stuff like this?”  “How in the name of defending your current team mates do you throw your old team mates under the bus?”  “Do smart people suddenly become stupid when using twitter?”

Hope Solo is the goalkeeper for the USA women’s soccer team (and in my opinion the best in the world, maybe the best ever).  She is also promoting a memoir scheduled for release two days following the games.  Just saying, if this is an attempt to get her name out there and market a book it is extremely disappointing.  The Olympics are no time for a solo act, this may be the only thing standing in the way of a gold medal.  Hopefully, team USA stays focused the rest of the way.

The Olympics are good summer entertainment.  The first Olympic games I remember watching included Sugar Ray Leonard and Bruce Jenner and Edwin Moses and Nadia Comaneci.  Watching the games prompted my friend Alden and I to run.  Interestingly, those games also included the queen.  I don’t think she jumped from a helicopter that year but her daughter did compete as an athlete.  As then, the games prompt me to take action.  So alongside cheering for the home team (and some other faves), maybe I will lip sync with old team mates on video.  Maybe I will write a memoir of how fortunate I am to have had team mates.  Maybe I will pretend to be Brady Ellison in a rematch.  Or, maybe I will just  run.

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Cicadas have started to sing.  This year it is Brood I that will provide the background music for summer.  A smaller brood, you may not even hear them where you live.  Some broods are so large that people can’t stand to go outside on account of the noise they make.  When Brood X arrives the noise will be deafening.  People will eat them just to get them to shut up.  It is true, you have nine years to come up with your favorite recipes.  But this year the cicadas will just be the perfect accompaniment to a summer day.

It is no wonder they want to sing.  The life span for a cicada is seventeen years (I think this makes them our longest living insect).  They spend their years underground, where they sip the sap of tree roots.  That is, until their final summer.  Then, when the soil reaches 64 degrees, they emerge, shed their casings, stretch their wings, and begin to sing.  After so many years underground, who of us would not want to join in?

Fireflies are the official insect of Pennsylvania.  In fact, the official name is Photuris pennsylvanica.  We first saw them this year in May, but this is a show that never gets old.  Of interest, is the fact that there are multiple species, each with its own distinctive flash pattern.  Females sit on vegetation scoping out the males who flash while they fly above.  When a female recognizes her own species, she blinks in response (if she likes his signal).

Many of us probably have memories of summer nights where we watched this light show.  And to think it’s all a complex communication system (It is actually the choreography of amorous beetles – we are voyeurs, all of us).  Some of us have probably caught them for our own pleasure.  Karissa and Keightley have kept them in jars where they lit up the bedroom.  I find it amusing that my daughters have held a state official hostage overnight in our home.

The Harrisburg City Islanders play soccer on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.  But soccer is not the only thing you see when you attend an Islanders match in the summer.  The stadium seats roughly 4000 people, but the mayflies attend by the millions.  They are obviously attracted by bright lights that shine during night games.  Some may think of these as pests, but what should you expect when on an island in the middle of the river?  Their presence is actually a good thing.  The mayfly population correlates with the health of the river.

The adult mayfly lives about twenty-four hours.  They spend the early part of their lives underwater, hiding from predators and eating algae.  It is when they come above water that they reach adulthood, get their wings and dance under lights for the rest of their lives.  Their mouths do not even work at this stage of the game.  So landing in your cola or your French fries is completely coincidence, they are not trying to eat your stuff.  Who can fault them anyway?  It’s not like they are the only ones who have used food, drink, dancing and island entertainment to score a mate.

Summer has its own soundtrack and a light show.  Summer comes with wings and a dance.  It is time to get outside where the action is.

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