Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, July 13, 2013

At Mid-Summer

As expected, the Brood II cicadas are gone, leaving behind green maple and oak trees loaded with brown leaves from where the females cut into the bark to drop their eggs, thereby killing that part of the branches. It would look autumnal if it wasn't for the fact the leaves are brown and the weather is extremely hot and humid.

Brood II cicada (photo by RE Berg-Andersson)
The annual cicadas started calling a bit early but are now, in mid-July, in full voice, creating that strange effect as the calls seem to move from tree to tree. They were likely spurred by the first summer heatwave, in early July, actually the second of the year (we had one in late spring).

The migrant birds are long gone and those that stayed to breed are either feeding young or leading young around the yard. I've heard families of chickadees and titmice and soon the male goldfinches (which breed later in the summer) will be doing their swooping overhead to draw the attention of females. Less-common birds are harder to find.

July also brought ruby-throated hummingbirds to my feeder. I don't know why feeders in other places - my brother-in-law's porch in New Hampshire, my friend's back deck in Bernardsville, N.J. - draw them as early as May while the hummers don't discover mine until after the pink flowers of the geranium and the coral bells have faded but before the joe-pye weeds have bloomed. Still, they are reliably, fashionably late and if it's July, there must be hummers at the sugar water. I saw the first one on July 3 and have seen one just about every day since.

At this point in the year I can finally rejoice in locally grown fruit and vegetables. Reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" about farming, agricultural conglomerates and the hidden costs of getting food to the supermarket was an eye-opener. It inspired me to time my eating to the season and shop local rather than go to the market for peppers in the middle of winter grown halfway around the world. (I do a lot of cooking and freezing to tide me over.)

At this time of year the asparagus is gone (except for the soup I made and froze) as are the strawberries and peas, but cherries and blueberries and lettuce are in abundance and the cucumbers are coming in. I also go to a cooperative in the next town from me. It grows flowers and vegetables picked for you with more to come, including potatoes and tomatoes.
House wren

When the first summer heatwave struck in early July, the house wren young finally left the box. Their parents had been traveling back and forth with food and on the last morning they were in the box, there was a lot of activity. The temperature was over 90 degrees, and I was not surprised to hear no chittering when I walked near the box later in the day. I was surprised, however, to hear the chittering coming from a nearby hedge. Probably a lot cooler for the young being hidden in a hedge than inside the box.

Each year I hang that box in the one apple tree I kept on my property because it provides sweet fruit I use for pies and apple sauce. July is when I must start collecting apples. Last year was a very poor crop, so poor I had to go outside with my long walking stick and beat the tree to bring down the few apples there before the squirrels could get them (and, by extension, the deer). This year I have the opposite problem - lots of apples.
House wren box hanging in my apple tree.

However, with our long, cool and wet spring the squirrels weren't interested in the apples and I had several weeks to pick them. But with the early July heatwave the squirrels were back. Still, I have plenty of apples and have spent plenty of weekend hours on my feet peeling, chopping and separating the apple flesh I can use from the stuff that must be thrown out. (I don't spray my tree.) My freezer is filling with the fruits of my labor, mainly in the form of apple sauce.

It is a long time between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and around now I start wishing I could quit the job, leave the house and do a lot of traveling. But out there it is hot and humid, and when I am not inside where the fan and/or the AC keep me cool, I have a hard time functioning and thinking.

We have had a few days of cooler (but still humid) weather, and that has allowed me to feel more like myself again. But there's another heatwave coming and it will last longer. I do not like heat and I like humidity even less, but my husband likes to remind me it is summer, and summer is hot and humid where we live.

So the AC will be on during the day. Any walking I do will be early after a night where I won't sleep very well. My brain will again turn to mush and I'll feel trapped.

Winter seems a long way away.