Last rites of summer

As the Labour Day weekend approaches, many of us are left wondering how the summer slipped past so quickly. And, after spending several days at the cottage at Lac Vert with close friends, it truly feels as if summer’s lazy days are over.

There are several signs telling us that fall has arrived, over and above the sounding of the school “bell.”

First of all, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the light is slipping away. Sunset is now just after 8:00 p.m., forcing us all to get out and work outside earlier so we can accomplish our chores. We still enjoy the whip-poor-will’s chorus, but instead of showing up like clockwork around the house at 9:30 p.m. to serenade us, we now hear it at 8:45 p.m. or thereabouts. Could it be that its song is triggered by the quality of light? I’m thinking that’s probably the case.

Another sign of coming autumn is the flocking of the birds who will be migrating south.

On Monday while returning home from Ottawa, I stopped the car at the corner of Kennedy Road and Highway 148. To the north was an immense “swirl” of birds, soaring on an updraft of air. I counted 37 but I’m sure there were more like 50 individuals, which I identified as turkey vultures.

I’ve never witnessed such an immense flock of these birds. They looked for all the world as if they were simply having fun, playing with the wind currents in that particular location. I watched them for approximately 10 minutes, during which time the flock dispersed, individuals flying this way and that, off in all directions. By the time I drove away, the spectacle was over, as if it had never happened. I wonder what prompted them to gather? Have any of you witnessed such a sight, I wonder?

While at the cottage last weekend, a flock of warblers flitted through the red and white pine. With binoculars in hand I could identify the black and white variety, but the precise identification of the yellow and black ones eluded my precise identification. I think they were most likely to be Magnolia warblers…

Whatever they were, they were intriguing to watch as the little “army” of birds flitted about from branch to branch, dining on insects they found in the bark and on the leaves of trees. Binoculars in hand, I watched adults feeding their “teen-age” youngsters, who were fluffing their feathers and twittering impatiently, insisting their parents not forget their needs come first!

And who can have missed the flocking of the blackbirds? Large flocks swoop and swirl over the fields. Large line-ups of starlings cluster along the overhead wires along the roadways and their collective calls and songs are just less than deafening if you’re anywhere in the vicinity. What a cacophony these birds can create.

Yet another sign of impending autumn is that the harvest from the garden is keeping us well occupied. I’ve got what is perhaps the best yield of tomatoes in our thirteen year here. Not so much in terms of actual numbers of plant and fruit: instead, the yield is noteworthy because of the health of the plants themselves. This year, none of our plants are plagued with wilt.

And our snow peas are still producing, albeit sporadically, and the plants tower above my head, being perhaps two and a half metres tall. English cukes are defeating us, they’re so numerous if not enormous, and the promise of a large yield of butternut squash is something we’re looking forward to. As well, melons hang on the vine, taking their time to ripen, but looking delectable.

Over in “the ruins” as we call the foundation of the old barn, we have the best yield of grapes we’ve ever had on our vines. Luscious looking and generously sized clusters of fruit are just starting to blush pink. It will be several weeks before we can harvest, but we’re checking their progress regularly. The last two times we had promising yields, we lost the fruit: once to raccoons, once to an early frost. This year, we intend to be lucky… but we’ll see what Nature has in store for us.

Yes, there are many signs of impending autumn. However, change of season brings its own excitement and anticipation. After all, there are pies to be made, pickles to preserve… and the colours of fall to eagerly anticipate.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her electronic cottage at the base of the Eardley Escarpment, north of Quyon. She welcomes your comments both personally and in the form of letters to The Equity.