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In The Country

Dog Day Afternoons

Lynne Holt

(August, 2010) As a product of the baby boomer generation, I remember the long hot days of August. Growing up in western Pennsylvania was somewhat like the climate here in northern Maryland. Many of the same floras grow in both localities, such as poison ivy and Sassafras Trees with their mitten like leaves and fragrant smell. What I did not see, just a few hours north, were the Dogwood, Tree of Heaven, Mimosa, Spice Shrub, Kentucky Coffee Tree, and Trumpet Vine. What a delight it is to live in Emmitsburg, Md. where the beatific and graceful Dogwood and Mimosa trees grow in the wild.

As a kid, I learned about nature from my dad and from constant exposure to it. I was always outside, seeking sun, shade, or just cooling off in the creek. I did not know then that these pastimes were shaping my life into a constant study of nature. My mother was always at the tub ready with a bar of Fels-Naptha Soap. This scrub down was the cure-all for poison ivy rash, ticks, or whatever our dirty hands had touched. I think my most pleasant memory of summertime was the slap-slap sound of the screen door.

As the summer months head towards September and school starts up once again, the succulent plants and rapid early growth of spring are replaced by plants that can tolerate the lack of rain. I think these are called weeds. Lawns give up and go brown. Some people just do not realize that it happens, especially when they cannot seem to stop mowing every week during the drought. The Plantain will continue growth even if the lawn has given up. These 8 inches of stem with small cluster of flowers seem like the only survivors. Now the tall, weedy plants stand out in the fields: Goldenrod, Daisy Fleabane, Queen Anne’s Lace, Chicory, Ragweed, and Wild Horseradish. These weeds must reseed themselves each year, and yet they do not serve us with beauty or nourishment. I battle all of the above, plus a few Burdocks thrown in.

Each of the summer months brings us berries. The Wineberry of early summer has come to fruition and the Blackberries will be ripening soon. Even in this heat, it is still wise to wear long sleeves and jeans when berry picking. This protection will thwart the cloud of Mosquitoes, the Blackberries’ own thorns, and Poison Ivy’s itchy rash. When my son was a wee one, I taught him to select berries by color. Do not pick the green or white phase of any berry. Red Raspberries come out first, so he learned that red was ok. Well, until we come upon Black Raspberries or Blackberries, in which cases red precedes the ripened black, and it should not be picked at this red phase. It is complicated for the mind of a toddler, and a nasty method of learning colors.

Long after I enjoy the Mimosa Trees’ frond-like leaves and delicate feathery bloom on the flatlands, I drive up the mountain and have Mimosas still in bloom. I learned of the Butterfly bush while in Virginia, but the attraction of the butterflies to a Mimosa is spell-binding. Those fragile creatures flutter from bloom to bloom and add to the glorious hues. I see two species of Lepidoptera that continue to hover over this tree of fern green and bright pink flowers. The Mourning Cloak Butterfly adds black to this in-motion painting. Using binoculars for a closer look, rather than climbing the tree, you can see the wings edged with yellow and flecks of sky blue. The next butterfly is yellow with black edging and blue flecks. This is the Swallowtail Butterfly. Its color compliments the Mourning Cloak’s and both complete the dazzling picture.

Have you noticed the disappearance of the Stink Bugs? I hope they are gone. Except for a few determined tiny ants, my house is not under siege. There is a stretch of road where the trees almost meet to form a cover. It is close to dusk when I ride down this way. There is a rather large horsefly here that really upsets the horses. Their scissor-like bite is quite painful. When I look up, I see them flying six feet overhead; like a squadron of bombers. I am ready to do battle as they swoop down for a meal.

When inside my house, escaping the heat, I glance outside often. One afternoon, twin fawns were romping through my yard. There is a lane that leads into the woods and circles back again. This circuit appeared to be their race track. I know that gamboling is verbiage used in the description of kid goats at play, but that is what these two little deer were about!

One night, close to dark, there was finally a rain shower after all this heat. I was out for a late ride. The droplets were warm, it had been so hot. I rounded a bend in the road leaving the open behind and re-entering the woods. Once again the pounding of the horses’ hooves alerted a snake in our path. A Copperhead was making haste to leave the open road for the rock pile. He must have been enjoying both the warmth of the rain and the heat still present in the macadam. The roadway is an ecosystem all of its own after dark. Not only did I see a snake by twilight, but both toads and frogs were crossing the road.

This summer is a hot one. June is the hottest on record. My reaction to the heat is the same as a reptile’s to cold, I hibernate. The less I move, the less I eat, keeps me from feeling beat from the heat. The days stretch out longer through the month of August, so it’s best to enjoy it now. The weather, the temperature, all that nature can provide will be replaced once the leaves start to fall.

Read other articles by Lynne Holt