Shadowy figures moved stealthily through the pre-dawn darkness as I drove up the driveway yesterday. Deer were too far away to be seen in the headlights but their fog-shrouded outlines seemed reminiscent of a scene from “Bambi.”
Even as their silhouettes vanished in the mist, another eerie early-morning reminder of the season drifted down – the leaves are beginning to fall.
Signs have been increasing these last few days. Gardens are coming into full flower and some plants are already nearly done for the season.
Corn is available in ever-increasing amounts although tomatoes are abundantly luscious now and for lovers of a good hamburger or just a plain old ‘mater sandwich, this is absolutely the height of the season.
Since mid-May, with an abundance of sunshine and rain at the most opportune times, yards have demanded a cutting every third (sometimes fourth) day to be kept in tip-top condition. The roaring of lawnmower blades has often overwhelmed song birds, crickets, frogs and any other of Mother Nature’s creatures vying for our auditory attention.
Yet, only a few short days ago, the cutting became noticeably different. The color of the grass is fading, a dryness has penetrated the yard and the urgency to get a trim is not so severe these days. It may be another week before I pull the handle and take a turn across the greensward.
Evening walks on the quiet country lane bordering the yard reveal other signs of the season. Leaves high on the windswept mountain maples, oaks and poplars begin to turn their edges skyward as their chlorophyll prepares for the coming cold. That color is evident to the eye that has delighted in the vibrant green hues for the past 90-odd delightful days.
Weeds, once battling to overtake the meadow grass, now rule the day and tower over much of the undergrowth. It is not so pretty but is, however, another indication that we are hurtling toward the fall. Thistles are in full bloom, which is a treat for the myriad of butterflies flitting over and around them in search of nectar for whatever it is butterflies do with nectar.
Those animals such as the groundhog and the squirrel, never ones to sit idle, are scrambling to make a final, frenzied push to pack on extra weight. Rabbits, too, scurry to secure treats for the lean times ahead.
As the walnut trees sag with their heavy burden and oaks prepare to drop another year’s acorn growth, the critters dependent upon that bounty never stray far from the source. Rodent larders must be stocked as carefully as those in human basements. After all, the whistle pig has no grocery from which to select dinner when he is hungry.
Those same deer who haunt the highways and byways of our Grand Area seem to know the exact location of every apple tree and just when the fruit is ripe for the picking. Precious little fruit goes to waste as September continues its steady march toward the solstice. On the domestic front, farmers have finished their second cuttings on most farms, so the square and round bales are either already stacked or soon to be placed in long lines near fields’ edge or stored securely in barns or other outbuildings.
Meanwhile, cattle on a thousand local hills are rapidly depleting the supply of pasture grass. Sheep and goats, too, nibble night and day to trim away the greenery. Calves, which only days ago seemed to be all legs as they fed on mothers’ milk, are now husky young things weaned and healthy as they consume as much grass as they can locate on their daily rounds.
A glance at the clock reinforces all the notions about change. Later is the time when daylight outlines the mountain tops and darkness settles over Four Seasons Country a quiet moment sooner every day. Bedtime seems to come earlier for the old folks while the children chafe and struggle in search of sleep before midnight, suffering a reverse reaction in a battle to get up and go to school.
Many trudge in total darkness toward buses whose flashing lights signal something not so inviting as might be hoped for but rather a long day with the books.
Athletes prepare for practices and games, however, in conditions sometimes less harsh as the late afternoon temperatures are finally beginning to taper downward.
Fans of outdoor events are often seen draped in heavier garments as shorts and summer shirts stay home to await warmer weather. As those same events take up more time on the calendar, towns whose festivals have dotted the summer landscape are changing their calendars so that every Saturday will not feature a day at the lake or some similar lemonade-like activity.
Our stores have Halloween decorations already on the shelves. Thanksgiving and Christmas items are making their appearance far ahead of the traditional displays as corporate management displace tradition with (bottom line) gain.
Still, one local icon has remained steadfast. Although the local merchants and civic leaders have generously created a festival enjoyed by many, once again the dreaded thermometer at the Mercer County Airport has refused to cooperate with a “real” lemonade day as the temperature on Hurricane Ridge stubbornly refuses to show the long hoped-for 90 degrees.
Somewhere, H. Edward “Eddie” Steele is smiling.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Bluefield High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.