Staring at the treetops across the river, I spied a handful of blue jays gathering. Suddenly there were more, and then even more. I tallied about 25 blue jays, all in one tree. What was going on here?
Later that morning I saw what looked like a cloud of birds overhead, swirling like a blanket blowing in the wind. First glance made me guess starlings or some variation of blackbirds. I made a quick count and stopped after fifty. There were more than that, and again I was stumped.
So I consulted the Adirondack Almanack, an online resource I enjoy. And what I discovered was validation for what I'd been witnessing. The birds, now for the most part quiet in the forest, are gathering in larger clans. The young have been raised by parents, taught to fly and eat, and learn the songs of the species. Now it is the job of the larger family to continue their education, and incorporate the youngsters into the group before migration. So that was what I was seeing.
Why not take a moment to observe the changes in the environment around us as summer wanes. Birds gathering in clans is just one of those changes. Cool nights and mist rising from the rivers and ponds in the morning is another. This morning it was below 40 degrees. Before the sun crested over the treetops, mist rolled off the bubbling river and covered the pond across the road. Fog hugged the trees and the world looked soft and moody. These kinds of mornings are gifts during our time of transition to fall.
Those of us who have gardens are hard at work this time of year. With a wet early spring, most gardens had a good start, and the bounty from our planting and weeding is producing an incredible harvest. Many people are way busier than they'd like, canning, freezing and "putting up" as much produce as they can, all during these glorious, colorful late summer days.
Gladiolus and sunflowers are only two of the varieties of flowers coming to their glory right now as well. Look at the window boxes and perennial gardens around the houses in your neighborhood, and soak up the beauty of those blossoms. We know a frost is possible now, at any whim of Mother Nature. So we need to appreciate the temporariness of all this richness.
Apples are ripening, getting fat and red, and the number this year is astounding. Last year by this time we'd been raided by raccoons, soon to be followed by bears. This year we should get to harvest some before that happens. Blueberries have been abundant as have the glistening, ripening blackberries. The fruits of our forest are offering our mouths rewards like crazy-all we need to do is pick them before the animals do.
Sounds of insects
Since songbirds are so quiet now, what do we hear when we venture outdoors? High in the trees on sunny days we hear the loud buzzing of cicadas. They buzz their way through the warmth, and are silent when it's cold. Underneath on the ground are our crickets. We hear their cheerful chirping, more abundant in the warmer time, but present now until almost the arrival of snow.
School is beginning. Most colleges begin before Labor Day, and public schools start shortly after that. Students and teachers are among those who can feel the emotions of letting go of summer. Once school starts, their days are full of lessons and activities, and the time they are able to spend outdoors making these observations dwindles. All the more reason to get outside for a little dose of deep appreciation for these last days of August.
As usual, we have had a huge number of guests this summer, hours being spent on the back porch observing life alongside an Adirondack river. What I see through the eyes of visitors amplifies my own sense of wonder. Nature does that for us. Our lives are healed as we stop fretting about what we have no control over , and give some time to appreciating the flora and fauna that surrounds us, the rivers, ponds, mountains and forests that make up an entire world, one that cares nothing at all about our little obsessions, fears and to-do lists.
For a while we do not need to think about how "Breaking Bad" is going to end, whose name got mentioned on the radio for being recently arrested, or if you can pass chemistry the second time around. If you're out stacking wood, stop for a second to listen to the crickets and cicadas. If you're out back harvesting green beans and zucchini, listen for rustling leaving and moving water, or the thrum of wingbeats fromthe hummingbirds. Take note if you see a group of ten or twelve robins hopping on a lawn. Your life will change focus.
These are pieces of late August in the Adirondacks. Labor Day will come and go, and before you know it, all the gifts of September will arrive. Let some morning mist bring you a smile. Let's relish the here and now of the end of summer 2013.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.