“Something in me isn’t ready to let go of summer so easily.”–Karina Borowicz
If you read the book of seasons closely, you’ll know it’s about time to turn the page to a new chapter. Summer wildflowers give way to asters and goldenrods; birds fuel at the feeders, storing up energy for their long migrations. Meteorological autumn arrives on Saturday. Meanwhile, August covers the prairie like a blanket that’s been in the dryer long enough to get hot, but not dry. Humidity reigns.
The pale Indian plantain on the tallgrass prairie is lush and jungle-like this season; the combination of heat and early rains this spring pushing it skyward.
Wingstem blooms nearby….
…and the asters on the prairie pop open; soft blooms of lavender blue.
At home, I step out the back door to admire my prairie patch. As I pass the vegetable bed, I notice the tomatoes are rioting. Pick me! Pick me! No me! Me!
I avert my eyes. Our kitchen counter is awash in fruit. I should can tomato sauce, or dry tomatoes in my food dehydrator, or do something in the face of all this lipstick red abundance…
…but instead, I avoid the whole issue and go for a stroll around the yard. Ten tomato plants didn’t seem like enough for us in May. Yeah, right.
But wait! There’s a rustle, deep in the tomato leaves. Reluctantly, I turn. A dark red insect—almost brown—rests on one of my Roma tomato plants.
It’s a red saddlebags dragonfly, cooling its wings in the shade of the tomato leaves. I’ve never seen this species at either of the prairies where I’m a steward. The two times I’ve seen it over the past 13 years I’ve monitored have been in my small suburban backyard, among the tomatoes. I wonder what it’s up to?
We know the black saddlebags dragonflies migrate; we speculate the red saddlebags may migrate as well, although very little is known about this. We do know that migration on the prairie is an epic event. The past two weeks, I’ve watched the black saddlebags and common green darners massing and moving south, just as I have the past decade or so.
Perhaps this red saddlebags in my garden is headed south as well. Better hurry up!
I leave the dragonfly in peace. Now, by the porch, I notice movement in the mums and the roses. Someone else is out for an evening walk. She’s barely visible.
See that white plume?
SKUNK! Uh, oh.
I avoid the porch, and detour to my prairie patch where the goldenrod is in full bloom. The monarch butterflies loved the swamp milkweed I planted for them this summer, but now, as they migrate to Mexico, they need fall-blooming wildflowers to nourish them on their way. Scientists tell us that monarchs are looking for nectaring sources beyond milkweed. Goldenrod in my backyard prairie serves as a filling station for their long journeys. A beautiful—if a bit unruly—filling station, at that.
Still keeping an eye on the skunk, which is now rummaging under the bird feeders for dropped seeds, I marvel over the prairie. What a year it has been for the Silphiums in my backyard! The compass plant, cup plant, and prairie dock have flourished. Compass plant is now in bloom, in seed, and in “sap.” Resin oozes from the hairy stem. Native American children chewed the resin like Wrigley’s spearmint, and although I’m not fond of it on my teeth (nor is my dentist fond of finding it there) I do love the piney smell. It’s one of the scents of summer. As I rub it stickily between my fingers, I feel a melancholy sense of something passing.
Cautiously, I walk back to the porch. The skunk is gone, visiting the neighbor’s birdfeeders, no doubt. I notice the moonvine. It has yet to bloom this summer but finally, has its first buds.
Moonflower is a night blooming species of morning glory. I like it, as it gives me another excuse to sit on the back porch after sunset and listen to the cicadas. Perhaps tonight I’ll see it swirl open, and have my first chance this summer to enjoy its fragrance.
Fitting, perhaps, to see these first moonflower buds as the night sky this week has been full of wonders over my suburban neighborhood. Like the just-past-full moon last night, looking like an antique coin, or the juxtaposition of the Moon and Mars in the southeastern sky a few days ago.
The heat of the day gives way to a breath of cool; the relief of evening coming to the backyard. I glance up at the sky, darkening now, a few stars beginning to appear.
Goodnight, moon. So long, August.
It’s been swell.
The opening quote is from September Tomatoes, a poem by Karina Borowicz. Her first poetry collection, The Bees are Waiting (2012), won numerous awards. Said Jeff McMahon in Contrary Magazine, “(She) captures the unbearable pulse of despair and hope in the world as its people pass across it, scarcely aware.”
All photos and video copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pale Indian plantain (Arnoglossum atriplicifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; smooth blue asters (Symphyotrichum laeve), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), author’s kitchen, Glen Ellyn, IL; red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; dragonfly migration swarm, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (from a few years ago, about this time in August); striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in the garden, author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) oozing resin, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; moonflower vine buds (Ipomoea alba), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; Moon and Mars over author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.