“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy…” – Anatole France
August takes her last breath. Insects stitch together the transitions between daylight and dark. When we open our bedroom windows to welcome the cooler air at night, their high-pitched chorus lull us to sleep. ZZZzzz.
Mornings in Illinois take on a clean, cold feel. A sudden drop into the 40s at night prods us to reach for our jackets; we don’t know how to dress for the day ahead anymore. Layers. We add a sweater, peel it off by 10 a.m.
September is so close you can feel it. Time to turn the seasonal page.
The blue gentians bloom at last. They’re a specialty reserved for autumn’s introduction. A trumpet blast of jewel-like color.
In my backyard, sandwiched between suburban houses, the prairie patch puts out a few, tentative asters. Joe Pye weed blooms brown up.
I find my new Kankakee mallow plant stalks, grown from expensive plant plugs this spring, abruptly cut in half by sharp bunny teeth this morning. Will they survive the winter? Maybe. Or maybe not.
A lone cardinal flower still blooms in one of the wetter places in the yard…
…and close beside it, the great blue lobelia are at their best, pumping out bright blue around the pond with the promise of more flowers to come.
Each day, I watch a few more new England asters slowly unfurl their purple fringed blooms on the prairie.
Little bluestem is prominent now, blizzarding the prairie with rusts and tufts of snowy white.
Hummingbirds, driven by the migration impulse, battle over my dew-drenched feeder each morning. They fuel up on whatever wildflowers they can find in my backyard prairie, then zip away, always moving south.
Love it or moan about it: Autumn always brings with it a sense of our own mortality. The great rush of plant growth is over. It’s replaced with the Earth’s concern for legacy. The plants push each other over in their exuberance to crank out seeds, seeds, more seeds.
The community of the prairie transforms. Soon, it will be dry grasses and seedheads rustling in an increasingly chill breeze. Widow skimmer dragonflies perch around prairie ponds, anticipating this. They watch other dragonfly species begin to migrate. But no trip to the south for them. They await the tipping point that ends their season.
What will the autumn bring? Beauty of its own kind, yes. But now, at the tail end of summer, we feel a bit melancholy.
The prairie promises a new chapter. Who can tell what it will bring? We remind ourselves: the best days may lie ahead. It’s up to us to accept change. And to embrace it.
Jacques Anatole Thibault, known by his pseudonym, Anatole France (1844-1924) was a Nobel Prize-winning French novelist, poet, and journalist–in fact, there are few genres of literature he did not attempt in his writings. Not surprising to learn that his father was a bookseller and he grew up surrounded by books. One of my favorite quotes by France: “Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.”
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): unknown grasshopper on wild Canada rye seedhead (Elymus canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie gentians (Gentiana puberulenta), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; interior of prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta ), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; purple Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), author’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL; great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), author’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL; New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) at the feeder, author’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL; wild Canada rye (Elymus canadensis) seedheads, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Schulenberg Prairie at the end of August, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.