By Ash Alder

Heat, ma’am! It was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.

— Sydney Smith, Lady Holland’s Memoir

Raspberries, blackberries and sweet figs, isolated on white.

Berry Good

If ever you’ve stumbled upon a tangle of wild blackberries, perhaps you have felt the sweet stings of freedom that poet Mary Oliver describes in her poem named for this sultry month. You have tasted the “black honey of summer” and have the scratches on your legs and arms to prove it.

August conjures the soft thuds of the earliest apples; gifts us with eggplant and sweet corn and towering sunflowers; plucks the season’s first ripe figs or else leaves them for the birds.

The air feels like a wet cloth over our mouths and skin. We move in slow motion. We move to the shade. We move indoors, where the fan dances in lazy circles.

Heirloom tomatoes are peeled, seeded and chopped for gazpacho. Watermelon is sliced into tidy triangles. The ants that march along the juicy rinds remind us there is work to do:

Can or freeze the excess harvest.

Stake the vines and prune the shrubs.

Prepare the soil for autumn plantings — beets, carrots, peas
and greens.

But don’t forget to play. When you stumble upon a patch of swollen berries “in the brambles nobody owns,” do as Oliver illustrates. Allow yourself to get lost in the delicious moment. Savor the sweetness of this harvest month. 

Ethereal Wonders

The August sky reveals to us countless wonders. Following the full Green Corn Moon on Monday, Aug. 7, the annual Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of Saturday, Aug. 12, until the wee hours of Sunday, Aug. 13. Although a waning gibbous moon may compromise the view, it’s possible to see 60 to 100 meteors per hour. Cozy up with the crickets and test your luck. 

Something you can’t blink and miss: A total eclipse of the sun occurs this year on Monday, Aug. 21. Visible for up to two minutes and 40 seconds along a narrow arc that starts in Oregon and slices across the states to South Carolina, the Great American Total Solar Eclipse will cause eerie bands of light to shimmer across the darkening sky as the sun slips behind the hungry moon. Do wear eye protection for this so-called celestial coincidence, and find maps of the path and more information at Prepare to be truly dazzled. North America won’t see anything like it until April 8, 2024.

The Sacred Hazel

According to Celtic tree astrology, those born from Aug. 5 to Sept. 1 draw wisdom from the sacred hazel, a tree whose forked branches have long been used as divining rods, and whose medicinal leaves and bark create a potent astringent. If you’ve any doubt that this tree possesses magical properties, consider that it produces the star ingredient of Nutella (and that said ingredient, the hazelnut, is believed to invoke prophetic visions). But back to humans: Analytical and organized, hazel archetypes are often considered the “know-it-alls” of the zodiac. Although they tend to hum with nervous energy, they seem to get along swimmingly with rowans (Jan. 22 to Feb. 18) and hawthorns (May 13 to June 9).

The gladiolus may be the bright and showy birth flower of August, but what says summer like the sunflower? As they follow the sun across the sky, these cheerful giants remind us that we become that which we give our focus. What will you attract this month? 

sunflower with drops of water on white background.

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