Almanac July 2024

Almanac July 2024

July is the scratch of wild bramble, a rogue rumble of thunder, the snap, crackle, pop of grasshoppers on the wing.

The soundtrack of summer is alive and swelling. As the temperature rises, the cicadas turn the dial from lusty to deafening. Gentle crescendos are for the birds.

Catbird sings of blueberries. Mockingbird, too. Red-bellied woodpecker gorges on fruit.

Among ditch daisies and dancing grasses, meadow-beauty and blooming Joe Pye, the crickets declare their sole intention. It’s time now, they announce. Let’s do this! We came here on a mission!

Life wants to live. All beings know some version of this tune. The dream of every cricket is next summer’s mating song.

In the garden, mantis munches on June beetles. Honeybees serenade black-eyed Susans. A watermelon whispers that it’s time, now. 

One look and you know it’s true. Still, you give the rind a solid thwack.

Yep. Music.

As you gently twist the whopper from the stem, the cicadas scream with primal knowing.

This is when you choose to slow down. Feel the weight of swollen fruit as you hold it close. Give thanks for the soundscape, the sweetness, the sweat on your brow.

Despite these endless summer days, the transience of this season is palpable.

Let’s do this, the crickets trill. It’s time now. Life as we know it depends on us.

 

Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.    — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

All That Glitters

Grab the binoculars. A Mars-Uranus conjunction will grace the Eastern sky an hour before sunrise on Monday, July 15. Look to Taurus (the white bull) for this rare glimpse of two planets, seemingly close enough to kiss.

On the subject of shining moments, jewelweed is having one this month, too. In other words: It’s blooming.

With its small-but-showy orange flowers (they do look like tiny charms dangling from slender stalks), you’re likely to spot this native medicinal along forest edges — especially near poison ivy. As Nature has arranged it, the sap from jewelweed leaves and stems can be applied topically to help soothe itchy rashes. Simply brilliant.   

En Plein Air

Did you know that National Play Outside Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of every month? This Fourth of July weekend, turn off the screens. It’s time for some old-fashioned yard fun. Hopscotch. Double Dutch. Corn-shucking on the porch.

Bust out the freeze pops. The hammock. The threadbare picnic blanket.

Is your kid the next egg-and-spoon race champion? Watermelon seed-spitting extraordinaire? Double-dog dare you to find out.   OH

Almanac June 2024

Almanac June 2024

June is a luscious muse, generous with her wisdom, lips to the ears of all who seek her.

Want to know how to dance? Move as the dragonfly moves, she whispers, guiding your eyes to shallow waters. Iridescent wings shimmer in hypnotic circles. The pond reflects the magic back.

In the meadow, the muse beckons a gentle wind. Be danced, she sings among the rolling grasses. Let the movement find you.

Artists: Dip your brush in milkwort and rosinweed. Watch sunlight transmute meadow-beauty. Express with the boldness of spider lily.

Poets: Attune to the frequency of bees. Can you taste the earth through your fingertips? Spend the day supping honeysuckle and catmint, then cover your legs in clover pollen.

It’s all for pleasure, the goddess intones. You cannot do it wrong.

See for yourself.

Study the language of lark sparrows. Become fluent in butterfly pea and blooming thistle. Chime in with a choir of cicadas.

Dress yourself in Queen Anne’s lace. Map out the route of a swallowtail. Translate the essence of snap beans and squash blossoms.

Let listening be an artform. Or seeing. Or tasting. 

How fully can you receive the richness of sound and color? The texture of nectar on your tongue? The depth and sweetness of these early summer days?

It’s simple. Surrender to the wild beauty. Let it move you. This is the mastery of June.

 

It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.   — Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, 1941

Night Bloomers

The full strawberry moon rises on Friday, June 21 (one day after summer solstice). What could be dreamier than a near-full moon on a midsummer’s night? Enter the moon garden. Breathe in the earthy-fresh fragrance of evening primrose (Oenothera laciniata). The sugary sweetness of moonflower (Ipomoea alba). The citrus-laced ecstasy of night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum).

While not technically a night bloomer, the timeless aroma of gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) is anything but subtle. Awash in the gentle glow of moonlight, the delicate white blossoms of this evergreen shrub are a wonder to behold. Linger among them. Tell them the quiet longings of your heart. If you lean close, you just might hear their secrets, too.

Puck & Co.

Nature spirits have long been associated with the magic of summer solstice. Fae folk in particular. But what kind of mythical being is that?

The rosy maple moth is as storybook as it gets. With its woolly body, bushy antennae and candy-like pink and yellow coloration, this small silk moth is nearly unmistakable. As its name implies, maple trees are the preferred host for this visual wonder, which can be seen fluttering near forest edges throughout the state.

Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of one this month. Though who’s to say it won’t be Puck, stirring up a bit of mischief?  OH

May Almanac 2024

May Almanac 2024

May tucks her treasures gently in our hands.

For the young girl in the sunhat: her first ripe strawberry, bright and plump, just warm from the tender, loving sun. Before lifting the fruit to her lips, she studies its tiny seeds — 200 stars studding crimson infinity — and how its leafy top looks like a tiny fairy cap. When the sweetness hits her tongue, her eyes brighten; her lips pucker; her hands open for more.

In the same field, an elderly man is picking his last flat of berries, recalling the scratch-made shortcakes of his childhood. His eyes glisten as the memories rush in; as the sweetness hits his tongue, as his granddaughter reaches for a sun-kissed strawberry.

For the sisters at the park: early ox-eye daisies.

For the dreamers: dandelion puffballs.

Somewhere, a teenage boy slips a dogwood flower behind the left ear of his first love. By the creek, his brother plucks crawdads from the cool, trickling water.

In a neighbor’s garden, peonies and roses perfume the spring-fresh air. Yellow butterflies worship orange poppies. Bare hands worship worm-rich earth.

And what of your own hands?

Might they cradle magnolia blossoms? An empty bird’s nest? A palmful of seeds?

Might they stay open to give and receive?

May tucks her treasures gently in your hands, giggles as you hold them, then playfully resumes her grand unfolding.

The fair maid who, the first of May

Goes to the fields at break of day

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree

Will ever after handsome be.

— Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme

Mother of Flowers

The magnolias are blooming, their sweet, citrusy fragrance utterly commanding our attention.

Yes, and more, please.

The “Great Mother” of flowers, Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) blossoms can reach up to 12 inches in diameter. Despite the delicate, ephemeral nature of their creamy white blooms, the tree itself is quite resilient — and ancient. Fossil records suggest that magnolias are among the oldest flowering plants on Earth, blossoming among the dinosaurs 100 million years ago.

An icon of feminine grace, it’s fitting that our Southern magnolia should shine this month — and just in time for Mother’s Day. 

The Birds and the Bees

Named for the Greek goddess Maia (eldest of the Pleiades and goddess of nursing mothers), May is a month of growth and fertility — a month of flowers, birds and bees.

National Wildflower Week is celebrated May 2 – 7 (always the first week of the month). Let’s hear it for spider lilies, spiderwort, wild indigo and crested iris.

On May 4 — National Bird Day — take a quiet moment to honor the winged ones who live alongside us. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the richness they add to our ecosystem and soundscape. Your presence is all that’s required.

On that note, World Bee Day is acknowledged on May 20. Consider the essential role these hard-working insects play in the health and abundance of our planet. Honor your local pollinators with the choices that you make. Have a garden? Incorporate native flowers and, for the love of bees, put the toxic sprays away.   PS

Almanac April 2024

Almanac April 2024

April is a tapestry of sound, rich and delicate.

Listen.

Coral honeysuckle sings in color, sultry and seductive, calling out to ruby-throated suitors.

Can you hear the whir of tiny wings? The beating heart of hummingbird? The melodious supping of nectar?

Lean in.

Chrysalis whispers of metamorphosis. Wet and crumpled wings. Grueling and glorious expansion.

The rustling of budding trees tells of new life. Fuzzy squirrel kits with just-opened eyes. A clutch of blue eggs, days from hatching.

Chorus frogs swell with rhythmic longing. A swallowtail sails through warm air like a bow across a brightly toned string. Wild violets titter.

One hundred songbirds, yet none are so loud as a single dandelion. The soil? Boisterous.

Don’t you see? Each green leaf is the note of an ever-swelling symphony. When the rat snake sheds his winter skin, a rapturous movement begins.

Whippoorwill is drunk on the splendor of its own name. Bullfrog bellows jug-o-rum! Dogwoods tremor in a cool flash of rain.

As cardinal crafts her cup-shaped nest — a wonder of twigs lined with leaves, grasses, roots and pine needles — she stops to drink in the soundscape.

Each thread has a home in this living anthem, this resonant fabric of spring.

Wild Bloomers

April showers bring mayapple flowers.

Not to be confused with apple blossoms (although the flowers do look similar), Podophyllum peltatum is a native perennial wildflower that thrives in deciduous woodlands. Most commonly called the mayapple or the American mandrake, other nicknames for this April bloomer include Indian apple root, racoonberry, hog apple, ground lemon, duck’s foot, umbrella leaf and devil’s apple.

Rising over a foot above the forest floor, mayapples grow in dense colonies, their distinctive leaves making them relatively easy to spot. Two deeply lobed, umbrella-shaped leaves radiate from the top of the plant’s single stem; a white flower hides beneath the canopy.

While most of the plant is considered toxic (foliage, roots, unripe fruit and seeds), the ripe mayapple fruit is considered a forager’s delight and a favorite summer snack of the Eastern box turtle.

What does the golden fruit taste like? Wild foods bloggers have described it as exotic, sweet-and-tart, citrusy, or, as Adam Haritan of Learn Your Land wrote, “like a mix between pineapple and Starburst candy.” That said, since even the ripe fruit can have a laxative effect, best not to gorge. 

Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems. 

Rainer Maria Rilke

Sow the Love

Earth Day is celebrated on Monday, April 22. Make it a garden party. Or, better yet, a garden-planting party.

The last frost is nigh. Sow your green beans, sweet corn, squash and zucchini. Wait until month’s end to plant cukes, peas and tomatoes. Longer, still, for the frost-sensitives (melons, peppers and eggplant, to name a few).

Invite the pollinators to join you by weaving native plants and wildflowers into the mix. From asters to elderberry and bee balm to dogwood, consider what thrives in your region and start there. The wild ones will thank you.  OH

Almanac March 2024

Almanac March 2024

March is a giggle of wild violets, a squeal of flowering redbud, a tea party in the making.

The earth is awakening. As purple blossoms spill across the softening landscape, cottontail rabbits follow. Mingling in sunny patches, they graze on heart-shaped leaves and tender grasses, feast on the freshness of this fragrant spring morning.

In the distance, a pregnant doe plucks clusters of crisp buds from magenta-studded branches. Munching to the tune of chattering squirrel, counter-singing wrens and white-throated sparrow, the deer hears a different kind of music: laughter. One ear back and one ear forward, she pinpoints the source, gently flicks her tail, resumes her browsing.

The children arrive skipping, bare feet in cool grass, eyes bright with life and color. Their pleasure is unmeasured; their vision is clear: wild violet shortbread.

Between cartwheels and somersaults, they gather purple flowers, linger in the sunlight, bask in the welcome, dewy warmth. As they dream up tea and cookies, guests of honor arrive on the wing: bluebird, robin, purple martin, warbler, swallow, towhee, killdeer. The old tabby is near. Early honeybees embrace early dandelions. Her ruby-throated highness takes her throne in a luminous redbud.

Soon, a heap of hand-picked violets becomes a spread fit for a court. Among wild giggles, the children don crowns, wriggle their toes in the soft grass, sink their teeth into the delicate sweetness as the birds sing spring is here.

Spring’s greatest joy beyond a doubt is when it brings the children out. — Edgar Guest

Eye on the Sky

The days are growing longer still. Daylight saving time begins on Sunday, March 10. All the better for soaking up the soft and radiant magic of spring, which officially begins with the vernal equinox on Tuesday, March 19.

According to Scientific American’s “Sky Spectacles to Watch in 2024,” you’ll want to gaze due west at sunset on Sunday, March 24, when Mercury will appear directly above the sun at twilight. Positioned at its “greatest eastern elongation” (greatest distance from our sun), Mercury will be about 19 degrees from the star that gives us life. A little wink from a tiny, not-so-faraway planet that isn’t always easy to spot.  OH

Nectar, Etc.

“The first day of spring is one thing,” wrote the late poet and author Henry van Dyke, “and the first spring day is another.” Such is the day that the earliest eastern tiger swallowtail glides across Carolina blue skies.

The first broods of our official state butterfly are on the move. With a wingspan up to 5 1/2 inches, this eye-catching swallowtail is recognized by its black and yellow tiger stripes and three-lobed hindwings. Most females have a low row of iridescent blue markings on their hindwings. However, they can also occur in a dark color phase, causing humans and male tiger swallowtails alike to mistake them for a different species.

Want to take a closer look? Attract swallowtails to your own garden with native pollinator plants they won’t be able to resist. And if you’re looking for suggestions, check out North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s list of native trees, shrubs and flowers here: ncwf.org/habitat/native-pollinator-plants.

Almanac February 2024

Almanac February 2024

February wakes us gently.

Deep in our late-winter slumber, we dream of wild violets and dandelions; the return of hummingbirds; the green and quivering kiss of spring.

Swaddled in ancient stillness, our hearts ache for warm earth and fragrant blossoms; snap peas and crimson clover; chorus frogs and velvet-soft grass. February knows. Still, we mustn’t be ripped from this rich and fertile darkness. We mustn’t be startled, forced or rushed.

As the pink breath of dawn illuminates a leafless kingdom, a barred owl pierces the silence with a rousing incantation. Within our womb-like chrysalis, we shift and wriggle, reaching for our wild longings, tilting our face toward the beckoning sun. Prayers for patience on her tongue, the wise one lets us sleep, stroking our hair as we flit between worlds.

Soon, the cardinal will sing of bloodroot, crocus and flowering quince. Soon, a mourning cloak will flutter among the bleak and frigid landscape.

As we drift toward this vernal threshold, February invites us to linger. She knows that our souls require deep rest. She trusts our natural rhythm. She softly guides a sunbeam to our winter-weary bones.

The bluebird scouts a nesting site. The red fox grooms her kits. As sure as the daffodils rise from naked earth, we will open our eyes, awakened by the quickening pulse of our inner spring.

I know him, February’s thrush,
And loud at eve he valentines
On sprays that paw the naked bush
Where soon will sprout the thorns and bines.   

— George Meredith,
    “The Thrush in February,” c.1885

Outside the (Chocolate) Box

There are flowers, and there is fruit. But if you’re looking to dazzle your green-thumbed sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, consider gifting a fruit tree, which ultimately offers both.

Apple, fig, persimmon, pear and plum are among the recommended fruit bearers for our state. Choose cultivars that thrive in the particular soil and climate you’re working with, plant it with a kiss, then let the tree enchant the gardener year after year.

Year of the Dragon

The Chinese (Lunar) New Year is celebrated on Saturday, Feb. 10. Get ready for the Year of the Wood Dragon, the last of which delivered Beatlemania and the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If ever you’ve heard “The Great Race” fable — that is, how the Jade Emperor determined the sequence of the 12 animals associated with the Chinese calendar — then perhaps you recall the honorable qualities of the dragon (fifth sign of the zodiac), who stopped to help the creatures of the Earth rather than easefully crossing the finish line first. Those born under the Year of the Wood Dragon are the wayshowers. They’re here to dream up a better world, and have the vigor and drive to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  OH

Almanac January 2024

Almanac January 2024

January is a sacred pause, a rite of passage, a miracle in the dark.

As the Earth sleeps, a brown thrasher sweeps through the dormant garden. Gray squirrels skitter across naked gray branches. A grizzled buck disappears into the colorless yonder.

These bitter mornings, you study the critters beyond the window until the kettle calls out. Back and forth, you putter from stovetop to window, marveling at the movement amid the still and desolate landscape.

You open your journal, turn to a fresh page, watch your thoughts wax introspective.

Sifting through the humus of last year — the upsets, obstacles and lessons — you procure a wealth of nourishment. Glimpses of who you’re becoming. Morsels of wisdom to carry forth.

So much is stirring beneath the surface. Surely the crocus feels this way. Growth isn’t always visible. 

At once, the thrasher breaks your focus with spontaneous song.

You put on the kettle, fill up your thermos, step into the freshness of a brand-new year.

The buck has shed his antlers at the forest’s edge. Gray squirrels skitter from cache to cache. Each critter is a holy mirror.

The darkest days are behind us. Within the ancient quiet of winter, a secret world awaits discovery. Those searching for spring will never see it. Those looking within will find the key.

 

Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.     — Rumi

Milk Flower

Among the earliest spring bulbs to bloom, the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) dazzles in large drifts, especially when planted beneath deciduous tree canopies.

A birth flower of January, the snowdrop’s Latin name translates as “milk flower.” Emerging from a cold and sleeping Earth, the delicate flowers are, in fact, sustenance for the winter-weary, symbolizing purity, hope and new beginnings.

Reaching a height of just 3 to 6 inches, the dainty white blossoms of this hardy perennial resemble tiny teardrop chandeliers. German folklore tells that, before snow had a color, it asked the flowers of the Earth if it could borrow one of their radiant shades. When all the other blossoms denied the snow’s request, the humble snowdrop offered its white hue to the snow. Grateful for this kindly gesture, the snow vowed to protect the snowdrop from the icy grip of winter. Thus, snow and snowdrop remain true and lasting friends.

Stone Soup

You’ve heard the old folk story: Everybody gives, everybody wins.

Soup Swap Day is celebrated on the third Saturday of January. Launched in Seattle in the early 2000s, this unofficial holiday has inspired soup enthusiasts across the globe to gather their tribes — and their Tupperware — and get to simmering.

It’s simple.

Pick a soup, any soup:

Vegetable stew served with homemade bread.

Cream of mushroom topped with cracked pepper and fresh thyme.

Roasted cauliflower brightened with a squeeze of lemon.

The possibilities are endless.

Cook a king-size batch, ladle into containers, then distribute to your broth-loving friends. Leave the party with as much soup as you doled out. Everybody gives, everybody wins.  OH

Almanac December 2023

Almanac December 2023

December is a waltz with what’s still here; a slowing down; warmth from new directions.

These frigid mornings, dawn lingers.

Through the kitchen window, soft light unveils a council of leafless trees, silhouettes of cottontails, a frost-laced landscape.

As steam rises from the mug in your hands, you feel the sudden swell of loss. The sting of what’s not here. The emptiness of winter.

You deepen your breath, allowing the wave of grief to pass almost as quickly as it arrived.

Unexpectedly, a surge of joy follows.

When resident birds pierce the rose-pink silence with their silvery warbles and trills, you look toward the swinging feeders, eager to honor your end of the deal.

The agreement is simple: You offer sustenance; they offer life. You set down the mug for the bundling ritual.

Outside, the cold air enlivens you. Toting the bag of seed, you follow your breath to the wee, suspended altars. The winged ones disperse.

Despite the crunch of frozen earth, the starkness of the skyline, the withering garden, a softness cradles these early winter days.

Nature doesn’t mourn what’s gone like we do.

As you refill the feeders, a cardinal whistles from a nearby holly; chickadees sing among towering pines.

Winter isn’t empty, you remember. Nor is it quiet. It simply offers space for deeper listening.

Light of Arthur

Days are getting shorter. On December 21, the winter solstice marks the shortest day — and longest night — of the year.

Ancient cultures birthed countless myths and legends about the solstice. Scots attributed the darkening days to a giant hag-goddess named Cailleach, queen of winter. Finnish myth tells of a shape-shifting witch who steals the sun and moon. Nordic people called the solstice “Mother’s Night,” believing that their goddesses gave birth at the season’s darkest hour to offer more light.

In Druidic tradition, the Wheel of the Year now revolves to Alban Arthan, a winter solstice festival that celebrates the light of King Arthur, symbolically reborn as the Mabon (sun child).

This much is true: From darkness comes light. May we trust the grand unfolding, honoring the journey from winter to spring again and again.  OH

In a way Winter is the real Spring — the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.       — Edna O’Brien

River in the Sky

The winter sky is a stargazer’s dream. These crystalline nights, don’t let the cold air stop you from getting intimate with Orion and company.

Among the best-seen constellations this month — Aries (the ram), Triangulum (the triangle), Fornax (the furnace), Horologium (the clock) and Perseus — is a vast celestial river that begins at the footstool of the Hunter and meanders down, down, down to the southern horizon and Achernar, the constellation’s brightest star.

Among the 48 original constellations catalogued by Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, Eridanus requires a dark sky. It may be faint, but if you’re able to spot this massive star cluster — home to the so-called Eridanus supervoid and the Witch Head Nebula — surely you won’t regret the extra effort.

Almanac October 2023

Almanac October 2023

October dares you not to look away.

These early days of autumn, deciduous trees edging toward full glory, you wouldn’t dream of it. Brisk mornings enliven your senses. You can nearly taste the crispness through your skin.

As golden light alchemizes a brightly colored skyline, yellow becomes more than yellow; red, sharper and truer; orange, otherworldly so.

The merging of light and leaves mesmerizes you. There is nothing soft about this symphony of color. Nothing subtle. The dance is as stunning as molten gold.

Trees become torches. Foliage laps against cerulean skies like ravenous flames licking silent blue heavens. This amalgam of color transforms your very being. You feel both awestruck and emboldened. Ancient and brand new.

Suddenly, a gust of wind sends a wave of leaves swirling earthward. Another gust follows, releasing howling, coppery flurries.

The wind goes rogue.

Wave after furious wave, the leaves descend with reckless abandon. As starling murmurations flash across a brilliant sky, the fleeting beauty makes you ache.

The paradox is arresting: The season has reached its full potential, and there’s nothing to do but watch it make a raging, riotous exit. 

Do not look away, you tell yourself. A shock of crimson shakes from open branches. Do not miss one glorious moment.

October commands your faithful presence. As the trees free themselves of all adornment, you soften to their naked truth. This, too, shall pass

Hold tenderly this precious knowing — this visceral aliveness — and, in the next breath, let it go.

 

There is a far sweet song in autumn

That catches at my throat,

I hear it in each falling leaf

And in each wild bird’s note . . .   

 — George Elliston,
“Mine Own” (1927)

Birds of Autumn

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers arrive; ruby-throated hummingbirds depart for warmer climes. Birds come and birds go.

This month, as nature dazzles us with her warm and glorious hues, keep watch for white-throated sparrows, pine siskins and yellow-rumped warblers — winter residents whose songs are as distinctive as their field marks.

Oh, Sweet Canada, Canada, sparrows whistle.

Warblers perform their soft, slow trills. 

Pine siskins stun us with their harsh and wheezy zreeeeeeet.

Winter is nigh, the birds seem to say.

In other words: Enjoy the show. 

Flower of the Dead

Nothing says autumn like a field of fiery marigolds. Or a tidy garland of them. 

Although October’s vibrant birth flower has long been associated with grief and loss, its uses have been — and continue to be — vast. Because their sunny orange and yellow hues are believed to dispel negativity — and to help guide wandering spirits to altars for the dead — marigold garlands are commonly used in religious ceremonies in Asia, Latin America and Mexico.

They’re also a choice natural dye, companion plant and, depending on the variety, edible flower. Bust out a batch of marigold-and-saffron shortbread this season and see if you ever crave pumpkin spice again.  OH

Almanac September 2023

Almanac September 2023

September is the last stand of sunflowers — thick with bumbles and honeys — wistfully facing east.

Sown in the softest days of summer, when early berries fairly tumbled from their vines, the seeds of these yellow giants held more than plumule and root. They held the glory of summer, a timeless cure-all, the warmth and likeness of the sun.

Weeks after their shoots burst through fertile earth, the sunflowers whispered patience. Ever reaching toward the light, their stalks grew tall and sturdy; their rough leaves wide as open palms. Soon, the buds emerged — tidy cinch purses as splendid as stars — holding their treasures tight.

Summer burst in all directions. Cicadas emerged screaming. Queen Anne laced meadows and roadsides. Thistle and clover reigned supreme.

Butterflies teetered on purple coneflowers, feasted on milkweed, drifted among sage, sedum and hibiscus.

At last, when early giants withered on their fibrous stalks, the luminous beauties unfurled.

Summer fades. And yet, the last wave of sunflowers beams.

Here now, they sing.

The bees know, sharing communion at their golden centers. Whirling in ecstasy. Humming an ancient prayer for grace.

We know, too. We hold tight to summer — let it transform us — then wistfully look toward the autumn sun.

 

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.   — Lao Tzu

 

The Thick of It

Muscadine season is here at last.

Hypnotically sweet, this native grape thrives in the sticky heat of our Southeastern states, ripening from late August through early October. Ranging in color from greenish bronze (we call them scuppernongs) to deep purple, this thick-skinned whopper (Vitis rotundifolia) is the official fruit of North Carolina.

Muscadine wine. Muscadine jelly. Muscadine grape hull pie.

For some, muscadines by the handful take the cake.

According to the State Library of North Carolina’s online encyclopedia, early English explorers of the Outer Banks reported that this fruiting vine “covered every shrub and climbed the tops of high cedars.” This was 1584. Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano wrote about the curious “white” grape some 60 years prior.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the half-acre “Mother Vine” in Manteo, now over 400 years old? Planted by Croatan Native Americans or, perhaps, settlers of the Lost Colony, this legendary scuppernong is the oldest known cultivated grape vine in the country. It’s aging, no doubt, like a fine, sweet wine. 

 

Crisscross Equinox

Apples blush. Whippoorwill sings his final song. Things end and things begin.

The autumnal equinox occurs on Saturday, September 23. As the turn of the season graces us with equal amounts of day and night, we prepare for the final harvest. We celebrate the abundance here now, soak up the remnants of summer, and ready ourselves for the darkening days.  OH