Ah, the quiet (?) of a late-summer night – if you don’t consider the chatter of the katydids, the trill of the crickets, the yips of the coyote pups, the whirr of tree frogs, or the pattering baby raccoon feet on the deck as the little banditos make a midnight raid of the bird feeder.
So many sounds-sights-smells to savor in an Iowa summer . . .
OK, and a few things NOT to enjoy, too, such as temps in the high 90s and dew points in the 70s. But this too shall pass . . .
How about the pretty pink of the blossoms that lure the yellow swallowtail? No matter that the pretty pink sits atop a bushy field thistle. The butterflies and bumblebees and hummingbirds and goldfinches relish the plant that most of us consider a weed. Indeed, the goldfinches even delay their breeding until late summer to assure a supply of soft thistle down to line their nests.
In the deep woods, nettles may stand waist high, deterring the careless hiker. If you should brush against the tiny, syringe-like stickers on the nettles, look quickly for a patch of jewelweed, whose plant juices may ease the nettles’ sting. The jewelweed flowers – some yellow, some orangish, depending on the species – make the healing plant easier to find as the season wanes.
The not-so-subtle orange/yellow of the sulfur shelf fungus clinging to the oak stump practically glows against the background of the shady forest floor. “Edible when young,” the book says. Sure enough, an unknown critter has sampled a few bites.
Blue cohosh berries may look inviting, if you can find the little clusters among the green leaves. But don’t eat them! Although sometimes dried for use as a coffee substitute, the raw berries are irritating at best – and poisonous to some people.
Other colors also portend the changing of the season. The walnuts’ first yellow leaves appeared in early August. By the end of the month, garlands of red Virginia creepers accent the dead elms along the fencerow. The cottonwoods and boxelders are losing their dark-green hue, fading into a yellowish tint.
In the prairie, the goldenrods are bursting into bloom, as if to show the trees the REAL meaning of golden. A few patches of rough blazing-star add their dash of purple. The prairie grasses – big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, side-oats gramma – are turning color, too, in their own pastel way. Their dusky purples and blues and auburn will grow richer as autumn arrives.
In the late afternoon, a squadron of dragonflies swarms over the prairie – perhaps in pursuit of mosquitoes. Tree swallows and barn swallows join the aerial circus, darting and twisting after meals of unknown insects.
At dusk, the velvet-antlered little white-tail ventures out to browse at the edges of the woods. Migrating nighthawks swoop gracefully over the fields. And the katydid concert begins anew.