A typical Maine summer has four times, according to me. Ante: black flies, bluets, mosquitoes and dandelions. Early: hawkweed, buttercups, day lilies and dragonflies. Mid: Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, horseflies and deer flies. Late: turning sumac, spiders and northwest wind.

So let me say a few words since July and August, without fail, inspire a sort of cosmic impulse in me to reflect back the beauty carpeting the woods, fields and backyard. Just naming flowers seems to create little dharanis that transact with the wave-topped goldenrod, symmetries of cinquefoils, unearthly trefoils, St. John’s wort, cow vetch, crown vetch, dust-pink steeplebush and Pure-Lands-blue-rayed chicory. The buttonbush and yellow rocket, stitchwort, chickweed, and the bladder campion that took over a huge swath of driveway-side this year. The black-eyed Susans, oxeyes, honeysuckle and fleabane early, stitchwort, chickweed and milkweed. In July, the orange touch-me-nots, the wild madder, meadowsweet and greeny-yellow parsnip. The hemlock, valerian and Queen Anne’s hovering-moon umbels later, and New England, New York and bushy asters at last.

The color green: This summer from the get-go seemed more burgeonously verdant than usual, with maple branches overhanging the driveway that I thought I trimmed back last fall, and soon August will settle into that rich, black-shadow eye-vibration of impending autumn. It will smell like ripening acorns.

There have been this summer, though, unsettling anomalies. Most troubling was the absence of Canada geese on the backroad pond in Jackson, and a fleeting paucity of purple martins in the park. Where did they go this summer? July, it turned out, was the hottest month ever recorded in Maine, according to how many days I stayed in out of the sun and WCSH meteorologist Keith Carson. The catch the last few summers of record-breaking worldwide warmth has been that nighttime lows are bottoming out significantly higher than in the past, raising the average temperature in 24-hour periods. It was certainly true in my bed. There are also the heat wave in Alaska and the alarming amount of melt on Greenland’s glaciers in the past few weeks, which are technically not related to the beauty of Maine’s midsummer woods, but probably, in reality, are.

And there is this summer’s technically inexplicable phenomenon, for example, of early summer colliding with late summer. The lilacs and wild roses were two or three weeks late to blossom this year. The gaudy orange day lilies that grow like sunfire down the embankment behind the mailbox came late, too. Why? Usually they show glimpses of the coming conflagration by mid-June. This year they let July 1 go before they came out, and some of them are still burning, when, if I remember right, they should be going by or gone.

This is the disturbing part, because along with the late-lasting day lilies is early-turning staghorn sumac. Up and down Route 9, whole stands of them look as orange-red as September. They always go sooner than the rest, but how soon is soon? Meaning, as Bonnie observed last week, that early summer has somehow coalesced with late. Like a months-long sentence that somehow got garbled.

I don’t know. I suppose a reader will set me straight and say this has all happened before. But not on my watch. Which admittedly is always addled this time of year by the incredible inflorescent spell we weather here. Blackberry stars, chokecherry fingers early on. Then tansy, yellow goatsbeard, evening primrose, pineapple weed, purple loosestrife, purple nightshade, blue vervain like mandarava flowers hidden in the grass. White sweet, red and rabbit’s foot clovers, Joe-Pye weed, fireweed and medallions of yarrow. Soon will come the heal-all, eyebright, egg-yellow figwort, pearly everlasting’s little chewable oyster shell globes. And ever and anon the goldenrod like prayers bubbling out of the empyrean, one flower to rule them all.

Who knows what is happening. But I can’t stop pointing to the beauty. Put that in your carpet.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods,” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.


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