Alas, summer's claws are still painfully entrenched...but there is hope, even after a dreadful few weeks when the weather decided it had not yet given us enough of stifling, appallingly heavy air pulled like thick lint into the lungs and sizzling rays that touched skin with tongues of fire, and laid upon us temperatures in the 90s to torture us further. Now storms are drifting in from the south, flattening temperatures into the tedious 80s and adding humidity to the mix.
Sadly, the only two singular things about this summer have been that I discovered a traditional "Scotch thistle" plant, with its unique purple head, blooming at the side of the main road, and that I have seen more butterflies this year than I have seen in this neighborhood in ages: big yellow butterflies that skirt the tops of cars as they dash by, saffron daredevils with gossamer wings; medium-sized brown butterflies with their upper wings tipped in white as if they have been skimming cream from the tops of unpasteurized milk bottles; and small black butterflies who dart in and out of backyards and around heads, and zoom by the nose of an uncurious terrier. Indeed, Tucker is not into botany or entomology, as evidenced when I noted a virtual exodus of caterpillars from flanking rows of overgrown cedar bushes alongside a neighbor's driveway, determined black creatures with fetching red "racing stripes" setting off down the sidewalk as if on a mission, and he studiously ignored them to pee on a weed.
Still, a few weeks ago, while once again walking the dog, I was astonished to see fallen leaves out under one of the trees at the front of our subdivision. Tall chocolate-trunked trees with small elliptic leaves and peeling bark had left a carpet of crunching brown and green-flicked-with-yellow scattered upon the concrete sidewalk, banking up against the compact bushes at the foot of the trees, caught between their shiny, waxy green leaves. I picked up one leaf that was ruddy-speckled and practically breathed "autumn" to me, despite the constant drone of the cicadas. Checking overhead I could see that the two spindly oak trees out front were already showing signs of browning leaves and on the opposite side of the entrance, insect-speckled maple leaves dotted the ground under their tree trunks.
And suddenly, within a day of the appearance of the leaves, the constant rising-and-falling sough of the cicadas went silent. I trod early in the morning on my long walk to avoid the heat, skirting the sun as a vampire does, but they did not return, leaving the morning sounds to the intermittent songs of the birds and, more constantly, the fiddling of the crickets. There seem to be two kinds of crickets, one group that sings the regulation, rhythmic song of individual chirps that can be counted, the others with a sweeter, higher-pitched hum that make a constant song like a lullaby. One longs to open the window and doze to their siren sound, but it's still too smothery, too sticky, too summer.
Now I can't turn to the right or left without spying some sign of an autumn valiantly trying to arrive, like the trio of trees up at the corner that have already lost their leaves, as if they are declaring, "Look, it's time we got some sleep. I don't care what temperature the sun has made it!" Or an entire empty lot scattered broadside with tossing gilded heads of goldenrod bobbing in the backwash of car exhaust. The view out the dining room windows that shows new yellow leaves popping out every day on the tulip trees. The slim leaves of the dogwood trees turning rusty as if they were left out too long in the rain. The heady scent of mulching leaves slowly accumulating under the trees trying to outdo the odor of broiling asphalt at midday.
It's so close, it's so close I can almost taste it: gingerbread, hot chocolate, apple cider. Almost feel it: soft sweatshirts, cold breezers, wind that makes you feel alive. Almost see it: leaves of gold and tangerine and bronze and scarlet, bare branches of trees, bright blue sky that hurts the eyes.
Go away, summer. You've had your miserable stinking sizzle. Let us have our joy back. Please?