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September 2, 2013

MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say. Ironically, it seemed just too much work to start on another.

But, one thing that I have considered lately is how Labor Day marks the end of the real summer, some three weeks or so ahead of whatever the calendar says. Years ago, of course, we never went back to school until after Labor Day, and so it seemed more like fall by then. I miss that. Now, August has barely begun, and so has school with its lesson plans and assignments, and its early morning face-shaving and tooth-brushing and alarm clock grumbling.

In just the past few days, despite this late-arriving heat wave we’ve all panted through, I have seen signs that the summer is nearly spent; autumn and its cooler breezes can’t be far off. Already, I have watched leaves lazily drift out of my hackberry tree near the mouth of my drive, leaving a skimpy and noticeable smattering of crunchy yellow that is milled under the tires of our car. My wife and I have pinched our chrysanthemums’ buds back all summer long to keep them from blooming early, but now we see flashes of orange and crimson out of them, and this time, we are letting them go.

I have also noticed that many of the tall grasses — those that I have growing about my yard, and those that stand along the roadsides that have managed to elude the mowers and sprayers — are seeding themselves with heavy heads.

Despite the recent dry weeks and our want for a soaking rain, those stands of grass just do what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it.

Perhaps I am just anxious to drag out long-sleeved shirts and rakes and firewood, but it takes no special skill to find subtle signs of the inevitable. For instance, we’ve had a particularly vocal and abundant cricket population around our place all summer, but in recent weeks it has become an all-out assault on our home. Every night, we see them hopping from point to point in our garage, probing our defenses, attempting to send agents across the threshold of our entry door. Once inside, they drive us to distraction, chirping away in the early morning hours until, wild-haired and bleary-eyed, I find them, a shoe in hand. We ban our cat, Edgar, to the garage at night. He’s not only as big of a pest as the crickets — wafting his tuna-scented breath in our faces and claiming badly needed bed space — but because he is also an avid cricket killer and gourmand. Personally, I can’t think of many things more revolting to eat than a fat cricket; apparently it’s an acquired taste.

The ivies are turning red, too. I like to see that, something as stealthy and unnoticeable as they are all summer, suddenly burst into flames of color as they slow their creep up the trunks of trees and fence posts in late August. I have seen a hint of yellow in our sycamores and tulip poplars and ash trees, as well, and the black walnuts are already dispensing with their green-hulled loads. The squirrels are reaping a near-record harvest this year, and I have skated on more and more of their fruitless shells as I attempt to negotiate our hillsides with a mower.  

The first days of September also signal the end to the summer constellations. There won’t be anything in the sky this month as bright as Jupiter, and already the massive planet and the moon are courting in the early morning sky. We’ve begun to see the sun begin its twice-yearly run for the equator, too, depriving us a few minutes more of light each day. We have said goodbye to August’s meteor showers and with them the warm night air will soon be gone. Not long ago, we saw the much-heralded “blue moon,” which can be, among other things I am told, a second full moon inside of a month. We won’t see another until 2015.

Everywhere I go, from the nooks and crannies of our back porch doorway to my barn loft to the dewy morning grass, I am finding more and more spider webs. I understand that the main reason for this, although I don’t care for the whys when I’ve walked my big face through one, is that spiders sense the oncoming fall, so they expand their living quarters, get busier with mating, and store food. I imagine they’ll be allied with the crickets soon in an instinctual Operation Overlord on my garage in the next few weeks.

I walked my walk each evening last week, and I noted that this summer’s weeds are tired and haggard, that the corn is already rattling, and that nearly every butterfly I spotted had worn its wings ragged with its daily routine. The goldfinches have begun to peck away at the seed heads of our sunflowers, coneflowers and daisies, the drooped and faded gold and pink petals just another sign that a new season is coming along soon. Warm southern winds and toasted grass may be with us on and off through October; that is not unusual. But, it has not been a good summer for grasshoppers and tree frogs and honeybees, and the signs of change are undeniable, so be done with it.

There; I guess, this story wasn’t so much work after all.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. You can learn more about his writing and speaking by going to his website at His new book, “A Windy Hill Almanac,” will be released in October.

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