The moods of Mother Nature are easily changed by the seasons. Now at the end of summer, with Labor Day weekend set to begin, she spreads her warmth across the landscape and provides almost unlimited food to sustain the wildlife of the region.
The harshness of winter seems a million years away during the recent golden days of rodeos, county fairs and small-town festivals. They are the days when Mother Nature is warm, bathing her landscape in the brilliant green of an August morning. She can storm, of course, the rains pounding down as the black clouds swirl. Yet the storms usually pass quickly.
Summer in these parts, many will say, is too short a journey. Blink and it is over, and once again the warm long days are giving way to the chill of a coming fall — the Packers are already playing, and high school sports are underway. This is a great time of the year.
Yet many treasure summer and will look back fondly to when it all started around Memorial Day weekend.
Summer starts in June with the warmth of the sun as the temperatures soar and the days grow longer. The early days of summer are a time when plants seem to grow before your eyes, from the forest floor to corn field and backyard garden. And, of course, the first mosquitoes and flies begin to buzz and annoy about the same time.
A delicate goldfinch bathes in an early morning puddle, as not far away a red-winged blackbird rocks back and forth atop a cattail. A raccoon washes a meal in a small stream before eating it.
Afternoon might bring a rain shower, often followed by a brilliant, colorful rainbow. In an instant it is gone, but the landscape smells watery fresh.
Evening brings more clouds and gusty winds. A storm is coming, and soon the sky unleashes and the first huge drops begin to fall. Thunder rumbles, and jagged lightning slices across the now dark and turbulent skies. But the rain is also soothing as it settles into an all-night soaker, and many northern residents drift off to sleep to the hypnotic sounds of rain hitting the roof.
Summer is in full bloom by mid-June, and the first 90-degree temperatures of the season arrive. At the lake, a great blue heron waits patiently, then drives his long beak into the water and emerges with a crayfish. A red-eyed, white-spotted loon proudly rides her chick aboard her back as she sails across a lake in early morning.
The afternoon breeze shifts from warm to downright hot, and in the thick forest the black bear is pestered by relentless flies and ticks which attach themselves to her ears, draining blood and growing plump.
Nightfall arrives as the sun drops below the horizon and a single strip of intense orange remains in the sky.
July brings more heat, and sometimes it seems relentless. But Mother Nature still serves up special treats, perhaps in the form of a beautiful red wild rose, or maybe a wide-winged bald eagle catching a morning thermal and screaming across the sky.
Baby ruffed grouse follow their mothers single-file across back roads. The outdoors begins to smell musty at times as humidity hangs in the air. Wild strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are in bloom, and the still-green blackberries hang heavy on the bushes, giving promise for a harvest yet to come in perhaps a month.
These are the days of plenty, when deer get fat on nature’s bounty and their red coats shine against the backgrounds of green leaves and tall yellow prairie grasses.
The arrival of August brings more warm days. Bobcats, deer and black bears hide from the heat in the darkness of the forest. Wildlife waits out the heat, emerging to feed in the cooler night hours.
Blackberries hang heavy on their bushes, and wild birds eagerly eat them. Bears eat them also, starting to put on fat for the coming winter. In the twisted brush, an empty sparrow’s nest sits as a reminder of recently passed spring, the remains of two tiny eggshells littering its bottom.
August is melting away. Summer is short. A few nights ago it was too hot to sleep — now an extra blanket needs to be placed on the bed. September will blow in on a warm breeze, but by the end of the month there could be snowflakes in the air. Think about attending high school football games on Friday nights. Now we go in shorts and t-shirts. By the end of the season we’ll be wrapped in warm jackets and gloves.
As Labor Day weekend arrives we will see more and more change, some already visible in the sugar maples as oranges and yellows and reds begin to paint the leaves.
Canada geese will fly overhead in long v-shaped flocks as Mother Nature waves her hand and signals a flip of the calendar page.
In the back country the bull elk begins to bugle and the whitetail buck rubs his antlers, removing the velvet from them. The beaver will work long and hard to put in a good supply of food for the winter.
By the end of September the geese are flying over a rapidly changing landscape. The trees will be on fire with color, and on the forest floor ferns and underbrush begin to turn brown, die and crumble.
Those days, of course, still lie ahead. But don’t blink, or they will be here and we’ll be left wondering where summer went so quickly. As we look forward to Labor Day weekend, many are already wondering.
Thornley is the Spooner Advocate’s sports editor.