Last year, I wrote lots of posts defending summer against the encroachment of fall. The theme continued for the next few months as I defended winter against not winter, then tried coaxing spring after I’d finally had enough of winter’s lame excuses.
I didn’t count them, but I’m pretty sure that adds up to a lot of words about the seasons. Makes me feel a little lazy for aiming at such an easy target all the time.
It’s a little more complicated to make the season a supporting character in the story, now that I’ve started keeping track (in a haphazard way) of what I’ve seen and heard. Seasons make it hard to live in the moment. For example, I have sneakily inserted photos of mushrooms into this post while you weren’t looking. You were probably reading along, thinking “Nice pictures, but what’s the point?” Meanwhile, I just remembered this post from last year. Mushrooms in August are a Thing. And now, every August I’ll have lots of mushroom pictures I’ll have no idea how to use, because two August mushroom posts is already enough.
(I have a feeling it’s really hard to walk slowly enough to stick with a girl photographing fungi. It’s probably pretty boring. I wouldn’t know, though. I’m always the one doing the snooping. But, if you do, you might make some small discoveries, like solving the mystery of who eats the mushrooms.)
There’s nothing cosmic or circle-of-life-y for me to say here, just the acknowledgment that I’m not likely to stop talking about the seasons as long as I’m out in them. Instead, I’ll start taking suggestions for something else to talk about next August.
Also, I haven’t learned a thing about mushrooms since last year, and can’t tell you anything about these specimens (evident from my Disney style photo titles). But my birthday is coming soon, and I’ve had my eyes on this. If the birthday fairy comes through, I promise I’ll put it to good use. Next August.
A few species of terns, some smaller than robins, spend the summer jaunting through our airspace on razor wings, flapping jerkily across the waves as if operated by springs and sprockets. They look down into the water every few wing beats, and then raise their eyes to watch for high-flying predators. Once a tern spots a silver flash of scales, it climbs into a fluttering hover, ascending sometimes more than twenty feet above the waves to power its dive with gravity. Then it folds its wings, tilts nose-down almost in slow motion, and streaks into the water, dotting the exclamation point of its fall with a splash tiny enough to make Olympic divers weep.
Almost before the splash settles, the tern hauls itself out of the water with wing strokes that seem too labored for such a light bird. Sometimes it carries a sliver of fish in its bill. If so, the bird aims for shore to feed its camouflaged chick in the dune. If fishless, the bird leans back to sea, to continue its survey beating back and forth across the waves.
I’ve marked every summer since I’ve lived on Long Island by the arrival of the terns. They show up suddenly in May, and punctuate the season with their dives and calls, and also their strafing attacks if I wander too close to their beach-side nests.
After getting home from a trip last week, Joe and I decided it was a beach night for us. We had only been home for as many hours as it had taken us to drive back from the lovely state of North Carolina, but it was still vacation. We unpacked, and bought groceries. We had some precious hours left with no responsibilities before vacation was formally over.
The Outer Banks, where we had been visiting family, is lovely and wonderful, but I had missed our beach. We pulled out dry bathing suits and rode down to the ocean to reassure ourselves that the North Atlantic is as cold as we remembered. But while we were away, the slack tide of summer turned. We crossed the bridge to find the first waves of the next season already rising into the year.
Long Island is too cold for North Carolina’s ghost crabs and Portuguese Man O’ War jellies. Our dunes are too inhospitable in the winter for the lush, wind-tortured live oaks I’d fallen in love with. And, I realized, Long Island waters would soon be too cold for some of our summer guests – literal snow birds who breed here and leave before the fecundity of our summer waters stalls out around the autumn equinox.
That night on the our home beach, my ears missed the ragged, questioning creaks that cement the impression that terns are wind-up toys in need of a little oil. The terns had left for a warmer ocean. In their place, flocks of sandpipers, fresh from their breeding grounds in the Arctic, skittered all over the beach. The sandpipers are about the same size as the terns, and give the same toy-like impression as they chase the waves on toothpick legs and prod the sand with their tiny bills.
Most of the sandpipers won’t pause long on these Long Island shores. They have to push on, with miles to cover before they can rest. Some of them may stop over on the beaches I just left in North Carolina, carrying Long Island sand in their toes.
It’s crazy to me to think that in the time I can drive a few hundred effortless highway miles, birds that weigh less than my hairballs are starting epic migrations that I would never be able to complete by foot. My island is connected to another island 650 miles away, and to others even further south and north, by little feathered things who pause here and there based on instincts older than history. Before I count the last days of summer, they will fly to the next waypoint. I’ll be here, storing up the sunshine that still sparkles off the waves.