When I was a child, we loved to catch praying mantis. We would put them in a clear jar, punch holes in the top, catch other insects, and feed them to the mantis. Kids being kids, we were fascinated as we watched them devour their prey. Sadistic, I know. I cringe when I think about those bygone days of innocence and youthful mistakes.
While on a photoshoot with my grandson, we were thrilled when this praying mantis flew into the wildflowers beside us. The morning sunshine highlighted the setting. Had I not seen it land, we may not have discovered it at all given its effective camouflaged coloring. I could have stayed there longer just watching this incredible creature, but it was time to move on.
The mission was simple. I wanted to photograph a few of my wife’s beautiful flowers at their peak summer colors. I did and got so much more.
A Red Admiral butterfly sat upon the tallest coneflower. Just as I snapped the picture, a honey bee landed on a lower flower. It wasn’t until I downloaded the photos to my computer that I noticed the Platycheirus, a flower fly. It looks like it’s in a standoff with the bee.
My wife and I were walking along the sidewalks in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada last week when I spotted this beautiful day lily. I had to take a picture of the fiery colors of the flower, bursting like a star against the sea. I thought the contrast of the warm colors of the flower and its long, lush leaves and stem stunning.
It wasn’t until I downloaded the photo to my computer that I noticed the iridescent green fly, which is officially called a Long-legged Fly. It’s emerald glossiness perfectly complemented the leafy background of the photo. Despite all the beauty we saw all through the historic town, and at Niagara Falls, too, I chose this still life as my Photo of the Week. I hope you like the photo as well.
I have always thought of August as a transitional month, the days between busy, boisterous July and the revitalizing September.
August is the stepping-stone from summer’s onslaught of activities into a pre-fall mentality. Vacations wind down for most people. It’s back to school and back to work.
If we take time to halt our busyness, our clamor to re-ready ourselves for the new school year at hand, we can take note of this calendar bridge from tilling to harvest, from clamor to order. In its intermediary mode, August seems to quietly take it in stride.
The songbirds no longer need to announce their territory or impress their mate. The young have flown the coop, or more properly stated, the nest, and bird life has returned to seeking daily subsistence. The American Robin precisely models the point.
From April to July, the Robins paired off, warbled their luxurious choruses almost continuously sunup to sundown. They pecked on windows, noisily flitted off their nests when disturbed and faithfully fed their young.
The Robins were ubiquitous in both presence and song. People often comment when they see their first Robin of the spring.
Now, in late August, the Robins have all slyly retreated to their preferred nomenclature. They are more than content to while away the day searching for food deep in the recesses of the shade and forest.
Think about it. When was the last time you either heard or saw a robin? They simply and silently slipped away unnoticed.
If they haven’t already, other bird species will soon be disappearing from the area altogether. The Purple Martins, Barn Swallows and Common Nighthawks all heed their interior instinctive urgings and vanish unseen much like the Robin. We under-appreciate their massive consumption of insect protein until it’s too late to thank them.
Just as quietly, the multiple greens of fields and pastures have grown taller, richer. Chameleon-like, they have morphed into emeralds, tans and russets with hardly a rustle.
Farmers have taken in their wheat and most of their oats matter-of-factly, and now tolerantly wait the drying of the later cash crops, corn and soybeans. There is no mechanized clanking in patience.
The Song Sparrow still belts out an occasional composition, but nothing as regular as it had been earlier in the season. The House Wrens, once so noisy they approached annoyance, have taken to the underbrush, giving their last brood endurance lessons.
August’s atmosphere also has been quieter than the previous months, save for a couple of late night thunderstorms. The brilliant flashes and deep, rolling booms shattered my sleep like Civil War cannon fire might have. Midnight imaginations run wild when deafeningly jolted.
The few sounds of August we can count on are more monotonous and so commonplace we may not even notice their calls. Cicadas and crickets signal day and night. With windows thrown open to catch the unusual August twilight coolness, the insect symphony has helped humans settle in for sound sleeping.
Every now and then a ranging coyote howls from atop the neighbor’s pastured hill, if for no other reason than to drive the tethered neighborhood canines crazy. The feral call is one thing. The domesticated is another.
Now that school years in most locales begin well ahead of September, the playful echoes of children rollicking at recess again fill the air. It’s a timbre I love to hear over and over again, even if it does break August’s amazing silent spell.
With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.
Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.
The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.
The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.
In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.
Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.
In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.
In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.
Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.
The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.
Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.
Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.
Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.
There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.
The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.