August is the quiet month

August sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical August susnet in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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.

First Robin by Bruce Stambaugh
People often remark when they spot 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.

August harvest colors by Bruce Stambaugh
The colors of August change from day to day.

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.

Song Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
A Song Sparrow sings away.
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.
Amish school by Bruce Stambaugh

It’s no joke: April 1 used to be New Year’s Day

By Bruce Stambaugh

If there was one day I dreaded each school year of my three decades in education, it was April 1st, better known as April Fools Day.

The students, and even a few of the teachers, were merciless with their inane April Fools jokes. I was relieved if April 1st happened to fall on a weekend.

But five times out of seven, it did not. As teacher then principal, I was forced to endure the school-wide silliness. I gave a little more slack to the younger children who dared approach the principal to try to trick him. I did my best to play along.

I remember fondly their coy smiles with their giddy calls of “your shoe’s untied.” I always took the bait, waited for the giggles and moved on down the hall until the next juvenile ambush.

It was harder for me to tolerate the older students who tried unsuccessfully to be more sophisticated with their trickery. I didn’t have much patience with students who released the distracted teacher’s pet garter snake in the room or for those who put tacks on teachers’ seats.

I wondered who in the world ever invented such a silly day. After all these years, I decided to quit wondering and investigate.

My do diligence was a thorough if not speedy search on Google. The results didn’t really lead to any definite conclusions, other than to surmise that the antics of the crazy day likely got started way back when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. This major change, which had to make health care reform seem simple, revamped the annual calendar in the entire civilized world.

The King of France, Charles IX, instituted the switch in 1564. Foremost was beginning the New Year on January 1st instead of on April 1st. Problem was 16th century communications were not what they are today. Of course, given the state of the current Twittering world, that may have been a good thing.

Word of the calendar change took several months, even years, to make its way around Europe and beyond. Not surprisingly, there were those who resisted the change, and instead preferred to maintain the status quo, which included celebrating a new year beginning March 25 and culminating on April 1. Just imagine New Year’s Eve lasting eight days. Sounds a lot like Mardi Gras to me.

Those who refused to honor January 1 as the beginning of the New Year and instead continued to use the April 1 demarcation became known as April Fools for their obstinacy and resistance to change. As the lore goes, April 1 was dubbed April Fools Day for those who clung to their old ways.

Those poor fools, excuse the pun, who refused to accept the new calendar were sent off on ridiculous errands and were made the butt of practical jokes, like sticking signs on their backs that said “kick me.” It reminded me of those good old school days.

Perhaps because it took so long for the new calendar to be accepted, the practice of nonsense on April 1st became an annual event. The silliness gradually found its way to both the British and French colonies in America.

Apparently traditions, whether good or bad, die hard. Students have been pestering teachers and principals, and probably parents, ever since. With that in mind, you just might want to check your seat today before you sit down.