Recognizing the virtue of September’s silence

Listen. Did you hear it? If not, there’s still time. In a few short days, September’s most significant gift will be gone.

The changing leaves too often get all the attention, especially the gorgeous sugar maples. I have no argument with that whatsoever. September merely sets the stage for Nature’s colorful artwork.

Inexplicably, that wondrous, warming rainbow leaves leafy trails to this September virtuous quality. Can you guess what it is?

In the pondering, we uncover this gracious gift the world is too often too busy to unwrap. September’s silent specialty is all around us. Do you hear it? That rhetorical question is no joke.

Silence is golden as the saying goes, and from beginning to end that silence is never more so than in September. Listen again to see if you agree.

September gives us ample opportunity to embrace her unique child. Her silence never sleeps. She is as still as still can be 24-hours a day.

At every dawn, September’s stillness is broken not by the sun, but by humankind winding up for another day of work. Unnatural sounds break the silence and intrude upon our slumber.

The morning train whistles reverberate up and down the valley warning of its impending crossings. Even with the house windows closed, we can hear it from miles away.

Tires hum on the variegated macadam where country and city roadways meet. On occasion, sirens tell a tale of disrespect, distress, or disorder that further disturbs September’s sacredness.

With the initial rush over, my wife and I settle on the back porch for a simple breakfast. Too fascinated with the month’s hush, we seldom interrupt it or one another’s thoughts.

Thinking the coast is clear, mourning doves swoop in for morning refreshments at the birdbaths. One slight movement by either of us and the spell is broken. The ripple of wind that propels them to safety in the neighbor’s blue spruce tickles my neck.

A rabbit nibbles freely at the fibrous greenery. Its oversized eyes sparkle in the sunshine, its floppy ears twitch without disturbing the quietude.

We take up the same positions at lunchtime. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds squawk their arrival at the nearby feeder. Too much like humans, they spend more energy chasing each other away rather than learning to share the nourishing liquid nectar.

The leaves and needles of the neighborhood trees hang limp and still. Even if a slight afternoon breeze gently bounces them around, they remain faithful to the code of September silence. They hit the ground inaudibly.

Beneath those shady limbs, lawnmowers roar back and forth, back and forth. When the last blade is cut, the glorious silence returns. Does anyone hear it?

If not, the ubiquitous gangs of bellowing blue jays are sure to enforce it with their host of calls and cries. Their intentions are righteous; their methods are inadequate and contradictory, to say the least. Still, once gone, September’s silence is palpable.

Twilight may be the best time to catch a glimpse, a snippet, a pocketful of September’s hush. With the day’s work done and supper over, the last of the season’s crickets sing the silent song into the night.

Overhead, the Milky Way, dim as it is in the potentate sky, twinkles its approval of the welcome stillness. The day is done. Though many have tried sunup to sundown, September’s silence has thankfully prevailed.

Much like the rest of us, September’s days are numbered. Listen for her calming silence while there is still time.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Why September is the golden month

September in the Shenandoah Valley.

My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.

“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.

As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.

An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.

I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.

Turning.
Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.

On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.

A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.

Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.

Not the usual V-pattern.

On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.

The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.

On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.

In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?

September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.

Pumpkins galore.

I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.

Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.

Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

The sights and sounds of summer’s end

goldenrod, rural scene
A field of goldenrod.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I sat on our back porch enjoying a light lunch. A gentle breeze sifted through the backyard as monarch and skipper butterflies flitted about, buoyed by the day’s brightness and coaxed on by instincts humans have yet to understand fully.

The rhythmical hum of neighborhood lawnmowers joined in concert to drown out the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas and katydids. As if they were following instructions, the leaves of red maples and sugar maples were beginning to blush just a tinge of their real color hidden all spring and summer by the chlorophyll.

Try as it might, Daylight Savings Time can’t delay the inevitable. The sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, work their seasonal magic, triggering an unstoppable unfolding of goodness and allergies alike.

Even in the noontime heat and humidity, senior citizens and expectant mothers walk their dogs on the broad neighborhood streets. In some cases, it’s the other way around, leashes fully extended, human arms straining to keep control and still chat on their cell phones.

Dragonflies dart here and there, somehow avoiding being lunch for some hungry migrating birds. Black and turkey vultures circle overhead, letting the convection vortexes carry them higher and higher.

White and yellow Sulphur butterflies zigzag their way past my window as if imitating fallen leaves being blown through the yard. A few grasshoppers jump from one blade of grass to another in short flights like so many commuter planes.

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Summer’s full corn moon has come and gone in one cool weekend, a pleasant relief from the storms and heat. But come Monday, the late summer swoon returned, ushering in more warm and muggy weather all across the eastern United States.

So intense was the dreaded combination of atmospheric siblings heat and humidity, some schools mercifully canceled or dismissed early. Without air conditioning, students and staff swelter, unable to conduct the proper learning processes.

That weather, however, eventually ends. Sooner or later, September’s customary, soothing elements do return. Blue-sky days precede comfortable evenings followed by starry nights. Unless infiltrated by tropical storm remnants, thunderstorms come and go without catastrophic consequences.

That’s what makes September the jewel in fall’s seasonal crown. It quietly but most assuredly melds August’s stubborn temperament into October’s Technicolor Dreamcoat landscape.

Until the first killing frost, September is the pollinators’ paradise. Squadrons of bees, flies, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths follow the sweetness from fall bloom to fall bloom.

The mums’ warm colors have replaced the showy bubblegum petunias as the go-to domesticated floral display. Melons, gourds, pumpkins, and squash take center stage at produce stands. Thorny thistles and goldenrod populate the rural roadsides until they meet their sickled doom.

The furry critters must note the changes as well. The squirrels and chipmunks are bolder, more aggressive in their foraging, which is only appropriate. Their lives likely depend on the amount they stored if they can remember where they put their cache.

The morning and evening chatter at the backyard bird feeders is diminished to Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals, with the Carolina wren making an occasional soliloquy. Now and then the northern mockingbird will chip in a few bars, too.

Once the winter migrants show up in a month or so, that scenario will change. Until then, we’ll enjoy the spontaneous choruses of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas. We’ll joyfully anticipate autumn’s arrival while summer’s pleasantries still linger.

Baker WV, West Virginia
A late summer thunderstorm.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

August’s end means new beginnings

walk to school, Amish boys
Back to school. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.

My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.

A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.

A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.

blooming hydrangea
The hydrangea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.

The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.

Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.

American Goldfinch on sunflower
Eating fresh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.

The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.

People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”

I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.

oat shocks
Straw soldiers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.

I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.

fluffing hay, teddering hay
Teddering the hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.

August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.

We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.

It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?

August, sunset, Holmes Co. OH
August sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015