Good-bye, Summer?

I’m finishing up this post at mid-day on a November Sunday. Austin’s Formula One race seethes and screeches excitedly from the television. I’m having a hard time telling a coherent tale of the beginning of autumn.

At nine on this past Tuesday morning, this was the temperature outside the kitchen door. That’s as warm was it was expected to be until Thursday. Two days of arctic conditions! My hands immediately became cold and stubborn. Those endless polar nights would bring our first freezes of the season. I rifled through the coat closet in search of my gloves.

So I thought it would be comforting to just ramble on about the last of our summer colors.

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)
Bronze fennel for the caterpillars to eat
Chinese fringe plant (Loropetalum chinensis)

Growing up in New England, it seemed the seasons moved slowly into one another, a gentle segue. At the beach in late August, a string of oppressively humid, motionless days would usher in a huge thunderstorm that we’d watch from the picture window in our parents’ bedroom. Half thrilled, half terrified, we’d count the seconds between light flash and ka-boom. Did we ever really believe it was angels bowling?

The next day would be clear and cool, the sand coated with a sticky layer of itself. Take a step to break in, feel the soft white sand underneath, and bend to pick up trapezoids of the broken damp layer. Who could pick up the biggest piece without breaking? Thinking of memories like this remind me that I was a child once, with a child’s way of dallying over the slightest amazement in a world filled with amazements. No wonder it can be so trying to take people like that for a walk: every single thing encountered merits exploration.

Back in town right after Labor Day, we might have had a strand of warm days, but you’d still start the day in a sweatshirt. Afternoons might have stretched into an Indian summer, days of brilliant sunshine and trees in what Anne Sexton called “sourball colors.” (Can you believe that the spell checker doesn’t know what a sourball is?) The cold, it seemed, came gradually: one morning you needed a sweater. You needed a sweater for a few weeks. Then you needed a jacket. A couple of weeks later your warmest coat and mittens. You wouldn’t need leggings (!) for the bare-leg-freezing walk to school until January.

Gradual transition, that’s what I’m talking about.

But seasons don’t behave that way here in central Texas. You can walk into a building for class quite scantily clad, with a bead of sweat running down your back, and emerge ninety minutes later to find it’s thirty degrees colder with a humorless north wind. That’s why, on a day when frost has been predicted, it’s good to walk around and memorize all the colors that will soon be gone.

The butterflies and bees have been insanely busy this week. Not that they spend a whole lot of time “laying up with the dry cows,” as Floyd would say. The bees create a mild electric buzz in the air around all the salvia, seeming to prefer it above all else just now. At #1 Grandson’s Little League game yesterday, a honeybee searched me over and over for something promising to drink.

The colors of autumn are orange and yellow, bronze, and the shadowy reds dark as dried blood. Around the ‘hood, fall flowers and the transitional trees – half green, half red – make their ways in fits and starts toward the end of this long hot season.

A handful of little mums
Mutabilis roses
Stopping by en route to a milder winter
The best part of autumn and winter, as far as I’m concerned, is the return of the screech owl to her box in the live oak on the corner. She came back weeks later this year than last, and during that final weekend of waiting I was convinced she wouldn’t be back at all. Had it been her body I’d seen that afternoon beside the gravel path in the woods?  The thought of her absence was like the traumatic loss of something that had never really been mine. Neighbors told us they’d heard the screech owls trilling to one another in the evenings, but we hadn’t heard or seen a thing.
Then on the first cool Monday morning of the season, there she was. Now autumn could begin.

I should take full responsibility for the rough nature of this post, but I won’t. Here I am trying to tell a tale of autumn. We have leaves turning color and new flowers on the salvia. We enjoyed a fire in the fireplace several mornings this week. Three days ago my basil plants refused to take another step toward winter: I pulled their slimy frozen and defrosted bodies gently from the square-foot garden and sent them to the world of yard waste.

Here I was trying to make a case that in Texas seasons change as if shot from a gun: BAM! That abrupt. I got you feeling sorry for my poor stiff cold hands. Is it any wonder this post is all jagged? I am simply not writer enough to weave a smooth narrative with conditions like I face around here. A moment ago I stepped out the back door with my phone to take a picture of what I’m up against, just trying to tell a tale of autumn:

Obviously, no matter how faithfully I try to report on its arrival, autumn tells its own tale.

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