This has been a strange summer.
As I write this, there are three weeks left before the autumn equinox and the official start of Pumpkin Spice Season, and that’s one-fourth of summer’s allotted time still to come, but for some reason it feels like summer left the party early. Already, the flowers in the back garden are fading away. The locust tree in the front yard loses more leaves every time the wind blows. It’s dark when I take the dogs out in the morning, and yesterday I put on socks for the first time since May.
Or maybe summer never got here in the first place. I tend to measure the seasons by what’s happening in our yard. This year, the plants emerged weeks later than usual. Things bloomed for shorter periods than they generally do, and I found myself wondering what was going on. There were virtually no bees at all, and our bluebird nesting boxes had no visitors. This time last year I had taken in and raised 31 monarch butterfly caterpillars, releasing them in the yard once they transformed. This year, I haven’t seen a single one on the milkweed. Even more disheartening, I haven’t seen any of my beloved golden orb weaver spiders in the front garden, where normally they hang in their huge webs watching summer fade away.
Two weeks ago the UPS truck brought the annual jam and honey Advent calendar from Bonne Maman, which I get every year to celebrate the start of winter. When I opened it, I thought that surely it was much too early for it to arrive. But a few days later another truck brought a tin of mooncakes from Kee Wah bakery in Los Angeles, with which we’ll toast the mid-autumn moon festival. And today I might have picked up a couple of packages from the post office that contain new ornaments for the Yule tree.
In short, fall is looming. Today Cubby came home with a new flannel shirt. The grocery has Halloween candy out. And I’ve already had three inquiries into our Thanksgiving plans. Last weekend we might or might not have had the first of the year’s pumpkin spice lattes while running errands.
I’m not complaining. I love the upcoming seasons. My favorite holidays are on the horizon. Still, I keep wondering what happened to summer. Outside my office window is a patch of echinacea, planted for the butterflies that never came. Normally the purple blooms last through September. These are already dried. The goldfinches sit on them, eagerly plucking out the seeds as if winter is imminent.
For the past two years I’ve blamed the muddling of the seasons on the pandemic. Time really had no meaning, and days flowed by like a murky stream of storm water. It kind of feels like Hallowthanksmas was just last week, for instance. And my sense of time has been distorted anyway by ongoing memory issues related to having caught the virus twice.
Even so, this summer has passed quickly, yet without leaving behind any real sense of it having been here at all. Today, for instance, I took out the remains of the tomato patch I planted. I remember sprouting the seeds indoors while there was still snow on the ground. I remember picking the tomatoes. But everything in between is hazy. Also, how is it that I still have three bags of liatris bulbs that never got planted and yet today I received a shipping notification for the iris I ordered months ago from Holland to plant this fall?
Maybe this is a function of getting older. As a kid, of course, summer was delineated by the day one school year ended and the day the next began. I remember very clearly the summer morning on which I rode the commuter train into New York City for my first adult job. Looking out at the bright, warm day, I thought to myself, “Oh, you don’t get summers anymore.”
This was not entirely true, of course, but it did affect my perception of the season. Now, 30 years on, my perception has changed again. With both parents and one of my two sisters gone, I am more aware of time being a fleeting thing. Occasionally while working in the gardens I’ll wonder how many more planting seasons I’ll have, or how many more lazy outside days I’ll get with our dogs, both of whom turned 12 this summer.
Because of this, I try to enjoy each day for as long as I can, since who knows how many more there will be. And I confess that occasionally—not often, but with noticeably more regularity—I feel the dark coming on earlier and don’t find it as lovely as I have in the past. I sometimes wish the light would linger, that the flowers would last longer, that the leaves would not be in such a rush to fall.
My birthday is in October, and I have always been a fall person. I know that when the cool days arrive I’ll welcome them as friends and be happy to see them again. For the next three weeks, though, I’ll hold summer’s hand and feel its heat against my skin, hoping that a little bit of it will linger to carry me through the dark. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com