It's the dog days of summer, those days when it's so hot out that you stay inside, barely moving in front of the air conditioner or a fan with a bowl full of ice between it and you, sipping anything liquid and cold. It's ironic that we are as housebound now as we were six months ago, when we were begging for this heat while the snow was three feet deep, the wind took our breath away with its bitter edge, and the furnace never stopped trying in vain to warm our rooms.
For me, the greatest bane in this miserable heat is the temporary ceasing of my rambles in the woods.
On the edge of the city limits, but still surrounded by homes and businesses, is a gem called the nature center. I've been fortunate to spend nearly all my life within a few miles of these acres a local woman once had the foresight to set aside and protect.
As a kid, I spent many hours here, learning how to tell an oak from a maple, a mayapple from a trillium. I've walked on frozen creeks in winter, greening paths in spring, shady trails in early summer. My ears have reveled in that "snish, snish, snish" my feet made when plowing through fallen leaves in autumn, while my eyes took in all the glorious red and gold that paints a midwest autumn.
As a mother, I've enjoyed many hours with my littles, watching the creek, so full in spring with melted snow, wane to a trickle in summer's heat. We've sat on the footbridge, letting dragonflies kiss our toes. We've watched the tadpoles hatch, swim, grow; tracked the prints of many animals; listened to a dozen different bird songs at the same time. The first day over 40F, we're out there in boots, looking for every sign of winter's end. When sugarbush starts, we heave a sigh of relief knowing spring can't be far off; meanwhile, we appease our longing with the sweet amber syrup and maple sugar candies. We celebrate the first blooms of snowdrops and green shoots of ferns and rampion, followed by toad lilies, bloodwort, mayapples, and trilliums.
The apple trees at the homestead burst out in a beautiful show of pink blooms that mends a soul bruised by a too-long winter.
We've been startled by snakes, laughing at each other's reaction. My ever-in-action bunch can stop all movement to watch squirrels stockpiling nuts and woodpeckers pursuing their quarry.
We begin each visit by greeting the turkey vultures who come to us when we say hello, imitating the owls, watching the bobcat pace or sleep.
We walk through woodland along a meandering creek; at the bridge, we drop in leaves on one side then wait to see them emerge again on the other. We walk through a birch grove that, in October, displays brilliant yellow leaves against a sky of that particular luminous blue one only sees that time of year.
We reach the marsh that shrinks each summer as plant life takes advantage of its evaporating water, creeping ever farther inward upon the pond. We watch the ducks and listen to the drone of dragonflies and peeps of frogs. We cross into the wide meadow filled with scrub, wildflowers, geese and one aged, sprawling tree. We pause on the green to run and play tag, and try our balance on the large felled log before taking the high ridge to the farm on the far boundaries where we will watch the wind play with the windmill and mark the progress of the crops.
From there, an old forest with great, gnarled trees opens into tall-grass meadows. We return through a pine grove to the woods and creek, cross the bridge again, climb the hill, and check on the turtles and the frog pond before heading home.
In September, they'll all be in school. It's been nine years since I haven't had a child at home to accompany me on my afternoon rambles. I can't begin to think of walking those trails without someone to exclaim over discoveries with. No girls squealing about bugs. No boy digging in the dirt or stalking snakes. I will have to wait until evening and make the rambles shorter as twilight comes earlier and earlier.
It's not so far away, September.
Perhaps we'd better brave the heat and get in those rambles while we may.