As far back as I can remember, my summers end with the beginning of school in late summer, although at college and the university eons ago the semester began in September, not the middle of one-hundred degree temperatures in August, a month christened: harvest month (Finnish), month of leaves (Japanese) or month of the sickle (Polish). August still blows hot and the cumulus clouds don’t always come together during the day for a thundershower in Texas. These days, my summer’s end comes when the bugle sounds, “Faculty Assembly,” and I file in with other professors for another encounter with young men and women who must always be reminded that getting an education is beyond, way beyond, getting a job. And, frankly, by December, they know the difference. ‘Tis a seasonal thing, I say.
When does summer officially end? Oh, gosh, no, here comes a science lesson: Summer is calculated as ending when “the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.” This equality of the northern and southern hemisphere angle or tilt towards the Sun occurs twice, about March 21, September 22. Enough of the astronomical parsing, just what is going on with my summer’s end, prematurely a month before its true shutoff?
Like the medieval image above, I lay down my sickle and pick up the history survey text of the United States and lecture. No more harvesting here, I throw fertilizer and facts at students and hope the plants thrive. I feel unnatural to put my farm tools down before summer ends. What will happen when I am in the classroom and it has rained and the fields need cultivation? The plow follows the rain, as every farmer knows. Will things be okay without my studied interference? I think so. The fields manage quite well without my disc, chisel or shredder. (I still have areas I cultivated five-years ago that remain dormant mainly because I interfered. No more of that!) I’ll catch up another day on interfering.
What I will miss most is arising at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:00 a.m. sitting out in the dark or early morning light and logging the sights, sounds and smells of the coming day, scribbling fast on my steno pad, nine to ten lines a steno page in the dark so as to keep up with the ending of night, the beginning of the day in American West. Drought has a scent: dusty, dry wood, a tad smoky, bog water, leather that needs oiling, mesquite bean, burnt stone. I should like next summer to rise early again, take notes in the dark, drink coffee and look for orioles as the rosy fingers of Dawn emerge before my summer’s end. ‘Tis a seasonal thing, to be sure.
Notes, corrections and additions:
Orioles are uncommon in west Texas. I have only seen two in my life: one when I was ten, then day before yesterday, I saw another oriole, brilliant in color against the green mesquite. It flew with a rhythm like a runner jumping hurdles.
Here is a painting that depicts Everyman and their summer’s, life’s end:
This painting comes from the blog: http://damnthefreshman15.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/summers-end/