My summer’s end

Medieval depiction of the four seasons, peasant perspective.

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:

Summer's end.

This painting comes from the blog:



Filed under Birds, Life in Balance

18 responses to “My summer’s end

  1. Kittie Howard

    When I was a kid, Blue Plate mayonnaise had a small plant near our small town. For 364 days of the year, I didn’t know it was there, a small plant that provided a few jobs, but didn’t otherwise interact – except for one day of the year – always in August – I’d be sitting on the stoop and would suddenly smell a certain scent (I hadn’t smelled during the year) that combined with an afternoon breeze in a certain way that said summer had ended and winter was coming.

    Your posts are so insightful, have such depth…thank you, Jack!

    • Kittie, you do know how to bring up those scents of the Old South. Mayonnaise! Yes, there is a certain collusion of smells, sights, sounds even, that signal the change of one season to another. I get the notice for Faculty Assembly in the mail the last of July! You would think they could wait awhile. What would be the scent you smelled exactly or close to what it was? Kittie, I hope you are feeling better.

  2. A wonderful recollection Jack. And it is true, now you sow a different kind of seed, one that will hopefully reap great produce!

    Doesn’t summer last until about November first in Texas (or at least by northern standards). It was hot and humid here today. Seventy-eight degrees, well the humid part was accurate!

    • Thank you, Bill, with sowing new seed. Hopefully good, new, rational produce! By the standards of heat, etc., yes, about November, really late October, the fall begins in these parts. 78 degrees? I don’t want to hear about it! Thanks, Bill, for your comment. I look forward to your posts — always.

  3. Pretty nice tribute you did there, Jack! I too know the rhythm of going back to teaching after summer. Though I’ve been getting up earlier and managing to putter around some each morning. Change is so constant: get used to something and it manages to go away.

    • Cirrelda: Yes, it goes away. I have been at the office everyday this week and have not even been to the far field for a look-see. That’s on my list for this weekend. You probably start back to school on Monday.

  4. Though I’ve been away from it for what seems like a century, it seems to early for school to begin. For sure, even though our mornings are getting a little crisp already, I am not yet ready for summer to end.

    • It is too early for school. Too early. Your mornings are getting crisp! Wow! I hope summer does not end for you soon. I love those crisp mornings. “Crisp” is just the right word.

  5. Hej Jack, a lovely post, thank you. It’s too early for the summer to end in August IMO. Our school days started each year in the first week of August, , and they still do in the Danish schools, but we had had 6 weeks of vacation, and our parents were probably glad that we were now occupied at school again. (Universities start September, but I think you know).

    All my school holidays and lots of week-ends though were spent out in the country by my grandmother and my mother’s family, and I had the most lovely holidays in my childhood, which gave me a ballast I have first been aware of much later. When you describe the life in Texas, then I remember my days in the country. It was not like in Texas of course, but you know what I mean. Maybe in other things, the summer and the sunny days .The scents of summer. The contact with the animals. I was not yet allergic then, and I was kissing the calves and giving the pigs some extra food and riding the horses and so on…… When it was harvest just before August, I was sitting very proud on top of the hay waggon. They used horses then!! It was in the beginning of the war. No, Jack not the first world war, but WWII (!!).

    I enjoyed your post. Next summer is not so far away.

    I still hope for an Indian Summer here. It is raining more than for many, many years, and people are fighting with water in their cellars But there is a promise that we’ll have sun in this week-end, so I long for getting out in the sun and out in the countryside. I don’t go to school anymore , not even any course of any kind! I’m a free bird now in my old age! These rainy days I re-read old crime stories. ´)

    Have a nice week-end!
    Grethe ´)

    • Grethe: Thank you for such a informative, personal comment. Yes, holidays with grandparents took us back into another era of adaptation, that being agricultural, not service or industrial. I had uncles and grandparents close to the soil and my mother and step-father always had land, but my Uncle Floyd and Aunt Lennie gave me the run of their ranch. I too remember the hot summers and the hauling of hay in the late 1940s, 1950s. Those cumulus clouds in July, August, passed overhead, shielding us from the sun and were so welcome. And, you had horses to haul. Our traction was a very old Ford tractor. Sorry to hear you have more rain than is welcome, but perhaps the sun will shine soon. Good that you read when forced indoors and don’t chill out in front of the boob tube. Waste of time that television.

  6. I loved reading your post and adored reading what your readers posted as replies. very very uplifting (though i was not down). I live and work on the land. A little sustainable farm. I am the one with the coffee steaming in the dark morning listening for the decisions of the day itself. Checking by sounds where each animal is. But will EVERYONE STOP talking about summer ending.!! i am NOT READY! please c

    • Cecilia: Coffee steaming in the dark morning. I like those words. Yes, and checking sounds where animals are. They change location, don’t they? One morning I heard four packs of coyotes and three flocks of wild turkeys, but that was exceptional. Yes, living and working on the land with a sustainable outlook is so admirable, hard but rewarding.

  7. This is the first summer for a very long time that for me ended August 1. It is odd to me that school districts start school in August. It never was that way when I went to school. We started the middle of September when the mornings are cool and the afternoons warm and most the harvesting was done.

    In my previous life I could spend my mornings in the garden or on my bike or a foot down a trail. Now. I spend my mornings sitting at a computer responding to teachers/educators anxiously contacting me regarding field trip dates and seeking information about the status of their grant request and/or upcoming workshops. To me this sudden flurry feels more like spring with all it’s preparation activity. Fall should be the start of slowing, a comforting time like the minutes just before you fall asleep. In the world of education it’s spring, a hurried beginning.

    I loved your post Jack, but then I always do. Enjoy your mornings and your weekend wander. I look forward to your next post.

    • Annie: To me it is also odd that in August we must begin the semester. The starting in the middle of September had an “organic” rhythm to it, a kind of natural feel. Hard to say, but it was more in tune with natural rhythms, agricultural cycles. This week I am doing much the same as you: sitting in front of a computer, looking at Blackboard again and trying to figure out — for the 1,000th time — the switches and calendars for my online students. “Fall should be the start of slowing,” I agree. The trees do it, the grasses do it, why should we not? Yes, for education, it’s spring, as you write. I hope you can meander, however, in your garden and field as we begin the educational spring.

  8. The end of summer to me is the harvest of green chile, the smell as it is roasting , then ready for packing for the freezer for a long winter. Oh, yes, I know you remember that smell and taste!

  9. You’re right…August is too early for school. I love that you sit out in the early morning hours, writing in the dark. As for the Orioles… my neighbors have a family living in a bush on our property line here in CA…last year was the first time I recall seeing one here and was she/he ever gorgeous.

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