This week, without fanfare, summer slipped quietly into fall. Judging by the weather, though, it’s hard to be sure. September so far has felt like a leisurely extension of our balmy summer. Though I worry about the implications of this warming trend, I admit I’m not missing the garden-killing frosts or sharp-edged evening temperatures I associate with the onset of autumn in Maine.
But even without consulting a calendar, there’s no doubt that the season has changed. Here are a few ways I can tell.
Drivewayhenge At about 6:30 Thursday morning, the sun rose directly at the end of our long, straight driveway. If there weren’t so many leaves still on the trees across the road, it would have shot its celestial first light right up the hill to the turnaround in the dooryard. This excellent phenomenon happens approximately once each spring and each fall, pretty much coinciding with the dates of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. An observant friend aptly named it “Drivewayhenge,” conferring a bit of mystery and no small amount of self-importance on our otherwise unassuming New England farmhouse.
This year, the autumnal equinox — the moment at which the plane of the earth’s equator passed through the center of the sun — occurred at 10:21 a.m. on Thursday, officially moving us from summer into fall.
2016 Summer Swim Challenge Every single day since the summer solstice occurred on June 20, Douglas and I have taken at least a short swim in natural water — full immersion, no artificial pools. This annual “summer swim challenge” is a small and somewhat pointless goal we set for ourselves, in company with a small cadre of friends and relations. Hard to say just why it pleases us so, but it does.
This year has been pretty easy, what with long stretches of warm days and little rain. The challenge comes in when the weather is bad or the tide in the Penobscot River is way out on the clam flats or we have competing priorities or we just don’t feel like pulling on our still-damp swimsuits and getting wet again. The daily swim must still take place or we lose our “perfect” status in the challenge. The 2016 SSC encompassed 95 consecutive days, if you include the days of the solstice and the equinox, when summer officially started and ended. Yes, we’re perfect! Also, we’re done.
Last Mowing Our property here in Sandy Point spans about two acres, half in grassy lawn around the house and half in the wildflower-and-blueberry lower field beside the road, connected by a sharp slope of milkweed, goldenrod and thistle.
At the height of the summer, we mow the lawn at least weekly, usually at dusk, grateful for the bright green garden tractor that makes pleasant and fragrant work of it. We usually cut the lower field back three times during the summer season, a bumpy business we undertake with mixed feelings — reluctant to mow down the changing display of buttercups, daisies, paintbrush and red clover but aware that, untended, it would take no time at all for alder, poplar and other woody invaders to move in.
This weekend, I’ll take a last pass at both the lawn and the lower field. And late last week, our neighbor Nick showed up with his big tractor to bushhog the milkweed slope in steep, symmetrical swaths — another sure sign that summer is over.
Common Ground Country Fair This fabulous annual celebration of rural life and agricultural traditions started in 1977 in Litchfield. I was there in my Birkenstocks and India-print skirt, selling regrettable sandwiches of plain hummus and bean sprouts in pita pockets out of a splintery plywood booth for a hefty buck and a half apiece.
Forty years later, this phenomenally popular event is a sprawling, tightly managed affair in Unity that features high-end crafts, traditional music, hands-on workshops, informative talks, political-action tents and the prettiest, cleanest, friendliest livestock on display anywhere in Maine. Oh, yes, and an outstanding selection of locally sourced, organically grown fair-food options ranging from spicy Indian lamb kebabs to soothing Down East clam chowder, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices and, I’ll wager, not a lowly pita-hummus pocket to be found.
The fair takes place this weekend in Unity. Never been? Here’s a short video to pique your interest.
Despite its many allures, these days I find Common Ground both overwhelming and predictable, not to mention expensive and a bit of a production to get to. I’ve skipped it altogether a few years without incurring any lasting feelings of guilt or regret.
But since my lettercutter husband, Douglas, to whom I’ve been married for just over a year, and his daughter and business partner, Sigrid, have a display there, I find my interest and tolerance renewed. I’ll probably head over early Sunday morning, before the hordes arrive, have a visit with the draft horses, learn about healing with bee products, practice my shape-note singing, do some holiday shopping and take Douglas out for lunch.
Maybe I’ll see you there?
Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com