I have said a lot of bad things about New England weather. Winters here are too long, too cold and involve way too much snow removal. And all the other seasons are too short and too weird because of the winter bias. But there is a little slice of Autumn in the middle of October where if things happen just right there are some very cool things moving around in the yard.
For instance, we haven’t seen a water snake around the yard all year.
But here at the point where the water snakes will soon head underground for the winter one of them has taken to sunning himself in front of one of the gardens. He looks as if he’s been feeding extraordinarily well. I assume all the rain has resulted in a bumper crop of frogs and fish. He shows up in the afternoon and basks in the sun soaking up the heat he needs to metabolize the food in his stomach. The temperatures are predicted to start falling into the 30’s at night. That probably will send this snake underground for the winter.
And when all the other flowers in the yard are almost completely gone two flowers reach their peak in October.
Here’s the Montauk Daisies with two visitors a hover fly shows up for some pollen and nectar.
And a katydid gets to work devouring the leaves.
And the other flower I always look forward at this time of year is Wolfsbane. Also known as Monkshood, the appearance of it’s bright purple flowers tell me Halloween is right around the corner and time for me to dust off my classic monster movies and quickly finish up my fall yard work. Snow in late October is far from unheard of.
Here’s a salamander who was doing some fall foraging for his last meals.
And here are some interesting shots of milkweed seed pods.
I was disappointed not to have any candid shots of the local werewolf community. Perhaps next week.
This has been a goofy mixed up year for weather. The spring and early summer were extremely cool and delayed many plants by almost a month from their normal cycle of growth. For the most part this wasn’t too bad but one plant that blooms late in the summer is wolf’s bane. And as of today, the very last gasp of summer, the leaves on the plants are turning yellow and the flowers aren’t even buds yet, they’re bumps. What we have here is a foot race between flowers and frost. Last night it got down to 36°F. That is dangerously flirting with freezing. There are two more nights of near freezing temperatures coming up before a warm up is predicted. I don’t like my chances here. I need a miracle.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “What’s the big deal if some stupid plant doesn’t flower?” Well, that’s a fair question. I’ll try to explain.
The Calendar tracks the path of Earth as it performs its seemingly eternal dance with the Sun. And here at the Autumnal Equinox we mark the point where the northern latitudes lose their grip on the sun and slip into darkness. For millennia the inhabitants of the North have recognized this moment and celebrated it with various harvest festivals and religious myths like the Death of Tammuz or the Rape of Persephone. These solemn occasions were meant to memorialize the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest.
Nowadays most of us aren’t involved in farming and the advent of electric lights has lessened the impact of shorter days on our lives. But for some of us the end of summer is still an extremely meaningful time. As I have so often stated here on the site I am an avowed therophile (lover of summer) and the autumnal equinox is like a death knell for me. Like some primitive soul I atavistically search for a formula or spell to help me fight off the fear of darkness and believe that summer will reemerge on the other side of the sun all those months in the future. And for me the first step is to take the last gasp of summer, the blooming of the wolf’s bane flowers and tie that to the next great festival on my calendar, Halloween.
For Halloween begins for me with watching the classic Universal horror movies. And I always start with Dracula. Here we see Dracula square off against Dr. Van Helsing for possession of the soul of Mina Seward. And in this battle one of the prime weapons is a garland of wolf’s bane. Vampires hate it and all good vampire fighters carry it with them. And later on in the Universal series we will come to the Wolfman. Here we are told:
Even a man who’s pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolf’s bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright
And that is the link between summer and wolf’s bane and autumn and Halloween. And Halloween gets you to Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving gets you to Christmas. And Christmas has to get you to Easter and the beginning of spring. But it all starts with wolf’s bane. So wish me luck. If nature lets me down I’ll have to take drastic action and invoke the only other Summer/Halloween talisman I know of. I’ll have to have an early showing of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Bradbury’s story provides a direct link between summer and Halloween by way of the carnival theme. Carnivals are summer and end of summer events. But in the story we have a Halloween arrival of a dark carnival that is looking to ensnare souls. The battle between good and evil is to my mind the battle between summer and autumn. Between life and death. Okay, that’s the end of my raving.