First rain Sunday night. September and maybe October will still have hot, dry days of Indian summer, at least our western version where the seasons are more about wet/dry periods than hot/cold temperatures. There have been subtle signs of the end of summer, but as with most changes, we don't recognize them until they are well underway. Some evenings are cool and the bare skies have occasional cloud visitors.
Most of these preliminary signs are plants throwing in the towel after a 4-month stretch of dry weather. In rocky and sunny places, the poison oak leaves are turning bright red and dropping. In shadier spots, they take on soft pinks and yellows. Soon, the canyons will sport deep red gashes where poison oak grows in its bush form. Be ever careful around poison oak. Even without the leaves-of-three, the urushiol oil is still present on the stems and can give you a rash if you brush up against them, particularly if you break a stem and the milky sap touches your skin. Identify leafless poison oak plants by the short stubby side branches that are arranged opposite of each other. Also, by the evil glow that always surrounds it.
The oaks are starting to drop their acorns, and the deer gather under the productive trees even in the daytime to snack. This first drop is of the punky acorns - infested with bugs or otherwise undersized. The trees throw them off while they pour their summer juice into the good acorns still fattening on the branches.
--- Dot 1 and Dot 2 - their coats are fading in step with the annual grasses. ---
The deer have a restlessness and are shifting their daily patterns, whether from the start of hunting season or the upcoming rut. This year's fawns are losing their spots and the shyness that previously sent them springing away at any new sound.
--- This yearling buck creeps out of the willow thicket for a quick drink at dusk and dawn and is probably Button. He no longer associates with his doe, Bump. She may be the single doe who has now taken up residence in the shade of the oak trees above the house. ---
The young fawns will stay with the does, but year-old bucks are now by themselves and in deep hiding. Their small antlers set them apart from their original doe-led family, but are too puny to stand up to the mature bucks.
Even the redwood trees have a special color this time of year. Small clusters of yellow and brown leaves stand out among the green boughs. Evergreen trees have to replace their leaves now and then. This happens gradually throughout the year, but most evergreen species also have a period when many of the older leaves are shed to make room for fresh leaves.
It is also the season of bugs. Crickets take over the night sounds. Huge dragonflies patrol the ponds and nearby grasslands. During the day, small flies annoyingly hover around your eyes and I often first spot a fawn by its constantly flicking tail.
I get wistful at the end of summer. Did I do everything I wanted to do this summer? During the long days of outside work, did I pause often enough to allow the colors, sounds and smells of the breeding season to enter my consciousness? I regret not finding the time to write about wildflowers, raptor flight, and lizards, but I can store those observations away for comparison next year. Will I see another summer? As I turn to face the fall, I look over my shoulder and cast a wish to be a student of summer again.