Sometime late in July, the quality of the sunlight changes. As the fields stand ready for harvest, as the fruit trees begin to dip and bow under ripening fruit, the days grow shorter and more golden.
Early March sunlight is sharp and clear, like beams filtered through a crystal glass. In April, the light acquires a crisp, greenish hue, consequence, no doubt, of the eruption into new life of all the trees and shrubs. In May and June, the sunlight is still mostly white, the shadows cast by it stark. It is this light, I believe, which has inspired the Scandinavian interior design. White walls, minimalistic furniture, more sharp lines than flowing curves, more monochrome than multihued. It is an unforgiving light, a light that is flattering to perfection, scarily denuding to everything else.
And then comes August, and the sun stands lower in the sky, the air is more humid, zillions upon zillions of minute dust particles from drying grasses float about, thereby tingeing the light into a golden glow. A precursor of autumn and short days, but as yet it is summer, the breeze carries the scents of sun-warmed earth, of ripening plums and blooming roses.
Yesterday, I lay in the grass and listened to the sound of my lupins popping their seeds. It’s like hearing a dry pea rustle through a stand of grass, and to properly hear it, you need quiet around you. Which I have, out here in the country, where at most one car per hour passes on the nearby road. It also helps if you have many lupins – and I am very lucky when it comes to that, having a HUGE meadow full of them. Anyway, lupins pop their seeds when they’re all wizened and ugly, a stalk covered with seed pods no more. Gone are the flowers of magical blue, and the generous, palmlike leaves are beginning to wilt. The plant is dying, but as it withers it is ensuring the next generation.
August is full of drying heads of flowers, of green colours shifting to golden yellow, to brown – a silent reminder that our lives are transitory and short. Sic transit Gloria Mundi, as they say. I pick an assortment of dried plants and arrange them in a pitcher – they’re beautiful even now, despite the fading colours, despite the brittleness of their stems.
I walk down to the lake, and the waters look more or less the same as they did before, but the sky overhead is of a different shade of blue, a softer hue than that of a June sky. The migratory birds are already preparing to leave, for the last few weeks the geese have been practising v-formation flights, and the adult ospreys have already taken off down south, leaving their chicks (adolescents by now: no wonder mama and papa bird say bye-bye and take off for some quality time on their own) to find their own way. The loons have been surprisingly active lately, starlings are beginning to collect in loud, squabbling groups, and only the tits and the sparrows hop around unconcerned – well, they’re not going anywhere anyway, so why fuss?
The trees rustle in the wind, and it seems to me the leaves rustle with a dryer sound, more papery than before. The birches and the beeches, the alders and the ashes, they’re still green – even if the green is somewhat dusty – but soon the leaves will explode into fireworks of colour, and the wooded borders of the lake will shine in reds and yellows, in rich browns and the odd, resistant green. But as yet, the trees are green, the shade they spread is a welcome escape from the August heat, and the sound the wind makes through the leaves is soothing, lulling me to sleep as I lazily swing in my hammock.
There is an element of melancholia to these last days of summer. In a matter of weeks, it will be too cold to wash in the lake. Sitting outside will require a warm fleece and a nice cup of tea cradled in your hands. A couple of months from now, and the trees will stand denuded, the present whispering symphony through their leaves silenced. And yet that’s the way things are. Without a winter, would we truly appreciate the coming of spring? After a hot, dusty summer, isn’t the freshness of autumn quite the relief? No autumn, no conkers, no maple leaves going wild and crazy. No winter, no frozen stands of old grass, no hoarfrost decorating the ground and the trees. No spring… well, then we would all die, I suspect. Bereft of sun and warmth, we wouldn’t survive.
August and the days start dwindling down. “For it’s a long, long while, from May to December. But the days grow short, when you reach September…” August, and the heat lies trapped along the ground. The waters of the lake lap invitingly at the shore, the yellowing reeds shiver in a gust of wind. I don’t have time to sit here anymore. I must go out, I must down to the lake and lie in the sun, let the golden sun warm my skin and the dipping birch whisper a lullaby, a song assuring me that there will be more springs, more summers.
“The days dwindle down, to a precious few…” Frankie boy croons in my head. I dip my hand in the lake and throw a handful of water into the air. It sparkles like diamonds in the late summer sun. It is still summer – a lovely,lovely summer.