Friday, August 5, 2011

The Cruelest Month

'April is the cruelest month': this, the opinion of T.S Eliot, the poet. 'You could look it up', like Annie in Bull Durham, so I did. This kind of cross cultural referencing has its pitfalls. Clearly T.S. Eliot was not a baseball fan or he would not have regarded April so poorly.

In that vein, I propose August as a test of persistence, mettle, perseverance, grit, fortitude and stamina. For the baseball fan, the flurry of promise surrounding the bloom of April and May has settled, leaving the have-nots at the bottom of the standings to trade off today's talent for tomorrow's prospects ("I love ya, tomorrow; you're only a day away.") Even teams in the hunt are battered, worn, and scrambling to find the key combination that will speed them through the doldrums of August into the clearer cooler air of post season October. By August, the fans know what's coming; how many players turn around their seasons halfway through? The Bay in San Francisco looks lovely on television; on the other hand, the Field Boxes in St. Louis can needle up near the century mark. The folks in the stands for a Sunday afternoon game exemplify true grit.
They could be estivating comfortably on their couches under the ceiling fan. Instead, they sweat buckets and keep the Bud guys in business.

August is the forge in which gardeners are heated, hammered, wrought or melted down. The brilliant come hither colors of July have baked away. The late daylilies and hardy hibiscus carry the load of bloom in the border. The faint of heart and fungus susceptible are spotted, blackened or no longer viable. There are visible winners and invisible losers in the pots around the patio. Who needs a trial garden? Some of the coleus are blooming now; the big lantanas have achieved shrub like proportions; the tropicals are mighty, unfazed, and unflagging....unless the gardener skips a day of watering. In August's heat and blazing sun, there are no second chances.

Keeping the garden watered is necessary, but not sufficient. Seemingly overnight, as the calendar turns from July to August, the weeds rear their Hydra heads. Chop one down and a mighty army takes its place. When some fragile flowers flags, opportunity knocks for a dozen different plagues of weeds. Nightshade, purslane, watergrass, barnyard grass, mulberry sprouts, sedge: Saul may slay his thousands, but only a David slaying his ten thousands will keep an August garden recognizable.

The crops this August have defied the weather and look splendid. The God given depth of our soil holds the rains of spring for just this eventuality. The magic of crop breeding bears fruit as our corn remains unrolled during these days when the horizon is grey with heat waves and humidity. We are lucky and fully realize it, even as our vehicles are covered with dust so fine the slightest breeze lifts it away, the sure sign of late summer. I know well how it feels to form tunnel vision on the way to work, avoiding the sight of grayish corn and beans that don't meet across the row. Looks like we will dodge that bullet this year. August has brought us gale force winds the last few years, flattening hundreds of acres of mature crops. We will cross our collective fingers, wishing for rain without violence.

But this month gives as it tests. The trumpet vine is host again this summer to a multitude of humming birds. If butterflies were as noisy as cicadas, I'd need earplugs. The sun has moved far enough south to spare the front porch its parting salute; its a rare evening too still or sultry not to sit outdoors and listen to the fountain. I wish I could say the same of the back patio, but grilling will be cooking in the fullest sense for another month at least. The tomatoes are bearing; every meal will be gourmet from now on with the addition of oil, basil, blue cheese, or vinegar..... with little or no effort from the cook! Before the end of the month, we will have fresh salsa when the peppers have a little more size. August food is simple, but its such a short trip to the plate!

Evenings for us still hold baseball; our team clings to contention and Blake is admirably die hard. We will listen to the Cardinals well past summer's end. But for others less committed, there is light at the end of August's tunnel:

College football is just around the corner. And with it......fall.

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