Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Different Drummer

or Moving Right Along

These late summer days have had a rhythm of their own, a slow ostinato of shimmering heat and looming thunderheads, of food flavored with basil and sage and savory, of crickets keeping company with the night.  The cantaloupes are in from Rocky Ford, Colorado, the peaches from Palisade—not hard, flavorless, mass-market fruit but the real thing, so ripe that they might as well be perfume.  You slice them over a bowl to catch every last drop of nectar; they taste like sweetened sunshine.  The wind blows the scent of a distant thunderstorm in through the windows, ruffling the pages of a book.  The days, every one so alike, seem endless, timeless.

The honey locust still takes me by surprise; I can't really believe that it's survived.  It came out of nowhere, popping up in the microgarden several years ago, and somehow managed to thrive.  I've moved it to a bigger pot every year since then, and this summer for the first time it's put out a fully fledged branch.

Honey locusts always remind me of summer in Vermont, of drying off in their dappled shade after a swim in Lake Champlain, a hot haze hanging over the Adirondacks and the button islands dotting the lake.  Then again, they remind me of my first spring in New Mexico, in a balcony apartment level with the crowns of locust trees, where evenings would envelop me in the honey-and-rose fragrance of their flowers.

All to say, I love honey locusts.  Every year about this time, I start getting worried, though, because my fledgling tree looks a bit stressed.  A few leaflets here and there start to turn yellow; some of the leaf edges brown a little.  Is it getting too much sun?  Too much or too little water?  Does it need fed?  Are its roots crowded?  And then I remember:  honey locusts are the first trees to turn color in the fall.  This isn't the yellow of poor health; it's the yellow of autumn.

Autumn.  Autumn?  For Pete's sake, it's 95°F outside, with no change in sight.  The sun is still strong enough that it hurts.  And yet this little tree is already tapping its feet to autumn's piping—as are its kin around the neighborhood, I notice.  They're not doing anything radical yet; they're not making any sudden moves, but really, they've already left summer behind.

I'm still just as astonished as I was back in February at the rhythms plants are attuned to—they're so different from ours.  They're certainly affected by the immediacy of weather (as anyone who was on the Eastern seaboard this weekend could tell you), but in normal circumstances it's not their top priority.  They move to the pulse of the seasons, to the slow, inexorable ebb and flow of sunlight, the steady measure of the earth in its promenade around the sun.

The honey locusts couldn't care less that it's 95° out, that the ice cream truck is still circling the neighborhood, that the chile harvest is still rolling in.  The sun has moved on, and they are following.  "It's time," they say.  "It's time."

Taking another peach in hand, I reply, "No.  Not yet."


To my friends in Vermont, be safe—and anchored.


  1. Your last photo is beautiful. I look forward to see the robes in the Spring, especially the New Mexico locust.

  2. I've had white peaches for the first time this year. Love them!

  3. Autumn is coming early here too, the leaves of the sedum are turning yellow while the flower buds are still green with just a hint of pink.

    I'm tempted to google "honey locust" because I don't know what those flowers look like, but I'll hold back and wait to see your photos.

  4. Me too, I'll wait with b a g. The suspense is fizzing!

  5. Darn right not yet. My locust and serviceberry are both turning, and it hasn't even dipped below 60 yet at night. Hold off autumn, I haven't even had summer yet.

  6. We somehow lost that 'knowing' that the sun's daylight hours are shorter, if only by a small amount - if we ever knew it. My husband is always reminding me, "they (mostly animals, but plants, too) know by the sun's movement". It amazes me every season.

  7. 95 degrees? Peaches? 12 degrees here yesterday and the days are getting shorter.....

  8. GirlSprout, the older part of my neighborhood has a few NM locusts--they were a pleasant surprise my first spring here. The honey locusts aren't nearly so showy, alas.

    Baffled, yum! The white ones are delicious.

    b-a-g and Diana, please don't hold your breath for the photos--the flowers are "insignificant blooms" kind of like catkins, and it may take my tree a few more years to start producing them in any case...

  9. Benjamin, what have you been doing while the rest of us have been having summer?? Paint the serviceberry green again, that's my recommendation.

    Holley, it's no wonder ancient peoples used to set up standing stones to mark the sun's position. The change goes by so slowly you don't notice it, especially when the temperature is saying just the opposite.

    Janet, 12C is late-Novemberish... It will still be hot here for another month or so. (As a side note, you do get up early in the morning!)

  10. Plants do have their rhythms...sometimes I am in agreement and sometimes I am not...but they have their work to do. I really like your last descriptive of your post!