The sandhill cranes are gathering together in the mowed hayfields looking like the people who mill around in the senior center parking lot waiting to board their bus for the latest leisure escape. The red-winged blackbirds cling to the tips of the brown cattails, the groups a little larger each day.
Goldenrod has peaked, and the rich yellow is browning bit by bit. Monarch butterflies flutter among roadside wildflowers drinking sweet nectar for their seemingly impossible trip to Central America. Soon I'll remember to pick up more sweet corn for supper because I'd like it one more time this season.
This season. This season that in Wisconsin is always too short. Summer. It has the same number of days as the other three seasons, but it shows its colors only for a fleeting, flying moment; a moment that I want to hold onto and keep in my dresser drawer. Then when the only colors outside are white, brown, gray, and black, I can open the drawer and see red, pink, blue, and yellow and smell alyssum and lilac and feel sun on my skin and warm rain on my face.
Because summer is so fleeting, I'm making an effort this year to extend the season and live summer until its end on Sept. 21. I've figured out many ways to enjoy the entire length of summer. I'm going to fight that commercial mentality that makes us start thinking of Halloween before Labor Day and Christmas before Halloween. Summer is going to be my mode of operation until fall is officially here.
For one thing, I'm not going to "fall" for the clothing hung out there for us. When the stores start dressing their dummies in plum-colored bulky sweaters and mustard-colored wide-wale corduroy pants, I start craving the feel of wool against my skin. The trouble is, this happens in August, and that's only the middle of summer. I will not give in to it this year. No wool will cover my body until the end of September.
Cotton T-shirts, pastel gauze shirts, sandals, and cropped pants will be my dress for the entire summer season. I don't care if I have to layer. I don't care if I have to wear socks with my sandals. I'll remind myself that I'll savor the smell of my wool and the feel of my turtlenecks even more when I finally pull them on in the real fall, not the one made by Madison Avenue.
Then there are the foods of the season. I will not bite into a crisp, fresh apple until October. Apples are fall. I'm buying melons till they're gone. Watermelons, muskmelons, every melon that will cling to the vine till the leaves turn. And squash? No butternut squash will be baked in my house until after the last day of summer. I will bake a key lime pie on Sept. 20. My plate will be garnished with leaf lettuce and strawberries, even if the strawberries have to be thawed first.
All my bratwurst will be cooked over charcoal in the backyard where the sailboat windsock floats and the umbrella on the picnic table is opened wide. Any hamburger will be in patties with grill lines on them, not crumbled in casseroles thick with beans and tomato. My drink will be lemonade, not apple cider.
My plan includes the more subtle aspects of the season also, such as smells. Remember when you longed for the smells of summer last March? Oh, to breathe in the odor of wet earth or sniff honeysuckle. So now, no matter how the dusty, musty smell of the first firing of the furnace brings to mind the warmth of home and hearth and the desire to wrap up in an afghan, I'm going to fight it. Not one cinnamon-scented candle will be burned until the month that starts with O. I'm going out today to buy herbal and floral votives.
I will not switch to my spicy, musky, heavier perfumes either. I'm sticking with lilac and sea breeze until the breezes are really autumn winds, not the gusts of the last days of summer.
Pine and evergreen are for Christmas. Nutmeg and ginger are for fall. Summer is here till the equinox and so is my peony and iris potpourri.
And my house will retain a summer look until the season's final days. I refuse to look at a pumpkin and long to take it home and put it on the doorstep with Indian corn and gourds. My doorstep will remain adorned with morning glories and geraniums, and as much as I long to lean a bundle of cornstalks next to the door, instead, I'll fluff up the silk sweet peas that I wound around the wind chime only two months ago.
There are some things that I can't stop, though. In Wisconsin, Green Bay Packer fever never goes away, not even with the summer sun, and it grows even greater with preseason games. School will start. Camouflage hunting clothes will be hung on clotheslines to air out. Can the blaze-orange ones be far behind?
Bird feeders will replace hanging plants on wrought-iron shepherd's hooks. And those in our society who are the worker ants will hang Christmas lights when their fingers won't be cramped from cold.
The only blue in the bird world will eventually be the blue jay and the only red will be the cardinal and the finch in my backyard.
Summer houses will be shut up, and travel ads will tout locations closer to the equator instead of northern lakes and national parks.
But until that last day of summer, I promise myself I am going to live in the present, not projecting into the pile of leaves that will crunch under my feet or into the heady scent of those leaves burning, smoldering, raising their smoke into the blue autumn sky.
I tell myself I will not long for chili after walking the dog. I will not want a fire to keep me warm as I look out over the branches of the trees so recently covered in a green cloak. I will not wear my carved oak leaf and acorn pin on my lapel. I will not suddenly look at my friend and gush, "I love fall, don't you?" I will not be fickle and abandon summer before its time because I know that all too soon I will not be able to rid myself of winter.
Summer lasts till Sept. 21. So will my lazy, hazy days of this beautiful season.