Most afternoons, despite the lingering summer heat, Dick and I stroll across the lawn, the grass for the last few weeks crunching beneath our feet. Our destination is the grape arbor where muscadines hang in sweet clusters beneath the shady vines.
We stand in the shadows, protected from the relentless sun, and eat our fill of the sweet grapes.
At this time of year I’m reminded of the farm in Virginia where my dad grew up. The house, built by his great-grandparents, is a two-story brick structure with a covered porch wrapping two sides. When I was young, grapes grew up the porch supports and spread across the porch roof.
My dad always took us to visit his parents on the farm in late summer when the grapes were ripe. My cousins, my sisters and I climbed out the second-story windows and sat on the porch roof to munch on the fruit. The adults were content to stand on the porch and reach all they wanted.
Mid-September is to me still late summer, a slowing-down time of the year. When cooler weather arrives — maybe in October — Dick and I will begin the fall chores of cleaning off the garden, preparing the flower beds for winter and making sure the house is as ready for cold weather as an old house can be. For now, we continue to harvest peppers, okra and an occasional small tomato. We laze on the deck whenever we have a chance and linger outdoors to take in the view and the wonders of life in the country.
The wildlife doesn’t share our sense of life slowing down. Though the fierce activity of spring and early summer has subsided, there is sufficient happening around the hillside to keep Dick and me interested in more than the view when we’re outdoors.
A couple of weeks ago, in midafternoon, as we sat on the deck taking a break from chores and cooling off in the slight breeze that stirred the leaves on the maples, a movement at the edge of our sightline caught our attention. No more than 30 feet to the east of us, an eagle swooped into view.
His white head and white tail made identification easy. He was a bald eagle. Dick and I have seen bald eagles hunting over Melton Hill Lake about a mile-and-a-half from our house, but we’ve never before had one so close on the farm.
The sighting felt like a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. And then we thought about our two cats, Olivia and Kaycee. Fortunately, they were both asleep nearby. Ember, too, was safe, though she probably would not have been prey. She’s small but quick and is even quicker with her bark.
I imagine some small rabbit, mouse or chipmunk was dinner for the eagle that day. He may have dined on his preferred diet of fish earlier and was simply out for a fly-over of the countryside to see what the land beyond the lake looks like.
Our other note-worthy sighting was four-footed. For several weeks, Dick and I have heard in late afternoon what we took to be coyotes. The sound has resembled the call of something in distress. Often we hear neighborhood dogs barking in reply.
Last week as we drove down our driveway, a coyote dashed across the roadway in front of us. He ran through the underbrush along the fence and vanished into the pasture. The presence of coyotes puts us in fear for the safety of our cats and dogs. But despite that fear, there is a certain thrill in seeing an animal so free and independent.
On Sunday evening, we once more saw the coyote crossing the driveway at approximately the same spot. We figure he or she has a den in a wooded area on the north side of the farm and is traveling to the pond for water. Fortunately, the pond and the coyote’s chosen path are far removed from our house and from the pets that stay close by when they’re outdoors.
Sunset comes a minute earlier each evening — sunrise a minute later — as we approach Monday’s autumnal equinox. Day and night have reached a place of equality, but daylight is rapidly losing ground. Dick and I hope to enjoy every moment possible of these last few days of abundant sunshine and of wonders that surround us.