Henry James famously said when you stand up and the chair goes with you, it’s summer. In East Tennessee when you open the door in the morning and step out into a furnace, it’s July.
Despite the extreme heat, July also offers her share of blessings.
In the fields, daisies have given way to Queen Anne’s Lace, and along the roadsides, black-eyed-Susans and cornflowers add their spots of color. The losses of the June portion of the season are recompensed by other gains in July — one beautiful flower replaced with a bouquet of other lovely blooms, the promise of tomato plants come to fruition with baskets of red tomatoes, pepper plants hanging heavy with Big Berthas and a smaller purple pepper for added color to salads or racks of roasted vegetables.
The okra grandson Ian and I planted after we cleaned off the last of the peas has now grown a foot high. The early beans are into their second blooming after producing enough to fill the freezer for next winter’s suppers. Just to hedge our bets against a bitter winter, and to give us fresh beans until frost, grandson Grant and I put out a couple more rows. Those plants are now several inches tall, prominent enough that the danger of our stepping on them as we come and go through the garden repositioning the watering system is significantly diminished from a week ago.
Dick and I are spending a great deal of time watering during this super-heated, extraordinarily dry period. I realize such spells of weather are an inevitable part of the season I love best, but such realization doesn’t mean I abide the poor conditions with any grace. I grumble my way through afternoon and evening while I look forward to the next day’s almost-pleasant morning when I can pick blueberries — they’re abundant this year — gather tomatoes, peppers and beans, and snip a fresh bouquet of bright zinnias.
The zinnias are the crowning glory of the hilltop right now with pink, orange and yellow blossoms broadcasting the spirit of hot weather. Mexican sunflowers have put forth the first of their bright orange blooms and will soon vie with red-flowered canna lilies as the brightest spot in and around the vegetable garden. Flowers in that area serve to draw bees and other pollinators to the vegetable plants, guaranteeing an abundant crop.
So far, bees are plentiful, but I’ve been perplexed this year by the lack of butterflies on the farm. In past years there have often been clouds of butterflies hovering over the flowering pots on the deck and landing on the upright verbena in a bed near the old log cabin site.
In the past few days I’ve seen several yellow sulphurs and a few swallowtails, but no monarchs so far. This morning for the first time I spotted a fritillary on the pentas in a deck pot. I’m feeling a little more encouraged about the possibility of butterfly watching.
The cats are much too lazy this month to bother with chasing butterflies. Kaycee and Olivia spend their time indoors near an air-conditioning vent and outdoors beneath a piece of deck furniture, under a bush or simply stretched out in the shade of the maples. They’re too lethargic to notice anything flying or crawling.
As a result of the non-marauding cats, the mockingbirds are leading a quieter life. Only an occasional squabble between a couple of mockingbirds (are they still fighting over territory?) breaks the stillness of a July afternoon.
Fortunately, when the heat becomes unbearable, the lake draws us into its relatively cool waters, though even there the effect of long, sunny days is manifested in an almost bathwater temperature. Still, half-an-hour or so of swimming leisurely laps restores our bodies and spirits, leaving us receptive to an evening of watching the sunset and gazing at the many stars and constellations of a July sky.
The oppressive conditions of midafternoon are quickly forgotten beneath a star-filled sky, and we remember to feel blessed by summer days when much of our living can be carried on outdoors.