Saturday, August 08, 2009

Season shift

On the way to the car this morning, my foot struck a small object, sending it flying. A closer look revealed an unripe chestnut, the size of a jacks ball, sickly yellow and knobby. The light rain and early morning gloom made it difficult to see anything that small in the branches of the tree above. It's only early August; this had to be a fluke.

After the grocery run, I sat in the parked car for a while, enjoying the rain and the relatively cool air. A pair of squirrels ran down the trunk of the chestnut tree, one continuing across the road, the other foraging a bit at the base of the tree before joining the first. Further up the road, a third sat near another tree, looking around as if to say, "Where's the party, and why wasn't I invited?"

The chestnut tree, along with the abundant vegetation in our neighborhood, make the area a squirrel paradise. While they are in evidence year round, in the fall they become much bolder. Perched on the cement steps down to the main sidewalk, they pound the chestnut shells on the edge of the step, cracking them open. If you dare to attempt to use the steps, they will engage you in a staring contest, willing you to back off. Only when you are almost on top of them will they skitter off, chittering and scolding until you pass and they can return to their task.

One more squirrel ran down the tree trunk in front of me, this one with something in its mouth. He settled in at the tree base, back to the trunk, to enjoy his breakfast. The movement of the windshield wipers startled him, and he ran back up the tree six feet or so, before turning to look at the iron monster below him. Reassured that he wasn't being followed, he stretched himself out on the tree, back legs extended behind him, tummy tight to the tree, front paws holding tight his treasure. All of this facing downward, the better to keep an eye on the possible interloper.

The raw chestnut burr, the increased squirrel activity both point to the beginning of summer's end, a summer that has been remarkably cool and dry. During the last week, the shortening of the days has become noticeable, as we are halfway from solstice to equinox. Oh, we'll certainly have more summer-like days, hot, humid, sun shining brightly and turning fair skin pink.

But the shift has begun.

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