Six a.m. The air is still and full, the ground dewy. A few fragile wisps of fog hang lazily in the low pasture, hopelessly defiant of the early morning sunshine. Finches dart between the trees, dispensing clicks and warbles that mingle buoyantly with the sharp buzzing of cicadas and the softer chittering of crickets and grasshoppers. An apple unceremoniously thuds to the ground.
It’s late summer, another in a string of serenely bucolic mornings. We savor the days by getting up extra early to tend the garden or take a comfortably unhurried walk in the woods. It’s a peaceful time of year, naturally civilized, even benevolent, a time to revel in an atmosphere so perfectly suited to human beings that we can only conclude that these days there is really no weather at all. But there are also quiet warnings in the coolly seductive morning air—boding promises of a darker, less congenial time to come. Embedded in each balmy, winsome dawn is the primeval trundling crank of change, almost imperceptibly revolving, edging us gently but inexorably toward winter. We feel it most in our memories, in the distantly familiar chronicle of creation slowing down, contracting, pulling its life inward. And we see it, fresh and new, in the augural dappling of Juneberry trees, the returning webs of ground spiders, and the flashy reddening of sumac leaves. We feel it, and we know it, deep in our bones. Soon the world will remake itself into a place cold, quiet, and stubborn, and everywhere we will see the color of old pewter.
But that is not yet. Now we are in the last days of summer, the spectacularly affable remnants of the vacation season, the ephemeral interval between hot and cold. It is the time of easy temperatures, garden harvests, afternoon naps in the hammock, and, best of all, the brilliant, often overwhelmingly beautiful bookends of the day—sunrise and sunset—nature’s celebratory festivals of contrast to the looming winter season. Silky and translucent or spectacularly vivid, late-summer sunrises and sunsets simply will not be ignored. They appear, and we can only respond, standing reverently at windows and on hilltops in awe and wonder, and stashing away images that will later help allay the burdens of winter snow and ice.