Read Old Man Scanlon

August Wanes

20 August 2010

In the road near my house lie the bloated stinking corpses of two possums who failed to comprehend the danger behind bright headlights. With no obvious warning the big pignut tree has died and shed a major limb into my yard. Old friend Cav brings his chainsaw over to dismember it. He cuts faster than I can heave pieces off into the edge of the woods, and angina does not speed me up. It grips my shoulder, hard bony fingers probing for my lungs. It's a stone's throw until September, and mortality is in the air.

But mortality is always in the air. We just pay no attention, defy it, or deny it: all viable options. As a teenager I knew we all die, but despite obvious evidence to the contrary, I also knew I would never become flabby, get a second chin, turn grey. I still do not grasp exactly how distorted our time sense is. If it's in the future, it's for all practical purposes infinitely far away. Expected or not, death is always a surprise.

We are victims, as it were, of a natural world in which the functions describing much of what we see or sense are sinusoidal. The length-of-daylight curve has intervals over which its rate of change is negligible. We are seduced into believing that summer is endless. Then, as day nearly equals night, the rate of change becomes so gross that even the oblivious notice how early the sun sets.

The rump of August deserves better than unremitting mortality-gloom, but there's nothing wrong with being a little low-key as we rebalance and acclimate to change. It's a good time for a cemetery walk. Summer is even sweeter, now that its stifling heat is largely broken. Green still predominates, though a nearby bellwether maple is already starting to turn. Hay's been mowed. Morning glories flourish. Goldenrods and asters are ubiquitous, no longer novel.

At the ball field where I walk the dogs, sun-blasted grass around its unirrigated periphery crunches underfoot. Panicky-sounding killdeer have superseded assertive barn swallows. Cicadas stridulate in the treetops, their high buzzing drone attracting mates or dooming them to be the paralyzed breakfast of digger wasp larvae. Handfuls of friable earth, its beachy color contrasting with the darker ground upon which it lies, mark the digger wasp tunnels, well-worn runways leading to the holes down which they drag their prey.

As August wanes, the accelerated shortening of days and early hints of autumnal decay inevitably heighten awareness of mortality. Once again I'm feeling betrayed as summer proves to be finite. But solace is at hand: one of the beauties of the sine function is that it's periodic. I'll get to redo all of this next year—God willing.