Harbingers

Signs of seasonal change are all around us. When I launch out on a bike ride shortly after 9:00 a.m. the shadows are still very long, since the sun is rising later and is lower in the sky. At 5:30 these days it’s still dark out, whereas it would have been late predawn six weeks ago. Nevertheless, the route I ride is more heavily shaded until later in the morning in late spring and early summer, because the sun rises farther to the north and casts shadows almost straight across the trail until midmorning. Now it’s inching southward, and by midmorning its rays are coming almost into line with the prevailing trail direction.

Along the trail for the last week, dry leaves have fallen when the wind is gusty—and it has been unusually gusty this summer. The weather has not been dry; we’ve gotten average rain. So these leaves are just the early harbingers of the avalanche to come in eight or ten more weeks. When I arrived home from a ride last week I noticed a “fairy ring” of mushrooms in the side yard. They flourish therein the humidity of late summer and early fall. This was quite a good-sized ring, and encompassed an arch of about 270°.

wolly bear

Wooly Bear caterpillar

But the clincher was the outlier Wooly Bear caterpillar I saw a full two weeks ago, back in July. It was headed straight across the trail, as they usually are, and its reddish-brown middle band was definitely (or as a tragic portion of my students write, “defiantly”) wide. According to folklore these critters, the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth, predict the severity of the coming winter. So not to worry, the upcoming hibernal season will surely be mild, at least here in Northern Virginia. Plenty of chances to ride outdoors without fearing the fate of the Scott party.

Meanwhile, we’ll savor these late summer days. The local average high temperature has already come off its mid-July zenith, and in the current month will fall by four more degrees, before it really plummets a further ten in September. So I’ll be reveling in “summertime, when the riding is easy,” as Israel (Ira) Gershwin almost put it.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

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