There’s a bittersweet short period at the very end of summer that, if I had my druthers, I’d preserve and extend past its all-too-short tenure. Before I began teaching it was the two weeks before Labor Day, before either I or my son had to go back to school (and when I was a kid, that was when my mother went back to work and I had the fierce joy of private time mixed with occasional town trips for back-to-school shopping). Usually by this point the harshest heat of summer has passed, and the ever-shortening days bring cooling breezes to ease the day’s high temperatures. The bite of cool damp in the air from offshore marine flows serves as a reminder that winter is coming. Winter is near.
But not yet.
Now, too, is the glorious high season of sweet summer fruit. Peaches, tomatoes, apples, berries, early sweet corn (here in the Willamette Valley, where tomatoes and corn can be iffy). Canning season. As a child, I spent plenty of time helping process peaches, pears, beans, etc, etc, etc. For a while I continued the tradition but as my son grew older and I developed more commitments, I stopped doing as much home food preserving.
As the nights cool, the crickets begin their chirping. As a child, I was told by my elders that the crickets start chirping six weeks before frost. Well, considering the first frost is sometime around the first part of October, that’s roughly true. The cricket song, however, identifies this part of summer for me, all the way from rural childhood to urban adulthood. Cricket summer. The last delicious bites of August, before school begins and the days shorten even more. Cricket summer. Where the grass crackles dry and sharp underfoot, a slight scuff of the foot raises uncharacteristic dust, and the light changes from day to day.
Cricket summer. The fleeting, brief moment of the change from summer to fall, before the first steady rains.
In my farm youth I’d linger outside on cricket summer nights as long as possible. The moons of cricket summer hang huge on the horizon. Some evenings I’d wander out to the horse pasture and ride my first Shetland, Windy, bareback, with not much more than a lead rope around his nose. We’d thunder around in the twilight, Windy enthusiastically leaping over the small ditches and scrambling up a small pile of gravel. He liked a good wild gallop around the pasture in the dusk. By this point he’d gotten past the point where unloading me was a priority–the two of us running together was much more fun and I wasn’t coming off of him very much. We’d grown up together and, for a few sweet cricket summers, we had those wild rides.
Other summers I’d wander in the pasture, followed by Windy’s successors to see if I’d pick them some blackberries. Horses could nibble blackberries off of the bushes but of course it was much better if nimble human fingers plucked berries to feed to horses. I’d sit down somewhere, maybe play my recorder, or just sit and listen to the crickets sing. One night I saw a meteor wink out just above the pasture.
Well, these days I don’t have the farm. I have other memories of cricket summers as an adult. The cricket summer in Wallowa County, thirty-two years ago, learning the rhythms of a new microclimate. Learning the cricket summers of Portland. Learning the cricket summers of my in-laws’ place on the Coast.
But where ever I was, I savored the cricket song, the cool moist bite of evening air, the soft whisper of the breezes in the trees hinting of winter to come.
This year is no different. This year, this place. The Gravenstein apple tree still clings to a few of its apples, big and full in comparison to previous years. The little Grimes Golden apples aren’t quite ready yet, while the Italian plum trees are almost ready to be picked. The crickets are in full song as the thickening crescent moon sets and the light fades away. The breeze has a soft bite of damp coolness in it. If I sit outside long enough I’ll probably see yet another raccoon family wander through the yard to eat the fallen plums.
Cricket summer. Would that it were longer. On the other hand, if it were longer, would it be as sweet?
That I do not know.