Letting go of summer gets harder every year. Even this past summer's drought had its pluses: very few mosquitoes, a great deal less grass-cutting, less oppressive humidity, and pleasant nights. The weather made being outside more comfortable than usual, even with the fierce biting flies of September. But we paid for it through our water bill, trying to keep our garden growing.
My wife and I make to-do lists for summer and this year we hit June running, or more accurately, walking, to the cemetery plots in Fergus Falls where a few of my relatives on the paternal side are buried. It had been a while since our last visit. We cleaned up the grass overgrowing the stones and took pictures while I bored my wife with tales of stubborn old grandparents and great-uncles. We discovered a puzzle I'd not noticed before: according to my father and uncle, my grandfather's nickname was Spike. He was a two-fisted, hard-drinking man who in his early and middle years earned his sobriquet. Yet his brother's stone carries the name “Spike,” not my grandfather's. A mystery that might be beyond solution.
Although not being a morning person I still find it enjoyable to see the days' length increasing from dawn to dusk. To see just a wisp of dim gray at 4:30 a.m. is enchanting. Some distance away are two shelter belts, one to the northwest and one to the southwest. We can watch the march of the sun to the northwest belt and know just about where the furthermost point behind that belt the sun will set as the days lengthen. After the summer solstice we will watch the steady southward march of the sunsets until they reach their nadir on the winter solstice. Shortest day of light of the year. On the fall and spring equinoxes we always try to see the sun set, because it sets right on the west end of our east-west township road like a pumpkin on a fence post. It's a dividing line between the north and south setting points and a reminder of summer's waxing and waning.
We've gotten to the point that we could likely tell, within a week or two, about what day of the year it is by where in the belts the sun sets. Nature forms its own sundial.
Unlike the summer of 2020 in which a family of badgers massacred our entire flock of chickens, we haven't lost any chickens so far this year. (Knock on wood.) But we took one casualty: our old cat whose name was Cat. We have coyotes periodically near here (yes, in North Dakota's most populous county). It appears that she met her doom at the paws of a fox or coyote. I'm not a cat person, but it bothers me that she might have passed her final moments in pain and fear.
Rural North Dakota in winter is no country for old men, and I dread it. I can't wait for the sun to renew its northward march. But our lilacs bloomed again in October-- an unknown event in my lifetime—giving us one last breath of spring and a farewell to the moderate season.
Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page. Email him at email@example.com.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.