The taste of summer
August morning song is starting just a little bit later and is just a little shorter than it was in July. Even so, the power of the Carolina wren’s “tea kettle, tea kettle, teeeeee” at 5 a.m. is impressive, rousing, and more effective than a bugle call – at least to me. I’ve always been a morning-person; waking at first light ready to taste the day.
August is the one whole month where summer can be embraced and enjoyed. It doesn’t have the Block Island stresses of getting ready and launching the summer economy. By August, we on Block Island are well into our summer stride. The shakedown period of seasonal openings (houses, businesses, boats, programs, etc.) is over and glitches are overcome by repair, rescheduling or rethinking goals and expectations. In August there is a sense of summer relaxation, it is a time to sample and enjoy the smorgasbord of summer delights: time with visiting friends – old and new; time at the beach – the water is both warmer and refreshingly cool; time foraging for everything from blackberries to sea bass; time for harvesting and savoring fresh garden produce – have you had your first fresh off-the-vine tomato yet? And, it is a time to walk and explore the island’s nature spaces; they are in a season of lushness with new views, new colors, and new textures.
August is the time to taste the summer. There are flavors that can only be savored in August. In addition to garden offerings (your own or a friend’s) there are wild offerings. Sun-warmed blackberries are delectable. Grilled bluefish or striped bass tastes especially good when eaten with friends on a porch in the lingering light. By the end of August there will be rose hips ready for making jelly or steeping in tea. And, of course, shellfish abounds in the island waters – the most delectable quahog you’ll ever eat is the one you dug with your own hands or feet and slurped from the half-shell. Or perhaps even better, the ones presented to you as an offering of generosity and shared with others on the deck served with wine-flavored butter.
The Dog Days of summer (a reference to Sirius the dog star) will end on August 11. Traditionally the Dog Days are oppressive. After they pass it is time to savor the remaining summer days. As a living being, we have many ways of sensing our environment, but August is a great time to hone your sense of taste and sample the tang of summer.
What tastes will you relish during August’s microseasons? In this year-long series of monthly articles I have taken to heart the truth that each season is not a three-month period but rather a continuum of microseasons (each about five days long) that more specifically express the nuanced and varied nature of any season. Like the seasons of one’s life, it is the rich assortment and accumulation of discrete flourishing that make the whole being – or the whole season.
Fledging piping plover: August 3 – August 7
Block Island’s breeding shorebirds and waders – piping plover, willet, American oystercatcher, great egret, snowy egret and night-herons are fledging. Look for them at Andy’s Way or feeding at seaweed-strewn shorelines. And, it is time to taste early tomatoes, and relish the mysteries of an August summer day.
Fluttering bats in the evening: August 8 – August 12
Little brown bats (and others) will be around the island’s evening skies for the next two months catching mosquitos and other insects on the wing in the evenings and early mornings. The second week of August is a great time to look for some of the island’s most exotic and flamboyant plants, such as ghost pipe and Turks’ cap lily. August 9 and 10 will be the days of the lowest tides this month – a good time for digging clams and hunting mussels. The New Ghost Pipe Moon will occur at 9:50 a.m. on Aug. 8. The Perseid Meteor Showers (7/17 to 8/24) will peak on Aug. 12.
The monarch is a caterpillar: August 13 – August 17
Monarch caterpillars are nibbling common milkweed leaves and each will soon transform into a gem-like jade chrysalis. Mid-August is the time of singing cicadids, early warbler migrants, and peak blackberry deliciousness.
The reign of Queen Anne’s lace: August 18 – August 22
Queen Anne’s lace is beautiful coming and going whether in bud, full bloom or as dried flower heads releasing seed, this flower is gorgeous on any table. This is also the season of late summer flower flourishing. Sea lavender will grace the shoreline of the New Harbor, rose mallows will ring the edges of freshwater ponds, and early goldenrod will start the two-month parade of the many goldenrod species. And, home gardens will be burgeoning with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes – Ratatouille anyone? The Full Sea Lavender Moon will occur at 8:02 a.m. on Aug. 22.
Blue crab giants: August 23 – August 27
After a summer of growth, the newly molting blue crabs will be astonishing in size but leave them unmolested until after their spawning season thus yielding future generations. Better to dine on grilled swordfish or black sea bass.
Beach plums and golden sun: August 28 – September 1
By the end of August, the hue of sunlight will start to shift to a more golden – less hawkweed-ish – shade of yellow. Migrating shorebirds from their northern breeding areas will appear and rose hips will be ripe and ready to pick. And, if it is a good year, beach plums will be ripening and ready for harvest – watch out for the poison ivy.
To share with others your favorite August taste – literally or figuratively – sign up for one of The Nature Conservancy’s daily programs where you’ll be treated to a feast of summer flavorings. Go to www.Natureblockisland.org for the weekly schedule.