Peak of Summer

Butterfly Milkweed

How does one say (other than by dividing the 120 days from the official start to the official end of the season) when we have reached and passed the mid-point of summer? (That numerical midpoint would fall on about August 5.)

Our wildflowers move through the blooming of their lives, the hands on that grand clock that measures the passing of time in larger chunks than minutes and hours.

The Joe Pye Weed is half its full seven feet height and its flowers have barely opened.

The round sweet-scented ball of flowers of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) are turning brown, the spiny pods are just beginning to grow the silky “kapok” threads that will loft its seeds into the polar wind of an October day. (Read more about this interesting group of plants.)

The corn ears (for those whose gardens fortunate enough to have survived the deer, Japanese beetles and summer storm blow-down) is starting to show brown tassles. It won’t be long now.

The fireflies flash in twos and threes, not by the hundreds now. And the night insects reach their crescendo during the warm nights of late July.

The orb weavers have begun to drape their sticky strands across the forest path we walk every day, and the red-spotted “efts” we saw on the trail earlier in the year have grown up, lost their orange glow, and returned to the watery part of their lives.

(The milkweed–Asclepias tuberosa–pictured here is common along the Blue Ridge Parkway just now.)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. another thing that signals that turn to me are hearing the cicadas….which i’ve already started to.
    when i start hearing them, i feel that change and know we are nearing the end of the heat and mugginess and soon the cool nights will begin.

    and the picture? i thought it was butterfly weed…. i didn’t know that’s what milkweed lookes like.

  2. Mid summer down here is the in-between time. Not much is blooming, grass is growing quicker than you can cut it or not growing at all if the rains aren’t falling (not a problem this year). Most years the color of this time of year is brown and tan…This year is still the green of spring and early fall. Even the summer wildflowers aren’t happy with all of the rain we’ve been having.