Volume 12, Issue 39 ~ September 23-29, 2004
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Bay Life
By Steve Car

Summer Yields to Fall

This was the best summer ever around Annapolis. The weather was scrumptious. Droughts were replaced by a steady supply of storms that dumped beneficial rains a couple of times a week: sometimes a bit much, but altogether manageable and quite refreshing. But it was the mild temperatures that really took the cake. Summer in Chesapeake Country — especially August — is usually a long series of stinkpot-hot days where the air is so thick with a brown haze that you could cut it with a knife. The oppressive heat and humidity sits over the Bay like a stifling lid. There is no escape. This summer it was a whole different ball game. We only had three or four days with temperatures in the 90s, and the humidity was relatively low. In short, it was heavenly.

How’s the Weather?
Good as this summer has been, something is not exactly right. The seasons seem out of sync with the past. Spring kicked in early, and all the plants and trees bloomed weeks ahead of schedule. The black cherries bloomed in early May, almost a month in advance. The oaks, maples, beeches, sycamores all blossomed early. Even the crepe myrtles were confused. Half of them started blooming in July, while others are just now busting loose. It’s all very confusing. Does this mean that the trees will jump the gun and soon start losing their leaves?

Scientists say this change in weather is a result of global warming. Global warming means wacky weather, not necessarily warmer weather. It means there are no rules. There is no normal anymore. Every season is a crap shoot. Hurricanes have been rolling off the continent of Africa as if on a giant conveyor belt. Can you imagine living in Florida? It’s like a never-ending disaster movie. Killer storms the size of Texas — Bonnie, Charles, Frances, Ivan — have been turning entire towns into rubble.

While I feel sorry for the folks living in Florida, a devilish little voice in the back of my head reminds me that these are the same folks who take great delight, after a Nor’easter has just dumped two feet of snow on us in February, in calling up while on their way to the golf course to ask Hey, how’s the weather?

All we can say at this point is that it’s changing.

Fall’s Telltale Signs
As the days grow shorter — it’s already getting dark before eight, and the sun isn’t coming up until almost seven — I see the telltale signs of fall.

The insect world is always a few steps ahead of the curve, and the cicadas are singing in the trees like there is no tomorrow — which in their case is true. The crickets are starting to move inside, and every house is chock full of jumping beans that scatter as you walk. Spiders rule. Their sticky webs are everywhere, and they keep moving them around like portable camping nets. It has been a bumper summer for the insect world, and everything out there is somebody’s dinner.

As summer fades, so does the color of the landscape. Most flowers and trees have finished blooming and are starting to look bedraggled; their leaves have lost their lustrous green and are getting crinkly-brittle as they fade. The only late bloomers left to brighten up our days are the crepe myrtles and wetlands marsh mallows, whose pink and white petals still provide a taste of color to the hungry eye. Looking ahead, the dogwoods are already turning red, and that’s a sure sign that fall is on the way.

The signposts are everywhere.

The start of school and the kickoff of football season is always the unofficial end of summer, regardless of the weather. A few Saturdays ago as the Mids marched through the streets for Navy’s first home football game of the year, a cloud slowly drifted across the sun and I could almost feel a chilly wind blowing in from the north. I shivered at the thought of long pants, socks, big clunky shoes, flannel shirts, wool sweaters and Eskimo parkas. It seemed too early for such thoughts. But the Midshipmen were marching to that unmistakable beat of fall.

Around Church Circle another afternoon, the hanging flower baskets at the top of Main Street dripped with purple petunias and wild, green elephant ears. In a few short weeks they will be gone, replaced by banners welcoming the boat shows and later still the General Assembly.

Sidewalk cafes on West Street hopped and bopped with people dressed in shorts and sandals. But I remembered that, like the festive flowers hanging from the lampposts, eating outside will soon be a fleeting memory.

So it was almost scary as I watched from Horn Point the Wednesday night sailboat race heading east toward the Shore against an autumn sky of bruised tentacle-clouds and dark water.

Animals, too, are already feeling the fall rhythms. Do they get their cues from the light? The cooler temperatures? I don’t know. But the animal world definitely has an attitude this time of year. They are busy. Kamikaze squirrels are loading up on nuts. Mockingbirds chase away anything that dares come into their territory. One clipped my hat the other day, landed on the mailbox and lectured me. Osprey are leaving their nests for South America. Many of the songbirds have already started south with the sun. Deer are so fat they look like they own the place. Red fox are prowling by daylight. Dogs want to go out and stay out. Great blue heron are constantly on the move, snagging fish and squawking angrily at nothing. And if you’re catching crabs, you know they’re big and fat right now. They’ve been busy, too. Everything is antsy.

Last Call for Bay Bounty
Yet many people are running low on energy. We’ve all taken our vacations and glided through most of the summer, and now it’s time to face the music. Get some work done before the holidaze rears its ugly head. And try to ignore that we are all feeling a little rundown.

So we take to the sea. Everybody with a boat — everybody who knew someone with a boat –— has been out on the Bay these last few weekends. This last dying gasp of summer is a recreational blowout seasoned with jellyfish and the endless pounding of fiberglass hulls against wave … after wave … after wave.

I took a kayak trip over on the Tuckahoe River the other day and had to battle beach traffic coming and going. The ocean still pulls beach lovers like the tide. As I poked along behind a line of trucks and weary vacationers, I almost stopped as I reached the very top, blown away by the view from the Bay Bridge.

The Bay looked like a sparkling diamond covered with sailboats and powerboats scattering to the winds. Flocks of sea-gulls and terns took aim on schools of baitfish, dive-bombing the water in a frenzy of scavenging. Kent Narrows looked like Route 50, bumper to bumper with boats. The Kent Island seafood houses also were mobbed by hungry tourists who didn’t think twice about paying an arm and a leg for a couple dozen crabs. This time of year, everything wants a piece of the Bay’s incredible bounty.

The Bay’s Lesson in Transformation
Chesapeake Bay at the end of summer is a lesson in transformation. The Bay and all its critters, us too, are magically moving into the next cycle of life and death. From warm weather we harvest the cold. Grow some more fur, move to the deeper channels, break out the blankets, hunker down.

Already the oaks are dropping acorns like rain, the woolly caterpillars are sporting thick coats and the Farmers Almanac and other weather gurus are forecasting a brutal winter for the Mid-Atlantic.

But let’s not jump the gun. Take it one season at a time.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.