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His shrillest time is keeping,
The sickle of yon setting moon
The meadow mist is reaping.
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that capsule of Middle Summer in 1847.
And it is all still true. Under the waning moon, crickets are filling the nights with their August songs. When you hear the crickets, the first purple blossoms of the tall ironweed open in the fields, and blackberries are getting ripe. Grackles have begun to come together, flocking in anticipation of autumn. Starlings feed together now in the bare wheat fields. On the East Coast, shorebirds are beginning to move south, often stopping to rest on North Carolina's outer banks. In the honeysuckles of the Midwest, adult robins teach their young migration calls.
Thistledown unravels completely to the cricketsong, and seedpods form on the trumpet creepers. Ragweed heads up for August as honewort and wood nettle, mallow, and tall meadow rue go to seed. Early cottonwoods are weathering. Patches of yellow appear on the weaker ash trees. Black walnut leaves start to fall.
All across the country, summer's second-last wave of wildflowers – the biennial gaura, Joe Pye weed, monkey flower, tall coneflower, white snakeroot, jumpseed, virgin's bower, field thistle and Japanese knotweed – are blooming in the open fields and along the fence rows.
Pods of the touch-me-not burst at the slightest movement. Dogbane seedpods swing in the wind. To the song of the crickets, grapes and pokeweed berries darken in the meadow mist under the setting moon.
Next week on Poor Will's Almanack: notes for the final week of Middle Summer. In the meantime, watch listen for the crickets, and watch for the meadow mist, foretaste of August and September