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Fickle September

Nature's Notebook

Tonight the air is sultry and sticks to the skin. Earlier this week I watched my breath turn to frost in the cool of the morning. My tomatoes may go on producing throughout the month, or could be blackened by a hard freeze. September is like that in New England. You can have tropical storms and early frost and everything in between.

Now it is not only the ailing trees that show color. The swamps are tipped in crimson, above and below, from red maple and cardinal flower. Goldenrod and asters sway by roadside and woodland. Ostrich ferns, the fiddleheads of spring, are worn and tattered by now. Even the nodding heads of the sunflowers seem weary.

The broadwinged hawks will move in great numbers soon, and some of them will winter in Brazil and Bolivia. Other migrations are well underway, like the monarch butterflies that visit my garden, gathering nectar from bee balm and lobelia flowers. It is early for the great squadrons of geese — those that still migrate, that is — to take the great Hudson flyway, as I remember from my youth. It does not truly feel like fall to me until I hear their wild cries, and I always stop, wherever I am, and turn my face toward the sky.

The transition from lingering summer to undeniable autumn is different for each of us. For me, September is when I turn to fresh pressed cider instead of iced tea, to a round glass of brown liquor instead of a tall one and clear. It is when I study the ground for puffballs, lobster mushrooms, shaggy manes. There are weeks still before the colors change in earnest, but some of the elms and birches have started to turn along with the maples.

I will gather the wild grapes, and make apple pies. I will start wearing layers again. But not yet. Not while it is still possible to have a hot summer night in September.

Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.