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  • Writer's pictureKen Campbell

End of Summer

It is the end of August and we, at SoggyBottom Farm, are in the doldrums of late summer. It is a time of a slow, relaxed slide from the vibrance of Spring to the busy preparations of Autumn for entry into winter. By now, the raspberries have come and gone, the blueberries are ready for picking, and the wild blackberries are coming on strong. Ellen’s flower garden has gone through much of its annual succession of blooms with sunflowers and dahlias currently in full display. Lettuce and peas finished their production in early summer and squash, beans, tomatoes, and pumpkins now dominate the vegetable contingent. Apples and pears still have a ways to go before they are ready for harvest.

The pigs and lambs have gone to slaughter but the two pasture-fed steers remain and continue to gain weight. However, they too will be going to slaughter in November after pasture forage has quit growing and the wetted ground becomes susceptible to damage from large hooves wielded by heavy animals. The goat and the adult sheep are permanent residents as are the egg-laying chickens - these will keep us company through the winter.

Because of late spring rains and pasture flooding and because Jay didn’t get the beaver dams knocked down until late July, the hay fields remained wet and unworkable until well into August. Nonetheless, Jay, being the indomitable worker that he is, managed to get the tractor into the hay fields as soon as they dried out and he cut, baled, and stacked the winter’s supply of hay in the barn by late August. He is now prepared to feed the four sheep and the one goat through the winter.

On the wildlife scene, there is always a strong seasonal dynamic with the birds. In the winter and spring when the pastures were flooded, there was an abundance of ducks and geese. However, as we went into summer and the waters receded, the waterfowl gradually disappeared. Although in June, I saw one clutch of Mallards and one clutch of wood ducks on the beaver pond. Now, I haven’t seen either a duck or a goose on the farm for several weeks.

For the songbirds, nesting season is over and the populations are dominated by an abundance of fledglings. In late spring and early summer, fledgling robins were a dominant presence. A batch of barn swallows fledged in early summer. Now, in late August, a second batch of barn swallows and fledgling juncos dominate the air space, with many fledgling finches and an occasional juvenile warbler thrown into the mix. The juncos will stay the winter but the swallows and warblers will soon be departing - last year the swallows were gone by September 4th.

For the mammals too, there is a kind of seasonal dispersal dynamic. For instance, the moles, which had been pushed to high-ground refugia by sodden winter soils, have now moved beyond these refugia and are now back making molehills in the pasture grasslands as these dry out. Further, the trail camera on the driveway game trail recorded regular appearances of two bucks during their antler growth period from March through July. However, come August when the antlers were nearly fully grown, these two bucks changed their travel habits and never showed again on the camera. Does were commonly photographed during this period but I never saw a fawn; fawns should have been out and about with their mothers by mid-June. Likewise, coyotes that often used the game trail in winter and spring, were never photographed on this trail during the summer. Curiously, the camera on the trail at the edge marking the juncture of the forest and pasture started recording bears regularly as summer advanced; earlier in the year, this camera only rarely photographed a bear. It is probable that the bears that are now being photographed are using the forest-edge trail to go to and from the blueberry patch where the berries were now ripe. Coyotes, whose presence was well marked by sightings and sounds during the winter became peculiarly invisible and silent during the summer. But now they appear on the forest-edge trail camera regularly and give their nighttime serenades virtually every night.

While the animals do their things according to nature’s dictates, the people at SoggyBottom are also engaged in their late-summer routines.

Jay, with a farmer’s sensitivity to the physical environment, keeps track of daily temperature, rainfall, and shortening day length. His daily 5:30 am trek to the barn for routine morning chores, which took place in broad daylight during the early summer, now requires that he use a flashlight. He has expressed his gratitude that there is clean air this summer and no regional forest fires – in several past years, late summer air has been tainted by smoke and haze from the many wildfires that routinely burn the western landscape. Jay has cleaned the planting beds of bolted vegetables and of plants that have finished their growth and food production.

After a 3-week summer-student program in Paris, Ivan returned to Soggy Bottom and embedded himself in the affairs of the Han-mu-do martial arts club. He is also involved in the production of a video clip for introducing returning Tahoma high school students to the school’s facilities and activities for the upcoming school year.

Ellen has now canned her third round of pickle relish to add to the berry jams she made earlier. Along with the burgeoning pumpkins, she keeps track of the changing flower-blooming status and regularly collects bouquets of different assortments to take to her mother. Her considerable talents for color and design were inherited from her mother.

Jean watches, absorbs, photographs, and paints late summer’s morning mists in the swale over SoggyBottom pasture as the sun rises and, similarly, captures the pink and purple in the clouds and sky over the tops of the surrounding trees in SoggyBottom evenings as the sun sets. Her keen sense of color and form reveals otherwise unnoticed and subtle features that contribute to late summer uniqueness.

Ken watches these late summer goings-on and the responses of the people and animals. He tries to document what he sees in order to capture the essence of living through the seasonal calendar in this unique place.


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