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Serving: East

As summer wanes, winter lurks, a few precious days of perfection

The calendar says late September, but much of the landscape looks late spring. Thanks to abnormal rainfall during what, in these parts, is traditionally an almost rainless July and August, roadways and fields that by now would be brown and sere are lush and green.

Vast swaths of cropland are a shimmering canvas of white cotton and yellowing soybeans, while other fields bear only the brown stubble of corn, rice, and grain sorghum crops already harvested and in bins or elevators; yet others are already disked up, awaiting mellowing winter rains.

As orange and yellow autumn butterflies flitter their zig-zaggy paths, searching for bits of nectar in fading blossoms, only a few sweetgums and tupelo gums are starting to show a bit of fall color.

The calendar and agriculture say it’s fall, but across much of north and east Mississippi, the prevailing color is … green.

Highway rights-of-way sport lush stands of johnsongrass, the weed farmers fought for decades, but that cattlemen deem the stuff of excellent hay. Pastures are brimming with big round bales, plastic-wrapped and ready for winter feeding (or shipment to Midwest areas devastated by this year’s drought), and what normally would be expanses of brown are vistas of grass still green and growing.

It is, one conjectures, yet another oddity in a year filled with weather anomalies: a winter that was hardly worthy of the name, with only a couple of nights when temps dropped into the 20s; a spring that started in February, with things popping into bloom and trees beginning to leaf weeks early; and summer heat and humidity that cranked up early March and was in full swing in April.

Then came June’s searing, rainless days, with farmers irrigating like crazy and wondering if this year would be disaster, while in the Midwest corn/soybean belt disaster was taking shape with a vengeance.

For decades, farmers in these parts have expected “lay-by” rains sometime around the Fourth of July holiday. This year, it was so tinder dry that many areas banned any private shooting of holiday fireworks, and the Fourth was blazingly sunny, hot.

But the following day, skies darkened and, hallelujah!, it rained over much of north and east Mississippi. While most of the Delta continued dry, areas to the east had frequent July/August rains that kept things green and growing, but thankfully didn’t hamper the harvests that have been bountiful.

Now, days shorten, shadows lengthen, the light from the southward-headed sun is more diffuse. Soon it will be dark by 5 p.m., and the dreary, gloomy days of winter will foster daydreams of leisurely vacations in balmy climes.

But here at autumn equinox, on a spectacularly beautiful, pleasant day in a still predominantly green world, I watch hummingbirds hovering about the feeder, gathering strength for their long migration, fall butterflies dancing on the breeze, billowy white clouds drifting in an azure sky — and it is about as near perfection as one could ask.


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