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Column: Resort temps in August synch with early harvests

Who moved October to mid-August? Record-setting cold temps over much of the Mid-South two different weekends had everyone digging through closets for sweaters and warm-up clothes.

Hey, free AC!

And all those soybean combines running full-speed the second week of August?

On a drive around north central Mississippi Aug. 13, I saw many bean fields that had been completely harvested, some of them already disked up. Not so long ago, wasn’t soybean harvest in September/October? The change, of course, is due to the increasing adoption of early-maturing varieties that allow farmers to spread their harvest operations and (hopefully) avoid late-season weather adversities.

Resort weather aside (and the Christmas catalogs that started cluttering the mailbox the first week of August), where has the summer gone?

It seems hardly a month ago that new cotton, soybean, rice, and corn plants were just peeping through the soil. Now, having survived record June rains, cotton bolls are popping open, much of the corn is already out of the field, and rice is rapidly yellowing. Except for the Missouri Bootheel, which has had an excellent growing season, nobody much is expecting a record harvest, but the consensus is that in most places things look pretty good, considering.

Along the roadsides, the cattails are fat and brown, goldenrod’s yellow blooms are popping up here and there, ragweed plants are tall and lush (heralding many a sneeze to come), and the tupelo gum trees and sumacs, among the earliest to color in the fall, are already showing red leaves.

Poison ivy, which grows hereabout in such abundance that it could give half the country’s population a nasty rash, is one of the most colorful plants in autumn, with a broad palette of reds, oranges, and yellows. Every seed that drops apparently germinates, and the stuff is so vigorous it can completely cover walls and climb to the tops of tall trees. Not far from our office is a long row of cottonwood trees, planted a decade or more ago as a windbreak for a crop field; over time they’ve become poison ivy trees.

Already the days grow shorter, the late-day shadows lengthening as the sun’s path in the sky moves gradually southward to take spring to Argentina, and the hard-edged light of late afternoon has a diffuse, golden hue, reminiscent of an old masters painting.

Sunrise, these days, doesn’t come until 6:30 or so, a great red ball edging up through the mists hanging over the cotton field across from our office (in continuous cotton since at least the 1940s, according to landowner Bill Heaton; it’s had an excellent crop every one of the 30-plus years I’ve watched it — so much for the evils of monoculture).

I know there’s more summer yet and that even October can have hot, sweaty days. But as August segues into September and the landscape becomes rife with combines and pickers, gins are humming, and the Delta is a beehive of activity, I know there will again be an inescapable twinge of sadness for the fullness and richness of summer gone.

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