Sourwood Flowers and the Thunder Moon

"Sourwood Flowers and the Thunder Moon" reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal, July 4: More rain came in the night, a gentle windless shower sometime before dawn. Like molten silver, drops of rain still clinging, morning glistens with early light. Slowly, Sun burns off the fog, revealing layers of the folded green land. Cicadas start their sizzling song in the warming trees. With the stirring of a slight breeze the first yellow birch leaves flicker down. Small white butterflies flutter through the tall wet flowers. In the dark limbs of the large white pine, young crows make a monotonous raucous whining.

A Song Sparrow splashes in the birdbath, teaching her fledgling to bathe, ridding plumage of dust, mites, parasites. Most of the birds have finished raising their first broods, with many species completing a second, or even a third before cooler longer nights prepare them for autumn. A female Towhee pecks about on the ground under the feeder, trilling her sweet “ta-weee”. Her cinnamon and sienna feathers recall the rich colors of elk grazing the high summer meadows of the Sawtooth mountains, the soft brown voices of Nez Perce women.

Across the deep farm hollow below us, a mother turkey keeps clucking to her mottled half-grown chicks, vulnerable in the open pasture as they feed on bugs. So far, only seven of the fourteen hatchlings have survived the chills of cold spring rain, egg-eating possums, skunks and raccoons, the strong fast talons of hawks and owls, a mother coyote raising her young in a den well-hidden in a briery thicket below the hill. Life is dangerous for young turkeys, with so many craving their tender flesh.

It is the time of Sourwood blossoms. Graceful fingers of cream-white flowers brighten the sunlit edges of shadowy forest. The bloom seems to be especially heavy this year. The humid air around them is fragrant with Sourwood perfume, that exquisite essence giving the amber honey its distinctive flavor. Bee-keeping friends tell me that either too little or too much rain in the flowering time diminishes the nectar flow, or the honey bee’s ability to collect it from the tiny, urn-shaped blossoms.

The next few weeks bring the warmest nights of the mountain year. Since the solstice in late June, daylight hours have been steadily shortening, although most of us do not notice until later in summer. These nights twinkle with fireflies and glow misty yellow under the “Thunder Moon”, well-named by the People of the first nations who lived here for unknown centuries. Late evenings, if the clouds have parted, the black emptiness sparkles with Andromeda and Perseus---constellations of early autumn---rising through moonlit leaves of the tall bamboo.