Tall Corn and Indian Pipes

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe
From my nature journal: Like most July days in wet years, this morning begins with thick fog. Water vapor from an evening thundershower condenses overnight in the cooling air. Through silver mist comes the soft music of stone-gray Mourning Doves waking, cooing in the trees before flying down on whistling wings to the ground to feed. The early morning cacophony of mating and nesting birds in April, May and early June is over for another year. For those bird species who raise a second brood, both mates and territories are already established. For the remainder of summer, on a diet rich with insects and seeds, fledglings grow fat, molting out of their shabby juvenile plumage before fall.

As last shreds of fog lift from the valleys, we watch fields of corn growing tall with abundant rainfall. The broad leaves shine emerald with sunlight, whispering long sentences of warm summer wind. . . Now the country meadows and roadsides are tinted blue with blooms of wild Chicory. For centuries, the fibrous roots of this perennial have been roasted and ground for a caffeine-less coffee substitute. (I’ve tried it. It’s unique flavor is not a substitute for coffee.) Due to frequent rains, many farmers delayed summer’s first haying. The fragrant cut field-grasses need a few days to dry in the sun before baling for winter. Meandering rows of hay bales still speckle the mowed meadows.

With the Solstice past, the hours of sunlight are shortening daily, although the hottest days are still ahead of us. Today, I hear the first annual cicada chattering in the hot trees—a song similar to an aroused rattlesnake, or a dried gourd shaken full of seeds. This is the music of summer, chords of serpents slithering across dry, sun-burned stones.

In the tall heat of day the forest is cooler, though mostly quiet. From deep woods, one tiny Wood Pewee whistles his languid Peee—a—weee, a plaintive cry that feels the ennui and listlessness of midsummer. On the shady forest floor, ghostly stems of Indian Pipes lift through the leaf litter. True saprophytes, they draw sustenance from decaying organic matter, not needing chlorophyll to make energy from sunlight. We look at them wondering---those nodding heads of pale and silent wax, formed out of darkness and death---how lovely, so quietly beautiful in the deep shade of summer trees.

In the day’s last gloaming light, fireflies rise and sparkle. Another distant thundercloud flickers. From the snag of a dead Hemlock an Indigo Bunting sings sweet vespers to the dark. Venus gleams low in the west, over the purple Newfound Mountains. All summer, the great Scorpion crawls with its burning crimson heart—the red star Antares---low across the southern sky. After the hard bronze sun goes down, July’s full Thunder Moon glimmers cool silver as an Indian Pipe on the summer night land.