Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beauty of Late August in Philadelphia

My wife and I just got back from our annual camping trip in Canada a few days ago. We camped at our favorite camping spot,Ivy Lea Provincial Campground along the St. Lawrence River, and once again heard some great music at the Limestone City Blues Fest in Kingston, Ontario. We have been doing that for about 16 years now, and we absolutely love it. It is a wonderful ritual and is absolutely joyous. But before I went camping, I had the opportunity to do a lot of walking around Philadelphia and reflect on late August in my beloved hometown. I have had the luxury of walking daily this summer, and I have really been able to focus on what I can observe in West Mount Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill. My normal walking routes take me along and within a few blocks of Germantown Ave. I often go by a lot of the same places, so I can note little changes from week to week and even from day to day. And while I do not relish the high humidity and heat that are characteristic of late August in Philly-that is why we go north -there is also no denying the simple sheer beauty that is here at this time of the year. And I know that beauty must be acknowledged and given its due.

As I walked down my block and around my neighborhood these last few weeks, I was regularly amazed by the diversity of approaches to gardening that I saw. There were some front gardens that have a few flower beds at the edge with lilies or peonies of different colors and maybe an iris or daylily or two. Then there are others that are flat out wild and crazy-with things growing all over the place full of different colors, different heights and different mixes of flowers There can be irises, peonies, celosias, marigolds, phlox, daisies, coneflowers and more all jammed together and growing wildly. I love that each gardener has his or her own style and color sense, and that side by side you can have wildly different definitions of what it means "to garden." It is a kind of "harmony out of chaos" approach that is so emblematic of much of life in the Northwest part of the city. It means that no block I walk is boring and uninteresting. Each one has something to catch your eye and call itself to your notice. They are individual. I also love the potted plants and the window boxes that I see. They add color and nice touches to the properties they adorn, and they brighten up the spaces. These, combined with the great doors and windows in the Northwest, make my walks a visual treat.

Another great thing about late August in Philadelphia is the array of birds and butterflies that become more active and more noticeable-especially hummingbirds, woodpeckers, monarchs, viceroys, and goldfinches. Our backyard feeders and the feeders and birdbaths in the neighborhood are dripping with these birds-downy and hairy woodpeckers, the occasional nuthatch, chickadees, and the showy and joyous goldfinches that are zipping all about. Late July and August is when thistle flowers, butterfly bushes, coneflowers, manarda, and sunflowers bloom in this region, and they are among the favored foods of these flying wonders. So they are out in full force from mid- August to mid- September. Our across the street neighbor has the corner of her property covered in sunflowers, and there are always goldfinches feeding on and resting on those sunflowers and traveling back and forth to our thistle feeder. One of the joys of this summer has been seeing and hearing little kids walking through the array of sunflowers and excitedly marveling at the finches. To see the looks of surprise and unabashed joy on the kids' faces has been wonderful. And the butterflies in the backyard have been thoroughly delightful. We have had several monarchs, a number of streaks that I cannot identity, a viceroy or two, and the beautiful Eastern Swallowtail-one of my favorite butterflies. It is hard to be in a bad mood when you slow down enough to watch hummingbirds and butterflies flit about, land on a flower, and feed. It puts you in touch with all the quiet minor amazements that are there in the world to be appreciated and savored. And that has to lift your spirits.

So while I dislike the humidity and heat of Philly Augusts and go north to the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to escape them, I can still appreciate the pure beauty that Philly summers allow and that so many people use to lovingly provide beauty and pleasure to the world. And if I can be still enough to acknowledge that beauty here in the midst of late August, then I can acknowledge it anywhere and have it with me anywhere I go. And that is truly a gift. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

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