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As Long as We Remember...

August 24, 2007

The Sounds of Summer

Edward Lulie III

Recently the dull roar of lawnmowers, that ever constant background sound of summer, has vanished. It seems that those sun-drenched - but rainless skies - had shriveled away any need for the grass to be cut.

My lawn was a sort of crispy, brown-cereal color, wilting in the harsh August sunlight. Walking across it made crunching sounds almost exactly like the sound of walking on crusty snow. There was - sadly - no further similarity. It looked dead and was actually dusty.

The dreadful humidity and heat of August was nothing new to me, a veteran of a lifetime of hot and humid Maryland summers. As I have repeated ad-nauseam, I hate summer in Maryland. I expect the weather to stink at this time of year, and this was certainly nothing unusual, but to my mind it still is cruel nonetheless. What surprised me was my lawn's resilience; after a few days of rain, it is largely green and growing, phoenix-like, springing up alive and vibrant from the dust.

I'm not a person who spends time every week grooming my yard or cultivating a garden. I appreciate those that do but generally from a distance. My inclination is more of "tut-tut" it looks like. You get the point. My style is to let nature run rampant and once in awhile hack away at the weeds and mow.

It's a "least done soonest mended" philosophy that - strangely enough - turned out to be environmentally sound. Who knew? Letting the grass go to tall heights is better for lawns than keeping it always neatly trimmed. Why? Well for one thing if mower blade height is ever set too low and scalps the lawn before a drought, you'll discover why; it turns all brown and crispy.

We built our house between Jefferson and Middletown in the valley. It is literally surrounded by farmland. The process of building was quite educational, sad to say that "education is expensive." We made mistakes and among several other failures of proper planning was the concept of having a lawn.

That was something we forgot about. Our house, once built, was now surrounded by mud for a good hundred feet. Clearly grass was something we desired. I made a few phone calls and was quickly reeling from sticker shock. Ouch! I just wanted some grass on my yard for goodness sakes; I wasn't trying to start a turf farm.

Luckily for me the farmer who was farming the rest of our land had a simple solution. For a very reasonable sum he'd plant grass around the house with his farming equipment. Works for me, I thought. In fact it worked really well. Since 1989 our lawn has been generally lush and green, if a bit tall now and then. It is not unusual to look out front and see a large deer (or several) grazing on the edge.

Summer after summer we had luscious looking lawns of deep green. Until this season, that is. My eldest son, in an effort to be good, decided to mow the lawn. Accidentally he had set the blade height too low and scalped the lawn. Normally the grass would have recovered in a few weeks. Not this year, the drought set in and left us with crispy crunchy.

The heat and drought eliminated the need to mow. No lawn growth undoubtedly saved money for homeowners and hurt those who cut lawns for a living. There were other casualties too.

My own area of the Middletown Valley is usually awash in lightning bugs, a visual galaxy of greenish yellow lights in the evenings; spectacular. It was often so breathtaking that I would stop along the roadside and enjoy the view. Not this year. This year lightning bugs were rare, only a scattered few were now visible where in prior years thousands lighted the night.

Rain has come at last. Days of drenching, steady, rain. Instead of 98 degrees, it has been in the mid 60s. Usually that would be the low temperature for the day and not the high.

Crops may have been reduced but mostly they have survived and the water table is being restored. I will admit that the current steady rain and 64 degrees at 11 A.M. - as I write this - has created a rather gloomy and dismal August day.

Only a few days left before school starts and that real harbinger of fall, FOOTBALL, begins in earnest once again. Still I can foresee a time coming this winter when I'm out shoveling snow in 14 degrees.

Now you might think that I would then look fondly back on the heat and humidity of summer. HA! You don't know me well if you think that. Even at 5 below zero with the wind cutting into my skin, my heart will still be warmed by one thought. at least it's not summer.

I also expect that shoveling and getting up my driveway in the ice and snow will replace any concerns about the state of my lawn. With all those recent and stunning predictions about climate and global warming, I'm reasonably confident that this winter will be cold and snowy. It just seems that way to me, a record breaking cold winter unlike the mild winters of recent years.

Only time will tell. Meanwhile I'll enjoy that vision of green lushness returning to my previously crispy lawn ignoring the fact that now the roar of lawn mowers will soon be returning. For at long last the sounds of "hut" and "red-forty two!" are back. Football season has returned and the end, at last, of summer is now in sight.

(EDITOR"S NOTE: Mr. Lulie is co-hosting with Pete MacLeod Frederick County Sports Sunday every Sunday at 9 A.M. on WFMD AM 930.)

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