A Late August Letter from Michigan

skunk babies

skunk babies photo via www.wildlifehotline.com

In late August, the temperature has been pushing into the mid-80s (see footnote 1) with humidity to match. Nonetheless, it’s clear that fall is on its way here in the southeast corner of Michigan’s mitten. For the last several days, the humidity of the evening’s heat has become the fog of the morning’s chill. The prevailing winds have begun to box the compass.

As a cyclist, I am acutely aware of wind shifts. At 18 mph, I use about 70% of my energy to punch a Dstan58-sized hole in the wind. My rides are calculated to take advantage of tailwinds on the way home. In June, nearly all my rides end up heading east to take advantage of the evening’s westerly breezes. But come late August, those same rides find me battling a southeast wind filled with humidity and allergens.

In late August, I ride past farm markets with jam-packed parking lots. The tomatoes are ripe, and from the road, I can smell the bushel baskets loaded with fruit. The sweet corn is in from the fields. The greens on top of the sugar beets are knee high, and the soybean pods are bursting. The apples, still waiting on harvest time, hang juicy and red-brown-yellow-gold on the trees.

The days shorten. The maple leaves have begun to turn red.

In late August, the sounds are different.

April and May are the months of the frogs. “Hey, ladies!” sing the leopard frogs in their baritones and the spring peepers in their counter-tenors. “I’m over here and I have the best spot on the pond. Come check me out. We’ll make lovely pollywogs together.”

In July, the cicadas sing like tomorrow is seventeen years away and firefly light fills the ditches in desperate attempts to find mates – the insect version of Match.com.

In late August, the fireflies have burned their luciferin and the cicadas have gone to ground for the next XVII years. In their place, the evenings are filled with the chirps of crickets, equally desperate, rubbing their wing combs together in a fury of stridulent foreplay. Later in the evenings, after the crickets have gone to bed, the coyotes hold their nightly convention. I hear them sound their barbaric yawp over the fields of the world. Hungry they are, and the howls tell us all that it would be wise to keep small pets indoors until nearer dawn.

Late at night, asleep in bed with the windows open, I know it is late August because the aroma of skunk has infiltrated our second story bedroom. Loaded with methyl and butyl thiols, the scent of burnt rubber, rotten eggs, and garlic is enough to wake me from a dream in which I was helicopter skiing with FIS World Cup champion Ted Ligety and Tiger Woods.

In late August, young skunks are near-adult size, mamma is ready to boot them from the nest, and the young ones, easily startled when left on their own, feel obligated to test out their self-defense systems, perfected over the last 40 million years of mephitic evolution.

I like my skunks. They are intelligent and brave. Skunks are successful, useful scavengers, with a reputation for disease and filth that bears no relationship to reality. Yet, come morning, I’ll don my respirator, fill a spray tank with household ammonia, pump it up to pressure, and spray NH3 into the likely spots around my house in a generally useless attempt to chase the critters away. Ammonia – an acrid, caustic liquid with a strong and characteristic smell, is highly toxic to mucus membranes. The skunks have their spray defense system and I have mine. We only differ in source of acquisition.

In late August, you have one last chance to get your summer together. Make some last ditch summer memories.

I’ll keep you posted.


  1. That’s 30⁰ C for the other 192 countries which have moved into the 20th century


The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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