The second week of August, when like so many others (as I know from experience, having met them on the highway) I motored away from home to summer places, the season in eastern Massachusetts fell into "the dries," a kind of valley of fatigue, a near-death valley. It happens some time every summer, but since I was gone so much I was slower to pick up on it. Back home this week I busied myself watering the potted plants, oblivious to the general collapse in the perennial beds. Pachysandra lying on the ground in a wilted state of mind, like flocks of thirsty beasts in a desert: never saw that before.
It's time for cutting back, retrenchment. Humility. That drier, late-summer, less flowery aesthetic. Modest, buttoned down, trimmed back. Thrift arrives, at last. Moderation in all things. The Puritans are about to close the playhouses. Small distinctions matter more now; a second bloom left here and there. A late bloom, a renewed bloom, That rare and cherished late bloomer. A certain sedum's pinkish smile, the bizarre spotted lily. Those September stars, the asters. Those sea-creatures-on-land with their thirst for faraway places, the late-season anemones.
When I finally realize that my one-man bucket brigade will poop out well before I water the whole critical-list dry-space, and that even some areas, some plantings I've hand-watered the day before are crying out once again for more the following day, I throw in the towel and dig the old sprinkler out of the shed. Every season I say 'let's see if I can get by with measured, anticipatory hand-watering, without resorting to the sprinkler.' Every season I'm wrong.
So I sprinkle the whole back flower garden, after relying on the water can to cater to the high-priority vegetable garden customers (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil). And then, the following day, comes what the newspaper with its usual flair for horror flick hyperbole calls "a wall of water."
I'm glad. I tune my frame of mind to acceptance. OK, it's middle August. At least after a good rain the plants will be able to decline for a week or two with dignity. "Grow old along with me," as the poem says.On the other hand, of course, I am aware of a certain inward tickling urge to go out and buy some more plants.