There are many signs it's summer

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By Ted Manzer

Friday, July 13, 2018

How do we know when it’s summer? Each locale is different, but certain sights, events or smells remind us of different seasons, and summer is no exception.

For me, once I see the smoke of the wheat fields, I’m satisfied spring is behind us. In Maine, that first mess of new potatoes and the end of black fly season signaled it. In West Virginia, the openness of fields after the first hay cutting meant summer was here.

For some folks, that first tomato in the garden means summer. I always look forward to the blooming of crape myrtle and southern magnolia. Daylilies blooming in the ditches along the roadsides always bring a smile to my face.

When summer comes, cornfields explode. It seems like corn grows more than a foot a week. This year in most places it was so wet that corn wasn’t planted until much later than normal. Still, it’s summer and the corn is catching up.

Here in eastern North Carolina, summer memories always seem to wind up at the beach. We always anticipate when the water is warm enough to swim. Fishermen judge the calendar when certain species of fish can be caught.

Not all summer beach memories are sweet though. Summer also means traffic, and U.S. Highway 158 and N.C. Highway 12 can sometimes seem like parking lots.

In Maine, warming waters meant smallmouth activity increased. On a negative note, summer signified when salmon fled to deeper water and could not be caught on the surface with streamer flies.

Up there, July meant the mackerel were in, and I spent many summer days with my grandfather hauling in mackerel. We built our own smoker and smoked tons of them.

Summer is the time when most songbirds fledge. I love to watch the young bluebirds, cardinals and robins fledge. Some take to the air naturally, while others need some help. I also must dodge little killdeer running across the lawn when I’m mowing. The same goes for baby rabbits.

Summer also means thunderstorms. Sometimes they can be violent, but it’s sure nice when temperatures drop out of the stifling levels. Usually hurricanes hold off until the end of summer.

When skies darken, out come the fireflies. We used to catch them as kids and keep them in jars. In summer, the sound of whippoorwills rings through the night. My wife once told me her dad wouldn’t allow her to go barefoot until the whippoorwills called. She always listened for them intently.

For me, summer always means berry picking. Strawberries come first, then raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Black cherries come about this time too. That is if you can beat the birds to them. Elderberries come along a little later.

Speaking of food, summer means cookouts. Walk through any neighborhood on a summer evening and enjoy the aroma of the grill. I grill often and everything imaginable. Cooking inside heats up the house and makes electric bills skyrocket.

Probably best of all, summer is the only time when I can leave the house in daylight and return home from work before dark. That’s nice.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.