Late summer is a moody, broody time, a time of chirring insects, hazy skies and sultry heat. Even as the leaves hang limp on their branches, a blush steals over a few of them.

Fall creeps up on us with ripening apples, the first red tinge to the sumac leaves, the sweltering, languid heat that, with a breath of northwest wind, can give way to the crisp air of autumn.

We feel ourselves poised, as if on the very brink of change. Except that it’s more like trying to stand on the crest of a wave. The stars continue their slow movement, with Orion, the great hunter, rising in the pre-dawn hours now, forever chasing Taurus the bull across the sky. Soon he will rule the winter nights.

The young goldfinches perch on a branch of the lilac one day, chirping for all they’re worth to get their parents to bring them food. By the next day, it seems, they’re landing on the feeder themselves, with a great ruffling of feathers, to get their own sunflower hearts. The hummingbirds drink sugar water from their feeder in preparation for their southward flight.

Yesterday, I watched for a long time as a female hummingbird perched on a twig of one of our lilac bushes. She sat there, unmoving, as the minutes passed. Another hummer lit on the feeder, her long beak poised to drink. The first one buzzed to the feeder and chased the newcomer away. Then she returned to her post on the lilac.

This was repeated again and again. The tiny sentinel would take up her perch, apparently waiting for another one of her kind to approach the sugar water, and when it did, she would go after it. Sometimes the chase would go on for a bit, but eventually she would return to her lilac twig. In the meantime, was she enjoying the precious resource she was so determined to keep others from having? No. She was too busy keeping watch lest another bird drink from it.

As if there were not entertainment enough observing the wildlife in our own yard, sometimes we visit Weskeag Marsh to watch the birds there. The flowers of the wild parsnip there have turned from bright yellow to brown. The other day we saw a flock of snowy egrets, adults and their young, sitting on tufts of grass or wading in the water, graceful white birds with thin legs and long beaks. And those wings, like great white drapes that unfold as they take the sky.

The marsh was also host to a bunch of dark-colored birds that looked like ducks, though I’m not sure what type, who all had their heads underwater as they fed on something that must have been exactly what ducks like, because they never seemed to come up for air. We would watch them for a while, then look away, and when we turned back the ducks were all still heads down, tails in the air, but in a new place.

When you watch a bird or an animal or a tree, it is always entirely itself, one with its surroundings, utterly different from you. Hard as I try, I can’t really imagine what it is to be a goldfinch or a hummingbird or a lilac bush. But the imaginative act is still worthwhile, if only because it makes me see that I am as dependent on the natural world, and as much a part of it, as they are.

Without it, we are both impoverished and eventually cannot live.

Republican Journal editor Sarah E. Reynolds is a longtime employee of Courier Publications.

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