A Naturalist Voice

Witness the Early Summer Launch

Field notes by Jeff Cantrell,
Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation

I was a “summer kid,” still a Leo I presume, yet I find it to be no excuse for tolerating the summer temps. It’s hard to believe so many of us grew up without central air. I recollect warmheartedly my parents holding the truck doors open whilst the built-up heat escaped from the parked “Ford greenhouse” we would take to town. School would start in high temperatures like this, and there was no guarantee the teacher would bring their box fan from home. So, we students would wipe our foreheads and crack open the new textbooks.

That was then, this is now. Today, most of us truly take advantage of air conditioning. Home, church, shopping, cars etc., are expected to be comfortable in August. The days of situating towels on car seats so bare legs won’t touch hot vinyl upholstery are over for most of us.

As a naturalist and outdoorsman, I recommend, and as a morning person, it is easy for me to state, “Get up early in the dog days of summer” and take advantage of the “summer launch” each a.m. I agree with John Muir when he said, “I have discovered that I also live in creation’s dawn. The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”

This time of year, 90 percent of our songbirds are quietening down and laying off territory defense. A few birds sing when ignited by peripheral cues. Mostly their vocalizations are for the benefit and tutelage of the earlier season fledglings the parent birds just raised. It seems only the indigo bunting energetically sings beyond the cooler mornings. The morning insect calls are from different species than the six-legged creatures who sing at night. Their calls may be slower, softer and many have a pulse to them.

Wild mammals are more likely to be active in the morning time and will be seeking heat relief well before noon. The color of the wildflowers will be dominated by yellows and whites. These flora colors now advertise to the late summer pollinators. Our native trees will start to appear a little tested; it is time for their leaves to store less sugar and join in hundreds of food chains taking place across the ecosystem. If the trees are native and the herbivorous insects dining on them are native, everything should be going according to the natural plan.

The summer launch wakes up a diversity of wildlife slowly. We may partake in a cup of morning coffee or a glass of ice-cold milk and listen and observe the natural stage all unfold from the porch. Or my favorite past-time would be from the streambank, kayak or canoe where the launch is literal. Our Ozark steams will likely still have a morning fog lifting. Mayflies spend most of their lives as nymphs in the water; the morning hours gives us a chance to see the emerging adults. Wood duck families quietly forage along the water’s edge. Refreshing is the sensation as you first step into the water with dace, stone rollers and Ozark shiners nibbling at your ankles. Don’t knock it until you experience the moving water at your feet; it is enthralling, or at least is for us with summer kid memories. 

August has an enchantment of its own. There are cool experiences among the hot temperatures. Enjoy the season, and I hope to see you on the trail or Indian Creek (during the summer launch hours).  – Jeff

Jeff Cantrell is an outdoor conservation educator for the MO Dept. of Conservation. He volunteers his time for several non-profit conservation-related organizations.