I’ve been saying it for a long time, and Exploratorium teacher Tory Brady said it also at the recent solstice celebration, the Summer Solstice up in this hemisphere is a festival of grief and sadness. On this day the sun seems to hold its breath, and then turns its back and slowly, inch by inch, minute by minute, abandons us mortals to the mounting darkness. A month has passed and already we’ve lost seven minutes … OK, that’s not tragic. But we’re on a downhill slope and before long I’ll be driving through rush hour traffic to catch the sunset at the park. That sucks.
The other loss at summer solstice is the Red-winged Blackbirds. They seem to have a built-in calendar. Every year since I’ve been paying attention they disappear a day or two before the summer solstice. The northwest corner of the park suddenly falls almost silent. Since early in the spring they have dominated here. Their cries, particularly the males’, gave these acres their musical signature from sunup to sundown. While the modestly feathered females got down to the business of hatching and brooding, mostly silent and out of sight down in the broad-leafed cover, the males with their severe black robes and their military red epaulets owned the sky. Often they chased each other. Sometimes they banded together to battle raiding crows, displaying aerial acrobatics more perilous than legendary World War I flying aces. They were never boring, except maybe to the hardworking females who had to listen to those chirpings and tweetings all day long, and who clustered together at the end of breeding season to compare notes. The Red-winged Blackbirds were a boomtown nursery, a rodeo, a circus, an endless fascination — and now they’re gone.
Thank Mother Nature then for the fennel. So many of the other bloomers were flashes in the pan, showing their glory (if you can call super-spiny thistles glorious) for a few weeks or less in June. And the constant background note of the wild radish hangs in there, somewhat diminished, but still faithfully present, probably into October. But the real star of July is the fennel. Is it by coincidence that the fennel is most abundant where the Red-winged Blackbirds made their colony? Is this odorous florescence repaying an investment of blackbird poop? I don’t know. I do know that the fennel is high now, way over my head in places, and that it’s in bloom, and that in a calm hour, its perfume clears my sinuses and possibly alters my consciousness.
I’ve written about the qualities of the fennel here earlier. Here’s some photos of the fennel in its glory.