Chicory, Ditch Lilies, and Queen Anne’s Lace: An Homage to Late Summer in the Midwest

When you live in a part of the world that enjoys 4 distinct seasons, it is possible to enjoy the sensory feast that is each one. Too often, however, we are so accustomed to our surroundings that we fail to notice the everyday beauty that is on our doorstep. Each place on this earth has a unique, purposeful amalgamation of flora, fauna, weather, and the like that makes it HERE.  Currently, in my part of the U.S., we are enjoying mid-to-late summer sights, smells, and sounds. In the Midwest, the trinity of chicory, ditch lilies, and Queen Anne’s lace is lining the roads.

Ditch lilies/orange day lilies along a Midwest roadside.

The ditch lilies (what folks around here call the orange day lilies that spring up everywhere) tap out by August 1st, but the other two will keep going strong until late fall.

Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace: interesting fact–they’re doing all kinds of interesting things with chicory these days. It’s not just a coffee substitute for pioneers anymore!

They are so ubiquitous as to become almost invisible, but if you actually LOOK, they are quite beautiful. As September comes, they will be joined by goldenrod, asters, Joe Pye weed and ironweed. The roadsides, however, will remain the domain of the periwinkle colored chicory and the bobbing heads of Queen Anne’s lace.

Another sight this time of year is the corn blossoming into tassel. When the dew starts to fall as the August evenings cool, driving through corn country with the windows down is a sweet treat.

Corn in tassel on a lovely farm.

It always makes me feel like a child again, tucked up against Dad’s side in the ’67 Chevy pick-up, coming home from the softball field. Dad ran the Old-Timers’ League in Carroll, Ohio, in the 70’s, where he spent MANY an evening supervising men’s softball games; sometimes we’d go along to watch him play. This was in the days when men generally still wore jeans to play recreationally—and sometimes even a collared shirt. “Activewear” wasn’t even a thought yet–but I digress.

Besides the fragrant corn, even grass takes on a different, sweeter smell this time of year. In the spring, it is so vibrant and fresh, but now, when it is cut—if it is cut at all— it has a golden, ripe aroma. Its fragrance is of the last swell of growth before going dormant in the fall.

On late summer nights/early late summer mornings, the air sometimes condenses into thick fog which isn’t nearly as common in other seasons.

The fog hovers above the ground on days like this and it looks like you could tunnel under it.

The fog’s cool fingers let you know that winter is somewhere out there in the white swirling around you, but it won’t find you yet. 

They say that the first frost comes 90 days after you hear the first cicada each summer. As a teacher, I always dreaded hearing that first trill since it meant that fall, indeed, was coming. The year we were painting Abby’s room, we had the windows open on a beautiful July 2, when she and I first heard the clarion call. Now that I’m retired, I enjoy much more the raucous cacophony that makes up an Ohio August. Just as spring peepers tell your ears that it is late March, the cicada lets you know that summer has reached its zenith in the Midwest. The crickets and other insects can keep up quite a symphony on a Midwest night, only abating as the birds sing the sun up.

After so many years—55 really—of living according to the rhythm of the school calendar, it still feels as if I’m playing hooky in August now that I don’t have to be preparing for a fresh year. So far this August, I haven’t had one of my anxiety dreams about the classroom (it’s still early yet, though!). It is a luxury to be able to enjoy the winding down of summer: days that are still long, but aren’t as scorching, the bounty of the garden, and the natural chronicle that lets us know instinctively where we are in Mother Nature’s world. Breathe deeply. Look. Listen. Repeat.

6 thoughts on “Chicory, Ditch Lilies, and Queen Anne’s Lace: An Homage to Late Summer in the Midwest

  1. Marla this is beautiful. Brought back so many memories. My mother and all her sisters were school teachers. Three seasons all called for a walk In The country. Pickaway county. All the things you mentioned were all the things they liked. I still love the cicada music🎼🎹 I m very sad for people that never experience the beauty of the seasons. Your writing gave me chills, I felt like I was back in the day. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a delight Marla! I am going to love rereading this in a morning when we have the swing up in the back yard and I have a cup of tea in hand. The corn in the field adjacent to our back yard is in full tassel and will soon be ready for harvest. It is a great morning when you can wake up to the hum of the corn picker,tractor, and trucks. Life is good and life goes on for us all.Thanks so much for all the memories. For now I will just enjoy my “ditch lilies” with my tea.

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