I have been flipping endlessly through a mental catalog of summertime plants- Lavender, Calendula, Hibiscus, Rose, Tomato (that one almost won) and just couldn't decide on the one that best cried out, "Summer is finally here!"
In early June, I was driving one day and it suddenly struck me- it's hot, I have the windows open, there are birds everywhere, and it just looks like summer. I grabbed my phone and started snapping pictures whenever I was stopped in traffic. Not many were in focus, and they don't do the green shades and shading justice, but I did get a few shots that demonstrate our summer, and it was my fervor to document this landscape that led me to my answer for this prompt. Finally, I had hit upon the plant, or at least the category of plants, that to me at least best captures the essence of summer in my native Pennsylvania- the deciduous forest of the Northeast!
Years ago I was visiting my family in Florida late one spring, and I drove myself back to PA. Tooling along Interstate 95 gave me hours and hours of opportunity to observe the changing landscape of highway plantings. Somewhere through North Carolina, I think, there were long stretches of trees planted on either side of the road, almost encasing us in a tunnel of dark, endless green. As I got farther North and entered Virginia, I started noticing some major color changes happening.
I realized that in the South, where it's hotter, all the trees and really all the plants need protective measures against the sun. These include thicker leaves and waxy coatings to preserve moisture, and this gives a darker and more uniform shade of green to the forests.
As I entered my familiar North, I began to see many more shades of green, and many more textures in the leaves. And, as I formally left the South behind, I also left behind their early summer and returned to more late-spring activity. Some trees were fully leafed out while some were still getting there. In just one hour I could see an entire color wheel's worth of hues.
Since that drive up the East Coast, I have observed season after season that the trees mark time for me. And in the summer, they're beautiful. The dappled shade, the deep shadows and electric green that the sun creates- there's almost a glow that comes from inside groves as photosynthesis works its magic. There is something unique and specific in the quality of the light and the air that I can recognize as distinctly summer. Whether you're driving through it, walking through it, sitting outside in the shade at a family picnic, or looking at it through a window, you just know it's summertime
This also means that early in the season, when it gets hot too soon, I just don't count that as summer, but as an over-enthusiastic spring. And similarly, the 'dog days' of summer as September ends are the beginnings of Autumn, not a last gasp of beach vacation and summer camp time. It just doesn't look the same. Those trees tell us the truth.
I live outside of Portland, Oregon and we have that same transformation here. This spring was super enthusiastic, but even so the transition to lush greenery is more a summer event.
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