It’s hot here in Denver today, with the high predicted at 98 to 100 degrees F. I guess I shouldn’t complain, because as I write (just before noon Mountain Time on July 13), it is 105 in Phoenix with a prediction of 112 as the day’s high. Of course, those of us in the drier climes have the advantage of lower humidity, but 100 degrees is still miserable.
Plus, I don’t have air conditioning and I work at home. I do have a “swamp cooler,” which works well until the outside temperatures reach about 90 degrees. At that point I turn off the swamp cooler, shut the windows and close the shades. From then on until the evening brings some relief, I sit in the glow of my monitor and the dogs lie panting in various locations on the floor — mostly on the cooler tiled places. When it gets too hot, even they don’t want to go outside, and my older one steadfastly refuses to cross any asphalt street.
We are well past the old European concept of “midsummer,” basically referring to the June Solstice that marks the beginning of Summer in modern concepts, but not quite to the midpoint between the official seasonal change points (the June solstice on June 21, and the September equinox, on September 22 for North America this year). Still, the July is the hottest month here in Denver and in many other places, so from a purely temperature standpoint, midsummer has begun.
Despite the miserable temperatures and late sunsets (which delay the onset of otherwise starry nights), midsummer is the beginning of my favorite part of the year. That’s not for the current conditions, mind you, but for what is just around the bend of the seasons. I have always loved fall, with its lovely weather and holidays, capped off with Christmas (which due to my background I honor and anticipate above all others, although I respect other traditions). So long about midsummer I start looking in earnest for the signs of seasonal change. Intellectually, I know that it will be another two months before anything seriously approaching fall comes around, but I am optimistic.
The sound of cicadas are always a good sign, not so much as an indication of cooler weather but perhaps that we have at least reached the peak of the hot weather. They are periodic and some years I don’t hear any at all. It seems that there are several different “broods” of cicadas, with differenet schedules, so although many have 13 or 17 year cycles, there are usually one or another brood that emerges every summer. I haven’t heard any yet this summer, but my hearing is not very good any more. (Could be male pattern deafness or over-exposure to Pink Floyd laser shows in the 80s.)
Still, already it is clear that sunsets are coming a little earlier, and sunrises just a little later. We may not have hit the hottest day of the year yet, but the snowstorms of June (cottonwood cotton) are gone, and the grasses are beginning to dry up a little. Here and there, strewn on the ground on the path by our nearby creek, I’m finding more and more cottonwood leaves, bright in the yellow hue all of them will wear just before the tree goes into a long winter sleep. In my mind I know that a few scattered yellow leaves are not caused by seasonal change but rather by some tree disease, genetic condition or mechanical injury such as a broken limb that cuts off the flow of water and nutrients. But I see it as a sign of the coming change, as fresh and full of surprises as the landscape beyond the next bend on a familiar but unknown road.
Larry Sessions has written many favorite posts in EarthSky's Tonight area. He's a former planetarium director in Little Rock, Fort Worth and Denver and an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He's a longtime member of NASA's Solar System Ambassadors program. His articles have appeared in numerous publications including Space.com, Sky & Telescope, Astronomy and Rolling Stone. His small book on world star lore, Constellations, was published by Running Press.