This past week saw the beginning of what could promise to be one of the greatest monarch butterfly migrations in a long time. The wind was gentle and blowing out of the southwest and south-southwest on most days after Tropical Storm Irene’s passage. At this time of year the monarchs fresh out of their chrysalises are heading south and southwest, into the wind, and following the shoreline. Since before the year 2000 here on eastern Long Island we have seen very little in the way of monarchs come the end of summer.
Hurricane Irene has come and gone. Last year Earl swept up the coast near the end of August with a great deal of hullabaloo. It missed us but did carry away some of Montauk’s valuable ocean beach sand. Irene had decidedly better aim and hit when the tide was high, washing away beaches and dunes from the Rockaways to Montauk Point.
If you take a ride out to Montauk via the parkway, you will pass through Hither Woods. As you motor along, keep your eyes on the rusting guardrails. Just behind them you will find a very healthy four-foot-high hedge of big bluestem grass, one of the original staples of old Montauk’s bountiful prairie. At one time it stretched from the western end of the Napeague isthmus to the point, a few trees here and there, but mostly grasses and wildflowers.
We are two-thirds of the way through summer and the last third promises to be one of the toughest to get through, unless you stay inside or remain in your car. If you go outdoors, either in the field or in the water, on the South Fork you’re in for it. A host of pests will be waiting for you. They have to get their dinners before turning into adults or laying eggs.
The middle of the summer is the best time to enjoy the plants. I like birds. I like mammals, I am one. I like fish. I like snakes, salamanders, turtles, and frogs. I like all of the animals without backbones, especially the ones in the sea. I even like insects, spiders, and most other creepy-crawlies. But there is nothing quite so beautiful as a plant. I like plants best.
The weather people tell us we are in the dog days of summer. It is not surprising, then, to hear at the day’s hottest point a piercing whine, the likes of which you might have woken up to on an October Sunday morning when the gasoline-powered leaf blowers start in. But in these boiling-hot days, that sound is not a leaf blower but the dog day harvest fly, or dog day cicada, perhaps the loudest of all insects in North America.