The month of August, named after Augustus Caesar, begins with Lammas Day, the start of traditional harvest time in Britain and the end of summer in the old Celtic way of reckoning. It feels like that in the northern hemisphere, doesn’t it?
There’s something slightly ominous about August. Back in college, I watched an eastern European apocalyptic film called, The End of August at the Hotel Ozone. It was about as cheery as the name, and when you try them out, you find that none of the other months work as well in the title. On the 4th day of August, in 1914, guns belched fire and World War I began. On the other hand, like any month, there have been good and bad times in history; the second world war came to an end on August 14.
I like August. I stand outside, watching the warm light of evening, and there is both beauty and poignancy, for you can’t help but notice the days getting shorter. Here it is in a poem by Dana Gioia, “California Hills in August.” He speaks to those who find the end-of-summer hills barren:
One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.
And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.
And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.
The end of summer evokes its own sort of romantic feelings too, and I think that goes along with the dying of the light. In earlier times, at the Lammas fairs, young people could enter a “trial marriage,” generally lasting 11 days. They were free to walk away if it didn’t work out. A bit more sparse than our hearts and cupids in February, but maybe more realistic.
And in that romantic spirit, I’ll end with a beautiful harvest song / love ballad by Fairport Convention, a marvelous group from across the water that is still going strong after 46 years.