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Opinion | At Summer’s End

But perhaps the reason I didn’t feel sad about the onset of fall when I was younger is only that I was younger, with my whole life still ahead. In those days my only worry was that my real life, the one I would choose for myself and live on my own terms, was taking too long to arrive. Now I understand that every day I’m given is as real as life will ever get. Now I understand that we are guaranteed nothing, that our days are always running out. That they have always, always been running out.

And so I greet this gorgeous season with a quiet and a stillness I never felt when I was younger and in such a hurry. I used to laugh at the comical shabbiness of the bluebirds in molt, so fussy with one another as their new feathers come in. Now I know it won’t be long before these fledglings, whom I have known since their mother laid the eggs they came from, will be off in their gorgeous adult blues to search for their own territories. The hummingbirds, too, are waging war over my feeder, putting on weight for their journey, and one morning soon I will wake up to find them gone with the dawn. I am always so sorry to see them go.

The little spider, one of the orb weavers, who pitched her camp next to my outdoor faucet this summer is making her egg sacs now. She too will be gone by the time cold weather arrives, but unlike the hummingbirds, she will not be coming back. Her future lies in the perfect egg sacs she has strung together like pearls and hung in the center of her elaborate web — six of them now, with more to come, I think.

The gift of the equinox, the day on which there are as many hours of light as of darkness, is the gift of Janus. Looking behind and before at once, her vision is more appropriate to September than to January. So I am looking ahead, too, even as I look behind — as the birds fly south and my summer companion, the broadhead skink, finds a dark place to spend the winter. I will watch for her to wake next spring, just as I will watch for the warblers and the hummingbirds to return, just as I will watch for this summer’s seeds, carried on the winds of autumn and in the bellies of birds, to push up from the earth and bloom again.

And all winter I will keep watch over the little spider’s egg sacs, hoping that one of her daughters chooses this quiet spot for her own web. It’s a good place to settle in — damp and shady, a respite from the harsh light of summer.

Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”

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