I went to the theater last night, a very small venue hosting a show of eight short vignettes. By the end of the fourth one, it was clear that something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The air conditioner had stopped working — and in zone 10, that can be an issue.
At intermission, the small audience stepped outside into the 90-degree, steamy south Florida night air to cool off — and a sort of camaraderie blossomed among the theatergoers. We were all sweaty soldiers determined to see the end of the play, despite the sauna-like conditions inside.
That’s when I overheard one female audience member say to her friend, “It’s because it’s August. It’s like the worst month.”
Now, I don’t think August wrecked the AC — that would be ridiculous — but I had to wonder: Could August be the actual villain in the play of months? Is this how we should greet August when it steps onto the calendar stage?
I’ve never hidden my disdain for August. No offense Caesar Augustus, for whom the 8th month is named, but who needs it? August is a devious, passive-aggressive, saboteur. It wants you to think of it as a summer month when it’s actually stealing bits and pieces of summer away.
For me, August has always meant the end of summer and the start of school. The angle of the August sunlight is noticeably different than a month ago. August whispers that it’s soon time to cover the pool and to pack up the yard.
Most of all, though, August has always been the time of year when the garden looks its worst. Plants are overgrown, petered out, and just tired. They’re ready for some time off.
Besides, August doesn’t even have a holiday to make it bearable.
In Fort Lauderdale, August is a brutal month. Because this has been an especially rainless rainy season, each day of the month has been ultra-hot and humid. Daytime temperatures are into the 90s, and the heat index makes it feel like triple digits. During the peak of the day, the sunlight is blazingly white — an unbearable brightness of being.
Even standing still can reduce a person to a puddle.
Nighttime isn’t much better. While people and plants are given a respite from the sun, the atmosphere at ground level isn’t so quick to cool off. As a reference, I’d like to suggest the Kathleen Turner classic Body Heat — only more oppressive and less sexy.
I know this sort of heat wears a person down, and accommodations need to be made in how to get chores done. Sunscreen and a hat can only do so much. I tend to do my puttering in the early morning, until 10:00 a.m. Then it’s time to retreat inside, until about 6:00 p.m.
Plants, though, can’t retreat. They have to see the day through to the end, much like a group of theater folks having to sweat out a play without air conditioning.
While many plants are still performing beautifully — bromeliads, bougainvillea, citrus, crinum lily, and desert rose (pictured above and at the top of this post) to name a few — others have seen happier days. Surprisingly, some of the most beaten down plants are tropicals.
In my Long Island garden, I planted canna and caladium each year to delude myself that I was living in a tropical world. By August, these plants always looked exhausted, practically begging me to dig them and store them before the first frost.
In south Florida, it only made sense that I would take advantage of the climate and plant my long-time friends — only now, I wouldn’t have to dig them and store them.
For months, the canna and various caladiums have bathed the beds with full foliage and striking colors. As the month has progressed, though, they seem to have been touched by the doldrums — the August doldrums. The caladiums are duller and fading fast, while canna leaves are browning and calling it quits.
I know to every thing there is a season — blah, blah, blah — and that this might be a natural cycle for caladium and canna — no different than tulips and daffodils up north.
I just find it odd that canna and caladium would collapse in — of all months — August. Why not September or October? The conspiracy theorist in me is convinced that August is up to no good — again, a dastardly villain tying my garden to the railroad tracks.
August really is the worst month. I know that every great play needs a bad guy, someone to steer the plot to its conclusion, in this case autumn and winter.
Still, I feel the urge to greet August like it’s Glenn Close as the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.
I can feel the hiss rising in my throat. I can hear the boos of the anonymous young woman outside of the theater — the start of a chorus to unravel August’s plan for annual and perennial domination.