Bayou-Diversity (22 July 2018) LOUISIANA HEAT Always during the play of August days in Louisiana when the temperature taps the century mark, the sun breaks first on the horizon like a glowing, fertile egg yolk. If there has been no recent respite in the earth’s natural fever, all life awakens with a bunker style strategy of survival. Many species of deciduous plants begin the morning in a wilt instead of waiting for the afternoon. With roots unable to replenish the scarce moisture as fast as evaporation sucks it from leaves, even the dogwoods are hang-dogged. Creatures of the diurnal world stir early and late or not at all. Mammals, haired for temperate climes, lay low. Birds forage at dawn in a brief flit of activity before seeking shade where young-of-the-year cardinals and titmice will pant like puppies by noon. Of their kin only the enigmatic vulture seeks the sun and death in orbits barely visible in the glare. The cold-blooded creatures are not. This is their time but only if careful. Equipped with thermometers but lacking a central heating and cooling system, skinks and anoles dare not tarry on a hot rock lest they stew in their own juices. A rustle of dry leaves reveals their quest for those without backbones – sugar ants and the early instars of grasshoppers. Meanwhile, cicadas drone the song of this, their only season. All else is silent and waits.
The drama of this scene may last for days although usually within a fortnight the spontaneous forecast of a skulking rain-crow becomes more than a haunting lament in the boughs of a white oak. On a late afternoon the first signs are just sensed as low frequency waves shove through the humidity and the barometer marks a change. Antennae and whiskers twitch; lenticels respond. Then, simultaneously, a cooling zephyr and thunder arrive from the southwest. Soon the black mountain appears, trees thrash bitterly among themselves while shedding the twig-girdled clumps of brown leaves favored by vireos, and great dollops of rain close the act for a while. (adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country – LSU Press; photo by KO)