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Doney Park

Sunset After Rains

I love the month of August. Back in Pennsylvania on the farm, it was always the hottest and driest month, the grass brown and brittle under our leathered feet. We swam every day. Oh, and the light at dusk: There was some sort of glow that happened after the sun went down and everything turned golden. Summers seemed endless back then, school didn't start until after Labor Day, and August, with its brilliant sun, seemed to stretch on forever.

We had no air conditioning, of course, and the farmhouse felt like an extension of the outdoors; it never really cooled off at night. Windows and doors open, the heat settling into my bones, I was just a little animal glorying in the warmth, so thrilled to not need a sheet or blanket. I could have slept outside with all the wild creatures, or with the horses in the pasture. I was one of them. I loved being that girl.

This August, here in Flagstaff 50 years later, I'm remembering her. I cannot run around barefoot, nor can I swim any longer, but it's hot, and I can sleep without a sheet or blanket. And I can hear the horses through the open windows. August is still my favorite month, even though the contrast between Flagstaff and southeast Pennsylvania is stark. No brown and brittle grass here! With the monsoon rains, our prairie is in bloom. We've measured close to six inches of rain since the monsoon began, and my plantings, so stressed after our dry winter, are thriving.

Our property reads like a list of natives to plant in Doney Park and east Flagstaff. The grasses: purple three-awn (a good reason not to run around barefoot!), blue grama, and sand dropseed. The night bloomers: evening primrose and Colorado four o'clock, a favorite of sphinx moths. The colors: red blanket flowers, blue dayflowers, yellow prairie zinnia, and white and purple asters. Penstemons, bee balm, Rocky Mountain bee plant, and sunflowers add even more color. Native pollinators have all the food they need, and the monarch butterflies are back to feed on their favorite milkweed, the horsetail. I even saw a monarch caterpillar! The prairie, so long dormant and parched, is back in all its glory.

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Need I say, once more, don't mow! All the plants are supporting a rich array of critters on our two and one-half acres: plateau fence lizards and plateau striped whiptails; desert cottontails and black-tailed jackrabbits; Gunnison prairie dogs; and my favorite, the tiny spotted ground squirrel. A colony of them has set up shop close to our front porch among the rabbitbrush and alligator juniper.

An old friend recently said to me that deep down inside we are all still 12 years old. I'm not sure that is true, but this August, I am again a 12 year old girl. I feel light and lithe working with my horses, Scout and Kenosha, for the first time since my shoulder surgery. I'm gardening a little again, too, and the work feels good. I'm outside a lot, it's hot, I'm covered in dirt and I remember what it feels like to be with bugs and horses and plants all day long.

Lynne Nemeth is Executive Director of the Arboretum at Flagstaff. To contact her with comments or ideas, email Lynne.Nemeth@thearb.org.

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