Summer in the mountains is quickly waning; make the most of it | VailDaily.com

Summer in the mountains is quickly waning; make the most of it

Jaymee Squires
Curious Nature

I'm sorry. I hate to be the one to say it, but it's almost here: the end of summer. I know because I saw football on TV last night. So I was going to write today to tell you about grebes (which are very interesting, by the way), but instead, I felt the need to warn you about the impending end of summertime so that you can all make the most out of it.

So my plea is for you to drink every last drop of summer. Go camping and wake up to the first rays of sunlight filtering through the treetops. Float the lazy stretches of the Colorado River and dip your feet or more into its cool waters, quickly, before they turn icy cold and the birds fly south and the snow flies and the wind bites your face.

But clearly I'm getting ahead of myself; summer is not over yet, and there's still so much to do. There are only a few days until school starts — what haven't you done yet?

The last of summer's joys are some of the best. While the wildflower fireworks have toned down, there are some special late-season blooms that you may be less familiar with. Consider the gentians; the tall, green gentian has probably finished flowering in most places, but its shyer and lesser-known cousins are lighting up the mountain meadows right now with their deep-purple hues.

There's mountain gentian, fringed gentian, star gentian and a few others; look for their various shades of purple once the morning chill burns off. Some of these flowers are photo sensitive and will close up during the night, conserving the precious solar radiation from the dwindling days.

And of course, there are the local farmers markets and fruit stands with their fresh Colorado produce. My hat is off to these hearty farmers because I struggle to keep my tiny little backyard garden alive and healthy. But the payoff is so mighty; there's nothing like the taste of tomatoes right off the vine.

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In fact, it's how I learned to love tomatoes, when my mom convinced me to pop that tiny little cherry tomato in my mouth, right out of the garden. It was like nothing I ever tasted, and I went from hating tomatoes with their slimy insides to loving the fruit. (Yes, tomatoes and other plant parts typically described as vegetables, such as zucchini and other squash, are botanically considered fruits because they form from the ovary of the flower and contain seeds.)

But perhaps the absolute stars of the late-summer fruit stands are the peaches. There's nothing like those sweet, fleshy slices dripping with juice, and the farmers know it, as they hand out those tasty, tempting samples. The possibilities are endless — peach pie, crisp or crumble or the simple fruit itself, in all its natural splendor and sweetness. It's like literally drinking summertime.

Fall doesn't officially begin until the equinox in late September, but here in the mountains, we know that fall comes when it's good and ready. But don't wait until you feel that chill in the air. The birds are still here (some of them) and the waters are still warm (relatively). And perhaps more importantly, the ground is still green and the white blanket has not yet covered the land, limiting our access to the highest peaks and the alpine country around them. So to finish, a quote from my favorite author, the late, great Ed Abbey, said it best, "Get out there … while you can, while it's still here."

Jaymee Squires is the director of graduate programs at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She is counting down the days until school starts and appreciating the last treats of summer.

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