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Milk the marrow of summer

It is time to suck the marrow out of all that remains of summer. 

Get out there and barbecue!

Last weekend, I fired up the charcoal grill a couple of times, once for ribs, another for some sensational locally-raised lamb chops. 

I am not sure which is better, dawdling on the porch as the meat reaches perfection, or actually eating the results. 

Brazilians know how to barbecue: They eat the food as it is ready. No need to worry about getting the corn cobs to a boil just as the meat is finished. Just eat it as it comes.

If it takes a few hours to finish the meal, so much the better. You're with friends. Eating is a social activity. 

After the meal was completed at this Norman County barbecue, I couldn't bear to stay inside. 

The cool dusk air suppressed the mosquitoes, so I wandered out to build a fire on the driveway. 

Once the fire rose to a roar, the guests filtered out, dragging chairs. 

As the darkness deepened, the stars emerged. Within an hour, the Milky Way glowed overhead. 

My favorite astronomical trick, probably because it is the only one I know, is to locate the Andromeda galaxy, our next door neighbor. 

If you have good eyes, which I don't, you can see it. Otherwise, you need binoculars. 

From our viewpoint, Andromeda is five moon-widths across, making it impractical to view with a telescope. 

The light of the fire made finding the galaxy difficult. 

So, we cheated. Out came the younger set's iPads and iPods. Sure enough, the gadgets pointed right to the spot in the sky where the galaxy was supposed to be. 

I scanned the spot with the binoculars until I found the dim disc of green. 

Finding Andromeda always gives me a shot of adrenaline, sort of like walking to the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time. 

Then the task became to explain how to find the galaxy to those who were interested. 

Using the very visible W of Cassiopeia and the silhouetted branches from an oak tree as guides, two people eventually found Andromeda. 

"Hey, cool!" was the response from both.

However, the iPods and the iPads soon regained the younger crowd's attention.

Remember the old days when we sat around the campfire texting each other funny websites? 

Yeah, me neither. 

To get more star time, I walked farther away from the house on the driveway until I was out of the range of the fire's light, but could still hear the laughter.

Conditions were perfect. No moon. Still no dew on the grass. No wind. I stretched out on the lawn just off the shoulder of the drive and took in the Milky Way. 

Arizona is home to dozens of observatories, simply due to its clear skies and low humidity. 

But Arizona has nothing on a cool, clear night in Minnesota. If we had more such nights, we'd have observatories here, too. 

The Milky Way was a grand sight. Even without those funny paper glasses, the stars popped into 3-D. I felt like I could fly right through them. 

A little breeze rustled a few aspen leaves at the top of the woods. A few nocturnal birds hooted and cooed. The swans splashed in the pond. 

The only other noise was the faint howl of a neighborhood grain dryer, a sound so tied in my memory to late summer that it has become as nostalgic as a distant train whistle. 

As I walked back to the fire, shaking off the gravel bits and grass clippings, I tried to keep a good attitude.

Shouldn't I be happy to spend such a perfect evening outdoors? 

Yes, I was happy. But the happiness was bittersweet, mixed with a tinge of dread.

I noticed that it was pitch dark well before ten o'clock. When did the sun start to set so early? 

Harvest is underway. The grasses, wildflowers and swamps are starting to show late summer wear. 

In the back of my mind: Old Man Winter lurks just around the bend. 

So, let's milk these last wonderful weeks of summer for all they're worth. 

Barbecue some fatty ribs. Eat five buttered cobs of corn in one sitting. Take a bite out of a tomato, pitch it in the woods and pick another. Eat some sour, green apples off the tree. 

Lay on the ground and look at the stars. 

Don't just can pickles and salsa. 

Store up enough summer memories to get us through to March.