TEN PLUSES FROM A SHORT SUMMER

In our part of the world, it’s been a short summer. That is, it’s felt even shorter than usual.

Normally, our summer doesn’t kick in until the Fourth of July, and that was the case this year. We had an uncommonly dry June and some oppressively hot, humid days in July. OK, it’s global warming, we know that much – the climatic instability shift that’s no longer deniable to anyone who’s been paying attention to reality. That’s left August, which included a very dark, rainy week.

So here we are, in what’s officially the final three weeks – usually some of our best, if we can get outdoors to engage in them. That is, if you don’t have kids in school. (Unofficially, of course, the whole thing ends on Labor Day weekend.)

Here are 10 highlights from my Summer of 2018:

 

  1. The princess brigade: In the past year, a family from South Dakota has moved in down the street, and their two daughters have become good friends with another girl a few doors the other side of us. So all summer, they’ve been traipsing up and down our sidewalk, one house to the other. As their vacation wore on, they got inventive. One day, I heard the doorbell buzz, went to open the door, nobody was there, but a little bouquet was on the steps along with a note. Later, they were back again, saying I was the only one who responded. That was the beginning of similar exchanges, including cookies or brownies from us some days or having them pick blueberries on another. They’ve definitely brightened our summer.
  2. Our student from China: For one month, we hosted a Chinese college student who had an internship at the Children’s Museum. He could walk to work. It was a delightful experience for all. By the way, he insists my fried rice is better than the version at the Chinese restaurant downtown. We’re hoping to repeat the experience next year.
  3. Blueberry bonanza: We weren’t alone. Others reported gangbusters of blueberries. In our case, a new way of covering them with protective netting helped, too – the squirrels and birds didn’t scarf off with the harvest before we could get our share.
  4. Productive drafting: I thought I was done revising my novels, that I could move into the next stage of supporting their publication. But then I made the mistake of opening an unfinished manuscript, one based on a character who appears in one of the novels, and felt an obsessive need to delve deeper into an understanding of her motivations and experiences. Let me say simply the venture took me into shady sides of my own emotions, and while I doubt I’ll ever release this work for publication, its pages do contain what I feel is some of my finest writing. I’m still not finished, but at least I’ve come to a place where I can take a breather. When I return to the file, the labor will be in smaller, less demanding portions.
  5. Overdue framing: There’s a backlog of household projects to get to – there always is, if you live in an old home like ours – but I did finally get around to framing and hanging a number of pictures. Some, like the icons my wife brought back from Macedonia and Crete, still need a place on a suitable wall – something that’s in surprisingly short supply in our abode. But it is a break in an emotional ice jam on my part. Maybe scraping and painting the hallways will be next? Going through my surviving artwork from high school was also an illuminating experience. I did that?
  6. A dear friend’s memoir: I felt honored to be asked if I’d take a look at her document but then put it aside until I could give it full attention. It was worth it. While we’ve known each other 30 years now, we always lived at a distance – the closest being an hour away and then five-plus hours and now several thousand miles. Still, having the opportunity to reconnect this way was a deep blessing and added greatly to my perspective, especially as details of her remarkable life fell into place here.
  7. Ambience of New England Yearly Meeting: At this year’s sessions, some of us were carrying an awareness of our week together as being worship, not just in the Quaker business sessions but in our time of meals and chance conversations and even contradancing or the raucous coffee house evening as well. Instead of ending each of our business sessions with the traditional shaking of hands, our presiding clerk held back until the end of the final one, giving the action extra poignancy. If Western Christianity has nothing like the Eastern Orthodox Holy Week, where every day from Palm Sunday through Pascha (or Easter) has its intense liturgy, it is possible to realize how unique Quaker yearly meeting stands to that in its own way. In fact, our minuting of the sessions can be seen as writing the liturgy as we go rather than following an existing text – immersion liturgy, as one Friend quipped. Oh, yes, and reconnecting with special Friends was also personally renewing.
  8. Our firewood stack: The delivery came less than a week after I ordered it, rather than a month or two later. Stacking the two cords in a pile to stay up at least a year for further seasoning is always hard toil for an office-type dude like me, but it also has a puzzle-solving aspect of fitting the pieces together. It’s done now, went faster than expected, actually, and I’m proud of how it looks. Will have even more satisfaction sitting beside the flames in our Jotul on a cold winter day.
  9. Jenny Thompson outdoor pool: The indoor swimming pool always closes for annual maintenance the last two weeks of August, and those of us who have passes get to use the outdoor pool then without having to pay extra. The extra length of the lanes – 50 meters instead of 25 yards – can be a killer (my half-mile means eight laps outdoors rather than 18 indoors), but there’s something invigorating about being out in that late summer air, the wind rippling through the warning banners over each end of the pool, and the brilliant sunlight everywhere. On the backstroke, especially, counting the contrails of jetliners descending for Logan International Airport in Boston to our southwest or watching for bald eagles soaring off over the Cocheco River can add to my delight.
  10. Greek festival: Dover’s Greek Orthodox church hosts its festival every Labor Day weekend, its welcome to the entire community. Unlike many similar events elsewhere, ours does not charge an entry, so the music and dancing are essentially free. OK, you can buy raffle tickets or a full meal and drinks as a means of supporting the fundraiser. Me? The old-time Quakers wouldn’t have had music, much less dancing or games of chance, but I love the contrast. (By the way, I learned only after the fact that Portsmouth’s Greek festival had returned in July after a hiatus last year. Oh, my, speaking of contrast.)
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OUR GARDEN’S MOST PROLIFIC WEEDS

Even with a field guide, weeds can be hard to name. At least in polite terms. As a gardener, identifying them as weeds is easy enough, once they’re past a certain point of sprouting – they aren’t what you’re expecting and they’re growing faster than what you planted. Staying ahead of them is another matter, especially if you’re trying to be organic like us.

Here are 10 that have been especially problematic this year.

  1. Virginia creeper: Initially, it looks like a nice ground cover in a wooded area. Maybe something to climb a tree trunk, too. But beware, it develops tenacious woody roots that can grow six feet a day – that’s not an official measure, by the way, just a sense I have returning to the same site a day after I thought I’d cleared it. This beast nearly took out one of our big shrubs last year. ‘Nuff said?
  2. Bindweed: Another one that can strangle a neighbor in no time. It looks a lot like a morning glory, which can also go rogue.
  3. Creeping Charlie: This little ground ivy and a shiny-leaf cousin take over in no time. One couple two blocks away covered their entire garden in black plastic this year in what we suspect is a futile effort to eradicate it.
  4. Mystery stalk No. 1: It has large leaves and started popping up like crazy in our strawberry bed. New to us this year. Looks like its seeds come at the base of the leaves. Think it’s also the one in two of our potato pots … kinda resembles the young tater plants. At least it was easy to uproot.
  5. Mystery stalk No. 2: This one has nasty-looking jagged leaves and a big fuzzy stalk. Also new to us this year. Can’t find either of these online.
  6. Wild chervil: Looks kind of like Queen Anne’s lace, which we tolerate, but I just read the down and dirty on this deceptive tan flower. It’s going to be big trouble next year. Ouch!
  7. Multiflora rose: Its vines are always a pain, and they take over in no time. For us, they’re often near the equally stubborn Japanese honeysuckle.
  8. Dandelions: My, what taproots! And if you don’t get all of one up, you’ll soon have another opportunity … to fail.
  9. Common purslane: Another one that gained a foothold this year and will be back with a vengeance next year. My wife says I better learn to like it in salads.
  10. Grass: Many varieties invade the garden and squeeze out what we’re growing, but the Bermuda roots and stems have been particularly nasty this year.

AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

~*~

For the poems, click here.

TEN NOXIOUS WEEDS

They won’t coexist. They strangle any competition. At heart they’re boa constrictors with stubborn roots. And if that won’t work, they’ll just suffocate it.

  1. Yes, grass. When it gets in the garden beds, it pushes everything else out.
  2. Ground ivy. We have two types all over the place.
  3. Virginia creeper.
  4. Multiflora roses.
  5. Japanese honeysuckle.
  6. Goutweed (St. Jerome wort?).
  7. Stealth maples. Don’t laugh. Twice in two decades a pleasant little shade garden reverted to forest.
  8. Japanese knotweed.
  9. Dandelions, with their deep roots. Ditto for Queen Ann’s Lace.

Mint comes close. We have both spearmint, east of the house, and peppermint west of the Smoking Garden. But sometimes it comes in handy. Especially for folks who want contractors bags filled to brimming.

~*~

What would you add to the list?

Virginia creeper is an attractive weed … until it starts smothering everything it’s overrunning.

WAY BEHIND IN THE YARD AND HOUSEWORK

In the cardio aftermath, I was generally laying low, apart from my immersion in some serious revisions of my previously published novels.

And then? I looked at the window and saw an outburst of green – on the trees, especially. I had a sharp sense of having lost a big chunk of time.

We had some hard storms this winter, and some major branches came down from our trees. We were lucky they missed hitting roofs, cars, or outdoor furniture.

Still, it’s meant a lot of cleanup, and there’s more work to be done with a chainsaw.

The gardens, too, are behind schedule. I never got to the beach to collect seaweed, back before the seasonal out-of-town parking ban kicked in. Hauling those buckets and extracting the collected bags from the car trunk takes exertion, beyond what’s considered safe during recovery. I mean, I’d hate to take a nitroglycerin pill at the beach while working alone.

Nor did I get to some interior painting and picture-framing, as planned this winter. Some? There’s a lot.

We are watching some big changes downtown, especially where the city is carving away a hillside to extend our riverfront park and open space for new housing as well as open direct access to a hilltop park above, which is also being expanded and developed. This development, which crept up on me while I was recovering and not heading down that way to the indoor pool, will greatly enhance the central focus of the city.

Downtown is also undergoing the razing of an old retail block to make room for a five-story retail and worker housing structure. It will also eliminate what’s been an annoying traffic obstruction.

Glad I’m back in action. Wonder what else I’ve been missing.

Me at the compost bin at the far corner of our lot. Every year I empty the finished compost, which gets worked into the garden beds, and reload it with more leaves and the like to start over. Producing a full bin of compost takes at least five times that volume of raw material.

FARM-FRESH POTENTIAL

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others.

The daily soup special at the family restaurant in my new novel, What’s Left, was one way to introduce the now widely touted practice of local sourcing, perhaps with a hint of organic gardening. Here it begins when Cassia’s great-grandmother and her sister make rounds of nearby farms, gardens, and orchards in search of fresh produce, eggs and dairy, and perhaps meat. (I never get quite that specific, but a quick brushstroke will do.) The action picks up with her parents’ generation and its back-to-the earth movement – one in which I suspect some bartering might have occurred. Used cooking oil, for instance, has found value as motor fuel for some farmers.

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ANY NUMBER OF WAYS

he could die now flattened by wheels electrocuted, biting a live wire poisoned or simple disease or drown all the complications, amassed *   *   * somewhere, in the limbs what had riled him so early? Blue Jay squawking could be confused for squirrels (What was the opera, anyway? Certainly not Cinderella with her matching fur […]