Summer Refreshments

What is your favorite summer drink?  Iced tea keeps me happy from mid-June through mid-September; I make 2 quarts from three tea bags; black tea, green tea and white tea.  Light and unsweetened!  I was recently told to cut back on caffeine, but tea and cold water quench my thirst. So, I dilute my tea a bit more and hope for the best.  Older people may recall switchel — a summer drink made from vinegar, sugar or honey and cold water.  It was popular in the hay fields and at harvest times. There are all kinds of summer refreshers, from cold drinks to cool breezes, cold compresses and refreshing dips in the lake or pool. The summer months are a time for storing up resources, inner and outer, to ready us for the cooler, then cold, months ahead. 

The unusual warmth this summer has been a challenge, but it still seems untimely (too early) that warm, steamy July is nearly over.  Queen Anne’s Lace is blossoming frosty white along the road sides.  Tomatoes are ripening.  Our pastor is one month into her three-month Sabbatical and, amazingly, all of us here in our small church, are surviving.  People tend to panic when the leader of a group is absent for a while. However, we are all adults, with years of experience in how a church should work.  If we regard it as our three-month exercise in practicing what we preach, to share love and compassion with our community, we should be fine. And three months go quickly if June and July are examples. 

It is a slow time in the garden, although weeds seem to thrive.  Most of the perennials like lupines, peonies, old roses, and iris, have bloomed and are storing up energy for next year.  Annuals planted via seeds aren’t yet flowering.  A few things — hollyhocks, more modern roses, and daylilies are blooming now.  It is really the season for sitting in the garden, taking some deep breaths, and enjoying the ambiance.  If the mosquitoes aren’t too numerous, the twilight and seeing the few fireflies lighting up the night is a fine segue into sleep.

Summer, for many people, means camping.  Some fortunate young people are camp counselors, many children go to camps as campers, and families enjoy camping vacations.  Tent camping is one of those things we have done in the past, enjoyed, and probably won’t be doing again, although “glamping”*does have its lure.  Wherever Kerm worked with youth programs, there was a 4-H camp involved.  I have written about our experience during the 1972 flood, being evacuated from the far side of Pine Creek, via a suspension bridge, and housed in a church high upon a hill in Jersey Shore, PA.  I’ve spoken of the camp on the mountain north of Williamsport – Crystal Lake.  There we were caught in a late-season ice storm complete with thick fog.  Even flashlights could not penetrate that dense blanket. There were trees snapping all around us, no lights in the cabins, and no access to the outside world until some people came with chainsaws and cut the road free of fallen trees.  

 But I may not have written about the 4-H camp across the Neversink River in the Catskills.  The Neversink is well known to trout fishermen, along with the Willowemoc and the Beaverkill.  Because of rising and falling waters, and the expense, there was no bridge to the camping facility, but for a week or so, the DEC allowed two semi flatbeds to be embedded end to end in the river for access.  There was, in addition, a rather rusty hand-over-hand pulley system if one was feeling dexterous and strong.  The down-side to this arrangement was that every time the rains fell at night, Kerm would sit up in bed, saying: “Oh, NO!   I hope my bridge isn’t washing down-stream!”  The “bridge” did wash out more than once, so it was a valid concern, and it was several years after leaving Sullivan County that a midnight downpour stopped waking him up. Trauma lingers!

Personal family camping took us in several directions.  Kerm and I, along with a niece and her friend, tent-camped from NYS to Billings, Montana one summer, and back again.  We only stayed in a motel a couple of times for civilized hot showers.  We found the National Forests to be the most pleasant resting places, but also the most primitive for bathroom/showering facilities.  On the way we explored the caverns beneath Mt. Rushmore, visited Wall Drugs, briefly experienced Yellowstone and as we came back, drove through fields and fields of corn and sunflowers in Kansas and Nebraska.  We had a blown tire at 80 mph in South Dakota where Kerm’s quick reflexes saved us from disaster.  We never did see the bison that I hoped to see, but we were amazed and awed by the diversity of our country as sung about in ‘This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land……”. **   The rivers, the croplands, the mountains (especially the Grand Tetons!) and super-good company made a great cross-country trip.  

When our children were past being toddlers, we camped with them, often visiting friends along the way.  At the time, it was an inexpensive and fun mode of travel.  We enjoyed the Adirondacks and Ft. Ticonderoga, took the ferry across Lake Champlain several times, covered some of New England (including Cape Cod’s National Sand Dune Park and the Burgess Jam Kitchen), went on whale watches and got south as far as Charlottesville, Virginia, where we visited my pen pal from the Philippines who emigrated to the U.S., becoming a nurse here.  Once we spent some nights in the park outside Washington DC, where the National Symphony held summer concerts; wonderful music to calm us into sleep, after touring the National Space Museum, Mt. Vernon and the Washington Zoo.    Here, at home, the boys and their friends often camped in the “wilderness” behind our house.  We had no thought, then, of wandering bears, fisher-cats or rabid raccoons.  And the bathroom facilities were an easy jog down the hill.   While I have wonderful memories of star-filled nights, Coleman stove stew and campfires shooting sparks into the darkness, my bones now prefer the comfort of a real bed.  It is good to have had those experiences (well —–most of them) and camping was an excellent way to acquire an appreciation for the breadth and depth of the country in which we live and the mostly wonderful people therein.

Vacations were not the norm for my family, or Kerm’s, when we were growing up.  Dairy farmers seldom can vacation in the summer, if they vacation at all.  My father had turned the dairy farm over to my brother, and worked for Farm Credit.  But still —- summer was for haying, picnics, canning and mowing the lawn.  And at that time, there was no Disney World or Darien Lake calling.  We had the occasional picnic with family at nearby parks and always my summer birthday party in August, but summers were not traveling vacations.  However, when I was in high school, my parents began attending the summer American Institute of Cooperatives conferences, and they took me along.  This group had an active youth contingent, so I was able to participate as though I was a delegate.  And what fun!  The conference met at a university; one year Michigan State, one year Colorado State, then Purdue.  There were speakers, there was music, and there was dancing.  What a marvelous time I had meeting kids from age 16 to 20 from all over the United States.   Of course, after my junior year in high school, I also had summer jobs, limiting vacation time. Later, as a parent, my summers were full of kids out of school, canning, freezing and activities for church, Grange, 4-H and family.  Kerm’s job increased in busyness with summer camps, horse shows, Fairs and public presentations.  So, going away for fun in the summer, is a relatively new concept.  And most years, we still prefer waiting for cool and colorful Fall.

One of my favorite vacations was really a “staycation.”  Kerm and I planned 5 day-trips within a two-hour driving distance, and were home at night with our own pillows and comforts.  We had a good time eating out and driving to interesting spots.  We visited a couple of museums, explored the Botanical Gardens at Cornell, enjoyed some of our wonderful Finger Lakes parks and checked out interesting places like Skaneateles and Seneca Falls.  I found returning to our home base far more relaxing than being on the road for several days away.  The cats were happy to see us each night too.  

  The goal for vacations is to refresh the mind and body so that one can go back home with a new outlook and increased energies. A healthy interlude from the norm, is good for body and soul, but there are many ways to achieve that.  We are hoping a Sabbatical does this for our pastor, and that she returns to us refreshed, renewed and full (well, maybe not too full; we are an older congregation) of ideas and energy.

As July wanes, we need to take special note of things around us; to enjoy them.  It’s time for refreshing!  What flowers are in bloom?  What fruits are being harvested?  Inhale!  Taste!    “First April, she will mellow showers opens the way for early flowers; then after her comes smiling May, in a more rich and sweet array; Next enters June, and brings us more gems that those two that went before; then lastly, July comes, and she more wealth brings in that all those three.”  Robert Herrick***

Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at:

*Glamping is camping with glamor and more comforts than the usual camping, but still has the good things like campfires and hot cocoa.

**”This Land Is Your Land” — written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940s. 

***Robert Herrick —17th century English poet and Anglican cleric.  1591-1674

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