August, the month of foggy mornings, cooler nights and the full blossom of summer. I was born on a Saturday in August, which makes me a “child who works hard for a living” according to the old nursery rhyme. I never favored, for me, the traditional flowers (gladiolus, lovely though they are) and gem (sardonyx) associated with August; then someone sent me the Native American zodiac.I found that more fitting, for the flowers were brown-eyed Susans which are less formal. And the peridot is a lovely green. The season is now producing an abundance of lettuce, green beans and flowers. Tomatoes for sandwiches are ripening on the vine. Clear nights are good for watching the Perseids Meteor showers (July 17th – August 24th). We have, on occasion, sat outside in the dark, waiting for “falling stars” to come shooting down.
August signals a return to kid summers — a time for wandering the fields and wondering about what was next in my young life. Mid- August offered a lull in harvesting, so there were some leisure hours. These might involve helping divide iris corms or freezing green beans ☹, picking elderberries and harvesting arms-full of swamp flowers 😊. To reach the elderberries, one would stroll down our lane, passing the orchard and, taking the left fork into a pasture. Grasses were ripening so that it was an aisle of golden seed heads. About half-way down the pasture edge ran a small stream that mostly dried up during late summer. Beside that stream was a large rock pile, and around the rocks, grew a thicket of elderberry bushes. Those same rocks grew garter snakes, so getting the berries could be a delicate procedure. Snakes don’t make me panic, but neither do I like having one slither over my sneaker.
Elderberries, for those people uneducated in wild, country crops, grow in a cluster, rather like miniscule grapes, deep purple, tiny berries, each berry about the size of a glass-topped sewing pin. They are labor-intensive to pick from the stems and dye the fingers purple in the process. Each tiny berry has a rather large seed. I happen to like that crunch, but those who enjoy smooth texture, might not. The taste is not sweet, but unique unto itself and a bit wild. Some of us consider elderberry pie or crisp to be the elixir of desserts. Others — not so much.
Beyond the stone pile, was a swampy area around the pond, where clumps of cat tails, Joe Pye weed, golden rod, boneset and purple vervain grew. There were buttonbush shrubs with their fringed hanging berries, and white-to-pink snowberries with winey leaves. These made beautiful seasonal bouquets for my mother’s large crocks (formerly used for pickles) on our front porch. As I recall these forays, I am wistful; remembering how easily my younger self walked up and down the drumlins and wandered the fields and woods of our farm land. My imagination tells me I could easily do that yet, but my better sense of reality knows that those up and down paths would give me problems today even if said land were not now built up with overly-large houses. Our home farm is one more stretch of land absorbed into Rochester’s move outward.
Fortunately, the space around our current home has a wide variety of flora and fauna, and is quite enough terrain for my less-flexible feet. Instead of striding over the hills, I absorb my sunshine and observe what is growing around me, with careful steps up and down our lawn. In one corner of my gardens, I have planted a stand of Joe Pye Weed and two button bushes. Of course, golden rod grows everywhere and far too prolifically. I have a couple of snowberry shrubs — one wild and straight from the swamp (that continually reseeds itself), and one cultivated, non-invasive and a lovely pink. I can fully enjoy what I have in a smaller space, while pleasantly remembering the fields, hills and swampland of home. I agree with William H. Davies*: ”What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long at sheep and cows, no time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. No time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night……A poor life this, if, full of car, we have to time to stand and stare.” Beingobservant and aware adds delight and depth to life.
August brings the Chemung County Fair, and the NY State Fair. When our boys were home, I’d skip some hours at the office to watch Shawn show a heifer and to see how Matt’s chickens did. And I’d pick up laundry, returning some clean clothes for Kerm, who spent the whole ten days there. Now, we go once or twice when Kerm is docent in the Chemung County Farm Museum on the Fair grounds. The 4-H building serves good food and it is always a pleasure to explore the exhibits of rabbits, poultry, cows, goats, sheep and horses. This year our visit to the Fair was enhanced by acquaintances from the past, who came to see antique implements, first owned by their family, then by my brother and rescued from his barn, now in a new home at the museum. It is good to share stories and it created a fine day at the Fair.
The NYS Fair in Syracuse, August into September, it is a small city within a city. It is rivaled in size only by the Erie County Fair. There’s carnival din mixed with animal calls and the voices of many people. The combined aromas of BBQed chicken, sausages, cotton candy and caramel corn are enticing. One year, I lived in the 4-H Dormitory and helped in the kitchen. Another year, a friend and I “camped” in the back of my brother’s truck on a thick bed of straw. Frank was Superintendent of the hog barns, so he kept an eagle eye on our welfare (and behavior!). Spencer Singers, performed there for several years, for the NYS Grange. We do this no longer; the year we sang beside the race track with its noise and bedlam, we decided that for us, it was no longer user-friendly. “We Have This Moment” and “When I’m Sixty-four” have a rather different tempo than noisy little cars endlessly zooming around a track. The NYS Fair is a fun place to spend a day. There is much to draw one’s interest; the horses, cattle, poultry, home goods, horticultural exhibits, free musical events and the Native American Village, all providing a wonderful day of ‘things to do and see.”
I am sad to see local events and county fairs diminishing in number and attendance. I think they have always provided special opportunities for kids (and adults) who show their fine work, and they build community. It is one more, of many indicators, that one’s local community seems to be culturally less important to this generation. Another indicator is how few people visit our small Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. The S-VE market has a nice variety of goods, from fresh garden produce to baked goods and crafts and beautiful needlework. The Lions have a food wagon there and often, there is music. But the general public tends to prefer shopping at malls or large grocery stores, which is too bad. Not only is locally-grown fresh food healthier, but stopping by the park to see friends and chat is a nice way to spend an hour on Saturday. And locally-made gifts tend to be unique. We need to reassess our choices!
Anything that destroys camaraderie with people around us, is a sad thing. Our Friday women’s study group spoke of this recently; the custom of dropping in on neighbors in the late afternoon (for tea?) or early evening just to chat happens very little now. We are so busy with our computers, our phones, our getting ready to go out or just returning home between engagements, that we have no time. We are glad that two or three people still apparently feel welcome to drop by our house, even if we sometimes must clean off the chairs so they can sit down. In fact, not only are they welcome, but their visits notch up the delight factor in my day.
Scripture says that we might be entertaining angels unaware if we welcome strangers (or even non-strangers). I regard some of our actual friends as occasional angels, and I am surely open to finding more heavenly visitors on my front porch. During COVID, we had several porch visits with both family and friends, and found them a great way to safely maintain our ties. Now we can be less wary and more open to congenial times. Just recently, we were blessed with ten people around our table, sharing dinner. We had such a good time.
Meanwhile, summer still is with us and ‘tis the season for adventures. I do wander a bit — around my yard—- and I still have moments of wondering what is next? In this, my 8th decade, that is a valid question. Just last week I had a cardioversion — a procedure to restore the heart to normal beating from A-fib., and I found myself very grateful for new technology that restores a better quality of life. I’ve always liked this visual suggestion from JRR Tolkien**, from The Hobbit: “Still ‘round the corner there may wait a new road, or secret gate. And though I oft have passed them by, a day will come at last when I shall take the hidden paths that run, west of the moon and east of the sun.” One just never knows what new experience will come along to add flavor to life. And right now, that means enjoying August in all its late summer glory.
Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: email@example.com.
*William H. Davies –Welsh poet and writer who spent most of his life wandering through Great Briton and the U.S. 1871-1940.
**JRR Tolkien —English writer and philologist, famous for The Lord of the Rings series.