Full-On Summer

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My daughter, freshly home from summer camp, and my wife and I picked some blueberries today. My son is at a running camp for mornings this week so it was just the three of us. We went late in the morning. The sun was up. It was hot under that sun. It was, as I mentioned to my family, a full-on summer day.

We each picked two quarts, to get your standard flat of berries. It takes some effort but it is worth the time and effort to pick one’s own berries. A quart costs less than a quart from the market and one has control over the quality of the berries in the basket, if you know what I’m saying. We got fat ripe berries and only fat ripe berries.

We did do some sweating at Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm, where we spent only an hour, but not only did we get blueberries but the place has a stellar view. It was one classic summer hour. We ate plenty of berries and my wife tossed a couple of quarts into the freezer later in the day. Hopefully we can pick more before the month is out and add to that freezer stash. They are great to have on a winter morning. Pancakes, anyone? Muffins?

A couple of times this summer, including this week, I have made granola. It is easy to make and, again, worth the effort. If you are going to eat granola, making it means you can make it just how you like it. It is not that difficult, even if it does take some time. The granola I made a couple of days ago includes these ingredients: oats, salt, oil, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ. Simple.

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Tomorrow morning I plan to have more blueberries for breakfast, with some yogurt, and some granola tossed on top. Sweet, tangy, crunchy. If you can beat that for a perfect summer breakfast, you let me know.

Marsh Wren, Rain

IMG_2682Beyond the glass of the window, the rain falls hard. I can see it against the dark green of the maples, the sumac, the white birch. Streams fall from the eaves. I can hear the pounding of the falling water on the porch roof. Coffee in hand, wearing a dry sweatshirt and shorts, I feel calm, content. I am warm. I have no worries. My daughter still sleeps. My son reads on the porch. My wife is out walking, happy to be in it.

This morning I tried to find a Marsh Wren. I had yet to find one this year and it is Sunday. Sunday means I can go to the marsh on Route 116 to listen. Morning is the best time to go and on weekdays, even Saturday, traffic obscures the sounds of the marsh. Sunday, early, is the time to go. There were a few other cars, but not many, passing as I watched and listened. I had a window without rain for about 25 minutes. I heard and saw many wetland birds. I watched three Green Herons fly overhead. I listened hard for the Grasshopper Sparrow I heard there last year. The nearby field had just been mowed so any Grasshopper Sparrows had left. I heard my Marsh Wren.

We will head north later today to Montreal, to watch France play Korea in the Women’s World Cup. It will be an exciting day in the city. At the moment, however, the day is peaceful and quiet. The rain drums, the House Wren in the spruce sings his bubbly song, a Meadowlark whistles out in the field. Soon I will need to gather things for our trip to Canada, but for now, that second cup of coffee needs to go down before it gets cold. Plus, the rocker on the porch needs company. I don’t want to be the one to let it down.

Signs of Early Summer

IMG_0519I found this American Robin while I was on a walk in Colchester. I noticed it as it flew into a tree right near the path. As I looked more closely I could see that it had landed on a nest. Cool! But check out the beak poking out from under that mama Robin’s belly. She’s got a brood in there. Cooler!

And check out that nest. That thing was crafted with a beak. You can see the softer materials near the top, where the chicks are. All these people are walking past talking about challenges at work or local politics or relationship challenges, and there this Robin family is just getting on with it while we pass it by.

IMG_0514Earlier in the day I had gone for a hike up high. I wanted to see if I could find Bicknell’s Thrush where I used to search for it several years ago. Along with the Thrush I found this patch of bunchberry blooming on the trail, popping out at me in the morning sun light. Later in the summer they will produce small red berries that taste like tomatoes. And down near the left corner there is a yellow trout lily still blooming. It is a little late for those. Down in the valley they flowered out by early May.

IMG_0510And here is a view I caught as I hiked down from listening for various birds. I spent the day finding signs that summer is unfolding as it should. Birds are calling out for mates or marking territory. They are building nests and raising chicks. Flowers are blooming. Leaves are shushing in the wind. Again, this transition each year, the shutting down of so much life that slowly emerges with spring and then summer, the richness and diversity of it all, it elates me. All this life just keeps keeping on, doing what it needs to do to continue. Humans have big brains; they create and destroy and mold the world. But only humans have the capacity to be fools. That is easy to see if you look at all the other life that fills the planet.

Rainy June Days

IMG_0481It is sunny and warm this morning. It feels like summer. The sun is up, the air is humid. A Cardinal belts out his whistled song. The meadow grass bows. Across the road, the flood waters recede. It has rained for several days now, sometimes coming down hard. The river rose, then rose higher, then spilled into the fields.

My son and I wandered out into it a couple days ago. We chased frogs. They sang loudly enough to hear them across the field, but when we approached closely they clammed up and stayed hidden. Too shy for mammals I guess. We tromped through the new swamp, my cracked mud boots filling with water. We bushwhacked through the stand of willows, getting scratched and soaked. It was a blast.

Yesterday morning I wandered out to see how much flooding occurred. The field around the river with filled, although I have seen it higher. Water did not cover the road. Mallards swam far out, dabbling in the grasses for slugs. A Great Egret flew in later, wading through the pond, seeking out those frogs we heard. Maybe it would have better luck. A Great Blue Heron arrived while we ate dinner on the porch.

Already the water has dropped. The river will be within its banks today. Rain will likely fall again tomorrow. Thunderstorms will pop up more than once this month. June is here, and she is wearing summer. She looks lovely.

Berries and Jam

I was afraid that we would be too late to pick blueberries. I drove by the sign early in the morning: Pick Your Own Blueberries. Late August, but not too late. I called Pelkey’s Farm in Charlotte to see if they really were still picking, or if the sign just hadn’t been taken down yet. It was past peak season, the young woman on the phone told me, but there were still plenty. So that hot afternoon my son and I drove over and picked us some berries.

The description I got was about right. The huge berries you can rake off the bushes to fill your bucket in a half-hour were scant. There were lots of smaller berries, more spread out, and they were as tasty as they get. It was hot in the summer sun and we were slow, but still we managed to pick a good amount. My bucket was a little more full than my son’s, but I let that slide and got him (and me) a creemee afterwards. Vanilla creemee with fresh blueberries dotting the top?  Saying no to that would just be cruel.

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Berries in the bucket

When we got home I measured out a few cups to make jam (the rest we would polish off fresh). I washed them and gathered the rest of the ingredients to make jam. I cut up a mango and tossed that into the pot with the berries before turning on the heat.

Fruit ready to get transformed

Fruit ready to get transformed

That fruit turned a bit to mush once it got warm. With a little sugar stirred in we had us some jam. Of course, eating all that jam would take a while, so I poured it into jars and canned it. One of the jars didn’t seal, which was a first for me (lid not on properly? jam on the rim? not sure) but I still got seven jars to keep for later. I will swirl that one rogue jar into a coffee cake so it isn’t all that much of a loss. We will be tasting summer in the winter, even if it has all that extra sugar. Blueberry mango jam on some fresh bread on a snowy morning? I’ll take it.

Sweet goo

Sweet goo

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Strawberries Finally Ready

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My son and I went and picked strawberries the other day. It took us no time at all to pick eight quarts. It was a warm day but the berries were plentiful. We ate a few but brought most of them home. Norris Berry Farm in Hinesburg did us right.

We have about two quarts left. I used two of them to make jam. It is the best strawberry jam I have made yet. I canned five small and five tall jam jars. I only had seven lids (thought I had more) so did would I could. I scooped the jam that wouldn’t fit into jars into a bin for the fridge. I would have had more left over but I had a kind-of enormous boil-over. That was a bit of a mess–sticky strawberry goo all over the stove top. I had thought about using a larger pot but did not. I won’t make that mistake again. Gotta love experiential learning.

I froze two quarts and we have eaten a couple of quarts. We had a fresh quart from the market already when we brought home the ones we picked. I have been eating them with yogurt and granola for breakfast and then having some straight up with lunch, and I am not the only one in the house who is painting his teeth pink. If the season doesn’t end too quickly I may have time to go pick more. The season does not last long in any case, so I want to eat as many as I can in the present. Can I get strawberries other times of the year? Sure, but in January they taste like wood with just a hint of strawberry flavor. That just isn’t what I’m talking about.

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun

Breakfast and Biking and Building

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A stop on the Burlington bike path

We slept out on the porch last night. A section of it is screened, so we set up cozy beds on the couch and had our Z’s outside. We woke up later than I thought we would, given that the birds are singing at 4:00, about 7:00. I gathered some things while my son rubbed the bleariness from his eyes and then we headed to town.

First stop was Penny Cluse Cafe. They have the best breakfast around. My son had buttermilk pancakes, which he said were almost as good as mine. Right thing to say. And he wasn’t even after ice cream. I had beans and eggs and corn muffins–not something I typically have at home, which was the idea. Coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice–we were good to go on the meal front.

Next stop was the Ski Rack to pick up my son’s bike that had gotten some service. We rolled that outside, pulled my bike from the roof rack and, with full water bottles and some snacks, we headed to the lake. We passed the waterfront area and headed north on the bike path.

It could not have been a more perfect morning. Sunny, just warm enough, the lake and sky a summer blue. We pedaled our way several miles until we came to the bridge across the Winooski River. We stopped to look out at the river and the lake and the wetlands. Then we went a little further into Colchester.

Looking back toward Burlington

Looking back toward Burlington

We parked our bikes and checked out the lake, just off the bike path. Now that the water is finally low enough we could walk out to the marsh. We saw a couple of great egrets, a great blue heron and I finally heard marsh wrens. Those marsh wrens bring me up to 172 different bird species I have found in Chittenden County this year. I am aiming for 175, at least. I think I’ll make it.

We also saw basking map turtles

We also saw basking map turtles

Then we headed back south and parked our bikes outside ECHO, Burlington’s science center, to do some building. The rotating exhibit currently features KEVA planks, flattish rectangular blocks. There are some amazing structures there on display. We got there just in time for one of their daily challenges. We had five minutes to build a bridge. We teamworked it and did pretty well:

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I had started my own bridge before the challenge started and decided to enhance that one:

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We will be back to build some more this summer while the exhibit lasts. It is way fun.

Back home, my son got picked up to hang with a friend. I got some more painting done once the shade shifted around to right spot. We won’t have quite the blast tomorrow, but I am hoping it will be a decent one. We will sleep on the porch again and wake to the morning sun. No Penny Cluse tomorrow, but I can make pancakes at home. Apparently, they are pretty good.