Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

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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