We know it is August when we awake to a valley filled with fog. No matter how warm the day, the mornings dawn cool and misty. The calendar un-jams a bit compared to June and July. A friend sent me this quotation: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” This saying creates a lovely picture of reading, perhaps comfortably ensconced on a chaise lounge, amidst the fragrances of flowers and fresh air. Of course, it isn’t literally true (I also need pulpy orange juice, hot chocolate and fresh cherries), but for me, it comes pretty close. Summer is a season that makes me very grateful for life and much less inclined to wish for the moon. I’m also glad that the pace of August is seldom as frenzied as that in summer’s first half.
Our 4-H Picnic happens today and we will go bearing cookies and wearing quirky name-tags. Then, on Sunday, we have our large family gathering on Cayuga Lake, Even amid turning out more cookies and having delightful house guests, life is fairly relaxing. The garden hasn’t yet reached a stage for much harvesting, though the cucumbers are producing well. I have an enticing stack of books in the “read soon” pile beside my corner of the couch. With only occasional twinges of guilt I can enjoy the fragrant lilies in bloom, listen to the cat bird in the lilac and read Hal Borland’s reflections all at once.
A couple of weeks ago, there was an interesting discussion in our women’s study group. We meet for Bible study and talk about the personal relevance of what we have read. This conversation began around the Biblical directive (in Philippians) to put others first and what that really means. We know that many women live their lives being over-solicitous and always putting others first. This generally leads to much stress, health problems and frustration, so we were unanimous in being anti-doormat. No more Archie directing Edith to bring him a beer! Since that same passage spoke about unity of purpose, we finally agreed that to put others first, at least in our group, meant to look at our common goals and do what is best for those in the group (or any group we are part of) to reach those goals. This would mean looking out for each person’s well-being before we take center stage with our own ideas and desires. Sometimes in outside meetings or groups, it is difficult to sit still and listen when there are “unique and wonderful” ideas bubbling in my own head. But for the benefit of those around me, listening and trying to understand other’s ideas and needs before dazzling the world with my own, is part of putting others first. It also suggests owning a reasonable dollop of humility; we are not more important than anyone else. I don’t feel inferior very often, but at the same time, I am well aware that I’m definitely not superior to anyone. This shouldn’t, of course, be taken to the ridiculous extreme of never offering an opinion. Moderation is the wise choice!
The cynical church “joke” is how many congregations have been split asunder in choosing a new carpet color. Our church is having seat cushions made for our rather sit-up-straight pews at church, thanks to a gift from two of our members who sensed that our aching, arthritic bones could use a bit of ease. I’m sure, if people in the congregation had been polled, there would be as many thoughts of appropriate cushion colors and styles as there are members. But really now —- WHY? We’ll be sitting on them—–sitting on comfy cushions as opposed to very unyielding wood—–so how crucial to the functioning of the church body is the “just right” color? Fortunately, this won’t come up; the cushions are currently being constructed, color chosen by the Session and the person making them.
Staying quiet —being a listener —-often gives us enough time to determine what is really important and what is peripheral —–and also may be a reminder for us to curb the words that might burble out of our lips to create controversy. I’m not suggesting that we never express our thoughts and preferences, but often, it is not necessary for the good of anything except, perhaps our own egos. As I write an essay, I edit for two weeks. Editing our verbal communication has to be a faster process. Learning to think before speaking is a tough but valuable lesson which, once learned, will probably endear all of us to our friends.
That Friday morning group does, I think, push each of us to consider our priorities, our behavior and our spiritual growth. Sometimes, it may be a bit uncomfortable, as we share diverse thoughts and opinions, but it is healthy to consider other points of view as long as they are not expressed to create dissension, and it reminds us that we are at different places in our spiritual growth. It is good to be in a group that accepts each other at whatever stage we are in our lives. I think almost anyone would find immense value in being part of some sort of small group that discusses real things, protects confidentiality, and whose members truly care for each other.
Speaking of growing things, and moving from people to plants, I had feared that my crops of lemon balm and other mints might be lost to me, for by June they had acquired a nasty rust disease or perhaps a very minute insect attack that turned their leaves brown and curly. The plants now seem to have overcome this. I just had some lemon balm in my tea. It is supposed to engender calmness and serenity. We shall see! The basil is ready to cut and the dill, standing taller than I, is very aromatic. It actually reseeded itself from last year —- a rare occurrence in our inhospitable clay. The sage is coming along well and even with vigorous weeding, Sweet Annie sprigs have survived and are coming up in various places where I now let them grow. Sweet Annie is an herb that reseeds itself very enthusiastically; is good for making wreaths in the fall and for dusting away cobwebs; it leaves a fresh, green aroma wherever it is used.
There is a general calm and peace in the garden now; the turkeys come down only one or two at a time. This is lily season; tall Asian lilies with huge, waxy white and burgundy flowers, and day lilies with orange trumpets peering in my window, are blooming with fervor. The birds still sing —- just less vociferously than in the spring. If I sit very quietly in a lawn chair they forget that I am there and flit in and out of the feeders as usual. I’m enjoying the humming bird as he zips back and forth and jealously guards “his” feeder from anything else. There is a downside to humming birds, though. One of our sons has a peach tree and last summer, just when the peaches were nicely ripe, humming birds drilled their sharp little beaks into multiple spots on those peaches, spoiling the crop. Apparently peach nectar trumps sugar water.
It is Chemung County Fair week. This event used to be a summer problem for me. Kerm would be living on the Fair grounds for ten days and I’d be home with chickens, dog, un-mowed lawn and phone calls — usually for him. Now that he is no longer Fair Treasurer, he spends only part of a couple days there being a docent at the Chemung County Farm Museum. This museum has excellent displays with their “rooms” for various kinds of farm activities of past times, and some hands-on activities. County fairs are a delight for the kids who exhibit projects or animals and they are a pleasant day’s entertainment for anyone. Unfortunately, the attendance at many fairs is ebbing, with the possible exception of the NYS Fair. To lose these county or local events would be too bad; they keep people connected, offer opportunities for excelling in one’s interests and are a low-key, fun way to spend some time. So — if you haven’t yet gone, visit the Chemung County Fair anytime from today through Sunday.
I hope that as you peer into your August calendar, it shows some good times and free hours for real enjoyment of summer’s light and warmth. Be sure to note, as you are out and about, that the brown-eyed Susans are now in bloom in gardens and along the roadsides; the season is progressing. Has anyone else noted the shrinking daylight?
One note: Someone reading the last essay that went out, told me that she reacts badly to handling the cow parsnips — those tall, golden-flowered plants along the roadsides. And then I saw a Face Book post that showed blisters from that same plant. As I said when I wrote about it, treat any plant you do not know, with caution until you know its effect on your skin.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.