The Fullness of Summer
Snowflakes are dancing on a sharp autumn wind as I type these words. I probably should be writing of winter’s approach, but my thoughts are lingering in the fullness of the summer months recently passed.
It’s been four months since my last entry in this journal – on the day of the summer solstice. Since then, crops have grown and been harvested. The soil is now prepared for next year’s planting. Those months have also seen two weddings (my sister’s and my nephew’s), summertime vacation getaways (increasingly rare these days), and the completion of the foundation for our barn. Among the few things missing during the summer months was free time (hence the lack of recent entries on these pages)
What follows is a collection of images taken during that span.
Our first harvest of the strawberry bed (planted in 2012) produced exceptionally well, despite the very wet May and early June that destroyed many of the berry crops in less well-drained valley locations. On the evening that the above photo was taken we had nothing but strawberries for dinner, munching fruit as we picked. Once we’d finished picking, we came inside for desert – strawberries dipped in maple syrup!
The first of our cherry trees also bore fruit this year. We netted the tree to keep the birds from beating us to the ripening cherries, amounting to only a few handfuls this early in the tree’s life, but the treat was a tasty prelude to what we can expect as our trees mature.
In the photo above, our expanding fruit garden is the one on the slope just uphill of the greenhouse. We doubled the size of our strawberry patch this year and will double it again come spring. Also added to the mix were several blueberry bushes and a rhubarb patch. Our plan to install trellises for the vineyard (to be located just below the berries) will have to wait until spring.
It sometimes feels crazy and irresponsible to take time for a mid-summer vacation, but the annual pilgrimage to the Midwest for the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa remained a priority. Among the 20,000 riders that participate each July, Team Roadshow brings together a wonderfully disparate group from several states for a week that is impossible to describe. Looking through the images on my return home leaves me wondering why the magic of the now 41-year-old event is so hard to record. Suffice it to say that it is just one of those things that has to be experienced to be understood.
Above, I’m ready to roll out of Council Bluffs with good friends, BJ and Kris.
To those who have not ridden RAGBRAI, a week-long bike ride across Iowa seems an unlikely travel choice. Although the scenery is dominated by soy and corn, it really is a beautiful state. Keep in mind, however, that while bicycling is the mode of travel, when the week is over it is all the activities that happen when off the bike that tend to be the most memorable.
Team Roadshow rarely misses an opportunity for free beer. The picture above was taken mid-morning outside a local farmer’s barn. We rolled from party to party, sometimes averaging less than 5mph over the course of the day. Live bands played on front lawns and town squares. Impromptu water slides on the hillsides offered a refreshing midday stop. Rarely is there a stretch of more than a few miles between food (lots of pork, corn, watermelon, and the ever popular Iowa pies).
Team Roadshow has its origins around a group of merry pranksters associated with the Iowa State University Juggling Club. Although most of us that ride under the Roadshow name are merely spectators, there are some very talented performers in the gang. Evening performances on street corners in the host towns always drew a crowd (and the passing of the hat brought in enough to pay for our evening meals and beer in camp).
Two vacations in a single summer? Unheard of!
Marion and I managed to escape for four days in mid-September to visit one of our favorite places, the Merchants Row archipelago that stretches between Stonington and Isle au Haut, Maine. For years I’d led paddling tours and taught classes while navigating among the islands, quite often with Marion at my side back in the PaddleWays era. This trip was the first time since 1992 that we’d paddled these waters without guests (customers). Without the needs of others to attend to we were free to relax and gaze out of our room at the Inn on the Harbor (above) before heading out for a few days of camping and paddling among the islands.
Visiting in mid-September usually assures that we have the islands to ourselves.
The photo above was taken from our “back porch” looking toward Vinalhaven in the very distant background.
We were in no hurry to get underway as we’d intentionally set out without expectations for miles covered by day’s end. Above, we linger over a full meal of breakfast burritos before packing up and heading south toward our next camp.
This meadow (above) on a small island just north of Isle au Haut has always been one of my favorite campsites. Rather than our original plan to continue paddling after setting up camp, we decided to simply enjoy the sunshine and read a book for the afternoon. There were no regrets as it was a luxury that we rarely allow ourselves to enjoy.
An approaching cold front promised a gale for the next afternoon. Rain fell for much of the night and we departed in time to return to Stonington before the 30-knot winds whipped up the waters on our route north.
Back on the farm, it was time to finally get started on the foundation walls for our barn. (We’d poured the footings last October and had planned to have the foundation completed in the spring, but, . . . well, you know how it goes.
This was my first foray into masonry work. I’d originally intended to hire a mason for a day to show me the ropes, but I finally decided to just jump in and learn in the style that I most often resort to – reading whatever I can find on the topic and then diving in.
The finished foundation (above) turned out very nice, indeed. Our walls ended up within a sixteenth of an inch of level all around and await the timber sills and floor joists. The small room at the back of the foundation is our root cellar – a part of the barn that we anxiously await as we are limited in the ability to store the harvest without it.
This autumn has been one of the most delightful I can remember. Warm days with gentle breezes persisted for the duration of the foundation work. Above, I took a few moments to take some shots in the stand of poplar trees at the top of our upper meadow (the last of the leaves still clinging to the trees that surround us).
It was a good year for corn. The empty stalks still stand in the above photo, against a background of late-September color.
This mid-October view of the gardens came days before the work to prepare the beds for the coming year. The middle plot, however, will continue to feed us with kale, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts as winter approaches. We’re still eating fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse, but its season, too, is nearly over.
Next up, there’s still firewood that needs to be split, but first I’ll be assembling our new sawmill and cutting the growing stack of saw logs into boards that will be used for many winter projects to come.