August 27, 2014

August Reconsidered

It's not the Heat... It's the Humidity

Red Dawn
“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”

Last summer's heat was a chaste kiss compared to the passionate embrace of the torrid weather that has enfolded us here in Florida these many weeks now. It is oppressively hot from morning to night. We have not had a predawn temperature below 76 degrees or so since August began, and the weather mavens tell us we are enjoying a heat wave the like of which the state has not experienced in a number of years. I am a person who handles heat fairly well, but these past few weeks have seemed a tribulation. I reflect back on my time in West Texas, when the temperature soared above 100 in May while I puttered about my garden quite unaware that it was that hot. It was a dry desert heat though, and I grew up in Florida where the average humidity wavers around 75%. Lately it has ranged closer to 90% in the mornings. Going outside means sweating, and sweating profusely. I have taken to referring to the yard as my personal sauna.

Neighbors-- furry friends next door
Neighbors-- relaxing in the afternoon heat.
 The work in the yard and garden doesn't end just because it is hot. Since it has also been a rainy year on the whole (summer is the wet season in Florida anyway), the grass has been lush and growing faster than we can keep it mowed and trimmed. There is not much going on in my small garden area during these steamy weeks, the doldrums of summer. What was still left had been mostly either munched by the deer or ravaged by insects before August arrived.  My daughter Gaia and I are trying to prepare for an Autumn garden, however, so we have cleaned out the beds in preparation for new plants.

Plant starts on the Garden House Deck We have also started several flats of seedlings and  cuttings. She and I are still determined to keep our garden as organic as possible, so we are working on instituting more natural insect controls, and since neither the deer or most of the insects care for them, concentrating on herbs.  We are still considering the possibility of growing herbs and small fruits for the farmer's markets. I love herbs— always have, and at no time do I feel more like I am close to Heaven than in the herb garden, brushing against holy basil, magical lavender or mystical rosemary. The scents of these homely and infinitely useful plants transport me, improve my mood and outlook like few things can. I find the many forms, colors and uses of herbs endlessly fascinating. I have an entire shelf dedicated to the many books on herbs I have acquired over the years. Some of these date back to my late teens, when I first became interested in such things as homesteading, gardening and raising animals. I still have those dog-eared volumes, and have, in the interim, added all sorts of herbals and growing guides to my collection. I have packed and unpacked them, bringing them along with me through my residency in several states  and more moves than I care to think about any longer.

Tub of Coleus The garden is already home to a number of herbs, more than a few that I actually packed in boxes and moved from North Carolina when we relocated. So hard to believe that it will be two years in October since we took up residency in The House. If I think about it, I am daunted. I expected to have accomplished so much more than I have, and it is sometimes difficult not to fall back into the old trap of self-doubt and blame I have struggled so hard to extricate myself from the past year or so. Yet, I know that I work hard, and that I have accomplished a great deal here, sometimes in the face of adversity. And in the long haul of life, it is not so much time. I need to readjust my thinking, to align the rhythm of my life to the phases of the moon and the passage of the seasons. Another exercise in Memory for someone who has seemingly forgotten so much that she once knew.
Spring Homestead 1982 (approx.)
Living the Dream in the 1980s
 It has been forty years or so since my Uncle (Jim) gave me a copy of Mother Earth News he had finished reading, and set me upon a path that continues to influence my life to this day.  I was a teenager, and we already were living at least a part of the philosophy this magazine described—there was a huge garden, assorted chickens and other fowl, as well as a barn and home constructed largely with our own sweat and toil, on this property I once more live on.  But I had never put it into a larger context, or looked at our lifestyle from a more holistic viewpoint till then. I was inspired and invigorated by this concept of the planet as a living system. It was during those turbulent teenage years that I began to realize my relationship with the planet, the universe and even the rest of the human race. For me, the ideas of self-sufficiency, energy conservation and Eco-awareness formed a synergistic framework that provided both a physical and spiritual motivation for my life.

Wisconsin homestead in 1980s
Herbs, Fruit, Cold-frame and Corn field.
 Somehow, that Realization (and meeting and marrying a young man from Wisconsin) landed this erstwhile Florida Girl in the middle of rolling farm country in Wisconsin near Door County on a 10 acre homestead. It was beautiful there, and very rural. I will always value the education and the memories from that experience. One of the first things I did there after getting settled into a home and starting a vegetable garden was to begin growing herbs. I built the stone pathways myself, out of native stone from the ridge where the woodlot stood on the back of our property, expanding it every year as I acquired more plants. In a life that was hard work most days from predawn to after dark, it was one of my chief delights. I had no less than eight varieties of mint, tarragon, thyme, sages, oregano and numerous obscure herbs that I scoured the garden catalogs for. My little herb garden was bordered by Egyptian Walking Onions and a large patch of asparagus. There was a huge mass of catnip, usually with a sprawling cat or two asleep in its midst, and in the spring, violas would push up through the snow to let me know that winter really was ending. It was my first herb garden, and so it still lives in my memory in sweet detail. There have been others since, but never again one I was quite so devoted to or so loved.

Bee Skep drawing-- Vintage
Life goes ever round and round, and now I find myself back at the original "homestead", the one my parents built from their own dreams. Like me, it has been through a myriad changes in the decades since I was a teenager here.  Time changes everything, but though circumstances, lifestyle and so many other factors interfere, some dreams remain always at the edges of consciousness and in our hearts. So, I am drawn to the garden, and once more to the arts of homekeeping—of cooking, sewing, baking and preserving. There is indeed a larger picture emerging, a direction pulled in by my heart,and perhaps pointed out by Spirit.
I am still hesitant though, beset by worries and fear that very possibly have no basis in any Reality that I am interested in.

Garden House Porch
When I am outdoors, whether puttering with our growing collection of succulents, potting up herbs and other plants, pulling weeds or driving the lawn tractor, I am without doubt or confusion. I am immersed in the experience— reacting to the heat, noticing the airflow, the quality of the light, and just being part of the earth. Thus it has always been for me. I am grounded by these outdoor activities. I find peace in lieu of the turmoil which seems so often to be my lot. So, why do I still so often feel guilty for time spent outdoors instead of at a job or some other revenue producing activity? This is one of my rhetorical questions to self. And, perhaps the motivation for envisioning a "market garden". So, I question my motives, my abilities, and just about everything else when I am not actually in the garden or the Garden House.

I have not got any immediate answers to my quandries, but August is being not only a hot month, but an interesting one on several counts. I realize I have not posted as often this summer, and that is for various reasons. I have certainly been busy, but I also have not felt inspired until very recently. I know that is not a good excuse, because writing is not always about being inspired. Sometimes it is about discipline, and I have some work to do in that area also. However, summer is not and never should be about nothing but work. I will leave you today with my best wishes and hopes that I will be back soon, and a picture of a recent day trip that will help cool down the hottest day...
Juniper Springs
Juniper Springs, FL--  August, 2014

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