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The boys of summer

This past weekend a friend and I got our boys together, plus one of my son’s friends.

The four young teenagers ran themselves ragged, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Running up and down the river, floating downstream with the strong current, exiting downward of the rocks, sloshing back up and doing it all over again. And again.

Until one of them discovered some otter’s half-eaten breakfast of fish and crayfish, lying exposed in the strong sunshine on a rock with the water swirling around it. Inspecting that absorbed their attention, heads crowded around, someone poking about with a stick. And then >POW< they broke and ran back upstream as a splashing, sloshing pack, marking a distant boulder in the middle of the stream as their next object of focus.

This kind of outdoor joy went on all weekend.

Campfires, campfire cooking, campfires becoming scary bonfires, shooting guns, lighting fireworks, ear-ringing blackpowder cannon booming, combat SORRY! games, food crumbs everywhere, clothing smeared with mud and grass stains, pickup football games, woods walks. It was just one non-stop blur of motion.

At night we watched movies, shooshing one another when someone talked over the dialogue. Crumbs on the couches, popcorn on the floor.

It was a thing of joyous beauty to behold. Such unbridled happiness. Such carefree freedom.

Meanwhile the dads sat on the river bank, on the porch, on a log in the woods, in the living room, and compared childrearing tactics, kid behavior, learning and teaching successes and failures, hopes and fears for the kids’ futures, hopes and fears for our own parenting, for our own relationships.

Somewhere in all of this I was both a child again and a responsible adult. Watching these boys being boys as boys were meant to be was refreshing, and kind of a validation of my own untamed side.  That part of almost every guy that is a kind of mostly-hidden teenager who refuses to grow up and get with the adult program. Heck, being a boy is fun, even a fifty-year-old boy. You never really stop being a boy, you just get new toys. The consequences of screwing up are no longer skinning your knee, however; now, you can lose your home, your spouse, your health.

But we are boys inside, nonetheless.

Being a dad is difficult, and fun; hard and enlightening; frustrating and rewarding. Doing a bit of it with another dad over a weekend makes it easier. But most of all I enjoyed being a part of the boy herd, and reliving some of that unfettered joy of just being a boy free to roam and run in the summer sunshine.

A breezy summer day

One of my most enduring happy memories is actually not just one distinct moment, it is the aggregated beautiful summer days of my central Pennsylvania farm country youth.

As far as I can recall, Happy Valley did not get much sunshine throughout the year. Our glum, overcast days stretched from Fall through Spring. Instead, we saved up every drop of sun for June, July and August. These summers were sunny, usually gently breezy days, with mostly blue skies and flitting clouds, occasional sun showers, temperatures in the 70s and maybe 80s.

A trip to Whipple Dam State Park or a local swimming hole would cure the worst of the heat.

Perhaps youthful memories are clouded by adult cynicism, or more likely, by adult rose-tinted glasses. We prefer in our old age to recall only the good times and bury the rest. That is possible here when it comes to recalling the perfect summer weather of my youth.

However, it is also a scientific fact that Planet Earth is getting really close to having its polarities flip. Very close. As those polarities get close to switching (magnetically speaking, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa), Planet Earth’s magnetic shield gets weak. So weak that a lot of ultraviolet rays get through to the surface, and our skin, thereby heating things up.

It is one of the reasons for sun burns worse than usual and for really hot, windy weather over the past twenty-five years. It is a fact that some plant and animal species have been moving northward, too, as northern climes warm up, even ever so slightly.

Earth’s magnetic field acts as a filter for harmful UV and other cosmic rays. Our magnetic field is one of the reasons Planet Earth has life on it. When it gets weak, our own experience outside changes.

After a very wet and rainy Spring, we are now experiencing some easy-sleeping cool evenings, and breezy, gently sunny days. The kind we have not seen in decades.

What a wonderful feeling.

If I go in the back yard and work in the garden, and close my eyes, I am transported back to the wondrous summer days of my childhood. They were colored by the ultra-green environment that surrounded me, too, I admit that.

It is doubtful these perfect days in the 70s, with a refreshingly gentle breeze, will last much longer. After all, the poles have not yet fully flipped and returned Earth to where its magnetic shield was much earlier in my life. But I am reminded of how it used to be, and how pleasant it was.

Aaaahhh…summer time, central PA style.

It’s berry season!

For about 150,000 years we humans have been hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle that follows the migrating animals and the growth of plants our bodies can eat.

Edible plants were a huge component of hunter-gatherer food, easily dried and carried, many of them lasting well into October and November after plants have gone dormant in most places. Unlike meat, dried edible plants do not easily rot, or attract nibbling animals.

Among edible plants, fruits and wild berries reign supreme.

That is because fruits and berries contain an unusual mix of carbohydrates, sugars, minerals, and vitamins, all of which are necessary for survival. Especially vitamin C, a crucial ingredient in a healthy human body (think scurvy).

The fact that wild berries taste especially sweet and supplement other foods with extra flavor is a big draw.

Sweet-tasting foods rarely occur in Nature.

Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries, wineberries, and many others grow abundantly here in Pennsylvania and across the Eastern US.

Plains Indians like the Lakota, Pawnee, and Comanche made a mix of red meat and berries called pemmican. Ripe berries were turned into a big mush and then worked into meat strips. Usually the mixture was dried on wooden racks in the open air and sunlight, and the dried slabs and sticks were then put under the horse saddle to be worked and broken down into what we would call jerky today.

“Jerky” gets its name from the gentle jerking motion of the horse saddle, as horses step forward. The motion slowly breaks down the meat fibers, making them easily chewed and digested.

So here we are, a bunch of sedentary Americans, mostly eating out of cans and bagged frozen foods.

One antidote to this somewhat unhealthy arrangement is to go outside and do stuff.

Hike, walk, sit and read or sit and chat with someone face to face, fish, canoe, grill out, etc., so many easy outdoor activities.

A really easy outdoor activity is berry picking. Sure there are some thorns, but so what. The benefits are fresh, delicious, healthy berries that are not sprayed with chemicals, or bagged in plastic bags, or frozen. The whole family can do it. Go find a field edge, and bring some hard containers, and start picking.

Humans have been berry picking in that Summertime window of opportunity for a really long time. So long that it can be measured in ice ages come and gone, ice sheets advancing and retreating. That is a lot of years.

If we have been doing that activity for that long, you know it is good and natural. That the whole family can do it, and then make pies together afterwards, makes it all the better.

Just watch out for poison ivy!

 

 

Lazy summertime guidance here

It is a scientifically proven fact that humans can endlessly watch three things:

Fire. Not a building on fire, but a campfire or a bonfire can hold a gaze long into the night. The licking flames dance and mesmerize. So long as it is not a threat, fire is intriguing, even consoling. People sitting around a campfire can stargaze and stare silently into the coals for a very long time, no words necessary.

Running water. Tumbling streams, rivers broken by rocks indicating the flow, running water is equally as eye-gluing as fire, except that its sounds can tinkle and chime, often mimicking voices if you listen closely enough. A medium size free-stone stream is probably the most fascinating to watch of all water bodies, because it is a rich mix of intimate nooks and crannies, power, and music.

If you enjoy staring at mirror-still lakes, see a doctor.

Last but not least, people working. Yes, that is right, watching people work is one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable acts you can do. I do it all the time. Try it, you will definitely like it. It beats actually working, but oddly it makes you feel like you are achieving a lot. That right there is perfect summertime, my kind of summer time.

So, in terms of a lazy summer enjoyment, I am looking for a splashy back yard pool, with a dad barbecuing over a natural wood campfire grill nearby. If you are aware of of such a set-up, let me know.

I’ll be able to just sit there and quietly soak it up all day long. And yes, I will bring the beer.

Hope you are enjoying your summertime…

Garden as metaphor #8

As usual, I planted a garden this Spring.

Chicken wire and wire cloth mesh walls 24 inches high are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence that hurts.

I am not fancy, so it is the usual basics- cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, an assortment of herbs. Keeping it simple is usually a recipe for solid output. Again, it is usually nothing that will feed the family for the year, but enough to keep us eating variations of ratatouille for the summer. It is healthy and tasty.

However, this summer was tough.

A dry, record-heat summer resulted in a lot of poorly developed desirable plants. But the weeds flourished. Having weeded the garden in late July, we went away for ten days, and returned to a jungle inside the fence. But the good plants did not have enough water.

The potatoes were dying, if you can believe that. Usually they are the last to go.

The basil had hardly budged. Most of the tomato plants looked sickly. Even the zucchini, which started strong, dried up and died a hideous public death. Somehow ISIS infiltrated the garden of Eden.

As a metaphor, this garden demonstrates the need for constant vigilance. If you leave it to itself, the good plants quickly get crowded out by the professional space-hogs, the weeds. And you can successfully remove a crop of weeds, and then a week later turn around and see a whole new crop blasting to the surface.

Similarly, a Republic like America cannot be left to itself. Its citizens – you, me, US – must stay on top of our government at all times. Or else the professional politicians, the career politicians, will get wedged in their spots and turn the purpose of government from serving We the People, to them, the weeds.

Fellow Americans, enjoy your summer!

Dear fellow Americans, we got it good here. Summer time is for gardens, BBQ with friends, travel with the family, loafing by the pool, fishing, and so on.

Summertime in America is truly a serene time. We are blessed in this.

Don’t take it for granted.

The hoops and links and tethers that kept the world’s nations mostly stable over the past sixty years are broken. Entire arrangements of human life across enormous landscapes are changing. Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, all are in significant play. Iraq and Syria both have lost control of their borders.

Think this doesn’t effect you or your life?  You’re wrong. Energy, trade, security, violent jihad, and more are all in flux, and changes are rippling across the globe.

America is a strong nation. Be prepared to be challenged, because it’s going to take all we have to succeed.

On that happy note, enjoy the hot dogs and cold beer!

My antidote to the heat

Several years ago my family bought me a Hamilton Beach smoothie maker (model 56222) for Father’s Day, and it long past earned its price. It has a pour spout which makes smoothies a lot cleaner to make, pour, and drink.

Fruit smoothies are a summertime daily staple of our family, and they can be made lots of different ways, with all kinds of natural ingredients (fresh and frozen blueberries, strawberries, citrus fruits, etc), for far less money than you might pay at a Rita’s or other ice cream venue.

Here is my antidote to the heat:

1) One 20-ounce can of Dole pineapple slices in heavy syrup or in natural pineapple juice.

2) One cup of Cabot Greek-style lowfat yogurt, vanilla bean flavor.

3) A quarter cup of water

4) 2-4 tablespoons of granulated sugar (more or less to taste)

5) lots of ice cubes or crushed ice

…….Pour the pineapple into the blender, juice and all.  Spoon in the yogurt.  Pour in the sugar, to taste.  Pour the water over the sugar to help it dissolve.  Fill the blender to the top with ice cubes or crushed ice, and put the top on.  Pulse or use the smoothie function for 30-60 seconds.

The sliced pineapple blends better than the crushed pineapple, oddly, at least in our machine.

Plenty of times we skip the yogurt and just use water and a splash of lemon juice, along with frozen berries.  Other times an old, mushy banana with pineapple, or some coconut milk with pineapple, and suddenly you are into daquiri land… Depends on what you are in the mood for.  They are all refreshing.  The world is your smoothie!

And not to take away anything from Rita’s: When our clan is in the mood for a cold, icy snack, places like Rita’s have far more flavors than we can come up with at home.

Politics…? Nah, let’s talk gardening

Everyone needs a light moment, a break from the heavy stuff of politics.  Me, too.

So let’s talk about gardening, something I really enjoy in the spring and summer.

First, the basil and peppers planted back in early May have not yet sprouted.  I “cheated,” and bought started peppers last night, after procrastinating for weeks, in the hope the seeds would erupt into a profusion of colored peppers, like last year.

Second, the garden is exploding with volunteer tomato plants, from seeds scattered by the kitchen compost we throw into the garden all Fall and Winter.  Maybe forget about the basil and peppers, and just focus on what is working now.  Everyone ready for me dropping off extra tomatoes on your porch?

Third, the heavy-gauge tomato cones really do work, but I am sticking with the re-bar and string construction Patricia encouraged me to try back in April.  The cones exist within the string…

Fourth, as rodents decrease in number, so the targeted garden plants grow.  Never saw chipmunks eat zucchini and cucumber plants before, but they were eating every little shoot and leaf.  Until….

Fifth, the electric fence kind of works.  Once the squirrels learned how to jump up onto the heavy gauge wire and perch there, they only risked me catching them, and a lot of rodent damage was done to the garden, until…..

Gardening can be a metaphor for so many things: Our daily job and work, a career, a relationship, a political effort or campaign…life…yeah, I will bet that Siddhartha was a gardener.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the first day of Summer and the Summer Solstice tomorrow!

 

Last day of summer…so sad

It is tough to know who enjoys summer time more, me or my kids. Every summer we emphasize time together camping, on day trips to historic sites, beach trips and saltwater fishing, and both day camp and sleepover camp. We spend lots of time together, and by the end of each summer I feel like a big kid.

I admit that it’s hard to say goodbye. But it’s necessary.