Summer Celebrations: Assumption

(Photo of the Barley Moon by Catherine Kerr)

by Waverly Fitzgerald

The Full Moon Festival of August is one of the oldest continuous holidays of the Goddess. At this turning point in the year, between the yang energy of summer solstice and the turning inward of the autumn, the Goddess comes into her own as protector, provider and mediator between the worlds.

Known by many names, at this time of the year she is revered as Artemis, Hecate and the Blessed Virgin Mary. All three are moon goddesses: Artemis as crescent moon, Hecate the dark moon and Mary is often depicted standing on the crescent moon.

Known by many names, at this time of the year she is revered as Artemis, Hecate and the Blessed Virgin Mary. All three are moon goddesses: Artemis as crescent moon, Hecate the dark moon and Mary is often depicted standing on the crescent moon. All three are invoked for protection of the grain and the fruit which is so vulnerable to storms in these weeks before harvest. And all three are mediators between the worlds: Artemis in her origin as Goddess of the shamanistic cultures of the North (see Geoffrey Ashe’s book Dawn Behind the Dawn), Hecate as the one who stands at the crossroads between life and death, who goes down into the darkness of the Underworld with her two torches blazing, and Mary as the mediator between Earth and Heaven.

Below I trace the way this holiday developed and provide links to articles about how it is celebrated around the world.

Ancient Greece: Artemis-Hecate

This feast of the goddess was first celebrated in Greece at the full moon of Metageitnion. In Erkhia, Artemis (as Hecate) was invoked, along with Kourotrophos, and beseeched for protection summer storms, which could flatten and destroy the crops. This image from a Greek vase (ca 440 BCE) shows Hecate lighting the way with her torches as Persephone emerges from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother while Hermes looks on.

Rome: Nemoralia

In Rome, the Greek lunar festival honoring Artemis-Hecate was placed on the fixed solar calendar on August 13th and called the Nemoralia, also known as Diana’s Feast of the Torches. Roman women made torchlight processions to the temples of Diana and Hecate or visited the groves of Diana with their hunting dogs leashed. Hair-washing was an important ritual activity.

Early Christianity: Assumption

The story of Mary’s Assumption derives from ancient stories called the Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which were written in Syria at the beginning of the third century (or about 150 years after the event they relate). The story of “The Departure of My Lady Mary From this World” tells how Mary was lifted up into Heaven bodily, in other words, she did not die, but became immortal (a goddess). To commemorate this extraordinary event, the Apostles proclaimed a holiday in Her honor:

And the apostles also ordered that there should be a commemoration of the Blessed One on the thirteenth Ab, on account of the vines bearing bunches of grapes and on account of the trees bearing fruit, that clouds of hail, bearing stones of wrath, might not come, and the trees be broken, and the vines with their clusters.

According to the story, Mary’s Assumption took place at Ephesus, where she was living under the care of the apostle, John. Ephesus was one of the most famous sanctuaries of Artemis, the home of the famous statue of Artemis with many breasts, symbolizing the productive and nurturing powers of the earth. Mary, who is also well known for her nurturing and protecting qualities (she is so tender-hearted she cannot deny any sincere request for help), was clearly carrying this role.

Ab is the Jewish lunar month of Av and the thirteenth of Ab is therefore a full moon. So quite early on, long before Emperor Maurice proclaimed the Assumption a Church holiday during the seventh century, the apostles chose the full-moon feast honoring Artemis-Hecate as the time to honor Mary, as protector of the crops and mediator between worlds.

Wherever this holiday is celebrated, and it is a major holiday in many parts of the world, it is blended with native customs to produce a unique celebration.

Celtic Scotland

In 19th century Scotland, this holiday was called Great St. Mary’s Feast of the Harvest. It’s probable that many of its customs were once those of Lammas Day. Women made a magical bannock (a kind of cake) on this day, from ears of new corn which were dried in the sun, husked by hand, ground with stones, kneading on a sheepskin and toasted over a fire made of magical rowan wood. Each member of the family ate a piece of the bannock, in order by age, and all walked sunwise around the fire. Then the embers were gathered into a pot and carried sunwise around the farm and field, while reciting this charm:

On the feast day of Mary the fragrant, Mother of the Shepherd of the flocks, I cut me a handful of the new corn, I dried it gently in the sun, I rubbed it sharply from the husk, With mine own palms.

On the feast day of Mary the fragrant,
Mother of the Shepherd of the flocks,
I cut me a handful of the new corn,
I dried it gently in the sun,
I rubbed it sharply from the husk,
With mine own palms.
I ground it in a quern on Friday,
I baked it on a fan of sheepskin,
I toasted it to a fire of rowan,
And I shared it round my people.
I went sunways round my dwelling
In the name of Mother Mary
Who promised to preserve me
Who did protect me
Who will preserve me
In peace, in flocks, in righteousness of heart,
In labor, in love,
In wisdom, in mercy,
For the sake of Thy Passion.
Thou Christ of grace
Who till the day of my death
Wilt never forsake me!
Oh, till the day of my death
Wilt never forsake me!
– Carmina Gadelica

Poland: Blessed Mother of the Herbs

Virgin of Czestochowska

Virgin of Czestochowska

As early as the tenth century, the aroma of herbs and flowers was associated with Mary’s victory over death, and people brought medicinal herbs and plants to church (periwinkle, verbena, thyme) to be incensed and blessed, bound into a sheaf and kept all year to ward off illness, disaster and death.

In Poland, this holiday was called Matka Boska Zielna, Blessed Mother of the Herbs. Women gathered the plants growing in their gardens and brought them to church to be blessed. The blessed flowers were then tucked behind icons and over doorways in the house, and scattered into the seed sacks and feed bags, to bless them as well. Today August 15 is the day when pilgrims process to the shrine of the Virgin of Czestochowska.

In central Europe, August 15 was called Our Lady’s Herb Day. Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s mother kept this holiday alive by taking her daughters on walks, gathering wild grasses, a custom I’ve adopted in Seattle. It’s amazing how many kinds of wild grass grow on my city block.

If you like charming little stories written in a rural, 1950’s folksy tone with lots of references to Scripture, you will like this story about a Catholic family gathering flowers and herbs by moonlight in honor of Our Lady.

Armenia: Blessing of the Grapes

In central Europe, it was called Our Lady’s Herb Day. Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s mother kept this holiday alive by taking her daughters on walks, gathering wild grasses, a custom I’ve adopted in Seattle. It’s amazing how many kinds of wild grass grow on my city block.

In Armenia, the Sunday nearest the Assumption is called Blessing of the Grapes. None are eaten until this day when every churchgoer gets a cluster as she leaves church. This is also the name day for women named Mary, who host parties in vineyards or at their homes. The Syrian festival is characterized by offerings of new wheat and small three-cornered cakes.

Brazil: Our Lady of the Good Death

In Bahia, where Christian customs are mingled with African traditions, and the orixas are honored on the feast days of Catholic saints, a group of women created a lay sisterhood called the Sisters of the Good Death which worked to free slaves. Their descendants still celebrate the Festival of Our Lady of the Good Death today. Paola Gianturco who has been photographing women’s celebrations all over the globe has a photoessay about this festival at her web site.

Bolivia: The Virgin of Urkupiña

In Bolivia, August 15 is the holiday of the Virgin of Urkupiña and combines pagan and Christian traditions. There is a parade through town with dancing and costumes reminiscent of Carnival celebrations, followed the next day by a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin, where people leave items that represent their wishes. I learned about the holiday from Paola Gianturco, but also found descriptions of how it is celebrated at this blog and slide show at the Democracy Center web site.

Today Where You Live

Do you have any traditions you celebrate on this day? Or any customs you want to adopt? Will you pick herbs and flowers from your garden on August 15? Or do, as I do, and gather wild grasses? Will you wash your hair like the Roman women did on August 13? Will you leave an offering for Hecate on a crossroads on the full moon? Will you eat grapes for the first time on Sunday, August 16? Will you bake a magical bannock with ingredients you grew yourself? Let me know how you plan to celebrate this holiday.

First published July 21, 2009

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Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Even Rhododendrons Do It!

Several months ago I signed up for a six-day web challenge posed by Else Kramer, a photographer in the Netherlands, who sent me a different photo assignment every day. The first was to look up. I enjoyed the different perspective I got when looking up. But for the urban naturalist, the corresponding assignment for this time of the year is to look down.

So much is happening during this transition from spring to summer–the reproductive efforts of plants create a lot of detritus–and most of it ends up on the ground. I was in Portland two weeks ago and had a great time just walking around, studying the different things I encountered on the ground.

Trees shedding their seeds provide most of the material on the sidewalks right now. Earlier in the year, maple trees littered the sidewalks with spent flowers. Seattle writer and forager, Langdon Cook, recommends eating them in fritters.

After the flowers are gone, maples produce their fruit: those bright green maple keys, which are actually called samaras.  These “whirly birds” are pairs of seeds, one on each side, attached to a thin membrane that is shaped like a wing. They spin as they fall so they can travel long distances to find a new place to sprout, especially if carried by the wind.

I also love the seeds of elms which come wrapped in a see-through, round-shaped light-brown membrane. These are often found heaped in drifts, filling gutters and home-owners end up sweeping them away, like so many autumn leaves.

Birch trees are casting off their catkins, which curl on the sidewalk like spent caterpillars. Those catkins are also flowers: the male catkins are the long brown ones, the females are shorter and a greenish color.

When you find flowers on the sidewalk, look up because you can catch the tree in flagrante delicto. The hawthorn I spotted today on my way to work was in the process of producing swelling green fruit from the center of every discarded flower. And the mock orange a little farther along the street was doing the same. The poppies are also doing it!

Limp white, purple and red blossoms carpet the ground beneath the rhododendrons in my neighborhood. Look at the nearby shrub and you will see the reproductive process in progress: the flower petals being shrugged from the stamen, and perhaps the swelling at the base of the pollinated stigma.

I spent some time prowling around the Internet looking for the specifics of rhododendron sex. I must say that most plants are quite discreet about their reproductive activities. The best I could do was find instructions for hybridizing rhododendrons which advised that the stigma (that’s the longish thing with the pink tip protruding from the center of the flower—it is attached to the ovary deep inside the flower’s base) should be receptive (to pollination, usually provided by bees) about three days after the flower opens and stay receptive for about three to five days. Sounds somewhat suggestive.

Another plant that scatters sidewalks with petals is the ceanothus or the California lilac. At this time of the year, I call it the blue dandruff plant since the bright blue petals are as tiny as dandruff flakes.

These are some of the things I see when I look down as I walk through my neighborhood. What do you find as you look down?

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Dragonflies in Summer

by Kate Stockman

A few years ago, I decided to create an altered book depicting the things I love about summer: the ripeness, the abundance of scents and flowers, the birds and the bees. I found a wonderful book at a thrift store published by the Smithsonian and entitled The Fire of Life. I re-titled it “Summer Solstice.” Some of the pages I left as they were because they were about the summer solstice. Other pages, I altered by covering them with decorative papers, rubber stamp impressions, photos, postcards, calendar art, etc. I even took multi-page articles from magazines (such as article on the Monarch butterfly from an old National Geographic) and made them into booklets so that I created books within the books. It was a labor of love, and made the heat more tolerable.

The book contained many images of dragonflies since I associate them with summertime and warm weather. When I was young, my mother and I went to the cemetery where her mother was buried once a month on Saturday morning. While she trimmed around the gravestone (and I’m sure “talked” with her beloved mother), I walked, skipped and ran around, reading the grave markers and admiring the statues. I remember always seeing dragonflies hovering and flying around a large statue of an open bible. They were so beautiful and iridescent in the richest colors imaginable! They could hover, zip forward, glisten in the sun, and dart wherever they wanted.

As an adult, I remember being led by dragonflies down a country road in Tennessee. Andrew and I were looking for mountain land to buy where we could live when we retired. This was outside of Nashville and dragonflies literally led us down the road to the entrance to the property. While we didn’t buy that property, it was a procession to remember!

A few years ago, I was enjoying an afternoon swim in a nearby lake. Dogpaddling, I watched at eye level the dragonflies skimming above the water on their various missions. After my swim, I sat on the side of the dock and looked into the water. There, suspended beneath the surface were carp languidly watching me. Shifting my focus, I watched dragonflies busily zipping from cattail to tall grasses and through the air above the water’s surface. Shifting again, I saw my own reflection mirrored in the tranquil water’s surface. It was an aquatic epiphany:  deep below the surface was calm, above the surface was furiously active, and in between was me, watching it all.

In Native American medicine, Dragonfly symbolizes “Illusion”. According to the Jamie Sams and David Caron, the authors of Medicine Cards, “some legends say that Dragonfly was once Dragon, and that Dragon had scales like Dragonfly’s wings.” They advise you to call on Dragonfly if you need to make a change as Dragonfly will “guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation.”

Dragonflies have been around for 300 million years. One prehistoric fossil had a wingspan of 2 1/2 feet, making it the largest flying insect ever recorded. Today, the largest dragonfly is found in Costa Rica with a wingspan of 7 1/2 inches.

Dragonflies and damselflies are similar. Both belong to the order of Odonata (the toothed ones). Dragonflies belong to the suborder of Anisoptera (uneven winged) and damselflies to the suborder Zygoptera (even winged). One way to tell them apart: dragonflies hold their wings out to the side when at rest, but damselflies usually fold their wings up over their back when resting.

As with other species of insects, the dragonfly has six legs but it is unable to walk on solid ground. Their large compound eyes contain up to 30,000 individual lenses. (Human eyes only have one.)  Because of this, the adult dragonfly can see nearly 360 degrees at all times.

It is their lucent wings that give them such amazing flight abilities. Dragonflies have two sets of wings. They don’t beat their wings in unison like other insects do. Their front wings can be going up while their backs ones are going down, giving them the ability to move up, down, forwards, backwards, side to side, and hover.  They flap their wings at about 30 beats per second (bps) (compared to a bee’s 300 bps) and can attain speeds of over 30 mph.

When you see two dragonflies flying through the air attached to one another, it is almost always a male and female mating. Male dragonflies can be very territorial, staking claim to a particular area alongside a pond or stream. When you see two adults chasing each other through the air, it is often one male chasing another from its territory.

Female dragonflies lay their eggs in or near water, often on floating or emergent plants. The dragonfly eggs hatch into nymphs (or larvae). The nymphs live beneath the water’s surface, from a few months up to five years. When the larva is ready to metamorphose into an adult, it climbs up a reed or other emergent plant.

Today I saw the dragon-fly Come from the wells where he did lie. An inner impulse rent the veil Of his old husk: from head to tail Came out clear plates of sapphire mail. He dried his wings: like gauze they grew; Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew A living flash of light he flew. Alfred Lord Tennyson
Exposure to air causes the larva to begin breathing. The skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and the adult dragonfly crawls out of its old larval skin, pumps up its wings, and flies off to feed on midges and flies. After leaving the water and becoming flying insects, they only live for about a month during which they mate. Their phenomenally quick and accurate flight makes them well suited to eat other insects right out of the air. Fortunately, mosquitoes are one of their primary food sources.

One more dragonfly story: the week I was writing this piece [in July 2009], I was in the car with my son Allen when a dragonfly bounced into the windshield and slid down into the wipers. Allen asked if he should turn on the wipers to help set it free. I said I thought that might injure it more. So we pulled into a parking lot and Allen got out and gently untangled the dragonfly from the wiper. We thought it was injured so Allen intended to place the dragonfly on the ground in the shade of a bush. But as Allen lifted the dragonfly from its entrapment, it lifted up out of his hands, hovered a bit, then flew off. The look of wonder and joy on Allen’s face was a beautiful sight.

Kate Stockman is a multi-media 3-D artist living in Western North Carolina. She writes a column, The Hand-Crafted Life, for her local newspaper, and offers playshops under the name The Cre8tive Flow. This article is adapted and expanded from an article she wrote on her blog, Wanderings of a Wondering Mind, which was inspired by a crop circle showing a dragonfly design. You can read the original post here.

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Edible Flowers

my first flower salad

my first flower salad

When I decided to get to know the flowers in my neighborhood, I assigned myself different tasks for every month and my task for July was to eat flowers. I’m a little behind on this task, but I’m getting started now.

Flowers are most often used in sweet confections like desserts and drinks. In fact I own a great book, Cathy Barash’s book of Edible Flowers, which focuses on those two food groups. But I wanted to start with something simple. Raw flowers.

Remember when every green salad was garnished with flowers? Whatever happened to that trend? (I was happy to see chef Christopher Émé of Ortolan decorating his plates with flowers on a recent episode of Iron Chef.)

My first experiment involved making a salad and decorating it with fresh flowers from my garden: cornflowers, arugula flowers, chive flowers and some violas. Here’s a photograph I took of my first salad. Obviously, I have a lot to learn as a food stylist and food photographer. Still the flowers looked great. Unfortunately they didn’t add much flavor.

The arugula flowers were best. They had a bit of a kick to them, though not as much as arugula leaves. The chive flowers have a faint oniony flavor, which is odd in a flower, but they taste like paper. The same is true for cornflower petals which have absolutely no flavor as far as I can tell (one web site I visited said they tasted spicy, clove-like flavor—I wish! I notice that they’re an ingredient in many flavored teas. I wonder if they actually impart flavor or if they’re just there for the color). The violas supposedly taste like wintergreen but to me they just tasted green.

After wandering around the web, looking for articles on edible flowers, I realize I have many more flowers in my garden I can try. Borage is next. And the clove pinks. And the hollyhock blossoms. I want to snag a few of the last honeysuckle blossoms from my neighbor’s garden and try them in a fruit salad. I could sprinkle in some rose petals as well. And I’m eager to try calendula petals.

And that’s just the start of this edible flower adventure. In future posts, I’m going to make lavender-flavored desserts, candied flowers, rose honey almond brittle, and feature some vegetables that are actually flowers. Let me know what you make with flowers.

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Summer Slowly

Pepe moving rather quickly

Pepe moving rather quickly

A long-time School of the Seasons reader and contributor, Taffy Hill, sent me a link to a blog entry by Beth Dargis of My Simpler Life about things that should be savored and done slowly.

I loved Beth’s list and was even more delighted to see the thread was started by my friend and colleague, Christine Valters Paintner, at her blog, Abbey of the Arts when she asked her readers to submit ideas for things to do slowly.

Let’s expand this idea here. I’d love to entertain your suggestions for things to do slowly.

My favorite is walking slowly. I find this easiest to do while walking the dog. Right now my walking companion is Pepe, my daughter’s Chihuahua. He likes to go slow, especially in the summer. He often plops down on the grass and refuses to move

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Signs of Summer

Photo by Christine Valters Paintner, www.abbeyofthearts.com

Photograph © Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts

From Alyss in Portland, Oregon:

Summer is here!! The Solstice was only a few weeks ago so it is still light late and the warm, dry weather has come into full swing. I’ve been enjoying long evenings with friends on decks and patios all over town since it’s hardly dark at 9pm. The gardens are overflowing with greens still and fruiting trees and vegetables are starting to share their bounty as well. I’ve had three people give me cherries this week because trees are so overloaded! The tomatoes are starting to show green fruit and so are the apple trees.

I started a traditional summer infused alcohol last week called Vin de Noix. It is eau de vie and wine infused with green walnuts, cloves, vanilla and sugar. It is said that it is best made between Saint Jean’s feast day on June 24 and Bastille Day on July 14. I started mine on July 4th, an American high summer tradition. It smells fantastic (anything with cloves, vanilla and sugar will) but needs at least 40 days to fully infuse. By Lammas I will taste it and see how it is doing. I hear it might be a bit bitter from the walnuts, but that will eventually fade into a smooth, thick after dinner sipping alcohol.

Summer is a frantic time too. My friends complain that their weekends are booking up and that there just isn’t enough time to do everything we want to do during this glorious but brief warm, light, dry season. I get to feeling it too. So much to pick, to preserve, to cook, to eat, to see, to do. Last fall I remember feeling such kinship with the trees losing their leaves. That is time for letting go and focusing inward. This time of year though I like to give into the frantic energy. Yes, let’s go out! Yes, let’s go harvesting! Yes, let’s can, let’s play, let’s live while the sun shines and the days are long. There will be time for rest when the year is dark again.

Alyss lives in Portland Oregon and blogs at The Wheel and the Disk.

From Lu in Florida:

(Photo by Lu Merritt)

Hope in Our Hot Season/Moving Toward Fall in Florida

Harvest time comes early here in subtropical paradise, North Central Florida almost to the Georgia state line. Our seasonal shifts are more subtle here than in other parts of the country, but if you know what to look for, there are definite markers.

By mid-July, our local crops—corn, cantaloupe, watermelon—have peaked and been picked. The only things still ripening in the garden are late tomatoes, so thankfully it’s still possible to have one of summer’s perfect joys, a fresh tomato sandwich: Slather mayonnaise on two pieces of your favorite bread, cut slices of a freshly-picked tomato to your preferred thickness, lay the slices on the bread, and season with salt and pepper. Heaven.

Perhaps the most obvious marker of the season’s shift is a change in the quality of light. At the summer solstice, the light has a fierce, bright, almost blinding quality, like a giant searchlight that casts no shadows. Around the first of August, there is a change—the light begins to get noticeably softer, and while the days are still long, the afternoon shadows take on a smokier glow.

Right about now, too, the farmers begin to mow their hay fields, and we begin to see haystacks—or really, big rolls of hay—scattered throughout some of the neighboring fields. “Hay!” we call, and point out the fields to each other as we pass them, happy and excited to be the first to spot this particular universal sign of fall.

The night-blooming jasmine, which grows dormant and gets cut back in the winter, has been growing since springtime and now begins to put out flowers whose fragance will soon become noticeable. The beautyberry bushes, which flowered back in May, start to form little green berries that will turn a beautiful shade of purple a bit later in the season.

Grass and trees, all so verdant green this summer because we have had a lot of rain, begin to take on a yellowish tinge that is a definite harbinger of fall. We begin, eventually, to notice that a few leaves are starting to fall from some of our trees.

Newspapers are filled with flyers advertising back-to-school sales. The local newspaper’s sports section steps up its coverage of the area’s football teams; diehard football fans start counting the days ’til the first big game. And we all begin to keep wary eyes on weather reports about tropical systems and possible hurricanes; it doesn’t do to go into August and September without extra stocks of peanut butter, other canned goods, and water—just in case.

Fall isn’t here yet, by any means, but we definitely have some pointers to let us know it’s on the way­—giving us hope for cooler weather in the middle of our hottest season.

Lu Merritt lives in northern Florida and blogs at A Word Witch.

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Spirit of Summer

By Waverly Fitzgerald

Years ago as I was deep in the lore of holidays, I came upon one of those nuggets of information that answer a question you didn’t know you had. The question was: “Why are there so few significant major Christian holidays in summer?” And the answer was that summer was thick with saint’s days, which provided an opportunity for people to gather at the fairs and festivals held in the saint’s names.

For instance, St. Peter’s Day (a sort of midsummer celebration) is widely (and wildly) celebrated on June 29 in Spain and Portugal. And Ellis Peters describes another St. Peter’s Fair in her highly successful series of mysteries about Brother Cadfael. This rights to hold this fair were given to the Benedictine abbey of St. Peter in Shrewsbury by Henry I around 1100. And the fair was held on the 3rd of July (don’t know how they picked that date). The founder of the abbey, Roger de Montgomery, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, also gave the monks of the Abbey the right to hold a Lammas fair on August 12.

Fairs were held throughout the year . . . but obviously summer, with its promise of good weather, is the best time for people to gather outdoors.

Fairs were also held throughout the year. In the same document from which I gleaned the information above, I found references to fairs around Easter and Christmas, but obviously summer, with its promise of good weather is the best time for people to gather outdoors. Country fairs, the descendants of these fairs, are still generally held in the summer, at least they are in Seattle. The Washington State Fair is in Monroe in mid-July. The Puyallup Fair (famous for its scones) is held in mid-September (July and August are usually our sunniest months).

Summer is the time of festivals. Here in Seattle we have outdoor concerts (at the Zoo and at the Pier), outdoor movies (the modern equivalent of drive-ins, where the movie is projected on the wall of a building), and outdoor dances (in the parks). I’m especially fond of the outdoor milonga (tango dance) held in a pavilion on the shores of Lake Washington during our big Tango Magic festival. It feels truly magical to be dancing in the warm night air, while the sun sets over the lake and the people passing by stop to watch for a while.

Summer is the season for camp. I do not have fond memories of my early experiences at Girl Scout camp (Camp Osito in California). I was just was not an outdoor, sleep-in-a-tent, make-friends-with-a-bunch-of -strangers sort of person. When I was in my thirties, I attended a new kind of camp: the Witch Camp in British Columbia sponsored by the Reclaiming community. That was also difficult for a shy person but the size of the camp (around 100 campers) was great. I could find time to be alone and ways to connect with others within the framework of activities (meals, rituals, meetings, workshops) provided.

In Seattle, our summer is book-ended by two big music festivals. Folklife on Memorial Day weekend celebrates the folk arts, and offers opportunities to learn and listen to music from many different cultures, while Bumbershoot on Labor Day features more popular music, and also a smattering of cultural events. And I have many friends who make a pilgrimage every year to the Vancouver Folk Festival in mid-July.

So the spirit of summer to me seems to call for being outgoing, for assembling with others in groups, for finding a place in your tribe.

Summer is the time for family reunions. Four years ago I was in Milwaukee for a family reunion for my mother’s family, the Wittaks. And I have two relatives on the Fitzgerald side who organize gatherings in the Seattle area every summer. Sister Anna Burris gathers together the Burris family for a week at a lake and Roger and Rosemary Enfield usually play host to a whole tribe of Enfields who gather in a nearby park.

And let’s not forget Fourth of July, a holiday which cries out for barbecues, parties, picnics and crowds (not to mention traffic jams). This Fourth of July, as I was heading down my usual lookout, a street above the freeway where I stand with hundreds of strangers to watch the fireworks bursting over Lake Union, I passed a seven story apartment building which was buzzing like a hive of bees. Every balcony that faced the lake was full of onlookers.

So the spirit of summer to me seems to call for being outgoing, for assembling with others in groups, for finding a place in your tribe. Maybe that is why I am launching this magazine now rather than in the spring as I originally planned, as it is my attempt to create a community dedicated to the concepts of slow time, sacred time and seasonal time.

I’m wondering if summer is a time of socializing, of finding community, of gathering your tribe for you. And if so, what experiences and opportunities are the most nourishing?

Photo credits:

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Your Turn: Scents of Summer

Margaret Bergen sent this photograph of a Duchesse De Brabant tea rose from her garden in northern Florida; it was taken by her husband, Fred Bergen. She writes: “The fragrance is both reliable and intense. This is a rose you can count on being able to smell at any time of day or night, under any conditions. The scent is the essence of Tea, a strong, dry, slightly acrid sweetness that is very memorable.”

There are many flower scents I enjoy in summer: roses, linden flowers, honeysuckle, jasmine. But if I had to say what is the scent that is most emblematic of summer to me, I think it would be the scent of rain on hot asphalt. Hmmmmm!

What is the emblematic scent of summer for you?

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Good Enough to Wait

By Sonya Lea

Preserving food is the extended foreplay of the gustatory world.  Especially for city-dwellers, it revives a sense of connection with wild nature, and rejuvenates senses dormant from over-reliance on the fast and the cheap.  If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

If drive-thru is the dining equivalent of the quickie, preserving fresh, seasonal produce for later supping is tantric bliss.

The last week of summer I drove out to the local farm and purchased boxes of coral peaches, firm pickling cucumbers, banana and pasilla and sweet Anaheim peppers, ripe red and fleshy green tomatoes and plump blackberries.  It didn’t look like promiscuity until the saleswoman sized me up and down behind the mountain of produce stacked in eight large boxes.  “Well, you’re sure going to have your work cut out for you,” she snarked.  And the old man in line in front of me offered a wide grin, as if he knew what I would be up to, and said, in a wistful tone: “Me and the missus used to put up.  Oh, I miss it so.”

By the time I unloaded the car and began washing the long, nubby cuke, I realized I was going to be days in this kitchen – days immersed in the sweet perfume of fervid juice and musky field; days with my fingers in slippery seeds, days nudging the ruby pit from its fleshy center.   I filled the sink with cool water and stripped to my bare feet, and brought a berry to my lips, tracking its nib with my tongue before biting into its succulent drupelets.

Canning, freezing, drying, curing, fermenting, pickling, jam and jelly making – preserving holds the genius of our earliest people.  Preserving developed between 5500 and 3500 BC, creating villages, and vessels, and livestock, perhaps even the very urge to civilize in the way we experience it today.  (Though it seems strange to this acculturated cook, one of the ways historians categorize societies as being ‘civilized’ is when the primary purpose of food gathering, preparation and storing has been diverted to allow the pursuit of other, more ‘complex’ activities, such as war, religion, bureaucracy.)  Homo sapiens found he could manage his stock, and digest proteins better when food went over fire, and intentional cookery followed, leading to food as a social engagement, as taboo arbiter, as identity-maker.  What we keep can communicate our sense of frugal sparseness or our abundant beguilement: the heirloom we shelve can be our strained broth or our rose-drenched honey.  We preserve what we wish to have known as the common good.

It’s possible that salt was the first additive used as a method to preserve food.   Used by ancient communities close to the sea, salt preserves by inhibiting toxin-producing bacteria, making it essential for forms of flesh – meat, fish and the human body, as for mummifying.  Those who wielded the salt wielded the power, as the Emperor Claudius knew when he strolled into the senate one day asking if man could live without salt meat.  Before it was the Eternal City, Rome was a staging post where local marketers exchanged their goods for precious salt.  Leaders and merchants preserved their own futures along the Via Salaria, the salt road; when unforeseen circumstances meant there was little access to fresh food, salt could define a government’s rule.

Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.

Indeed, whoever holds the keys to the pantry holds the power.  None knew this better that Mahatma Gandhi, who emerged from his six-year prison confinement to protest the exclusive British licensing of Indian sea salt.  When he marched from the ashram to the beach at Dandi, he placed salt crystals evaporated by the sea into his small palm, enacting a potent ritual that defied the authorities in one simple act.  Indians followed, breaking the law en masse, literally assuming worth of one’s salt, until the Brits relented and asked Gandhi to represent his Indian Congress Party at the 1931 leadership conference.

At Indian rituals, Roman feasts, Athenian festivals, Chinese banquets, Middle Eastern merry-making, and Egyptian sacraments all manner of seeds, plants and flowers were preserved with sugar.  After the fourteenth century, the master confectioners of Paris made their fortunes selling to the aristocracy, and since gifts of preserves were considered luxurious, these sugared treats became a regular expense of anyone who had a role with the law. (Used as chamber spices for ‘dispelling wind and encouraging the seed’ these sweets, often called sweetmeats, were at least poetically-perfect: a candy by any other name would surely not have prefaced lovemaking.)  Sugar was brought to the New World after Columbus’ affair with Canary Island’s Governor, one Beatrice de Bobadilla, who sent him from their month-long tryst with cuttings of sugar cane.  From that sweet union, came America’s love affair with all things candied.  Jams, jellies, syrups, sugared fruits, sugar-wine (rum) – sugar was once an international currency, with labor rewarded in casks of syrup, and millions paid for its becoming a standard with their very lives, including creating a caste of slaves from Africa who would do the back-breaking work of sweetening up the colonist’s diet, and his pockets.  Even though we now have more sugar than we know what to do with, we continue a romance with the saporous temptress: we call our beloveds ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ and ask them to give us some ‘sugar’ when we wish to be kissed.  “It must be jelly,” says the blues singer, “Cuz jam don’t shake like that.”

There is no savings in preserving food at home.  The costs of labor and equipment and of what will break or go rotten through experimentation is high compared to what we can stroll down to the store and buy for a dollar or two from Smuckers or Kraft or Heinz.  Still, there is a part of our relationship to food we are buying back when we agree to follow the transformation from field to table.  In grocery shopping there isn’t the kind of bond to the elements, the land, the season, the home, the kitchen; there isn’t the connection to one’s memory, or history or intention; there isn’t seasoning or sensuality or seductive surprise that can come from becoming present to food as it changes, or even likelier, as we are changed by its presence in our midst.

We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

This is how it happens in our home – we weave food preparation with the events of the day, with the weather, with the quiet and the conversation, watching movements and mistakes as they assert themselves, upon us and upon our food, asking for our attention.  This is how dried lavender gets shaken into the sugar canister for lavender-scented sugar; this is how the lavender buds get dumped into the peach jam, when the sifter is forgotten; this is how it gets stirred in with a jam-coated spoon; this is how it drips onto my breasts when I lean over to sample it; this is how my lover, walking by, missing no entreaty, turns me around and licks it from my flesh; this is how the fire leaps into me and my peaches while we’re dancing and kissing above the flame; this is perhaps what you also taste when I make you toast from fresh bread and chunky fruit and violet sprigs of calming flower.  We are preserving passion, which is, I believe, able to be ingested as nourishment, as earth-muse, and for us, as remembrance of a moment’s lovemaking.

On the Sunday after I’d been at the farm, a box of enormous tomatoes sat on the kitchen table, their pulp so ready to burst forth they practically split sitting in the afternoon sun.  It was time to get ready for dinner, and my man had lit a fire of mesquite and hickory on the smoker just outside the kitchen door.  As he came and went, smoke infused the house, leading us straight into an ancestral domain.  Before long we had gathered those beefy reds and laid them on the grill and waited until their skins split from heat and flame.  I let them cool on the counter, then quickly cored and peeled them, sliding eighths into a large pot, simmering slowly, before adding grainy salt and a handful of fresh basil.  An hour or so later, I lifted a wooden spoon to my mouth and felt another woman enter from the balls of my feet to the curve of my belly to just below my throat.  And then she was yelling a phrase I knew I’d heard my grandmother say a long time ago, — “Oh. My. Lord!” – a gusty, guttural call of a blues woman, an expression coming more from kinetic core than mental knowing, the smoke-dazed freshness of the fruit a memory of a time I hadn’t had, couldn’t know.  The man looked inside from the fire, smiling.  He didn’t know who this woman was yet, but he was about to taste her.

SEXY RECIPES:

peachesPeach Lavender Jam

Sugar:
4 cups granulated sugar
large bunch lavender buds*
Shake buds into sugar and let rest for two weeks, shaking a few times each week.

Jam:
2 1/2 lb. peaches, peeled and pitted
juice of one lemon
1 cup water

Prepare peaches, cut into chunks, then sprinkle with lemon juice and stir.

Bring the sugar and water to a bowl; sift the lavender out, or not – your choice!  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and boil rapidly five minutes.  Add the peaches, return to boil, and boil rapidly, stirring often twenty minutes, or until jell stage.

Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for ten minutes.  Skim well.  Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal.  Process according to recommendations.

Makes three pints.

*(if you don’t grow and dry your own, purchase buds from a botanical store locally)

Smoke-Infused Tomato Sauce

4 lb. beefsteak tomatoes
large bunch basil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Prepare a grill or smoker and soak wood chips in water.  A few minutes before placing the tomatoes on the grill, let the chips begin to smoke.  Quickly place the tomatoes, cover and peek every few minutes to see if the skins have burst.  Take them off the flame (use the grill for a kebob or steak to go with the sauce.)

Peel the tomatoes, cut into eighths and if you prefer, remove most of the seeds.  Place in a heavy bottomed pan, and bring to boil.  Add salt.  Simmer 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.  Take off the heat and stir in the vinegar.

Add a few basil sprigs to each hot sterilized jar.  Pour the sauce over.  Heat process, cool, and check the seals.  (If you prefer not to heat process, you can refrigerate up to one month, or freeze for two months, but cool the jars first before refrigerating.)

Makes 5 cups

Use in pasta sauces or on pizzas.

Photo Credit:

Judy Maselli

References:

Crumpacker, Bunnym The Sex Life of Food, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2006
Fisher, M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1937
Schwartz, Oded, Preserving, DK Publishing, Inc., 1996.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne, History of Food,  Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, U.K., 1992
Weldon, Amy E.,“The Fruits of Memory,” Corn Bread Nation 2, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004

Sonya Lea is the author of Wondering Who You Are,  an intensely honest and lyrical memoir,published by Tin House in 2015, about what happened in her marriage after her husband lost his memories, due to a traumatic brain injury. Check out my interview with her here at my writing web site.

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