Kate Flora: I don’t know why I remember summers more than winters. Was it because
school was out and there was so much more time for rambling? Because the days were so long and we could stay outside and play long after dinner? Somehow, the sights and smells of summer are so evocative. Over the past two day, I went rambling around Camden and Rockland with my childhood best friend and they all came rushing back.
I didn’t know it then, of course, but I was spoiled growing up where I did. Not because of things–we didn’t have things, we had bill collectors banging on the door and often worried about losing the phone or oil for the furnace–but because our 1811 farmhouse was perched on a hilltop looking down over rolling fields to a beautiful lake. Sunrise over the orchard and sunsets over the hills across the lake. Sometimes a night when we could lie out in the yard and see the Northern Lights.
We were spoiled because we had over a hundred acres to explore. We could stake out mossy plateaus along the cliffs in the woods and make them into our houses, our castles, our own worlds limited only by imagination. We were spoiled because both our parents were avid gardeners and the food we got to eat we grew ourselves and it tasted real. Because when we ate corn, Dad had just asked how many ears we wanted and gone down to the garden to pick them.
Not that summers were ever a time of endless leisure, of course. It was a farm and there were always many chores to be done. On many days, the three of us, my brother John, my little sister Sara, and I were handed typed chore lists in the morning and those chores would have to be done before we could go down to the lake and swim. Laundry. Ironing. Vacuuming and dusting. Weeding the garden. Endless weeding the garden because weeds are always ahead of the crops. But then, like a school bell had rung, we could pull on yesterday’s damp bathing suit and race down the hills to the lake.
Mom was awfully clever about getting us–and the friends who inevitably showed up when it was time to swim–to think that work was fun. Yes, we could swim, but before we did, everyone had to pick up twenty rocks from the lakebed and toss them onto the bank. Between this, and the many baskets of leaf mulch she pulled out and used on the gardens, she maintained a lovely open, sandy swimming area.
The days were never over when dinnertime rolled around. There was always something
from the garden that needed to be processed. Peas to shell or beans to snap or cherries to be pitted. We would sit around the table, often with guests from New York or New Jersey joining in, and talk while we processed what needed to be canned or frozen for what we always called “the long, cold winter.”
One spring, we found that a float, or raft, had drifted into our cove from somewhere else on the lake. When no one came to claim it, my brother John and I made it our own. Often, after dinner, if there weren’t chores to be done, we would take our fishpoles and a long pole we used to steer the raft, and we would pole out into the lake and fish. There was a family of feral cats with many kittens that lived underneath the back porch. We would fill the box with little fish–perch or sunfish–then bring them back up the hill to the house where we would leave them for the cats.
Often the long day would end with us swinging from the old apple tree in the backyard, or perched in the tree itself, as we watched the sun set behind the hill. After going to Boston for college and staying for many years, I’ve realized that my upbringing was very different from most of my friends and neighbors, and I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful that it has kept me attuned to the natural world in ways that many people aren’t.
Yesterday, driving from Rockland to Augusta, I was in a long stream of traffic on Route 17 caused by road construction. As we puttered past equipment and traffic cones, I was given the gift of seeing an eagle fly overhead. Would I have seen it if I weren’t so attuned to the world of a Maine summer?