Begin and begin and begin again

In flight

Beehive night lights



Sitting by the window



Summer began on the last day of school in June. Released before noon, all wearing light colors, and dragging locker-filled backpacks behind them, the kids had freedom on their faces.

Summer began again on the solstice, when the sun hung, balanced lightly at the tip of the day, leaning into the sparse night.

Summer began again when the first fireflies sparked up the dark.

Summer began again when sweet visitors from afar landed on our doorstep, gave us an excuse to travel the state looking for the best beer, gave us an excuse to shoot arrows, to stay up late playing card games, to light a campfire, turn the stereo up, and watch the fireflies disguise themselves as meteors.

Summer began again when we drove the long thruway to visit lovely family, watched the sky open up to puffy clouds, listened to favorite songs, ate bad-for-you road food, were together.

Summer began again when we stood by the road, faces tilted to the sky, watching fireworks burst over the crowd.

Summer began again when I took a bowl of yogurt out to the yard, picked blueberries from the bushes, and dropped them right into the bowl, then sat on the porch swing and ate the morning while the birds sang to each other.

Summer began again when I put on my river-walking sandals for the first time since last year and felt my feet relax.

At some point, I know summer will begin to end. But right now, I’ll just let it keep starting over and over, every morning, every minute, opening like a flower to a bee.

Magpie comes a-calling, drops a marble from the sky,
Tin roof sounds alarming, wake up child,
Let this be a warning, says the magpie to the morning,
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by,
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by.

What we did on our summer vacation

It’s the last day of summer, and before we launch into fall color, carved pumpkins, and big bowls of soups and stews, I need to take a moment to acknowledge what we accomplished around here the last couple of months.

And when I say we, I really mean he, as in M. Because he was the brains and brawn behind most of these projects. I was just there to hand him the hammer when requested.

I write a lot here about cooking and books and music and animals and poems and long, lazy walks in the valley, but you really do know that we have live a normal life here, right? We work, go to school, pay the bills, scoop the cat box, have leftovers for dinner, pick up cat fur from everywhere, mow the lawn, scrub the shower floor.

I just don’t share these glamorous moments with you because I don’t want to make you too jealous.

Really, though, this summer has been busy with some outdoor projects that needed doing, and I’m grateful to M for making them happen.

First of all, there was the driveway. The poor gravel driveway that was battered by a couple years of use, then by the relentless rains of spring. It developed a canyon. We developed swerving skills to drive up and down without hurting our cars, but sooner or later someone was going to get a wheel in that ditch and it needed to be fixed.

Driveway - before

Enter Chip, whom M spotted working with his backhoe on a property in town and asked if he had time for a couple small projects at our place.

(And please forgive me if backhoe is the wrong term. Is it excavator? Oh, I don’t know about these things.* To me it’s a glorious machine that can dig a hole in 15 minutes that would take us three hours by hand. It’s a godsend, is what it is. But I digress…)

Over came chip. The driveway was smooth in 20 minutes.

Driveway - after

But while Chip was here, he performed an even bigger miracle. And I’ll show you what that was.

He turned this:

Muck 2 - before

Into this:

Muck 2 - after

Three years of accumulated wasted hay (thank you, picky goats), muck, etc., dug out to bare earth again. We can now walk into the run-in without ducking our heads.

And what’s really cool (and another brilliant idea from M)? Chip dug a hole in the goat yard, dumped all that delicious muck into the hole, then covered it with soil, which we then seeded, and now we have a beautiful little rise that the goats can play King of the Hill on. Genius.


New pasture

"Birthday hill"

Driveway smooth, muck gone, new hill for the goats.

That, my friends, would have been enough. Dayenu.

But wait. There’s more.

The firewood arrived. We’d ordered it green and early, so it would have plenty of time to season before the winter. The problem was where to stack it all. In the spring, we’d had a septic problem that turned out to be at least somewhat a result of stacking wood on the ground above the line from the house to the septic tank. Over the years, the pressure of all that wood essentially bent the line.


Fresh wood needs home

We had one wood crib that M had built a couple of seasons ago to hold some of wood for the large stove. It made sense to us to build a second one next to that to hold the new wood for the smaller stove.

Double wide

Hmmm. Perhaps we need a third.

Triple wide

And then he went and put those nifty red roofs on, to match the one on the barn.

Red roof

I love them. Everything all dry and orderly and protected from the weather. This, my dears, is what it means to be an adult. To be so completely pleased by a neat place to stack the firewood.

That took care of all the short wood. There was still the rest of the long wood to stack, which we put here:

The other wood pile

It’s not as pretty, but it does the job.

Look who we found while we were stacking! She (?) was actually there under the plastic along with two or three babies, but I couldn’t get to my camera before the babies fled.

Woodpile friend

A wood pile makes a good home. The chipmunks are always in them, the wasps have settled in, there are discarded snake skins everywhere.

After all the really necessary projects were complete, M turned to one last summer project: making a table for the grill.

We’ve had the grill (a Big Green Egg) for years, but until this year it’s always just sat on its little feet on the porch floor. But we had an old work table that needed a new life, and in a matter of a couple weekends, M transformed it into a cozy nest for the Egg.

Nest under constructions

Just its size


Wheels and everything!

It’s very spiffy. And, right this very minute, as I type, M is preparing two pork butts to put on that Egg to make a last pulled pork of the summer. Because, around here, we don’t let go of summer until the equinox pulls it from our suntanned, calloused paws.

* I do, however, usually know a hawk from a handsaw.

52 Weeks – Summer (29/52)

RSiegel_Week29 - Summer

As you can tell, I’ve been trying to catch up on my posts for my 52-week photo project, so what are the odds that today’s post about summer would coincide with the first snow of the season?

I’ll turn this to my advantage.

How about we create a little space of insulation to ward off the chills by thinking back to a specific summer day?

Okay, here’s mine:

July 21, 2012. We’d taken ourselves down to Boston to celebrate my sister’s birthday.

Mid-day, we walked in town, along the beautiful new Greenway where a mess of highways used to be, walked barefoot through the fountains, scorched our feet on the hot pavement, watched children giggle and run, or stand mesmerized by the sparkling sprays of water.

Later, we took the subway to another part of the city, carried folding chairs, blankets, and a picnic-packed cooler, and walked to the band shell by the river’s edge.

Between acts

Little by little, a little later, the sun set. It cast shadows through the leaves. It made ribbons of gold on the river.


Sun water

Sunset sailors

Then, out came Burton Cummings, the reason the crowd was gathered there that evening.

As a member of The Guess Who, and then as a solo singer/songwriter, Burton had sung the songs of our Canadian childhood summers. His was the voice on the car radio as we sat on beach towels so we wouldn’t burn our legs on the hot vinyl seats, the voice crooning from the albums we saved out allowances to buy. As kids, Laurel and I knew all his songs by heart, every word, every beat, every high tenor note.

We still do.

And just as my remembering and writing this has taken me from this November day to that July day, the concert transformed that crowd of mostly gone-to-greys into teenagers again, whooping and dancing and singing in other summers. One memory leading to another, and then deeper back in time to another, like a series of nested matryokshka dolls, each similar, separate, related, connected.

Burton Cummings

There. I feel warmer already.

Okay. Now it’s your turn… tell me a summer memory.

Morning song

Summer camp schedules and the unusual heat lately have made me rethink my regular noon-time dog walk.

We’re going mornings these days. Early. Before anyone else in the house is awake. When the air is still cool and there’s some dew left in the hay fields, and a bit of mist hangs over everything.

I’ve never been a morning person by nature. I’ve been forced to it by circumstances and now, as I grow older, I find it impossible to sleep in late even when given the chance. When the summer sun comes streaming in our uncovered, eastern-exposure windows, I’m up (and the cats demanding their breakfast is more effective than an alarm clock).

The dog’s learning this new routine. He was a sleeper-inner, too, until lately. Now, when he hears me remove the leash from the hook, he comes out from under the covers on H’s bed and trots down the stairs to wait by the front door.

The other day when we went out, the air was so cool I could see my breath. But the sun was just gearing up for the day and I was sweating and the dog was panting by the time we made it back up the darn final hill to the house.

Mostly, at that time of day, we’re walking alone. Sometimes we see a lone jogger. We see a lot of birds.

Sometimes, we meet other early morning walkers. Shy, nibbling leaves and grasses in the trees along the river.

Early light

Morning river


Morning field



Sweet summer decline

Hot dog

It’s been hot here this week.

Dog-gone hot. Tongue-hanging-out-of-the-mouth hot. Popsicles-in-the-afternoon-and-then-ice-cream-in-the-evenings hot. The gin is living in the freezer, only coming out briefly in the evenings to mingle with tonic, lime, and ice in our little sippy cups.

Summer has come, and hit with full force.

And I’m not complaining one tiny itsy bit.

This is what I crave all winter long: the sunlight until 9 pm, the windows open, the evenings on the deck, watching bats (yes! we’ve seen bats again this week after none for two years!), fireflies, the stars, the milky way, the satellites gliding in their orbits.

Sure, it’s hot and a bit sweaty and sometimes you don’t feel like moving, but, then, it’s summer. Why move? The view from the deck chairs is awfully pretty. There’s that big glass bottle of sun tea. And did I mention popsicles, ice cream, and chilled gin?

Yes, there’s work to do, and that darn lawn needs mowing again ten minutes after you finished mowing it. But even when the days are busy, the days are longer and things feel less rushed. Well, a little bit less rushed.

The other day, Gryfe and I took our usual walk into the valley. It was hot. I had this song in my head. The wildflowers were brilliant. The birds were all napping. Nothing but the river was moving. The river was just rolling and splashing and singing along.

Buttercup and arc


Purple clover

Jewel Weed


Ompompanoosuc - toward the swimming hole

Summer solstice


Summer morning, hot by nine.
Filling the water bucket
and the water hisses and flashes from the hose’s nozzle
like jagged, spiky rays from a sparkler,
then fizzles against the dark bucket’s black bottom,
boils awhile
settles into a steady simmer
before it abruptly
goes still
when the nozzle sinks below the surface.

The goats watch from the shaded side of the barn.


Some other summer morning
the girl, at four,
is told to nap until her pool is filled
–but not told how long that might take.

Outside the bedroom window,
her father puts the hose to the blue, plastic pool,
decorated with turtles and smiling seahorses.
The stream of water
beats harshly against the brittle plastic,
like tiny drumming fingers
then tempers to a steady thrum
before going silent.

All is still, but shimmering.
The light is July quiet.
Nearby, car wheels crunch on someone’s driveway.
A dragonfly buzzes past the window.
Somewhere in the house, there’s the muffled thump
of a cat’s paws touching down after a leap.

There is no napping.
Only waiting for the sound of full.


All the while
the pool
the bucket
the girl
the morning

are silently filling
until they are nearly brimming.