August is a time of star-watching. The Perseid meteors create a star-showered sky tonight. Lying on one’s back and seeing the wide canopy of stars is awesome; something I remember well from camp. I do not, however, chart my life events by those stars. Also, I’ve never liked the traditional flower and gem for this, my birth month. Some years ago, a friend from Colorado gave me a Native American horoscope for the same time, and I liked it much better. Instead of gladiolus, the flower for August is Brown-eyed Susans, one of my favorite blossoms. And replacing the rather blah peridot, is citron, a sunny or amber-yellow. I do think stars have certain patterns though (a belief that is also Biblical). Stars are, in my mind, story-tellers not seers. And taking the time to view their immensity tends to put humanity in perspective.
So far, August has been pre-COVID busy. County Fairs, Spencer Picnic, a community church service, and several doctors’ appointments have filled our days. I had a root canal --- always a joyless experience, now done in two annoying parts instead of just one. Kerm had knee surgery last week, mending a torn meniscus. He isn’t the world’s most amiable patient, so thankfully, he seems to be healing quickly. We have a local garden tour coming up, and a family baptism at the end of the month. August will fly! Roadside Queen Anne’s Lace is waving in every breeze and golden rod begins to add color here and there. Our back yard is redolent with the scent of garden phlox, one of my favorite aromas.
Earlier this week, we gathered with other retired Extension people plus some few who aren’t quite retired, but all of whom worked or work with 4-H programs. Some are newly retired; others for many years; some are in dubious health, but they have never lost their enthusiasm for life and learning. Their careers have encouraged young people to also love life and to keep learning. Our culture tends to idolize those who make bushels of money, who excel in some sport, who create memorable roles in movies or on TV. But the people at this picnic are real heroes; they quietly spend their time, energy and creativity in making the world a better place; especially in helping kids to become responsible, caring adults. They still look out at the world with “what can I do to help?” vision. And --- they do know how to have fun! There’s not an Eeyore in the group.
When I think of what is or is not fun, I am quite aware that my ideas may be alien to what amuses others. I try to be tolerant of that, but occasionally I have to write from the corner of my mind that wants to rant and rave a bit. We humans indulge in many activities that are double-edged swords. Atoms can be split into a raging furnace that destroys, or provide energy for a multitude of people. Opiates give relief from severe pain, making life better for many. They also create an overwhelming craving in the body if misused and can lead to early death. Sugar sweetens life but it also can create inflammation in the body when too much of it is taken in. Moderation is not a popular concept!
We recently drove along the shores of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes where the hillsides are lined with tier upon tier of grapevines. Beautiful upon the land! Our Finger Lakes region is well-known for its excellent Rieslings, red wines and white wines; a diverse group of wineries dot the shores all around the lakes. We are also seeing an increase in craft breweries and distilling facilities. There are even a couple of innovative souls making mead. Producing alcoholic beverages is, obviously, an important part of our economy.
I didn’t grow up in a home where alcohol was served. My father’s Scottish ancestors apparently didn’t come from the “have a wee dram of whiskey” Scots. I really had no exposure to alcohol until I was in college. I must admit that my first taste of it (milk punch at a Fall Weekend fraternity party) turned me off for months. It was quite ghastly! I couldn’t even eat yeast rolls that Thanksgiving; the smell so reminded me of that punch. Later I found mixed drinks that were certainly more palatable, but I don’t actually find the taste of fermentation all that tasty, so I seldom drink anything alcoholic. I am fine, though, with others enjoying a glass of wine, a gin fizz or a pina colada, and my annual fruit cake, to quote one recipient, allows one to eat it and drink too thanks to applications of B&B Liqueur. I’m not a prohibitionist but even if I were, prohibiting something attractive to so many people, from the beginning of time, simply doesn’t work.
I have, however, become more and more appalled and angry at the societal lack of concern over the down-side of alcohol. Lushes, sots, alcoholics, drunkards—or careless people just out for a fun evening --- whatever one wishes to call them --- are not found only in the back alleys of cities. Over-drinking happens everywhere; in every small town, in rural areas and in every city bar; even sometimes at home. And far too often behind the wheel of a car! We make jokes about drinking and think those who over-imbibe behave in amusing ways. And it is, unfortunately, a common misconception that one must be at least a little inebriated to have a good time.
Our amusement with the tipsy should end abruptly when seeing the statistics regarding alcohol-related deaths. The mother and baby made the national news about three weeks ago; not because of the drunken driver who hit their car, but because of the manner of rescue. This was the incident where several people rushed to lift the car off their trapped bodies. They were severely injured but will live. In the amazing rescue, the focus was immediately taken away from the cause of this nearly-lethal event. Apparently, a drunken driver is too common for comment. The fourteen-year-old whose bike was hit by a drunk driver in my community that same week, did not make national news and she did not live. In addition, her little sister, who was riding with her, was badly hurt! A talented, kind fourteen-year-old, with life ahead of her, gone forever.
Gail King (TV anchor) exploded regarding the mother and baby; she said there is NO excuse; injuries and deaths from drunk drivers are totally preventable. And she is right! These accidents are due solely to arrogance of those who drink, who are unwilling to admit that their judgment may be impaired and our society’s casual shrugging it off ---- because “everyone drinks a little bit”. Drunk driving accidents should create outrage in all of us. There is no excuse for them. The fruit of the vine is a gift. The abuse of that fruit shows not only ingratitude for the gift, but crass uncaring for anyone else’ well-being. As I said, I’m no prohibitionist, but I would like to see everyone take a pledge to never, ever get behind a wheel after drinking more than one alcoholic beverage. If that is an inconvenience, so be it ---- or, as one of my friends would say, “Tough Tiddlywinks”! It will take general outrage across the board before attitudes change. Surely it is time!
Speaking of drinking --- or not---- reminds me of a graduation party at our home. One son was graduating from a two-year college and the other from high school. On a 4-H trip to Myrtle Beach, one of them had discovered a variety of non-alcoholic drinks called “mocktails”. Since, at this point, they and their friend were all under-age, we weren’t about to serve alcohol but a little extra fussing was appropriate. It was an opportunity to let the kids see that good food, good fun and cool drinks may be had without getting buzzed. We concocted a half-dozen different drinks using fruit, fruit juices, cream, carbonated beverages and one or two spices (This was before the age of smoothies!). It was a unique and imaginative refreshment for what turned out to be a significant and fun party.
Speaking of unusual recipes, a family member recently posted, on FB, her squash blossom fritters; they looked exotic and delicious. Back when I had energy and was a fan of Euell Gibbons*, I did much the same thing with the orange day lilies that grow along the roadsides and in my yard. The petals can be snipped into small pieces and added to green salads or dipped in batter, deep-fried and served as fritters, just like the squash blossoms. And the little green buds may be steamed and buttered to be eaten like green beans. There are many healthy and unusual additions we can make to our diets from the wild. Just one caution --- KNOW YOUR PLANTS! Mistaking water hemlock for Queen Anne’s Lace, or deadly nightshade for edible berries can be fatal. Being outside and learning the names of what grows in our personal habitats is a great way to shed stress --- a health benefit.
Now about good times ---- there are three weeks left in August ---- three weeks more of summer delights and refreshment. Three weeks of warm days, cool nights and dewy grasses. But there are small changes along the way. This poem says it well:
“Buttercup nodded and said, ‘Goodbye’. Clover and daisy went off together. But the fragrant water lilies lie yet moored in the golden August weather. The swallows chatter about their flight, the cricket chirps like a rare good fellow, the stars twinkle in clusters bright, while the corn grows ripe and the apples mellow.” August by Celia Thaxter** Breathe deeply of August and enjoy!
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Euell Theophilus Gibbons ----American outdoorsman and early health food advocate, who also explored the use of many foods from the wild. His books include “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and others. When we lived in PA, he lived not too far from us. 1911-1975
**Celia Thaxter ----American writer of poetry and stories. There are lovely gardens dedicated to her memory in Portsmouth, NH and on the Isle of Shoals. 1835-1894