‘Tis the season of the Strawberry Moon, according to the Algonquin, Ojibwe and Lakota peoples. And from ancient Rome, we’d be one day past the Ides of June! Few people realize (unless they sat through Latin classes with Mrs. Dunn) that the Ides come every month. The 15th of March is the famous Ides because it was the chosen date of Julius Caesar’s demise via assassins. “Et Tu Brute?”!! But we are now just past the middle of this lovely month, in our time, and Mid-Summer Night’s Eve is soon to be with us — a time of myth and magic extending far back into history. It is the eve of the Summer Solstice, arriving on June 21st. From that day on until December 21st, the light fades a bit day by day. Now that I am seeing less well, light is very important to me.
Midsummer In Sweden, Finland and Estonia it is celebrated with joyous festivals. The Spencer-Van Etten area is heavily populated with people who’ve lived in Finland, or who are descended from Finns. And the regional Finnish society celebrates what is called “Juhannus” (Mid-summer Festival). One year, back when we had a lovely restaurant in Spencer called the Main Street Café, this festival was celebrated there, and the buffet array was outstanding. There were foods that I’d never tasted before. In all European countries, this was traditionally a time when it was said that one might see pixies, fairies or elves; there was magic in the air. Rabbits danced madly in the meadows and, in old England, it was customary for young, unmarried women to wash their faces in the dew, at dawn on Mid-summer, after which they would, supposedly have a vision of who they would marry. As a Christian holiday, stolen from the pagan tradition, it is also St. John’s Eve. St. John is one of the patron saints of bee-keepers, and considering the current lack of honey bees, we could use a little saintly help. I would appreciate a few of those pixies to assist in the garden too, but I hear they are pranksters; they’d probably pull the lettuce and leave the chickweed. Exploring the stories and reasons for our traditional celebrating of holidays, is a fun journey into history that allows a little fantasy to seep into our very practical lives.
And speaking of history, because this is the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Agnes and the Flood of 1972, I’m going to re-tell the tale of our adventures in that traumatic event. I wrote about it a few years ago after Ken Burns made a fine documentary film. Now a Bucknell University professor is collecting information and experiences for another documentary film, and this has triggered my memories again.
In 1972, we lived outside of Lewisburg, PA. We (two small sons and I) accompanied Kerm to 4-H camp the second week in June at a Boy Scout facility on Pine Creek near Jersey Shore, PA. 4-H members from five counties (Union, Northumberland, Center, Lycoming and Snyder) attended, and there were about 300 kids there, plus counselors, cook, nurse and three Cooperative Extension adults. We had two or three lovely days before the rains began, and even when the showers came, we still sang, ate and did crafts while sloshing through wet grass—– until the alarm went out that this might be a difficult storm — which it surely was. It blew across Pa. moved on to NYS’s southern tier and whipped around to return to Pa., filling the streams and rivers to well over flood levels.
After the power went out, we managed to get 150 of the kids onto buses and back home. There were 150 remaining when the call came to abandon camp. The difficulty was that there were only two ways out of the camp; one was a steep, dirt road requiring a 4-wheel drive — and in this situation —- slippery with rain. The other way – and how most everyone came in — was to walk across a suspension bridge, over Pine Creek, which, after days of rain, came gushing and rolling down the valley sending its flood waters to the Susquehanna River. By the time we got all the kids across, there were trees and house-trailers rolling along in those waters. One memory is forever etched into my mind; telling our sons (ages 6 and 3) to hang onto my rain coat and not let go — as we walked across that swaying bridge to the waiting school bus. Thankfully, they did just that! Once on the bus, we made the hazardous trip to a shelter — the bus driver had to guess where the road was since there were several inches of water covering it. The bus full of kids was utterly silent as we went. The raging creek was close, so getting off the road could have been deadly. The last adults, including Kerm, came out in National Guard trucks. The camp was so damaged that it never reopened.
We sheltered overnight in a school library — snoozing between the stacks. The next day, with water still rising in Jersey Shore, we were taken further up the hill to a Catholic church. I remember singing our boys to sleep in the sanctuary aisles, and turning around to find a group of teens sitting there, listening —- taking comfort in the songs too. Being stranded with 150 kids from ages 10 to 16 could be daunting, but those young people were wonderful. They were concerned about their families (no cell phones then and phone lines down) but their behavior was incredibly good and caring about each other. We were all awed by the devastation we could see from our vantage point high on that hill; just the church steeples and roof peaks of the buildings showed in the town below; all else was inundated and covered in many feet of water.
Image courtesy Chemung County Historical Society
Probably everyone has had an experience at some point in their lives that remains vivid in their memories. We didn’t know until later that several people had drowned in NYS’s Southern Tier region, not far from where we now live, and in Lewisburg, the chief of police drowned on Main Street. The flood left not only visual images in our heads, but sensory memories; the smell of flood clean-up is something no one forgets.
While I still love water —- the ocean — rippling streams — water falls—–lakes, I have great respect for what water power can do. And I have no desire to live on the banks of any streams. Maintaining the dams and the flood control efforts are incredibly important. As storms increase in frequency and severity, remembering the past will ensure that there won’t be such destruction and loss of life again.
Learning from history most definitely applies to other areas of life too; the economy, wars, ecology, conservation of our resources, education and sociology. The majority of humans simply seem unable to think further than today and perhaps, tomorrow; seldom next week and almost never, next year. There is a Native American philosophy that before we do anything, we should consider the effect it will have on the next seven generations. This is not a concept that we seem to carry in our pioneering genes — but perhaps we should begin developing that long-term concern as we think of our earth and the fate of the grandchildren we love as they live upon it.
Right now, though, on this day and in this time, we are finding ourselves in beautiful mid-June. Peonies are blooming and sending their fragrance out over our yard, and my huge, unruly rose bush resembles a waterfall of pink blossoms cascading down over the wahoo trees. Currently the many waterfalls/streams that make the Finger Lakes region so very scenic, are neither roaring nor flooding — thankfully. I am grateful for the bounty around us. It behooves us to make every effort to be aware of life, each day we live — the fragrances, the people, the colors. To be grateful, we need to notice and appreciate. “The earth is the cup, the sky is the cover, of the immense bounty of nature, which is offered us.” Emerson.* We need to shake off our superiority and arrogance in our human accomplishments and realize that we are a working part of this earthly habitat. As Louis Armstrong **sang “It’s a wonderful world!” It will take all our efforts to keep it that way. Read Wendell Berry’s*** The Peace of Wild Things while sitting in the sunshine, absorbing the world around. Have a bowl of strawberries. Your stress will melt away and your eyes will find a new appreciation for your surroundings. And in another five days, keep your eyes open for a pixie or two!
Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Ralph Waldo Emerson —American philosopher, essayist, poet, lecturer and abolitionist. He was a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. 1803 – 1882
**Louis Armstrong —American trumpeter and vocalist; of immense importance in the jazz world. 1901 – 1971.
***Wendell Berry — American novelist, essayist and poet, attorney, farmer and environmental activist from Kentucky.