book club, holidays, seasons
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Cultivating: Midsummer

I’ve been thinking this summer about nostalgia.  This is the season for remembering first kisses (mine: 17 years old, on a balcony in San Sebastian, Spain, sometime in mid July, during a rainstorm), family camping trips, and the long days of daydreaming of past summers (that’s me in the hat, as a young teen, at left.  This picture gives me that odd feeling of not knowing where we are in this picture, and not remembering the moment at all).  IMG_4620If you have kids, it’s the time when they make memories like this for themselves.  I wonder what it’s like to watch them do that, to see echoes of your former self in them and experience the simultaneity of memory and experience.  This is the tinge of sadness that summer brings – knowing that it comes to an end, knowing that we’re getting older, that the year will soon get colder again.  The hopefulness of spring and the resilience of fall and winter lie on either side of us, and at the height of summer we balance in between them. And so we revel in it while we can, and let nostalgia make it even sweeter.

Nostalgia comes from the Greek word for home.  We use it, often derisively, to describe wistfulness for a lost past.  But it really describes something we all experience as we get older: that we will always be searching for the feeling of belonging, of being at home.

I’m keeping Pinterest boards for my finds and recommendations too.

Here are some things that I’ve been doing, reading, and listening to this Midsummer.  The Solstice was June 21, but the heat of July and early August to me are the height of the season.  Today (July 12th) is the summer’s full moon.  Folk traditions call it the full buck moon – the time of the year when deer who have shed their antlers begin regrowing them.

You’ll notice: I’m experimenting with formatting on this post!

IMG_4714. Scandinavian tradition is for the Midsummer table to be covered in flowers, and to eat strawberries!  I’m inspired by Scandinavian traditions because they are very connected to the seasons, even today,  and translate well to my climate and environment in New England.  So my solstice dinner table featured edible nasturtiums and mustard flowers, and a strawberry shortcake made with woodruff infused cream (an amazingly sweet herb I first tasted in Sweden but which in fact grows in front yards all over my neighborhood!).

. IMG_4701On the Solstice my husband and I paid a visit to Eva Sommaripa’s farm/garden.  We expected an hour or two of picking greens for her and for ourselves before heading to the beach nearby.  But when we arrived, she asked us, “Do you want to pick rose petals?”  Soon enough we were pulling on canvas Carhartts and thick socks, and for the next few hours we wrestled and stomped our way through thick rose brambles, sometimes so high we couldn’t see over them, to pick gallons and gallons of wild rose petals.  I hope the rose water I made is worth the arms covered in scratches and bug bites!   Eva’s been living on her land since 1972 and has a profoundly seasonal way of living, and it doesn’t feel contrived or fad-ish, but rather resilient and downright Yankee.  Chef, cookbook author and friend (and teenage idol!) of mine Didi Emmons documented a year at Eva’s farm in her really wonderful book, Wild Flavors.  

. My poetry pick this summer is The Wild Field by Rita Gabis.  I picked it up used; it was published in 1994.

From “Wild Roses”

“I’ve hardly loved at all. / I’ve gathered petals from the dark road, / held bone-white pieces of shell to my mouth / to taste the whiteness. / I’ve taken a man in the middle of the day, / how my hips bruised him, / like the beach plum softened by the long days, / the color deepening on the stem / after the roses are gone.”

The collection is filled with the sense of a New England summer, complete with stone walls – you can hear the buzzing of cicadas and the crash of the ocean throughout the poems.  It’s also filled with the twin sensation of fullness and loss, ripeness and aging, youth’s lust for and fear of the future.  Most of the poems begin with a meditation on the visceral experience of the natural environment and then expand, like a mind associatively wandering, towards reflection on those crucial concerns of growing up, family (becoming a mother, watching a gradmother aging), and sex.

I keep a book of poetry next to my seat at the dining room table.  Read “Fireflies” from The Wild Field on my reviews blog.

. While we’re on the subject of flower picking, this summer I’ve been obsessed with linden trees, which like woodruff grow all over my neighborhood and I never noticed, even though linden (sometimes called lime, tilia, or tilleuil in French) is my favorite scent, tea, and on and on.  Now I have a little crop of way-more-fragrant-than-store-bought dried linden flowers ready for my evening tea needs. So:

while leaves are out, learn to identify the trees you see everyday!

You can use a field guide, an app like LeafSnap, or just lots of pictures and specimens and Google searching (my preferred method, most of the time).  Used book stores are great sources: I picked up my new favorite at Lorem Ipsum.

. All of this flower gathering (and strawberry picking) has gotten me thinking about the beautiful, traditional Nantucket baskets made by Taylor Cullen of Small Town Girl.

. IMG_4682Another thing I learned in Sweden was that everything always feels warmer and more hospitable when served in a turned wood bowl.  Now I have a little collection: my favorite is this delicate, almost hovering bowl from Brian Weir of Dartmouth, MA (which I got in New Bedford).  And of course, Peterman’s spalted maple bowls from Gill, MA.  When my husband and I passed Peterman’s bowls on Route 2, he screeched the car to a halt and u-turned straight into the parking lot.  Oiling the unfinished bowls is key, I’ve learned.  But I’ve also learned that mineral oil is (as the name ought to have indicated to me) a petroleum processing byproduct.  So, next time I want to grease up my woodens, I’ll try Heidi Swanson’s coconut method (look at her gorgeous spoons!).

Japanese wabi-sabi principles would say that in summer, you should be choosing cool materials for bowls and vases – like glass or delicate porcelain – rather than warm stoneware and wood.

. The only thing I have that fits the bill is a nearly translucent little cup by Bryan Hopkins, so I stick to glass pitchers like this one.  

. I spent a week in Hudson, New York at Oral History Summer School, a magical place which I and my fellow participants often refer to as “summer camp.”  I took this as an opportunity to reacquaint myself with friendship bracelets. With each knot I feel a little bit of time travel, remembering the quick, deep friendships and the freedom that came with the hot days of childhood summer camp.  And they’re beautiful!  But note: monochrome patterns are tougher than they look.

. Whether I’m off to summer camp, Tanglewood, or the beach, I bring two Kara Weaves towels.  They’re good for blankets, towels, scarves…

. Give a listen to Glenn Gould’s “The Latecomers,” a 1969 radio documentary about the declining traditional life in Newfoundland around the time of resettlement.  It’s filled with the sounds of the sea and the feeling of lost home.  It’s about an hour long; listen on headphones!

. Annie Dillard has been one of my favorite writers for many years; her short novel The Maytrees, perfect for a weekend getaway, is set on Cape Cod.  There’s such a sense of place — the kind of wild, desolate beauty of the Atlantic coastline, a kind of salt crust and rotted wood feeling.  It’s about a marriage – the romance and the loss – and I can’t recommend it enough for a quick but meaningful summer read.

I picked these up on the beach in Wells, Maine, last week.  I gave my self a rule: only rocks with a single stripe.  I love the one with the circle at its corner!


. I’ve been having a lot of fun rock collecting this summer, and it’s being made more fun by the excellent-but-ponderous summer reading I’m doing: Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee. I’ve always wanted a good geology book, and now I’ve got one that will keep me busy for a long time.  What’s amazing about geology is that it is so deeply human, so existentially challenging to think in deep time, that thinking about rocks becomes an exercise in thinking about what it means to be on this earth, now, with the sun on the backs of our necks and our eyes peeled to the ground, waiting for the next rock to pick up. I’ll post a review when I’m done.


1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed this post, Diana—thank you for so many inspiring leads! I too have been trying to learn tree and plant identification. I’ve been reading the Rodale Herb Book—(you may remember it from the Columbia Street apartment?)—to learn more about herbs and what we can do with them.

    This is what it says about sweet woodruff:
    “In France the plant was called ‘Muge-de-boys,’ musk of the woods” and “…it can be kept among sheets and towels to preserve them from insects and provide a pleasant scent” and “…the lovely fragrance develops only when the woodruff is dried…the amounts that are harvested should be chopped and dried instantly in warm shade” and a recipe: “sweet woodruff is famous for its use with the May Bowl Punch. Steep the leaves and blossoms in one quart of white Rhine wine for a few hours. Add some orange and lemon, strawberries, ice, and more sweet woodruff. Freshly cut sweet woodruff has the aroma of newly mown hay and adds a unique flavor to fresh strawberries.” mmm

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