Posts in Summer
A Sonnet for September
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Last week, a question in the Creative Countryside Community piqued my interest, not solely as a stimulating inquiry in its own right, but because it was a question my brother had posed in our siblings’ WhatsApp group only hours before:

‘Do you acknowledge the start of autumn on September 1st (meteorological) or the autumn equinox (astronomical date (21st / 22nd))?’

As I started to think through my own answer and reasons, the thought process inevitably turned to a love letter to September, and everything contained within this beautiful month of exhale, transition and metamorphosis.

It’s hard to pin any of the seasons down to a single day, to herald a definitive ‘arrival’, but for me, autumn is especially hard to do so.  I’ve experienced August days full to the brim with lashing rain, thick jumpers and cosy comfort food indoors.  Conversely, I’ve viewed the embers of September days attired in shorts and t-shirt, from the tops of Derbyshire moorland or Sussex Downland, with a day’s worth of hot sun glowing in the pinkness of sunburned skin.

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For me, autumn is a season that ebbs slowly in from the very edges of nature itself: it bleeds; it seeps slowly.  September is simultaneously late summer and early autumn.  These seasons rub shoulders confidently together – a natural friction, yet an unspoken harmony.  It’s a month of ratios, rather than a definitive start and ending.  And it’s that unpredictable and heady mix of magic that makes September so entrancing.

September is a month in which we’re suddenly jolted back into a state of alertness.  For too long, we’ve been drunk upon the overflowing cup of summer: the long hot days, warm nights, and seemingly ever-present light.  Now it’s the quickening dusk, almost tidal in its encroachment; the fleeting beauty of dying leaves that pulse all manner of yellows: just some of the markers that sharpen the senses.  

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The wilful abandon of taking summer for granted is ended with an enforced observance of sobriety: our eyes do the harvesting, as we eagerly stockpile the mental stores to satiate our wistful longings in the barren depths of winter.  Moments are magnified, appreciated; tended.

Harvesting is not limited to the eyes: the garden continues to take away with one hand and give with the other.  I spend a weekend dead-heading, de-potting and re-arranging, packing away a summer’s worth of organic detritus, whilst runner beans send forth new produce, pumpkins continue to swell, and tomatoes redden upon the vine.

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I don’t care what your argument: no-one can convince me that late summer’s transition into autumn isn’t one of this country’s most magnificent times of year.  But September is the magical moment in our natural calendar: a month of harmonious tension.

And where our seasons rub up against each other in a beautiful friction, the resultant sparks ignite a vision of truth that’s often hard to comprehend.

Viva September.

SummerCallum Saunders
How It Crumbles
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My planner, desktop and wall calendar are all now telling me that summer is now all but over, at least from an academic point of view. With just a few days left before the advent of new classes and fresh starts, the thoughts of all teachers around the country are very much tinged with an autumnal hue as the prospect of the new term looms, but the weather outside my study window has decided, for the time being at least, that summer is not quite done yet.

The days retain many of their hours of sunlight and, with them, their heat, and, although I’m not usually a fan of such warm weather, it does offer one big advantage: the blackberries will be ripened nicely now, “cobwebbed and dusty as a Claret/laid down for years in a cellar”, to appropriate a beautifully apt simile from Owen Sheers.

When I was a boy, I recall blackberry season being such a highlight of the year. Unlike the “milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots” with which Seamus Heaney remembered collecting them, I recall hordes of people descending upon the dockland a couple of streets from my mother’s house, filling up supermarket carrier bags, plastic ice-cream tubs and even coat pockets with their bounty.

Often, a number of generations of same families would turn up together, from adults right down to toddling grandchildren, chatting about goings-on within their families, births, deaths and a whole array of other gossip as juicy as the fruit they were gathering. And of course, the same families would turn up year after year, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, picking and talking, picking and talking long into the summer evenings.

Of course, time and age have plucked their share, as have the consumerist leanings of modern society, gradually widening the gaps between those sets of shoulders until now, barely anyone turns up to pick the blackberries aside from the birds, and the majority of the fruit spoils and wastes for another year.

I am one of those faces that no longer harvests those fruits, mainly because I live a couple of miles further inland and now have my own blackberry-picking spot. Way up, on the high path of the hills behind my home, where few people ever bother to venture, a thick stand of blackberry bushes offers me more fruit than I could ever need , and every year I spend a little time gathering it for my fruit salads and occasional baking, though whenever I’ve been picking, I always feel that I come back home having found much more than a simple tubful of berries.

A habit worth forming is a habit worth passing on to your children, and so I began taking my daughter up to the slopes for these forays. She had her own little tub, a little pair of gardening gloves to protect her hands from thorns, and so she too became part of the late-summer ritual, looking forward to the event that it had become, developing that same annual “lust for picking” shared by countless millions through the years.

Time has now stolen this from me too. It was only a matter of time I suppose: having started secondary school last September, Elle is now far more interested in new friends and her new phone than in picking up old habits with her old man.

So here I am, climbing the slope alone this year, carrying only my tub and a tatty old pair of gardening gloves that I’ve been meaning to replace for more years than I can remember. Still, I reckon she’ll show a little more interest later when those familiar smells of blackberry and apple crumble start wafting from the oven and swilling around the house like the last dregs of summer’s fine wine.

SummerSimon Smith
The Summer's End
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The scorching sun with its record temperatures are but a memory now.  I daydream out of the kitchen window wondering how the sunflowers are still standing. Like beacons they loom, desperately clinging onto the summer that was.

I reluctantly drag the window shut as a sharp chill blasts through the curtains, doors slamming around the house as if protesting at the obvious seasonal transition outside that can no longer be ignored. The sudden chill makes all the hairs on my arm awaken, that well-known marker of coldness will now walk alongside the shortening days no doubt.

But I can’t stand still. Wellies, waterproofs and hound. No matter what the weather, escape.  

Late afternoon lights start to appear at windows as I walk through the village. The familiar waft of wood smoke, rotting apples and damp reminding me of many times gone by.  A half-light world is now awakening, one of hygge corners, comforting crackling fires and a general slowing.

I pass the grey war memorial; red flashes of geranium flowers being pelted by raindrops brings me back to my senses.  I look back realising how far I have wandered, lost in my own thoughts. Quite fitting as is this not the time to be taking stock and hunkering down for the months ahead?  Glancing around, I wonder where the flowers and colour have gone, I am sure they were here yesterday. Gardens, window boxes and hanging baskets as far as the eye can see, now spent, tired and bereft of energy, nothing but desiccated skeletons stare back.

Where did summer go?

I wander on through the old iron kissing gate to the horse field, the clunk of metal on metal somewhat satisfying, testifying I am here again. Carrots for the horses, blackberries for me – a fair trade. How laden the hedgerow is with hips, haws and berries, their red dots staccato the now emptying branches.  A sign of a harsher winter to come perhaps? Do the birds and animals know this I wonder, as the white squirrel disappears up a sycamore now fashioning mottled leaves with black spots.

All I see is brown.

A muddy shroud seems to be taking over.  

That moment of summer's end.

It is here.

By Lisa from Mistletoe Oak

SummerContributor
September's Song - Supporting our Emotions in Late Summer

The last days of summer can be bittersweet, even more so this year when the UK has seen one of the warmest, sunniest summers for decades. Whether you loved or loathed the heat wave, saying goodbye to the long, halcyon days of summer can often make us feel a little glum. September and the onset of autumn can challenge us with a shift in pace that we don’t always feel ready for. Perhaps it would make us feel better to press the pause button and let the warmth and abundance of summer linger a little longer?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) allows us some welcome reprieve here, outlining a slower transition from summer through to autumn.  The Five Element theory describes not four, but five, seasons in each year. The fifth season is upon us now and is known in TCM as Late Summer, starting towards the last two weeks of August and continuing right up until the Autumn Equinox in September. This is a transitional time for the earth, after a hectic and bountiful few months of growth, nature can, at last, put her feet up and take a well-earned rest. If we are to live in harmony with the seasons, this is a time for us to follow suit. To relax, sit back and take stock of what we have enjoyed and achieved over the spring and summer months!

 

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Keats wrote of autumn and famously conjured a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. For me these words just as beautifully capture the essence of late summer. A time to be mellow, allow ourselves time to take a step back and appreciate the abundance of nature all around us. A time to nourish our body with the plentiful fresh produce summer provides and make the most of all we love about this season, before we push ahead into preparing for the colder months ahead. 


Even those of us long past school age can come face-to-face with those familiar back to school feelings when September rolls around. We may not be buying our new uniform and picking out pencil cases, but we probably all carry around the emotional imprint of that start of term feeling. If you notice an underlying feeling of anxiety and trepidation at this time of year, don’t worry, you are not alone. 
 

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From late August onwards, parents everywhere jump into organisation mode as they ready their children for the new school year. The retail industry steps up a gear in preparation for a busier shopping season ahead. Recruitment picks up pace across most industries and parliament reopens for business. The wider world around us picks up speed and all too soon summer can seem like a distant memory. 


We can’t all practically opt out of the faster pace this month inevitably brings, but we can work on altering our own outlook and allow ourselves the space to ease out of summer a little more gently. Here are four simple suggestions for connecting with and supporting your emotions at this time of year. 
 

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Here are four simple suggestions for connecting with and supporting your emotions at this time of year. 

Reflect – ‘This summer has flown by’ is such a common phrase at this time of year. Allow yourself permission to press pause and take some time to reflect on what you have enjoyed doing over the last few months. You might choose to look through and edit photos you have taken, make an online album or print the images you have captured over the summer. Perhaps sharing or giving them to the friends and family you have spent time with. If you write a diary or keep a journal, you might enjoy reading back through your entries over the summer months, taking some time to think about what moments made you happiest and why.

 

  • Relax - Carve out some dedicated time for relaxation. Do this in whatever way suits you, without feeling guilty for it! Light a favourite candle, buy some new bath oil and take an extra long soak. Start a new book and dive into that for a few hours. Spend time walking outdoors in nature while the weather remains warm and the evenings are light. Whatever your favoured relaxation practice is, use your chosen time intentionally. Feel good about allowing yourself this precious space to check in with yourself. Think of it as a little self-care ceremony and a time to acknowledge the seasonal shift.

 

  • Nourish - In TCM the late summer season corresponds with the Earth element. The spleen and stomach govern this season and in order to stay healthy, these organs need to be supported well with healthy and nourishing foods. Think about altering your diet to include more seasonal, fresh produce and give your digestive health the best support you can, in preparation for the winter months ahead.

 

  • Inhale - Essential oils provide us with a wonderful, natural toolkit for supporting our wellbeing throughout all the seasonal transitions. I have selected three oils which are well suited for late summer and below is a guide to making a simple blend for diffusing at home.

Late Summer Uplifting Blend

Patchouli Essential Oil (2 drops)

Lemon Essential Oil (2 drops)

Peppermint Essential Oil (2 drops)

Add two drops each of the above essential oils to a bowl of warm water or essential oil diffuser and breathe in.

Further resources:

Learn more about TCM and supporting your health in late summer:

http://ancientfern.com/chinese-medicine-nutrition-season-late-summer/

http://aprilcrowell.com/asian-medicine/late-summer-eating-with-the-seasons/

TCM and seasonal living:

http://quietheart.co.uk/category/seasonal-living/

 By Laura McMahon

Laura is the owner and maker at The Smallest Light. From her Welsh home workshop, Laura uses her love and knowledge of aromatherapy to create natural soy wax candles with essential oil blends that are uniquely crafted to complement the changing seasons.

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SummerContributor
Mornings in the Light
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Waking in winter is strange, it always feels too dark still to rise, the air too close, hands pressing down and whispering, urging you to stay a while longer. It takes lengthy and gentle persuasion to coax myself out of these warm solaces I have made, carefully unwrapping blankets like peeling back layers of wrapping paper. Stumbling around with shivering limbs and fuzzy eyes, those dark mornings didn’t even feel real sometimes. Summer mornings though bring another kind of unreality. Pastel hues, brighter than you might imagine, that tease you out from sleep before you even knew you were ready. 

I remember camping in the summer, waking early and still enveloped in the soft dyed light that peered through coloured canvases. I wriggled out from the tangle of sleeping bags amongst the murmuring of quietly pulled zips. Half falling out of the tent’s door, I stepped into the light. Just before it was light really, like I was looking at it through a layer of water. And there was water, a low hanging mist that dangled playfully around my feet, twisting up the just emerging colours. It danced in between the overgrown grass in the rambling campsite, amongst the nodding heads of wild flowers, the childish dot to dot of vibrant tents and chairs, of flags with trailing bunting. It was soft but not like the quieting winter morning, much more open. The cornflower blue was just beginning to spread in the sky over the barely fading pinks and reds, those blushing hues of sunrise. They were making way for the sun to find its place once more as it began to stretch out its legs again and somewhere far off, or maybe not so far, I remember hearing a camping kettle begin to whistle. Another early riser.

Walking though the fresh, cool grasses I skirted round the nodding wild flowers that still stood tall between the tents and watched the swallows that ducked and soared around the sleeping campers. I found myself almost tiptoeing as I walked, unwilling to disturb this peace that I had accidentally found myself in. To my right I heard the gentle humming of bees, to my left the whispering of branches in trees as the breeze caught them. Just the previous night we had heard an owl singing in it, gathered together in the tent, hushing one another while we worked out what it was. I skipped over tent ropes, pushed my hair from my face, and began to hear already the sounds of others waking. Soon the fields would be full of voices once again, the simpler quiet of the early morning almost forgotten but, of course, it would be here again tomorrow waiting patiently to shake off our sleep once more.

I am a lover of winter but these summer mornings have a place in my heart that goes deep. It’s these mornings in the light that still hold the soft singing of a kettle on an open stove, a beckoning up and onward, an invitation to gently shake off the winter slumbers, to rub my eyes and step out once again.
 

Hannah Franklin

Find Hannah writing at 'Sifting for Treasures' here

 

SummerContributor
Small Adventures for Summer Evenings
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Today, Maddy from A Slow Adventure shares her favourite ways to make the most of summer evenings. This piece is an extract from her article in issue 4 - head over here to order a copy of the magazine.

 

Explore

Perhaps the simplest way to take advantage of the longer evenings is to pull on your walking boots, or climb on your bike, and explore your local area. One mile or ten, new routes or old, alone or with others - it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the journey, notice your surroundings, breathe in the fresh air… and maybe stop off at a pub on the way home.

 

Feast

Make the most of summer’s plentiful fresh produce and support your local market or farm shop at the same time by picking up some supplies and gathering together your favourite people for a picnic or barbecue - at home, in the park, on the beach or in the woods. If you’re feeling fancy, take your al fresco dining up a notch by hosting a summer supper in your garden. Choose a selection of simple dishes from a seasonally-inspired recipe collection - I recommend The Ethicurean Cookbook or Gill Meller’s Gather - and don’t forget the fairy lights. 

 

Forage

The season of ripe abundance, summer is a wonderful time for foraging. Look for elder blossom and wild strawberries, herbs and greens (sorrel, mint, fennel, late nettles hiding in patches of shade) and edible flowers such as yarrow, honeysuckle, dog rose, meadowsweet and mallow. You may find mushrooms, too - chanterelles in the woods, or giant puff balls in the fields. By the shore, keep an eye out for sea beet and purslane, samphire, and sea buckthorn berries. In the later months, wander the heathlands for bilberries and look to the trees for hazel and sweet chestnuts, rowan berries, damsons, crab apples and perhaps even cherries. As autumn begins to draw near, seek out the jewels of the hedgerows: blackberries, elderberries, sloes, rosehips and haws. Always forage responsibly by seeking permission from land owners where necessary, taking a reliable field guide, not picking or eating anything you’re unsure of, and leaving plenty of wild treasure behind for others.

 

Grow

There are few things more satisfying than cooking a meal using ingredients you’ve grown yourself, or filling a vase with flowers from your own cutting patch. Whether you have a huge garden, an allotment or a windowsill, there are plenty of fun and tasty things you can plant and nurture over the summer. If you get going early enough then courgettes, salad leaves, peas and beans should all provide a crop before the autumn. Buying fruits such as tomatoes and strawberries as more mature plants can also be a fun, quick and easy way to grow your own produce at home.

 

Observe

Every summer there are hundreds of cultural events held in green spaces around the country. From open air concerts, plays and film screenings to firework displays and historical re-enactments, there’s something for every interest, age and budget. Take a blanket, pack a picnic, and enjoy the show.

 

Play

Outdoor games are a fun group activity for children and adults alike, they’re usually inexpensive or free, and can be played in pretty much any location. Set up an obstacle course, fly a kite, play Pooh Sticks, or host your own Olympics. Make a skittle alley, turn your lawn into a croquet pitch, stack up the giant Jenga, hook rubber ducks out of a paddling pool, or pull together a rounders team. Egg and spoon race, anyone?

 

Splash

 

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” So says Ratty in this infamous line from The Wind in the Willows and, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. Sail around a bay, canoe down a river, row across a lake, or wend your way down a canal on a barge. And if boating isn’t for you then try outdoor swimming instead, either in the wild or at your nearest lido.

 

Learn

Arm yourself with a nature guide and venture out on a quest to familiarise yourself with our native trees, plants and wildlife. Notice distinctive features, match species to habitats, memorise names and listen to sounds. Simply by paying closer attention to these details, you will soon build up a library of knowledge that will allow you to identify a flower by the shape of its petals or a bird by the tune of its song. If you don’t want to carry a book, there’s a wide range of nature-inspired apps available that store all the information you need on your phone.

 

Find Maddy writing on her blog or sharing seasonal tales on Instagram.
Image by Annie Spratt.

SummerEleanor Cheetham
Embracing Summer
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It’s twilight, and I can only just make out the eaves of the house silhouetted against the sky.  A colony of bats flit in the tree tops, darting in and out of my field of vision, and it feels like I’m watching a game of tennis trying to keep up with them. The fire crackles and chuckles to my left, and I grasp every last bit of heat as the warmth of the sun has long disappeared. Tiny scurried movements alert me to the presence of a wood mouse, and I watch his blurry outline as he hurries back into the long grasses, pausing only once to sniff the air.


Remnants of a summer salad and glasses of kombucha are discarded on the grass; flies hum above in small clouds, eager for a feast of their own. The tea-light in our old lantern is about to burn out, and it’s almost time to embrace the darkness.


There’s something evocative and elusively magical about summer evenings. Hours stretch slowly, and even when the light fades, nature lures us outdoors. If you’d like to make the most of the season, why not adventure after your 9-5 and celebrate the twilight hours?


If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in embracing the sunlight, try waking early, travelling slowly, and make time for small celebrations, Keep an eye out for butterflies colouring the landscape and listen out for the garden warbler and the blackbird.

 

This piece is an extract from the editor's note of issue 4. Head over here to order a copy of the magazine.
 

Solitude, Spontaneity and Sanity
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Of course, every day when I walk to school or the shop or even just look out of the window, I’m struck by how lucky I am to live somewhere as beautiful as Skye. This is more often the case when we don’t have horizontal rain and howling winds, but still. It’s stunning. Everywhere.

I don’t use the car as often as I used to despite us living over 20 miles from town. But when I do drive, alone and not in any real hurry to get from A to B (or from B back to A at least), there are opportunities for exploration and small excursions. I put the radio on and drive on roads running alongside the sea or across open moorland with pine forests and rushing streams and mountains beyond. Sometimes the landscape is gentler, greener with deciduous trees and lush hollows and verges. Neat little crofts with solid whitewashed houses and lines of washing.

I’m aware that, if somewhere looks inviting and intriguing - an almost-hidden footpath leading down to the shore, a shady hollow filled with foxgloves - I can park the car somewhere sensible (the way people interpret the rules of the road up here has many islanders in a state of constant exasperation) before hopping out with my camera and going to explore. At the moment that often involves tramping through a dense and undulating ocean of bracken or stooping under leafy boughs and around tangles of cow parsley.

You discover so many delights during these spontaneous little adventures. Fuchsias growing deep in the trees by a brook, their delicate crimson lanterns trembling in the breeze. New vistas across the water to tiny islands and secret coves. Strange flowers and shrubs (the latest I identified only last night as ‘Salmon berries’ with their glowing amber-coloured fruits, native to North America yet growing quite happily here).

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You see, if you have the chance to get out alone then you don’t need to ask for permission to pull over. There’s no explaining or justifying why this place, just here, is calling out to you to come and explore. It could take a minute or it could take an hour. A quick snap of those foxgloves or the decision to acknowledge that urge to wander a little further. Yes, it’s easily done up here. Everywhere is a photo opportunity. But allowing yourself a while longer sometimes, alone, to get a tiny bit lost and take the road less travelled is such a gift. Punctuate that journey home from the shops or the bank, the trip to see relatives, with a small detour up that pretty lane you usually pass. Stop in the part of town with those sweet houses and dreamy front gardens. Pause and lean across the gate and take in that field full of wheat or oilseed rape, dazzlingly yellow to the horizon. Give yourself a bit of breathing space, time to reset. By wandering up that footpath – even if you’ll be turning back around again after ten minutes – you’re doing something very important. You’re switching off. From the requests of others, from conversation. Instead you’re tuning in to the seasons and the details around you: nature. The sound of birds and buzzing insects and the wind in the trees. The smell of the earth and sun-warmed grass, the feel of leaves as you brush past. Indulge your curiosity. Reset. The obligations and their accompanying emotions: stress, resentfulness, mild anxiety: they can be let go for a little while as you take some time for yourself and savour your surroundings.

So the next time you’re alone and busily running errands, try and allow for some stopping and smelling of the proverbial roses. Schedule it in. Set out a bit earlier and return via the scenic route. It’s just as important as all those other tasks and deserves a place on the to-do list (and preferably not at the bottom!)

 

SummerSarah Hardman
Bumblebee Summer
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Bumblebees are synonymous with summer. Their gentle buzzing accompanies our wanders through the meadows beyond the house, where buttercups, red clover and ox eye daisies dot the landscape and provide a bountiful banquet for hungry bees. But habitats such as this have become ever rarer. The loss of around 97% of our flower rich meadows since the middle of the twentieth century is a major contributing factor to the decline in UK bee numbers, affecting bumblebees, honeybees, and solitary bees alike.

While it’s tempting to rush out and buy packets of wildflower seeds to sow meadows of our own, maintaining a successful wildflower area requires a degree of careful management. But there are other, simpler ways, to create pollinator-friendly patches in our gardens and allotments. Avoiding showy bedding plants and opting instead for flowering perennials, herbs, bulbs, and shrubs; planting tussocky grasses (for shelter and hibernation); and providing a source of water with safe places for the bees to land (such as a small water-filled dish with some pebbles) are all relatively easy ways to support our bee populations.

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In the garden here, June is in full bloom, with plenty of plants to attract a variety of bumble (and other) bees. The plants proving popular are the Yellow flag irises (Iris pseudacorus), Geranium phaeum “Black Widow”, Geranium macrorrhrizum Spessart, Allium christophii, Geums, Welsh poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), Comfrey, and Knautia macedonica. But the busiest banquet of all takes place at back of the garden where the Deutzia’s powdery blooms are covered in a flurry of bees. At any one time there are Tree bumblebees, Early bumblebees, Southern cuckoo bumblebees, Common Carder bees, Buff-tailed bumblebees and White-tailed bumblebees. They bustle and bump into one another in their feeding frenzy, buzzing and clambering over the pollen-dusted blooms. Already the task of identifying the different species has become more challenging as male bumbles now join the throng. And as summer wears on bumblebee ID becomes all the more difficult. The bees’ hairy bodies become sun-bleached, making the usual colours and patterns of stripes harder to distinguish. Many bumbles even develop bald patches on their thoraxes; the hairs eventually rubbing away as the bees fly repeatedly in and out of their nest entrances.

As evening falls the frenetic buzz of busy bumbles lessens as the females return to their nests for the night. A stillness descends over the garden. But here and there, tucked into a closed flower head or under the starry blooms of the alliums, sleepy, tousled male bumblebees have taken themselves off to rest. They will spend the night outdoors, awakening next morning a little bleary-eyed, until the early sun gradually warms them and their energy levels rise, ready for another day of foraging.

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SummerHelen Duncan
Harvesting Hay and Summer Fruit - A Season of Continuity
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In the depths of a frozen winter, horse-pulled sleighs or the more modern (one could argue: outdated) tractors and trailers, brought down loads of harvested trees from the surrounding snow-drenched woodlands. In two seasons temperatures rose from -15 ˚C during the night to more than +30 during the day, adding an extra layer of heat to our kitchen which is fuelled with a wood stove. Yet, the uncomfortably hot nights will soon return to layers of heavy blankets, just as the light of day will turn into long hours of darkness and dinners lit by hand-dipped beeswax candles.

The seasons march merrily along.

As much as we would like to proclaim that “summer is fun!” (perhaps the local schoolkids would like to say this as well), it is really a time of preparing for winter, and there is plenty of work for all ages and all abilities. Young children help their parents and grandparents out in the fields too, from sunup to sundown work is a family affair.

One season leads into another, and as quickly - or slowly - as the work is done, the next is ready to begin.

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There is no summer break, there is only Sunday to provide a day of rest for weary backs and tired hands. Minimal work is allowed on this day - feeding the animals, milking the family’s one, two or three cows, and harvesting some fresh vegetables from the garden. Many dress up in their traditional Sunday best and wander down to the center of the village, while others choose the glass bottles and kinship at the bar over the altar at the church, and some locals opt for visiting family and friends because even in a small village where everybody knows everyone and many people are related by some act of fate or another, the land and the animals always take precedence.

Summer is as it has always been - the phase to prepare for winter.

Animals need to eat and stay clean in the stable, and hay is on the menu year-round. If there is an art to creating a beautiful and functional haystack, the people of Maramureș have perfected it and called it their own. With some haystacks reaching 4-5 meters in hight, it is usually the woman’s honour to stand atop whilst it is being built, being in control of packing the hay densely and forming the stack so that it can withstand rain, wind and snow or whatever nature throws at it.

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Just how many hours go into creating a haystack? It greatly depends on the amount of active family members, whether the grass is scythed by hand or machine, and if it is the first, second or even third cut of the year. It’s idyllic to see the many haystacks dotting the landscape, but the unseen downside is the overabundance of hay, at the same time having fewer and fewer animals every year to eat it. The labour is that of love, and if it were not done the landscape would be seen as unclean, unkept, or wild.

In village life, there is a constant desire for balance set upon the eagerness to keep busy, if there is no work to be done, then work will be made.

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Consumerism is not rampant here, yet many people have more than they need, and not everything that they want. With little money people are modest, yet extremely giving and generous in nature and their vast orchards and enormous gardens keep them busy, satisfied and fulfilled.

Breb is a fascinating place where giving and sharing is prevalent. Here you can buy (or often receive for free) bacon and potatoes from your neighbour or the little lady down the lane rather than shopping at the store and at this very moment eggs are in short supply because of the hot weather, yet the milk is always on tap in any stable, available at the morning or evening milking.

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Nights are quiet, save for the random wild boar running down the gravel road, and the air is fresh and clean. Nature, fruit and hay are in ultimate abundance and now is the time to stockpile our winter supply.

In Praise of the Summer Meadow

You can mark the progress of the seasons, and indeed the farming year, simply by the appearance of the fields. Here in the Pennines we don’t have much by way of arable farming so the welcome sight of autumn stubble isn’t something to be anticipated on nature’s calendar. But my garden gate opens straight into a meadow, which is indeed a lovely thing. In winter we have sheep poking their noses through the bars, trying to reach the tantalising flower borders. In spring the lambs arrive. But not this year. Instead, the lambs are in another field and we have a hay meadow. The grass is already waist-high in parts (there’s an unmarked path right through the middle so we often wander up to the hills this way).

It was whilst looking out of the kitchen window and beyond the gate, watching these long grasses rippling mesmerically in the wind, that I started thinking about summers past. As children we’d make little nests in the meadows, lying down and watching the grass and buttercups waving above us. The simple pleasure to be had from looking back at the path you’d made (even more satisfying when the grass is wet). Sitting on an upturned bucket in mucky jodhpurs making flower crowns.

In this landlocked valley the rippling of long grasses in the breeze is our alternative to sand dunes. A graphite-grey sky with bleached stems below, as far as the eye can see, is one of my favourite late-summer sights. I find it so evocative – to stand in the middle of it all is as close as I’ll ever get to a meditative state.

It isn’t just about grass, of course. Although these in themselves are fascinating; slow down, get up close and notice the sheer variety of form and colour. Meadows, like the moors above, are an intricate tapestry of plants and flowers. At this time of year we have buttercups, clover, sorrel, cuckoo flowers and vetch to name but a few. And all punctuated with fleshier clumps of dock, nettle and thistle.

But what about those of us who live in more urban areas? Where do we go in search of the great unmown?

Many parks and public green spaces are neatly lawned. Sometimes they’ll have wilder fringes if you stray from the tarmac. Go and explore the further reaches (worthwhile, as the outer edges are often much quieter too). A place I visit often is the churchyard in our village. Over half of it is gloriously wild, left to its own devices to grow and set seed. It’s filled with dancing buttercups and sedges, much of the ground being quite marshy underfoot, as well as red clover, purple wild orchids and Bistort. There are even some rogue forget-me-nots in there, apt for a place where people have been laid to rest over the centuries.

Now is the time to go out and find a wildflower meadow, or at least a little piece of one in an unlikely place. There are few things as truly magical as walking waist-deep through tall grass. Children love it too. And be sure to sit (or even better, lie) down and watch the sky from a secret little space, surrounded by nodding flowers and busy insects.

SummerSarah Hardman
A Seasonal Year: Summer

Welcome to summer!

 

Summer Rituals

  • Make sure you always have a batch of homemade lemonade in the fridge for cooling you down on hot sunny afternoons (or to take along on a picnic!).
     
  • Eat outside as often as possible. Even if it's just ten minutes with your morning coffee!
     
  • Choose organic fruit and veg. There's no better time to take advantage of veg box schemes than in the summer, when most products will come from the UK.


 

3 Seasonal Recipes


Strawberry spinach salad
Beetroot, chilli + rosemary spaghetti
Gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream
 

 

3 Books for Summer

  1. The Otter's Tale (Simon Cooper)
  2. A Sky Full of Birds (Matt Merritt)
  3. The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)

 

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SummerEleanor Cheetham