Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Storms

The pink hibiscus at the edge of the east facing garage wall doesn't seem to mind the heat.
The leaves may droop but each morning brings fresh bloom.
The plant dies back with hard frost and I cut the dry papery stalks to the ground.
The leaves begin to emerge in spring only when the days and nights are well warmed.

The Double-Red Knock-Out roses have resumed their bloom after a brief exhausted rest.
I meant to shear them back, but there were more pressing garden tasks.
A mid-August pruning should give us a late flush of September blossom--the 'last rose of summer' effect.

One plants the vegetable garden in spring, longing for the taste of freshness.
Suddenly there is a glut of cucumbers; we've tired of green beans for every dinner.
I picked the last of the green beans on Tuesday morning, uprooting the spent bushes as I went along the row.
I was out before 8 A.M. to do this--but was exhausted and dizzy from the heat before I finished an hour later. Temps this week have been in the high 80's F.--climbing to 90 by afternoon.
I don't flourish in the height of summer heat--feeling heavy-limbed, light-headed, generally out of sorts.
Much of G. and M.'s garden has fallen victim to the heavy rains.  [They are on lower ground a mile away.]
Gina, with a resurgence of energy after her 'event planning,' has wanted to make pickles.
She went home with a basketful of our excess cukes to make refrigerator pickles.

Between showers J. 'turned' the hay and it dried enough to roll into bales.

The north field, finally shorn of the wheat crop
Tidying the kitchen after Tuesday's supper, I went out with peelings and tidbits for the trash heap.
Hearing an unfamiliar growl of machinery, I crossed the dooryard to have a view of the north field.
'The combiners are here,' I announced to J. when I went inside.
He thumped out of his recliner, abandoning the evening news, and went outside to take in the welcome sight.
[The wheat was ready for harvest at least three weeks ago, but with the incessant rains the farmer who does the combining on shares has been behind. Watching crops 'go by,' immobilized by the whims of weather, is frustrating to farmers of any degree.]
J. was whizzing around on the riding lawn mower, cutting the grass of the front lawn an hour later when I haled him, cordless phone in hand. Turning to go inside I stopped as a mud-encrusted, elderly pickup lumbered up the drive.
The two men who emerged were sweat-stained, their faces weary; bits of straw clung to their pants legs, their shirts were plastered to chests and backs with damp.
In response to my inquiry, one of them announced that they must talk with Jim about the sale of the grain.
I gestured to where J. sat astride the mower, phone to his ear. 
We made desultory conversation, about the unfavorable weather.
One man lit a cigarette, seeming grateful for a few moments respite from work.
Typical of area men, their responses to my remarks were dotted with the respectful term 'ma'am.' 
'We're finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel,' one said, pulling a crumpled bandanna from his pocket to mop his warm face.  
I left them waiting under the maple, made my way inside to put the kitchen to bed.
J. came in later to replace the phone and pass on the news that due to the rain and the late harvest, none of the area grain was of 'food quality.' Our wheat will go to a milling plant in Tennessee to be converted to chicken feed.
On Thursday J. raked and baled the straw. Joe Yoder appeared to help load the 50 straw bales that he needs for his family's venture into truck gardening. I handed out cookies and lemonade, retreated again to my basement sewing room.
Grandson D. appeared wanting to know the where-abouts of J.
'In the field still, I think.  I can hear a tractor.'
D. clattered down the stairs a few moments later.
'Grampy's not out there. Its a man planting soybeans!'
The phone rang repeatedly. The air conditioner chugged. 
Cats sprawled near the air ducts or lay about limply in my cool sewing room.
G. phoned to announce that she'd had a cooking binge and would bring supper.
I pared cucumbers, sliced fresh green peppers for salad.
Going outside in the stifling heat to dump peelings I was startled by a tremendous roll of thunder 
directly overhead.
As we assembled  for supper the sky darkened and  an angry wind began to stir.
Rain drops spattered as G. and her family gathered themselves to return home.
Washing up at the kitchen sink, I gazed through the window at the trees lashing about. 
Rain broke in a torrent. The electricity wavered, steadied, faltered again.
'Are we having hail?' I asked J., startled by the drumming on the east windows.
It was 'only' rain, blown in force across the front porch, soaking the cushions on the wicker bench, drenching the potted plants.
It was full dark before the storm moved on.

Stepping outside in the relative coolness of Friday morning, the first thing that caught my eye was my shattered row of sunflowers.
As I walked toward them, I noted that branches from the sweet gum tree were flung across the drive. Smaller branches and twigs littered the back lawn under the maples.
The pink hibiscus by the garage was a welter of thrashed stalks.
I went back inside to tell J. of my sunflower woes.
'What about the sweet corn?' he demanded.
'I don't know,' I said.  'I didn't look in that direction.'

Much of the sweet corn had been blown sideways.
J. went through the rows, righting stalks, firming soil around the roots.
This is the second time this corn has needed to be propped up after a storm.

Turning from the upper garden my eyes took in another change, although it took a few seconds to process what I saw.
The ancient apple tree at the edge of the back lawn had toppled.
Close inspection showed that the roots had been in a bad way, the inner stump of the tree riddled with a punky rot.

More than half of my sunflower row crashed, blown over into the zinnias and cosmos.
The sunflowers have been a joy in past seasons, their bright faces turning with the sun, the seed heads luring goldfinches and the last butterflies of autumn.
I miss them already.

I dragged fallen limbs and slender branches to the trash heap while J. labored over his rows of battered corn.
The sweet gum tree seems particularly vulnerable to wind--several good sized limbs were down.
It is the only one on the property, treasured for the rich colors of its leaves in autumn.
Willis and the three 'bully boys' trudged about the yard in my wake, pausing to pant in the rising heat.
Willis flopped in the cool gravel of the upper drive--sprawled amongst the leaves left behind from the fallen sweet gum branches.
Sweat trickled in tiny trails down my back as I worked.
I thought of the many generations who have endured the toils of summer without the solace of air conditioning, without the refreshment of holding a glass under the ice cube dispenser.
I thought of women who have cooked each meal over a wood or coal fired range, heated water to wash the family linens and laundry, while their menfolk tended crops, put up hay, spending the days under the scorching sun.
Summer is an intense season--days and nights of heat, weeks of tending crops and fretting over the weather.
Some crops flourish, others fail miserably to thrive or are caught at their peak by blight or drought or insect invasion.  By mid July, the anticipation of summer has been smothered in humidity, become something of an endurance test.
I do what I can outdoors, return to the house, to a cool shower, to fresh cotton garments, to tall glasses of iced tea or lemonade.
I think about autumn, when the hoped for harvest will be realized--or not--when the front porch is again a welcoming spot to read and the glow of the sun is a blessing rather than a force which prompts retreat.


  1. Thank you for yet another wonderful glimpse into your farm/country life. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You inspire me with all that you do.


  2. Gosh, you are having similar temps to us, but we've had no rain for a couple or three weeks now and the ground has huge cracks in it. Good in some ways, but not in others. They are promising the possibility of thunderstorms tomorrow, which we could do with I suppose. It is a bind watering round every night (takes an hour) so I could do with a night off!

    Sorry that your garden got trashed, and you lost your apple tree. Will you plant another? A pain about losing all the Sunflowers too . . .

  3. I feel the same way about summer, can't wait for it to get here, can't wait for it to go.
    We've had lots of rain, but no bad storms, did lose one tree to a tropical storm that went through.

  4. Must have been sad to see the apple tree and the sunflower go in that storm. As BB says we have similar hot weather and we had a storm the other night, which was badly needed for the rain, though it knocked out the electricity which storms usually do in this part of Essex.

  5. I've realised why I keep missing your posts. I only found this one through BB's list! I had the address wrong in my list. Anyway, all's well now and you're in the sidebar where I can't miss you. The Hibiscus is STUNNING!