With the summer solstice just past, summer is in full swing in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley. The physical signs are everywhere in the rural agricultural areas of rolling farmfields and along roadsides.
Examples of summer’s arrival predominate My Photo of the Week, “Signs of Summer.” The azure chickory flowers side-by-side with the bright white blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace fill the foreground along with unmown roadside grasses gone to seed.
Row after row of field corn run east to west to abutt a just-harvested winter wheat field. Note in the far left-hand corner the combine, tractors, and semi-trailers loaded with fresh-cut grain. In the background, the mixed hardwoods of Mole Hill, an ancient volcano, are full with their lush leaves.
Summer has arrived for sure in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It was only 3 in the afternoon, and I felt like taking a nap.
I had slept well, gone to physical therapy for my cranky back and my bothersome tennis elbow and had my ouchie knee taped. When I got home, I took my morning walk around the neighborhood.
After a light lunch of leftovers, I got busy writing and met my deadline. I grabbed the book I had failed to crack on vacation and headed for the sun-drenched patio adjacent to our back porch. I took a glass of clear, cold water with me and plunked down in a lawn chair with my back to the warming afternoon sun.
Earlier that day, a friend in Ontario, Canada had posted a photo of herself wearing a winter jacket. It was early June. I just chuckled and went on about my day. I was exceedingly glad that yesterday’s front had cleared out the heat and humidity from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, giving us this glorious day.
Instead of sleeping, I wanted to take advantage of the pleasant weather. So there I was on the patio, book in hand, my focus elsewhere. The sky was the bluest blue, occasionally interrupted by fluffy cotton balls that lazily floated high overhead.
Given the series of recent damp days, it was nice to sit outside without getting wet. However, at my age, I mind my dermatologist. I wear sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat in the bright sunshine.
The northwest wind that had brought the below normal temperatures also waft intoxicating floral fragrances from an unknown source in the neighborhood. I knew it wasn’t me. I hadn’t yet showered.
The high-pitched humming of lawnmowers from three different directions buzzed in my ears, grating against the loveliness of the heavens and the sweet-smelling aroma. Life isn’t perfect, I rationalized.
Besides, those necessary but annoying mechanical noises had competition. Northern cardinals sang their repertoire of melodies. I can’t prove it, but I am pretty confident sound engineers mimicked the cardinal calls when they invented electronic emergency vehicle sirens. They just gave them strange, non-avian names like yelp, warble, and power call.
Still, the birds crooned and chased one another. It was nesting season after all, and birds follow their innate instincts to protect their territories and their young. Common grackles attacked a common crow that likely tried to steal one of their babies.
That’s the only way I can explain why one would fly away with a baby rabbit dangling from its bill. Furthermore, the distraught mother bunny desperately hopped in feeble pursuit of the crow. I had recently witnessed the kidnapping unfold in our neighbor’s front lawn.
American robins joined the cardinal chorus as if it were dawn, not mid-afternoon. Chimney swifts twittered overhead. I wanted to reply, but unlike a certain important someone, I don’t tweet.
About then, an American goldfinch lighted briefly at the birdbath right beside me. It flew at my slightest first movement.
One by one, the lawnmowers ceased. Mourning dove coos lulled me back to my book. I read a chapter and headed back inside to take that nap.
It had been a busy day, and I didn’t even mention that I had made a morning trek to the county landfill to deposit yard clippings and recycling. While unloading the cardboard, I chatted briefly with a professional baseball player who lives in the county. He was gracious as usual, but I’ll admit to being mildly disappointed that he never mentioned my Cleveland Indians t-shirt.
It’s great to have fair weather, even if it’s only for a day or two. It’s better, however, to be retired to fully enjoy it.
Clouds hung low over the Blue Ridge Mountains dimming my hope of photographing June’s Strawberry Full Moon as it rose over Shenandoah National Park. A break in the clouds appeared as the moon rose about 30 degrees in the eastern sky. I turned my attention to other options. A farmer’s cornfield was nearby. I leaned against my vehicle and captured this hand-held shot of the moon, cornstalk leaves providing a contrasting foreground in place of old-aged mountains.
It wasn’t the shot that I had hoped for, but it is the one that I got. “June’s Strawberry Moon” is my Photo of the Week.
Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.
We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.
When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.
We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way. Of course, now that we are retired, we can really take our time. We often avoid interstates and expressways if at all possible.
On a recent trip to New England, we were traveling on U.S. 1 along the Maine coast when Neva had an idea. Friends had a summer home somewhere in Maine, so she decided to text her college friend to find out how near we were to their vacation place. It turned out we were really close.
Since I was driving, Neva read aloud the text replies. Our friend said they turn right at the Dairy Queen. I looked up and low and behold there was the DQ. We had to seize this moment that seemed meant to be.
I turned the van around and headed down the road. Meanwhile, Neva was getting the address and specific instructions to their house. They were perfect.
Even in the rain and fog, the sights along the way were breathtaking. We wound our way down the peninsula toward the sea, passing trees, houses, local businesses, streams, marshes, and estuaries.
Along the way, we found calendar-worthy real-life scenes. I noted places I wanted to photograph on the way back to the highway. Our first priority was to find their home. It wasn’t hard. Decorative homemade signs tacked to a tree got my attention, and pointed the way to Little River Road.
We had seen photos of the lovely seaside home and its vista before. Even though fog limited our view, we were immediately entranced. Surrounded by birds singing, gulls calling, waves crashing, the mingled fragrance of pines and ocean, we were smitten.
Neva stayed on the deck while the sea drew me down the slight hill. From the rocky beach, I spotted a small flock of common eiders floating offshore. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls claimed a sandy point across the way. It was the place our friends walked to at low tide.
I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. A sense of peace and longing overcame me, and I gladly embraced it. Standing there in person I felt like Walt Whitman.
I didn’t want to leave, but we had no other choice. I stopped several times as we headed back north. I photographed boats moored waiting for their owners, canoes cast aside long ago but resting as if their occupants had stopped for lunch. Forsythia bloomed bright against the fog and reflected mirror-like in the positively calm waters.
I was ecstatic, electrified at the surreal wonderland all around me. I was so glad we had played our hunch and made that U-turn.
Driving a scenic highway was one thing. Spending a little time surrounded by this unexpected beauty was quite another. Once again, spontaneity rewarded us with a sweet, memorable encounter.
This lobsterman in Boothbay Harbor, Maine had a good eye for design, shape, and form, even if that wasn’t the practical purpose of these colorful patterns. More than likely, the equipment’s owner was merely getting ready for the new lobster season. The traps were arranged in near perfect stacks right next to the dock in the bay. The bright yellow buoys, this lobsterman’s chosen color, seemed to be stuck into the traps simply for easy access. Nevertheless, I thought the scene made a rather artsy composition.
As I reflect on my seven decades of living, it is only now that I realize just how much I have enjoyed the role of helping to raise a son and a daughter. I recognize that I made many mistakes as a father. I also believe my wife and I got a few things right.
Being a father is a huge responsibility. For me, I didn’t fully appreciate parenting’s magnitude. I flew by the seat of my pants, using others as models. For good or ill, my father was my chief influencer.
Dr. Benjamin Spock aside, us baby boomers basically were on our own when it came to being parents. After all, neither the Internet nor Google had been born.
We were offspring of the silent generation. Even with other parents as role models, not counting Ward and June Cleaver, I heavily relied on common sense and practicality in being a father.
I understand that we didn’t parent alone or in isolation. My wife and I had much help from friends, family, teachers, and the very organizations in which we served.
My wife and I tried to be on the same page when it came to parental decisions, though we weren’t always consistent. Still, together, we managed to raise two healthy youngsters from diapers to diplomas into adulthood, and then let them fly on their own.
As parents, we tried not to alter our lifestyles significantly once our children arrived. We took them to concerts, calling hours, museums, baseball games, and family picnics. We visited cities, state and national parks, hiked and fished, and generally enjoyed showing them the breadth and depths of life, as we knew it.
Being the father of adult children is a whole different ballgame than when they were youngsters. It is difficult to watch them make decisions similar to what their mother and I had done and not say anything unless asked.
However, being a grandfather has given me a clearer perspective on fatherhood. We live in a global world today, just as we always have. Only I didn’t connect those dots then. I do now, and I am so glad to see that both our son and daughter comprehend how interconnected the world in which we live is.
As mother and father, we imperfectly tried to teach and model the precepts of service, humility, fairness, justice, and mercy. Now, as a senior citizen, I am so grateful for the opportunities to observe our “children” in their daily, imperfect walk to make this rough and tumble world a better place.
I have cherished my role as a father. Now I find great joy in listening, observing, and reflecting as I watch our grandchildren grow all too quickly. It’s like being a parent all over again, only without the direct primary responsibility or the tax deductions.
If I had it to do over again, I would work diligently to explore far beyond my own life space, beyond my own comfort zone. I realize, too, the duplicity of my community involvement. Frequently other activities took precedence over that of my family. I also know that participation set examples of service to others for them.
It is gratifying to watch your adult children successfully employ the precepts you labored to teach them. It is equally uplifting to be there when they need assistance in doing so.
I am grateful that our daughter and son have developed into successful, productive, and caring adults. What more could a father want?
Everything in this photo seems to be at rest. The placid water, the low-hanging morning mist, the boats moored patiently waiting, the deciduous trees pushing forth their new growth, the evergreens standing stately, the limp American flag all resting.
A wondrous peace fell upon me as I surveyed all the elements of this scene along the coast of Maine. I hope it brings you the same refreshing repose.
Summer! Having endured this seemingly eternal winter, that sunny, heart-warming word just rolls off of your tongue with glee and jubilation. It’s June, after all.
The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks away. But North American society can’t wait. Summer it is! As proof, many schools have already dismissed for the year or soon will. Family vacations are being planned.
After a long, damp spring, the weather warmed up rather quickly over a large geographic area in the U.S. In fact, the National Weather Service in two New England states issued weather statements cautioning the public about swimming in streams and ponds with water 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Hypothermia was the primary concern.
Summer’s fresh fragrances have already caressed most of us. Not only that, it looks like summer, too. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, the deciduous trees are all leafed out, their tender new shoots having turned from their infant lime green to a more vibrant, darker fullness. Shade trees can once again shelter hammocks.
Despite the wet spring, the first big round bales of hay stand rolled up in fields and ready to be hauled to storage. Farmers and suburbanites alike are planting crops and backyard gardens. We’ve already enjoyed fresh, crisp lettuce courtesy of our kind neighbors.
Given the warm days and nights and the frequent rains, lawn mowing has become a full-time profession. The grass is growing that fast.
People walking their dogs have exchanged their coats and stocking caps for shorts and t-shirts. Instead of leading their masters, the canines are lagging behind, tongues dangling.
Anglers have begun to ply their skills in rivers, ponds, lakes, and the oceans wherever and whenever they can. Don’t forget the sunscreen and mosquito spray.
Daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs have all had their show. Gaillardia, larkspur, coral-bells, and blue sage have taken their places. Loaded with bright, showy blossoms, the knockout roses really are knockouts.
American robin, eastern bluebird, common grackle, song sparrow, pileated woodpecker, and bald eagle chicks have all fledged their nests while other bird species are just now building theirs. The adults are doing their absolute best to protect the youngsters.
Strawberries have come and gone already in the Shenandoah Valley. Further north, folks are just now beginning to stuff themselves with the luscious redness. They are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside. My resourceful wife even made a strawberry pie for her birthday topped with real whipped cream.
Summer’s emergence doesn’t necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. Witness the frequent severe storms that have already brought death and destruction via tornadoes and flooding.
Another negative is the abundant pollen filling the air from oaks, cottonwoods, and maples. Those with grass allergies have had a tough time of it as well. That being said, I can endure fits of sneezing for those rosy summer sunrises and sunsets.
Road construction zones are more numerous than dandelions. Having just driven nearly 2,700 miles on vacation, my wife and I can affirm that U.S. infrastructure definitely needs the repairs.
Summer picnics and reunions will soon occur along with organized and pickup baseball games for young and old. I can satisfyingly attest to the fact that grilling season has definitely begun.
Soon fireflies will begin their annual light display. Small town festivals and big city extravaganzas with outdoor concerts will commence. Festive parades and fundraising races have already started.
Relax on the back porch with a refreshing glass of mint tea and the first of several captivating reads. It’s summer, after all. Let’s all enjoy it together.