I remember when August was defined by crickets pulsing through the day and night; by goldenrods stretching tall to meet the deep blue sky; by the blackberries that lured me off the roadsides, slicing my legs and arms as payment for their plump fruit.
I remember how August was the calm before the storm of school and college: when the most complicated part of my day was scheduling the time I’d be back from my morning walk to meet up with Sanford, my elderly neighbor up the road. We had to go berrying at just the right hour: after the dew was off the bushes, before the sun was too high in the sky, and back in time for mid-day dinner. The lunch table would be laden with chicken and biscuits, gravy and baked potatoes, with tomatoes and cucumbers that Ruth seasoned only with salt and pepper. On the cookstove, there’d always be a pie waiting, with a kettle of water for making up coffee.
These memories became the driving force behind every major decision in my life.
I chose not to become a college professor in large part because I couldn’t bear leaving behind sweet August days for the confinement of a classroom.
I chose a husband who honored August life as much as I did; who was willing to surrender life on the coast of Maine to live out his Augusts in upstate New York.
I chose to take on the family farm business so that all those crickets, blackberries and goldenrods would always have a place to grow.
I chose to homeschool my children, in part, so that they could be in the month as deeply as possible: not worrying about back-to-school shopping or soccer practices or the imminent arrival of the giant yellow bus.
But in my choice to honor August, my life has grown complicated. My kitchen floor is strewn with garden harvests waiting attention at the table or a trip to the compost; canning jars filled with green beans and peaches are stacked on every flat surface waiting for us to transport them to the basement. Tomatoes awaiting sauce are heaped in boxes on the floor. The feed bill and Agway bill and credit card bill and meat processing bill and freezer repair bill and Mule repair bill and car repair bill pollute my desk. Stacked up beside them are the ipads carrying the week’s sales records and the cash receipts. Blipping in on my computer are the customer orders for the next weekend, the spreadsheets for the wholesale accounts, the reminders for the reminder notices that need to be sent out.
And the children who I led through this month year after year, taking them out to pick blackberries, to sit beside swamps to listen to crickets and draw pictures of the first changing trees, are hardly to be found. Ula runs off to play with friends, Saoirse has been seeking bigger adventures: backpacking, traveling.
August has gotten big on me. My quest for a simple life rich in crickets, goldenrods and blackberries has turned complicated.
I remember, back in grad school as I was pondering my future, reading enticing books about the simple life. They were rife with stories about relaxed living, about rich quality of life, about the fact that vacations were no longer necessary, by virtue of the fact that the simple life didn’t require “vacating.” I was seduced by their landscape paintings of happily ever after.
There are days when I fret about this. Did I lose sight of my vision?
I don’t think so. I just became an adult within it. And adults are the keepers of the complicated things: the finances, the relationships, the food that crosses the kitchen table.
But there’s another element to consider. My August world as a child was a respite from the pressures of school. In early adulthood, it was an esape from a professional life that I didn’t embrace. But in chooosing a life immersed in August as a mature adult, I choose the problems that come with it. Happily ever after is not a problem-free existence. It would be quite boring if it were.
Choosing to live connected with the land means choosing the financial challenges that accompany it. Choosing to live connected with family means grappling with the relationship troubles that plague all families. Choosing to build a life centered around community means living knee-deep in a quagmire of my neighors’ issues.
If I love the goldenrods and the black berries and the blue sky and the crickets, then I must also love the money troubles, the family arguments, the local color, and the endless physical labor.
I can do that. But I still need to hear the crickets and taste the blackberries.
And that, I’m learning, is my biggest challenge presently. Enjoying the benefits of the life I’ve chosen is a discipline unto itself. It is so easy to skip a morning walk because the to-do list is too long… Or to use a day off to catch up on paperwork and emails. And if I don’t figure out a way to escape, I don’t find fresh ways to tackle my problems. I fear my misguided worship of the work ethic imperils August. I must employ the same effort to set my mind free of encumbrances to enjoy a glorious day as I use at the computer to get work done.
My childhood memories adore August. My adult body must find a way to hold things together within it, while at the same time maintaining that youthful ability to revel in it. But this morning, as the crickets pulse outside my window before the sun comes up, I remember one simple truth: Grown-ups are still entitled to enjoy life. And if I have the discipline to face the problems, I have the discipline to find the pleasures.
Later that morning, I take a train to New York to meet Saoirse at the airport. She is coming home from the last leg of her extensive summer adventures. The trip home is long. It takes three hours to get from JFK to Penn Station in Manhattan. From there, we catch a night train upstate. We are too tired when we get in to make the hour drive home along the windy roads, so we stay the night with my friend Cornelia, and make the last leg of the journey the next morning.
The whole drive back, she regales me with stories about this wild and crazy summer she’s had. But when we turn onto our road, she falls silent. Our windows are down, and the sound of crickets hits us from every direction. We crest the steep hill to meet the blue sky head-on, goldenrods flanking both sides of our car as we climb. She draws a deep breath, then looks at me with a broad smile on her face, all the adventures of summer suddenly forgotten. She has only one thing to say.
“I’ll bet the blackberries are almost ready.”