August Almanac 2020

By Ash Alder

Always, always everything at once, and in August you can see it.

Blackberry and bramble.

Rose and thorn. 

Honey and hive.

The sweetness and the sting.

You cannot have one without the other.

August is carefree. Bare feet. Soft grass and ant bites. Sandspurs and sweet peas. Long days and hot nights. Sweet corn and crickets. Sunburn and bee balm. Picnics and rope swings and cool, flowing water.

Cool, flowing water . . . the one true remedy for the sweltering heat of summer. 

Ankle, shin, then knee-deep in the swollen creek, where the dog fetches driftwood and the snake rests coiled on the sunny bank, time slows down. If it’s true that water retains memory, then you are standing in a pool of ancient musings — an endless, ever-flowing cycle of beginnings and endings, life and death, sweetness and sorrow.

The dog interrupts your own introspection with a playful shake — water spraying in all directions — and you admire the fullness and purity of his presence. Amid the sweetness and the sting, he’s just here, joyfully and without a care. And in this moment, so are you.

You watch as a dragonfly kisses the water’s surface, wings glittering as it circles about this summer dreamscape. Even the dragonfly bites. We forget. And yet the sting is part of it, inseparable from the beauty of the bigger picture.

Lose yourself in the bramble and remember: The sting makes the berries all the sweeter.

Thank you, beloved August. Thank you for your thorns and fruits and wild honey. Thank you for all of it.

In August, the large masses of berries, which, when in flower, had attracted many wild bees, gradually assumed their bright velvety crimson hue, and by their weight again bent down and broke their tender limbs. — Henry David Thoreau

Pickle Me This

Want to savor the summer bounty while keeping things simple? Quick-pickle it. Refrigerator pickles will keep in the fridge for several weeks. And all you’ll need is your harvest, white distilled or apple cider vinegar, canning or pickling salt (read: not table salt!), water, and any glass or plastic container with a lid.

A “Simple Pickling Recipe” from The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends 1 1/2 pounds of homegrown cucumbers, 1 cup of vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, 1 cup of water, and — if you’re feeling spicy — dill or mustard seeds, peppercorns, garlic cloves (peeled and smashed), or fresh dill, mint, or basil.

Got everything? OK, here we go:

If you’re flavoring your fridge pickles with herbs or spices, add that to your glass or plastic containers first.

Next, wash produce, slice into spears or coins, then add them to the containers, leaving at least 1/2 inch of headspace up top.

Time for the brine. Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, then pour hot brine over the veggies (cover vegetables completely with liquid but leave about 1/2 inch of headspace) and cover. Allow the jars to cool on the countertop for about an hour, then add your lids and pop those future pickles into the fridge. In three days to one week (the longer you wait the better they’ll taste), give them a try.

Natural Remedies

One of the highlights of porch-sitting in the summer is hearing the sweet, unmistakable buzz of hummingbird wings moments before it swoops in for a long drink from the feeder. One of the low points: mosquitoes. They also arrive with a buzz — arguably unsweet — and the only long drink they’re coming for is you.

If you’re into natural mosquito repellents, you’ve likely tried citronella candles or added its oil to homemade sprays. But did you know that planting certain herbs and flowers in your garden might also help keep them at bay? Try lemon balm, marigolds, peppermint, catnip, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, neem, basil and thyme. Either way, you really can’t go wrong.  PS

What dreadful hot weather we have!
It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.
— Jane Austen

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