It’s Official . . .

yellow glass E&JIt’s official. Summer is over.

What? Does that not come as a news flash to you?

I know we’ve all been talking about fall and, really, the signs are everywhere here in upstate New York. Even the calendar says, unequivocally, that autumn began three weeks ago.

But emotionally, for me, summer ended a couple of days ago, when my mother and her husband (E & J) closed camp and left for Florida. Like all the other snowbirds, they trade winter for an endless summer.

I wrote earlier about “opening camp,” and how it looms large in North Country culture. “Closing camp” is equally fraught with meaning.

E & J spend the summers here, in a seasonal “camp” just 250 steps down the road from us.

Just yesterday (or so it seems!), I went down to E & J’s little cottage and threw open the doors and windows, to allow spring to blow through and chase out the winter chill. My husband turned the water back on and mowed the lawn. The rhododendrons out front burst into bloom, to say, “Welcome back!”

E & J arrived and summer had begun.

Summer means garage sales, just my mom and me, driving the familiar back roads and yakking. Summer means the four of us, gathering at water’s edge in the evening for cocktails and a campfire, with my husband’s guitar providing a well-loved soundtrack. Summer means endless hands of pinochle, played with idiosyncratic rules and varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Summer at camp has meant so much to us over the years. My husband and I were married during a summer at camp, almost 25 years ago. My mother and her husband were married during a summer at camp, 3 years ago. Small children have learned to build s’mores and sing along during summers at camp. Crafts have been taken up, explored, and abandoned at camp. Family members and friends have gathered and partaken in the camp rituals of concerts on the seawall, bike rides to the soft ice cream stand, and day trips to Lake Placid.

The summers at camp are almost a cliché. But not quite, because they’re ours and they never lose their originality or become commonplace when we’re lucky enough to live them.

E & J are somewhere on the road right now, heading to the year-round summer they prefer, in Florida.

During winter, they trade wild heron and osprey flying against a twilight sky for a heron who shows up at their house daily, for hot-dog handouts. They trade Saturday evening campfires and wine in big yellow plastic goblets for Saturday morning coffee hour at the clubhouse. They trade kayaking into the long grass at the end of the bay for barefoot walks on the beach in January.

My husband and I are firmly ensconced, now that summer is over, in our autumn home, heading for winter.

We trade the bonhomie of family time for the cozy solitude of couple time. We trade a view of rippling waves and heeling sailboats for wind-sculpted snow drifts. We trade the grill for the slow cooker, the campfire for the fireplace, summer for winter.

We’ve made very different decisions for the part of the year that is Not Summer At Camp. We’re happy, all of us, with our choices and the trade offs.

But there’s one thing we agree on—we wouldn’t trade next summer, together at camp, for anything! Summer has ended. Long live summer!

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How about you? Is there a moment when you know that summer is officially over?

Dragonfly Summer

dragonflyWe’ve had an unusual number of dragonflies around this summer and I have been trying, mostly in vain, to get a good photograph of one. This is my favorite so far.

Aren’t his iridescent wings beautiful? And he eats mosquitoes!

What does this have to do with “loving hands at home”? Ummm . . . dragonflies are also sometimes called “darning needles”?

Summer Senses: The Taste of Soft Ice Cream

IMG_8312Many foods say “summer” to me.

Corn on the cob, from the farmer down the road.

Tiny wild blueberries, from the secret place our friend knows.

Slightly-charred kielbasa, from the grill on which my husband works his magic.

But one food trumps them all for its ability to put the sensation of summer into every bite, or should I say every lick?

Summer is . . . soft-serve ice cream from a roadside stand.

The North Country has lots of soft ice cream. One place serves only one flavor a day and no one cares because all the flavors are so good. Other spots serve 65 flavors every day.

You can get your ice cream in a paper cup and eat it with a spoon but, really, what fun is that? Soft-serve is at its best when it’s in a cone and you can get the ice cream down into every nook and cranny of the cone by gently tapping the bottom on the heel of your hand.

I’m sure my love of soft ice cream is tied up with childhood memories.

My father loved ice cream; it was a well-known fact. When I was about 5 years old, we moved to a new house, up the road from my grandparents’ farm and at the housewarming party one of the gifts was a huge Pyrex mixing bowl, labeled “Don’s ice cream bowl.”

Because he loved ice cream so much, during the summer we’d frequently make the trip from the farm, about 8 miles, to the Tastee-Freeze. It was Harrigan’s Tastee-Freeze and I can remember their ads used the Irish-American song—“H-A-double R-I-G-A-N spells Harrigan.” The same family owns it today, 55 years later.

Harrigan’s was only open, as are all these roadside places, for a few short, special summer months. For the first week they opened in the summer, they’d give little gifts to every child who came in. Ice cream and a trinket? Heaven to a seven-year-old.

We’d go to Harrigan’s in the pick-up truck, with my sister and me riding in the back on really balmy nights.

My father and I always had vanilla cones and my sister always had chocolate.

But then a new wonder came to town! A stand opened called Finney’s Freezer and they had that modern marvel—the TWIST! Chocolate and vanilla ice creams were swirled together into the cone.

Finney’s Freezer was much farther away from our house than Harrigan’s but my father thought it was worth the trip. He and I always had the twist. My sister always had chocolate.

Now our “local” is a place called the Happy Pike. The Happy Pike is about 6 miles from our house so the 12-mile round trip is a perfect bike ride away, far enough to justify a medium cone, instead of a small!

But, of course, we mostly go by car.

We can sit outside and watch the lake and the boats. We have to eat quickly, of course, because the ice cream starts soft and melts fast, and we chase the drips with our tongues. We always end up with a touch of “brain freeze.”

But then, so soon, summer ends, and the roadside stands are shuttered. Big signs say, “Thanks! See you next year.”

During the winter, I’ll eat regular hard-packed ice cream and enjoy it very much. But I will fantasize about soft ice cream and the end of May when the stands open again, because that will make it official—summer has begun.

I bet you have some special food that says “summer” to you—is it soft ice cream?

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