Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Precious Gift of a Maine Summer

When I first moved to Maine almost 30 years ago my New York friends teased me that I would be shoveling snow year round. There is a local joke that there are two seasons in Maine: winter and Fourth of July. Nothing could be further from the truth. While we don't have the luxury of a long growing season, we are blessed with some spectacular warm weather for the months of June, July, August and sometimes September.

This year summer really took hold and our temperatures rivalled those of places in the deep south. For example, a couple of weeks ago I took this picture of our indoor/outdoor thermometer.

It was hotter here than in Florida where my sister lives. We don't have air-conditioning in the house -- a stubborn statement to ourselves that, thanks to cool ocean breezes it isn't necessary. That day the breezes disappeared. Even the numerous window fans we have throughout the house were useless, simply pushing the hot air around.

My major concern was for our dog, Isla, a seven year old Border Collie/Aussie mix who is blessed with a luxurious coat of thick BLACK fur. Beaches in Maine are mostly off-limits to dogs during the day...and it was too hot to think about driving somewhere anyway so my solution was to buy a small inexpensive kiddie pool and fill it for her to use to cool down.

What I hadn't counted on is her sheer stubborn streak. I filled the pool and called her over to it. She eyed it warily as if I were coaxing her into a bath of battery acid. I tried taking off my shoes and stepping into the water, cooing my joy and encouragement like a complete idiot. Nothing. I put her beloved frisbee in the water and centered it strategically in the middle so she would have to step in to get it, figuring that once she felt the cool water, in she would go. The stinker stood at the edge and stretched her neck as far as possible to snare the edge and pull it out. She was NOT going in. I even put on my bathing suit, got in and sat in the water, calling for her to join me. She came over to lick my face and swipe a lick or two of the water but refused to come in. It wasn't going to happen. Finally, I simply pulled a lawn chair over, dangled MY feet in the water and gave up on her. At that point she came over, settled down in shady grass next to me and fell asleep, snoring loudly. Obstinance, thy name is Isla!

The garden has loved this weather. We limited our efforts to tomatoes, cucumbers and some basil this year and have been doting on the plants like mother hens. Our efforts have really paid off.

There are hundreds of these beauties on the vines: full-size, cherry, grape and some that will be surprises to us since they never got tags. We've been pruning the vines and keeping a close eye on the vine growth. This year Brendan had the brilliant idea of using tomato cages to keep them upright (ahem...honey, I've been suggesting that for years and you have always dismissed the idea...just saying!) and as a result we aren't seeing the best tomatoes lying on the ground and rotting as we have in the past.

The only bad news with that crop was the startling discovery of these guys last weekend:

It's a Tomato Hornworm and it can devastate an entire tomato plant overnight. I found three of them last weekend and two more this morning. This is the kind of damage they can do to a crop.

That is a cherry tomato that is nearly completely devoured. The not-so-little bastards are feasting on MY dare they!? We don't believe in putting any kind of pesticide on our veggies so I have been staging a one-woman crusade to spot them and pulverize them. They're tough to see, thanks to their natural camouflage but I'm relentless. No hornworm is going to deprive me of the sweet taste of home-grown tomatoes. This is WAR!

The cucumbers are doing spectacularly. I haven't spotted any grubby little critters feasting on them and they are climbing the stakes I put out for them nicely.

I've had a couple in salads and their sweet, crunchy goodness is so amazing. Once I have a couple good sized ones I'll make my favorite cucumber salad, one of summer's favorite treats for me.

I really enjoy the activity in the garden. In addition to the birds and squirrels who visit our yard year-round (the birds to feed, the squirrels to torture Isla) the insects are so amazing to watch.

Here are two shots of these busy, beautiful creatures at work:

The monarch butterflies go crazy for the purple coneflowers in our yard and are fascinating to watch as they delicately pick their way around the centers.

And they share the stage with the honeybees who seem to become intoxicated by their presence on the flowers, totally ignoring the presence of a camera lens. They are intent on their purpose, working at a feverish pace as if they know that their days of opportunity in the warm summer sun will disappear all too soon.

Maine summers are unique. Perhaps because they are so short and come on the heels of such polar opposite weather of the winter we treasure each warm day. We also know the countdown has already begun to fall and the winter beyond. When the snow arrives we need to have these memories to warm our thoughts and assure us that summer will return once again.

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