Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's the end

of August, and the July rains are a distant memory. Lawns are drying up, and gardens aching for water. After a month of picking and gathering, blanching and freezing and canning, it is tempting to let the abundance of produce slowly wilt and dry up as well.

You've had several months of squash and cucumbers, beans and eggplant.It's been a great year for those vegetables here in southwest Virginia. And tomatoes. Everyone has tomatoes: slicers and cherries and Romas, hybrid and heirloom. It seems all things, even zombies, have risen  from the dirt easily this year.

Ok, I admit that was a trick to see if you were reading or just skimming.Tell you what, if you are really reading, leave a comment with that word in it and I will pick a couple of people at random and send you autographed books.  That should weed out my loyal readers.

But I digress. Crazy, huh? I was speaking of gardens, and abundance. Probably everyone you know either has a garden or a group of friends who leave bags of vegetables on porches or hanging from knobs. Friends who ring doorbells and run.

Ok, maybe that's only for zucchini and tomatoes. But you catch my drift.There's a lot of produce around.

Maybe in your world. Most places. But there's a huge segment of the population without  easy access to  fresh fruit and vegetables. Those people who are either hungry, or at the very least, food insecure.
Most places, that is. Not so much where I live, here in Rockbridge county, VA.

That's due to the confluence of several factors. First, a wonderful food pantry board and directors who are willing to think outside the box, and do everything in their not inconsiderable powers to try and get people what they need. Second, the volunteers who never say, "that's not my job," but gladly pick up the extra work of weighing and sorting and distributing.  Third, and mainly-

The producers. Those gardeners who took the "grow a row" program to heart and put in not just an extra row, but in some cases a whole extra garden to help supply the food pantry. And the farmers, who bring their extra produce to the pantry after the farmers market has closed rather than toting it home and composting it, or feeding it to their animals. It takes time, and it costs them money.And it is so very appreciated.

Yep, gettin' out the old soapbox here.

And one of the best things? It's not USDA, Not bought with government or food bank money. Not bought at all, in fact. So we can give it to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether they meet poverty guidelines.You don't have to show us anything. Except your need. Take what you can use. Enjoy the fruits of summer.

It wasn't always this way here. More than likely it is not this way in your town or city.

Next summer, why don't you grow an extra row? Mention it in your book club, your organization, your church. Organize a committee to convince your local pantry it can be done. Check us out-

To find out more about the "grow a row" concept, check out-

And thanks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's been an odd . . .

middle of August this year.  I wake shivering in the mornings, digging jeans from the back of the closet to comfortably walk the dogs. The first part of the month was terribly hot and dry, so cool morning temperatures are a relief. It’s only fair, I suppose, as June felt like August, that we have a few days of June in August.

The heavens are not confused. This year’s Perseids meteor shower ended last night, although I’m afraid it began without me. I’m spoiled. I’ve spent too much of my life in places where the dark was untouched and near-complete to enjoy searching a street-and-window-lit sky for falling stars.

I’ve seen many fine meteor showers at the Kerrs Creek cabin and on Cuttyhunk Island. I saw my first, and to this day my favorite meteor shower lying on my back on top of a 20 foot tower built on the stage of an outdoor amphitheater in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Seemingly suspended in a bowl of black cradled by treetops, my friends and I watched through the night as an unending parade of stars flashed across the sky. It was a magical moment in a magical summer, the last summer of plays produced at  UT's Hunter Hills Theater.

I have learned to cherish those times when everything comes together in a glorious whole. I think I appreciate them more as I age. But it’s probably just as well that these magical moments happen when we’re young. If they occurred now my mind might be too full to wrap them properly and store them safely in a corner. The shelves I place memories on these days often break under the weight of too much trivia and the memories spill out and are lost.

That hot August night in the Smokies was a perfect venue for stargazing. But it was the people I was with; almost the whole theatrical summer stock company spread out on the platform and around the stage, the soft murmur of their conversation drifting up with the cigarette smoke toward those blazing stars.

Those people were the blanket that wrapped this memory safely enough that I can call it back almost 40 years later and picture them clear as day. Something unique happens to a group of kids who spend a summer living together and doing something they love. Building that huge wooden scaffolding in the blazing sun, hanging precariously off ancient light towers, sweeping popcorn and crumpled drink cups off the concrete risers, cooking together . . .

and then the magic of those nightly performances. We bonded into a community.

I kept in touch with only a few after I left the world of the theater. Through the magic of the Internet I've recently been reunited with many more. But there are huge erasures from the programs of those last precious years in that mountain community. Some through tragic accidents, most through the greater tragedy of AIDS. So many bright stars gone. 

I’m not big on memorabilia. I try to live as much as possible in the present while trying to be grown up enough to do a little planning for the future. But I came up to the mountains last night and lay out on my car hood in a clearing surrounded by trees. And for a moment I pretended it was a platform in a clearing a couple of hundred miles and 40 years away. I imagined the smell of cheap beer and cigarette smoke.

But mostly I tilted my head back, looked up at the night sky and let the memories of old friends tip to the front of my mind.

 program from that last summer, 1977
it's not a great picture but you can see the platform in the background
 ampitheater and stage
ampitheater from above

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I’ve just come back

from Cuttyhunk Island. Yes, that island. The one in the memoir. And the one thinly disguised as Bayberry Island in the Summerhood Island series.

Well, they do say write what you know.

I spent some quality time with my sister Nina, who played gracious hostess to my little extended family  not once but several times.

And experienced the joy of helping my kid Megan re-create some of her favorite childhood experiences for her own daughter Malia.

The island I remember is no more. It has changed hugely, not just since the closing of the Allen House  but even in these few short years when I’ve returned to spend part of the summer here with my family.

Yet, there was still a Fourth of July golf cart parade for Malia to experience last summer. 

She can still walk down to the dock for ice cream, and now even have a choice between hand scooped and soft serve. 

If you came here as just a transient visitor you might not even notice the changes. Bruce still sells lobsters out of his shack on the fish dock, even if he doesn’t go lobstering himself anymore.There are still gangs of kids roaming the town, their number and makeup changing fluidly and almost seamlessly as renters come and go. The only change you'd notice from a picture taken 30 year ago is that bikers and skateboarders flying down the hill wear helmets now.

One of the first comments from an old friend who visited us was " I just walked up that big hill and there were children playing hide and seek."

Yes. Hide and seek. Alone in the dusk. Safely.

This year, like so many years before, I begged a ride from a friend and went clamming in Nashweena pond. This year, I took my family.

on our way thanks to captain Arnie

When Megan was eight or nine she joined the Cuttyhunk Yacht Club and learned to sail.
Malia went for a week this year. It hasn't changed much.
yacht club boats at low tide.

I set the Summerhood Island series on an island remarkably like Cuttyhunk Island because I wanted the childhood I gave my characters. And if I couldn't have that, I wanted to give others a chance to experience it vicariously.

Life changes. But in some places, it changes more slowly than in others. Children may not be able to climb to the top of the pilings to jump off the dock in the traditional Cuttyhunk farewell to friends,
after who knows how many years someone decided this was dangerous and capped the pilings
But they still manage to jump.

Megan told me one night at dinner that Cuttyhunk was the most stable point in her life.

I hope Malia can say the same one day. Or at least, read one of the Summerhood Island books and say- 

"I've been there. I did that."