August is probably one of my least favorite months, but I’m trying to adopt a different attitude this year. As I’ve either been in school or teaching school for my entire life (except one year) it is generally the last, fleeting, month of freedom before the resumption of academic responsibilities (I know everyone is really feeling sorry for me now): the first part of the month is really hot and the last part is all about completing my syllabi. But since I’ve been chair of my department, my perspective has changed, because the administrative responsibilities lighten, but do not cease, in June and they definitely intensify in August. So there really is no going back; and consequently there is no fleeting end of the summer. Chairs also teach less, so there are fewer syllabi to complete and more time to enjoy September, which is truly one of the most glorious months of the year. While there is a general perception that August is a transitional “back to school” time for everyone today; this was not always the case. Calendar pages, seeking to characterize each month according to activities, originally focus on work (the ever-present scythe, threshing) and later on leisure (tennis, boating, wandering among the flowers) but always in a lush landscape. August, for the most part, is all about abundance, until we get to the more-stark present.
Illustrating August in three Renaissance Books of Hours ( The Hague KB 76 F 14, Paris, c. 1490-1500; The Hague KB 133 D 11, Liège, c. 1500-1525; Simon Bening, 1510-60, Victoria and Albert Museum); details from the August page of Robert Furber’s Twelve Months of Fruit, by John Clark et. al. after Peiter Casteels, 1732, Rooke Books; two art nouveau Augusts (Eugene Grasset, La Belle Jardiniere – August, 1896; Alphonse Maria Mucha, 1899, Mucha Foundation); modern Augusts–a bit more stark–by Harry Cimino and Dione Verulam
The last week of July was full of contrasts and transitions for me: we spent most of it in York Harbor, but I traveled back every other day for my evening class, we left for Maine on a dark rainy day in which a tornado swept down in a town just to the south of Salem (very unusual for Massachusetts) and enjoyed clear sunny days thereafter, the late-summer flowers are of course also a study in contrasting color. For the most part, we’ve been so fortunate this summer to have beautiful weather: often sunny, never too hot, with rain occurring often enough to keep everything green. I hope this continues throughout August but the dog days do threaten……anyway, here are my favorite photographs from the week, mostly of gardens and flowers. I have included a photograph of the best ice cream stand in the world, Brown’s in York Beach, my father’s prized Swiss chard, and the gardens at Stonewall Kitchen’s company store in York, which are always inspiring–even the vegetables look beautiful (actually my father’s Swiss chard looks pretty good too). There are “soft” spots in nearly every picture so I apologize in advance: my camera lens got a bit smudgy when I was trying to take the first picture in the rain, and I never noticed until just this morning.
My garden is a bit of a wild tangle right now, as usual, but I love it; I’ve finally got the layers that I have been seeking for some time, along with the right mix of leaves and flowers and textures. And the mix of colors is good–I have gradually weeded out annoying colors like red (I actually love red indoors but passionately dislike it out-of-doors, even to the extent of red roses. Not sure why). It’s pretty much at peak; I knew I was going to be in class all week so I took some pictures this past weekend when the weather was absolutely beautiful: sunny and not too humid or hot. Now it’s muggy and rainy, and all the flowers are water-logged and a bit past their prime. The roses look very spotty so I’m not showing them here. Next week will be vicious deadheading week; I always leave the Lady’s Mantle flowers too long because I love them so much, so it’s going to be a big job to cut them back. Yes there are red berries on the thriving baneberry but that is my exception–it’s a great plant and you really don’t want berries to be any other color (its flowers are white). I absolutely love, love, love the fuschia flower of the bee balm in the last picture–wish I could remember its varietal name!
I am looking out on my garden this foggy morning thinking it is definitely going to rain–which would be momentous for it is Saint Swithun’s Day, and according to lore and legend: St Swithun’s Day if thou dost rain/for forty days it will remain/St. Swithun’s Day, if you be fair/for forty days ’twill raine nae mair. I wouldn’t mind a little rain every day for the next month and a half, typically a very dry time in our parts. Swithun was a ninth-century Bishop who became the Patron Saint of Winchester Cathedral in England after his remains were translated from outside the cathedral walls to a new shrine within it in 971–on this very day. He is sometimes fondly referred to as the “drunken saint” not for his propensity to imbibe but rather because of his stated preference for the exterior grave site, where his earthly remains would be exposed to the “drippings” of water–but he became too important to remain without. His Winchester shrine by smashed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (which I’m talking about in class today), but it has been (somewhat) reconstituted within the Cathedral–and there’s a very lovely rose named for him as well.
Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, c. 1930, Isabel Florrie Saul, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; the reconstituted shrine at Winchester Cathedral; David Austin St Swithun climbing rose (I have one; but it doesn’t look like this now!)
Beautiful weather here, at long last. Yesterday, Mother’s Day, was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone was in a blissful mood. I’ve been running, literally, around town, trying to ramp up my endurance but I always take my camera with me so I suppose I’m not really that serious about it. I don’t want to miss anything: blooming bleeding hearts, turtles in Greenlawn cemetery (they always seem to line up on the same fallen branch in order of weight and size), unusual houses (the two white ones are hard to pin down in terms of style and period: would be grateful for more informed opinions), groundhogs (couldn’t get the picture, sorry), bubbles. My garden came to life almost overnight: last week I was in despair, but now it looks like the jacks-in-the-pulpit and lady’s slippers are about to bust out of the ground along with most (not all, but most) of my perennials. I’m going to fill in some of the holes that I do have in the shade garden with brunnera macrophylla (with purple flowers below), which has proved itself to be both pretty and hardy.
Salem (and bubbles in Concord):
Yesterday afternoon we went up to New Castle, New Hampshire to have brunch with my family at Wentworth by the Sea, built as the Hotel Wentworth in 1872, abandoned a century and a decade later, and “restored” (rebuilt?) ten years ago. It was a big part of my early life and even though it’s not the most sensitive of restorations it was nice to see it full of smiling happy people yesterday. I’ve included a photograph of its dark days in the 1990s for contrast. We drove home past long lines at each and every ice cream stand along the way–although in New England, you see that in February.
New Castle, New Hampshire:
On this Earth Day, it seems appropriate to feature the scary but beautiful map of the world with unfrozen polar caps created by Slovakian student/graphic artist/cartographer Martin Vargic. At first glance, the map looks like a traditional nineteenth-century decorative map of the hemispheres, but then you look closer (just click on it) and see that many unshaded coastal areas are “missing” and that new seas and lakes have opened up in the midst of continental interiors: there is an Amazon Sea in the middle of South America and a new “Artesian Sea” in Australia. The map presents a rather radical vision with sea levels 260 feet higher than today (most scientists seem to project a 3 foot rise by 2100), and consequently all the coastal cities of the eastern seaboard in North America are gone (including Salem, of course), along with those of the Gulf Coast and what looks like the entire state of Florida. Across the Atlantic, London is gone, along with Amsterdam, and Denmark. Vargic, whose work can also be found here, seems to have one-upped his earlier map of the internet, which went viral earlier this year.
Map Images © Martin Vargic @ Halcyon Maps
Appendix: Climate maps are nothing new, although predictive ones certainly are. Those from the 17th through the 19th centuries seem to be more of the recording or empirical nature, like the circular map of London’s annual temperature cycle below. Things get a little bit more subjective later in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when “scientific racism” (and environmental determinism) tried to assert “rational” explanations for the industrial progress (and supposed superiority) of the West. The 1924 map below seems to be doing just that.
Map from Luke Howard, The Climate of London, deduced from meteorological observations, made in the Metropolis, and at various places around it…(London, 1833),Wellcome Library; and map from Ellsworth Huntingdon, Civilization and Climate (London, 1924), Wellcome Library.
We certainly did not suffer the weight of snow dumped on the upper midwest yesterday, but T.S. Eliot’s weighty observation that April is the cruelest month seemed particularly apt when we woke up to white: and it seemed more like ice than snow! It might be aesthetically pleasing to see newly-sprouted grass and flowers frosted with white, but it does make you fear for your garden. Mother Nature is indeed a cruel master to tempt plants out of the protective earth with a warm weekend, and then slam them with an arctic frost! It was so warm a few days ago that I finally switched out the evergreen shrub in my front stoop pot with a tender purple-flowered variety, and now its leaves are black and curled. The same cats which frolicked in the back yard a few days ago are now back on their radiator perches, looking at me with suspicion.
iPad version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), with really neat annotations.