I just saw a flash–lightning bolt bright, it would seem–of sun. Put another way, we've had a lot of rain here in our Valley this month. Some of it has been really impressive rain, conjuring images of arks or words like monsoonish. Lots of days haven't been dramatic, just wet, damp, and grey. I've heard a lot of complaints about summer not yet arriving or about how it seems the Pioneer Valley has traded places with say, Wales. A friend whose wedding took place on what turned out to be a rainy Saturday evening knew it was a possibility: the odds from last year predicted as much. She took her chances, and the rain mattered not at all; the event was sunny and warm.
As farmers and gardeners alike will tell you, this weather's fine for greens–big, leafy lettuces seem to get bigger, leafier–welcoming for weeds, and not so good for fruits. Oona Coy, whose Town Farm (with her husband, Ben James) in Northampton's meadows (next door, Montview Farm) we belong to writes in her update this week: "Now we're in the challenging rainy weather zone where it's hard to kill weeds so we do other things and wait for those perfect sunny days to drive our cultivating tractors and follow along after with our hands."
Although I've kept pretty quiet about the fact, I've enjoyed the London June a great deal. I'm happiest in a temperate climate, noting the shades of grey, enjoying the sun most when it's not hugely hot or humid (and on the winter side, less is more for me, a pity since I live in a wintry wonderland). I know that once we're all hot, we'll be hot. That's such an immediate sensation, it wipes out other memories. We'll be "in" it. There's been a gentleness to the season, thus far. And it's reminded me of other Junes here, when I do remember donning a sweatshirt and an umbrella frequently, and adding to that, a nice dose of anticipation that summer–hot, sweaty, bright, clear–summer still lies ahead, sparkly in its promise.
The biggest personal downside is the strawberries (or, Saskia, sixteen months, says it, "Strawberdees"). As a member at Food Bank Farm–one of the best institutions in the region–I spent some important times in the strawberry field there. I've published an essay (entitled Searching for the Sweet and up at Literary Mama) about my attachment to that place. The expanse of valley, the sense of being cradled by gentle hills surrounding our valley, the lush, hearty plants, the sweet prizes of strawberries, so warm and juicy, well, that's pretty much as good as life gets, being amongst the berries. I'd put that experience up as the chief one I'm going to miss since switching farms (a bike ride away, versus one I much more often drove to), along with reading founding farmer Michael Docter's wonderful email updates about the farm (which were my favorite summer reading, hands down), and of course, the rest of it, the delicious produce, the farm store-community-pea-patch-community-gathering-spot… I had plans a couple of weeks ago to pick strawberries with a couple of friends, but of course, it rained. We'd hoped to go to Delta Organic Farm for our adventure, but–the rain again–the farm didn't yet have enough crop to invite pick-your-own folks. Friday, Lucien, my eleven year-old, and I picked a pint for our house and a pint for our upstairs neighbors at Town Farm; the strawberries were sweet and juicy and the feel of being nestled in front of the house, near play structure and pick-up shed, with all these gorgeous crops growing, was totally perfect. Saskia pulled at hay that had been set down for mulch and absolutely delighted in "strawberdees" she learned were part of plants (she also got saucer eyes peering at the ducklings, real and in motion, not static on the glossy page of her board book). Then, Saturday, between showers, I went to my mother-in-law's garden in Leeds (she was in Maine) and gathered what strawberries I could (a big container, mostly full, of somewhat water-logged strawberries). Because it was between rainstorms, the sun that came and went was kind of oppressive, blazed down, the air humid, headache-producing. Still, I enjoyed that sensation of pulling a strawberry and having it simply fall into my hand. I even liked the harsh itch from dark, somewhat brambly leaves against my skin. We had the added happy surprise of seeing Lucien and Saskia's great aunt and uncle, who'd come from the Eastern part of the state for a party at Carol Duke's glorious Flower Hill Farm (want to see beauty? Go there; the farm's in Williamsburg and to be inspired to do so, read and view her gorgeous blog; she's a terrific photographer). Most of the strawberries went into a pot of apple-rhubrarb-pear-strawberry sauce, rendering it a delcious pink concoction.
Beyond my selfish take on the weather, what is clear around the valley–and other parts of the country–is a renewed sense of desired stewardship for the planet. One of the ways this expresses itself is heightened interest in gardening, farming, farmer's markets, farm shares… local food. People are celebrating this by flocking to CSAs and farmers' markets and by sharing what they are discovering as they eat more local food; today, I was sent a great link to a new blog called A Bushel of What? chronicling a farm share and garden's bounty–complete with recipes for cooking with said bounty–by a woman in Easthampton (the radish photograph featured here is also hers). In her email update for Town Farm members, Oona writes, "I know that many of you have worked on farms or tended your own gardens and know how much work goes into raising food. I've been wondering how our country would be different if more people realized not just how good local food tastes but what it takes to grow it." It seems that more people are. There are a number of local events to learn more–or sample more–about farming; check out the events section of CISA's website to find out what's coming up that might be of interest (CISA stands for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture–an organization that really supports one of the best, most vital, aspects of the Valley). Phil Korman also tipped me off to the fact that on Monday, June 29th, there will be a benefit showing of Food, Inc. (for CISA) at the Amherst Cinema (scroll down, under special events for more information). The more we notice–rain, sun, flowers, food–the more we care and the more we work to care for the land around us. It seems obvious, yet I think we need to remind ourselves that this is how change works, and that the best change comes from a sense of hope, possibility, and bounty rather than from fear.