Midsummer heat beams down upon the hills now, and we are surrounded by green hills, green meadows and green lawns. Summer flowers are appearing in fields and along highways, brightening the landscape and pleasing our senses. The brilliant blue chicory blossoms abound along roadways, cheering the traveler with their showy blossoms. This Old World plant, which is called a weed, is considered a pest by some farmers, although it is sought for its food uses and is cultivated as well. The roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute or additive.
New Orleans is famous for its coffee and chicory, where it is served with hot milk and is known as “café au lait.” One native commented that they had drunk it for 200 years and would drink it for 200 years more! Over 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used chicory for medicinal purposes such as a liver tonic, sedative and appetite stimulant. The young leaves can be used in salads or greens. So—it is more than just a pretty flower.
Butterfly Weed, or Pleurisy Root is showing its bright orange blossoms beside roadways and in fields everywhere. This showy plant is in the milkweed family, and its brilliant flowers attract butterflies. It is also called pleurisy root because its tough roots were once chewed by the American Indians for pleurisy and other pulmonary ailments. It is frequently grown in home flower gardens because of its beautiful flowers.
Summer drones on, and the “freedom of school let out” becomes a summer of hard work. While we anticipated summer of fun and games, it seemed that our parents looked at it from another angle. They were thinking of all the free labor we represented—babysitting, working in the garden, picking blackberries, fixing fences and getting up early. You can believe that we were never bored. Even today, one of my great-granddaughters (I was babysitting) came to me and complained that she was bored; that there was nothing to do.
I remember when Crystal was still home and complained to me, “Mom, I am so bored!” When I informed her that she could clean her room and relieve the boredom, she recovered and said quickly, “I’m not that bored!” Now she is teaching her three daughters the remedy for boredom.
We didn’t have time to get bored. Before Daddy planted a garden, we had to pick up rocks out of it. Every winter when the ground froze and then thawed, rocks seemed to surface. My brother Larry and I would take zinc water buckets and pick up the rocks and carry them to the creek. It was a back-breaking chore, but we did it.
Daddy would plant the whole bottom in field corn, which would take three or four days to hoe. If you have never faced a big field of corn armed with a hoe, you haven’t lived. It had to be hoed three separate times before it was finished.
We hoed barefoot, too, and sand briers were a constant threat. Between them, the hot sun and ever-present sweat bees, it was a farm chore to remember. On that last day, when the corn was “laid by,” we would throw our hoes and literally lay down in the shade of the big apple tree.
Daddy rewarded us at the end of each day of hoeing with a trip to the river to swim. My sister Mary Ellen was recalling one day’s hard work and the anticipation of a swimming trip when a thunderstorm rolled in just as they were finished hoeing. I hoped that Mom would let us play in the rain that day, which she often did. A warm summer shower was a delight, and if it lasted long enough, we would even shampoo our hair.
While a lot of the farm chores were hard and tiresome, there were others that I enjoyed. Going after the milk cows for the evening milking was one of my favorite jobs. I don’t know why the placid animals didn’t have enough sense to come to the gap when milking time came, but one of us kids would always have to climb the hill to the pasture field and herd the cows home.
The path wound uphill through the woods, steep and rocky. The moss was soft and green underfoot, however, and we were always barefoot in the summertime. Green leaves formed a canopy overhead, and it was cool and shady. It took quite a while to get to the upper pasture, as there were so many things to explore along the way. Shiny green, heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger grew rife there, and it was pungent to the nose and bitter to the taste. I couldn’t resist tearing off a leaf to chew. There was speckled sweet birch bark to strip and chew, and clusters of mountain tea would offer their tasty pink berries.
A person had to stop at the spring where the water gurgled like magic from under a big rock, to get a drink and rest awhile. Eventually, I would get to the upper pasture field, above the line of trees that marked the woods below. After a leisurely search for wild strawberries, I would admire the wildflowers that grew in abundance. Yet today, I can smell the spicy fragrance of the pink flowers that we called St. Anthony’s cross, which actually was one type of dianthus.
Then I would remember why I came. The cows were always found in the far corner of the fence, still munching grass as if they had all the time in the world. We had a lot in common—those milk cows and I. We never got in a hurry.
After a gentle prod with a stick, they would start their ambling journey back to the gap. They would stop and graze awhile, and I would study nature and pick a bouquet of wildflowers to take home. A ring of fairy mushrooms would catch my eye, and I would spend minutes daydreaming about the elusive, magical creatures who gathered there and danced in the moonlight. Belatedly, I would realize that the cows had stopped again, and I would hurry them down the hillside. Mom always wondered why it took me so long to go after the cows. It wasn’t just a trip to bring the cows in—it was a lovely journey through a July day.
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The little cares that fretted me,
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea,
Among the winds at play;
Among the lowing of the herds,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.
The foolish fears of what might happen—
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay;
Among the husking of the corn
Where drowsy poppies nod,
Where ill thoughts die and good are born,
Out in the fields with God.
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