Glimmerglass in August

For our first roadtrip in a year, we headed West. Fittingly, we watched the sun’s slow descent as we wound our way out of the Pioneer Valley and into the Leatherstocking Region of New York State. The Empire State. “Why Empire?” I asked Ed. He wasn’t sure. Since returning home, I’ve learned that on April 10, 1785, George Washington referred to New York State as “the Seat of the Empire” in a letter to New York City mayor James Duane. (Klein, Milton. The Empire State: A History of New York. 2006) News like this is always hard to take for those from Red Sox Nation. What was Washington thinking? Well, OK, be the Seat of the Empire. Massachusetts remains the Birthplace of a Revolution.

To prepare for our trip, I actually made my way through The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. After a few chapters, the action did pick up and made it much easier to read. Still, it wasn’t like watching Daniel Day Lewis leap down a waterfall. As we drove through the green hills, I did wonder at the boldness of the early settlers.

We arrived in Cooperstown as dusk fell. After putting up our tent under the headlights of the Subaru, we tilted our heads back to see thousands and thousands of stars.

Campground at Glimmerglass
Campground at Glimmerglass

Cooperstown is assuredly a “guy” location for a vacation. The Baseball Hall of Fame (and its attendant gift shops) as well as two breweries made for lots of happy men. Even a tour of the Glimmerglass Queen proved to be a place of comparing hard-won opportunities to play in the World Series. Fortunately (for me, at least, needing more than bats and jerseys to hold my attention), the location is breathtaking. Our drive out to the Ommegang Brewery was amazing. We learned the next day that New York was a hops growing haven. I wonder, with the new emphasis on going local, if Ommegang and The Cooperstown Brewing Co. will encourage all those dairy farmers to plant a new crop.

The following day, we visited Hyde Hall, a 19th century estate that is in the process of restoration. And, I mean seriously in the process. For anyone interested in seeing the inside of the walls, or in smelling the mildew that the estate battles with, here’s your opportunity. I know that might not seem appealing, but honestly it was fascinating. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and able to go “off script”. We continued our history theme with an afternoon’s dual reading of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The next morning, we broke camp in the lovely morning sunshine and headed to Howe Caverns. Bundled up for the 50 degree temps, we descended into the Earth for a walking tour and a boat ride! Yes, it was wicked cool. We got to squeeze through narrow passageways. But, we didn’t need to crawl on our bellies. Plenty of airspace.

We arrived in Williamstown, MA at 3:00pm, with enough time for a quick dip in the Berkshire Hills Motel pool before the sun disappeared behind the pines. In the morning, we toured The Clark. Lovely show of Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove. The hanging of the show was incredibly tasteful.

We finished our roadtrip with a drive up Mt. Greylock. Given that we had only an afternoon, and it was 90 degrees, we agreed that we’d hike around the top of the mountain instead of up it. Regardless, we got hot and sweaty. And, yes, I was wearing a dress because of our museum plans earlier in the day AND I wanted any opportunity to catch a breeze.

On top of Greylock
On top of Greylock

All in all, a fabulous way to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary.

Joye l’amour feu

My hometown of Montague celebrates Independence Day with a bonfire. This extravagance has taken place for approximately the last 75 years (I vaguely recall, but could be corrected). Preparation visibly begins in mid-June with the appearance of wood-to-be-burned in the town park. This is no small fire that a sports fan could leap over. The most enthused Tar Heel fan could not clear its flames. This is a serious bonfire.

Bonfires are the focus of agrarian European celebrations of Midsummer, or the longest day of the year. This is within two weeks of our Independence Day. Yes, I know that our national holiday is held on the Fourth of July to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is not purposely aligned with old European holidays. Still, I do find it thought-provoking that our celebrations are still fire-oriented (fireworks, barbecues, and bonfires).

On July 1, 1776, John Adams himself suggested that we would celebrate our independence with fire:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

This year, I prepared for our celebration with an afternoon of errands on the second day of July: collecting vegetables, strawberries and a bouquet of flowers at Riverland Farm, selecting a variety of Victory beers (for our Victory in Independence), picking up Mole Hollow light blue candles and a large bag of jasmine rice, as well as chicken breast and the makings for marinades (teriyaki and tandoori).

On July 3rd, we welcomed friends and family to our home for grilled chicken and other delectable dishes. After supper, we headed down to the expertly-lit bonfire.

Our strawberries
Our strawberries

Strawberry memories for me are under blue, blue skies with billowy clouds. Chamomile flowers and hay underfoot. Berries like gems under dark green leaves. Late June is the time for strawberry picking in the Pioneer Valley. When my girls were small, Nan and I took them picking at the end of every school year. I still see Meghan and Chella dancing in the rows, and Chella’s little feet landing in the tray of berries we had picked. The laughter of grandmother and mother/aunt. Those little blond heads and round bellies.

Back home to boil and boil and boil pots of water. The needlessly anxious moments of measuring, stirring, pouring, sealing. The ping! sound of jam jars. Stashing away summer sweetness for Christmas gifts.

Magic for 2009, well, as we all know, these holidays are times of great magic, and I am handed a few choices. Traditional wisdom holds that a small piece of coal from the Bonfire protects against being kidnapped by the Good People if sewn into your clothes.

Alternatively, storing the coal in your home will protect you from lightning strikes. Given the storminess of this summer, I opted for fire protection. Ed and I walked down to the site of the bonfire in the morning of July 4. Heat still pulsed from the center. I scooped up some remnants that were cool to the touch. We wandered around town, headed into the Montague Book Mill for coffee and book-browsing before heading back home. I placed my coal on the shelf by the woodstove.

I guess that still leaves me vulnerable to the Good People.