I was out on a quiet walk in the back woods with Honey the Golden Retriever when a sudden loud noise shattered the morning stillness. We both stopped dead in our tracks, taken aback by the unexpected sound.
It took me just a fraction of a second to realize it was the honk of a goose, just a single bird flying low over our heads, compelled by instinct to begin its seasonal journey.
Honey looked around in wild-eyed confusion, even as I pointed skyward and chuckled at how quickly we had both forgotten the sound of migrating geese honking overhead.
It crossed my mind that I could just throw myself to the ground in a posture of gratitude, giving thanks to the End of Summer Gods. I felt a little like Martin Luther King Jr. at that moment—free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.
Summer means different things to different people. To some, it’s the season for vacation, or a summer job, or camp. To others, it’s travel, or barbecuing, or relaxing in a hammock by the lake. Many people garden, repair the roof on their home, and maybe have their driveway sealed.
In my previous life, I was a hardcore hiker and backpacker. Back then, summer was the opportunity to check off more 4000-foot peaks as I endeavored to hike them all, and work on maintaining our section of Appalachian Trail, and spend a few multiday treks in the 100-Mile Wilderness. When The Mister and I weren’t on the trail, we paddled our kayaks on the local stream and cycled the carriage roads at Acadia. We grew a few flowers and vegetables in the yard, but we didn’t take them seriously enough for our garden activities to be considered work. In those days, summers were nothing short of grand.
Homesteading puts a whole different spin on summer. Maine being as far from the equator as it is, the time we have in which to procure our sustenance for the whole year is short. Summer is a frenzy of planting, tending, harvesting, and preserving as much food as we can. In the brief time between late-June strawberries and September apples, I fill an entire chest freezer so full that I’d be hard-pressed to squeeze in a deck of cards on top, with everything from peas to eggplant to squash. I fill my can shelf too, with homemade jams and ketchup and chutneys and tomatoes and beans.
And it’s not just gardening. Summer is the season for milk, flowing so abundantly that some days I want to hold onto a life preserver when I open the refrigerator, lest I drown in all that rich white goodness. Jars and jars and jars of it, all with carefully written dates on the lids, all taunting me with the threat of getting too old to use or too numerous to fit in the fridge.
We’ve eaten a lot of cheese this summer. There is quite a lot of it tucked away in the freezer, too. Soft cheese isn’t difficult to make, but it’s time-consuming. The cleanup and sanitizing from all that milking and all that cheesing can be pretty daunting, besides.
Firewood ought to be done by early summer, just to have it done and out of the way so the rest of the season can be devoted to food production. Some years it is, and some years it isn’t. It depends how many other building and repairing jobs we have going.
When firewood processing is added to summer gardening and milking, it makes for long days. I’m often on my feet from six in the morning to ten at night with little break, sometimes seven days a week, trying to get it all done.
Not that I’m complaining. I still love lots of things about summer. I love all seasons, really—having four of them is one of my top thousand favorite things about living in Maine. I am always ready for the next one by the time it starts rolling in.
But as a homesteader, I must confess—there is no season I welcome with more enthusiasm than fall. There have been a few subtle signs of fall in the air that have whispered hints of relief from summer’s frenetic busyness—the handfuls of colored leaves on the woods paths and the Ben Davis apples starting to red up—but the sudden honking of a Canada goose makes it real. Real enough for me to wax poetic about the season’s first goose encounter, and real enough to allow myself to imagine—just for a fleeting moment—relaxing in front of the wood stove while I enjoy some of summer’s bounty.