Little Details10/02/08

Oct. 2, 2008

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Season of introspection

We sat beneath a canopy of stars. Nestled under layers of fleece, my husband and I sipped steaming cups of raspberry tea while taking in the nocturnal view. A flock of geese, cloaked in darkness, offered up their rhythmic chant, bodies bent southward in a gesture of longing for places warmer. A distant train pierced the chilled air with its repetitive chug-lug, chug-lug lullaby.

A sudden flash of light, an unexpected wish, and it was gone. A shooting star, its tail glimmering, blazed across the sky, reminding me of summer’s fleeting spirit.

Summer is the guest that never overstays her welcome. She announces her arrival shortly after Memorial Day, lingers for a while by the pool, and slips away like water through our fingers. Steamy afternoons and sweltering nights where I’d fall asleep to the gentle murmur of my window fan have been replaced by mist-chilled mornings and extra blankets at bedtime. Fireflies, shimmering like diamonds over neighboring fields, offered nightly performances well into July, then disappeared.

Early sunrises spilled light into my room, beckoning wakefulness before my alarm clock ever thought to ring. Autumn’s lingering darkness makes the ritual of rising for work just a little bit harder.

I’m grateful for the summer just departed. We were afforded time to kick off shoes and indulge in good-for-the-soul reading on the porch. Learning from past mistakes, we deliberately left broad swaths of openness — glorious white space — on our calendar. Although there were a couple of art and music camps, free and spontaneous activity flourished with impromptu kickball games, bike rides and heat-quenching dips in the pool.

Occasional exasperations of, “I’m bored” fueled creativity for artistic and culinary exploits. Paintbrushes and kid cookbooks alike received separate workouts this summer. A kitchen drawer with crumpled dollar bills remained at the ready for the tinkling ice cream truck gliding through the neighborhood to the tune of “It’s a small world” while dispensing sweet, icy pleasures. Dottie the Bookmobile resurfaced near summer’s end from her convalescence, toot-tooting a call for young readers to emerge to exchange old piles of books for new piles of books.

Our garden’s harvest of tomatoes, peas and basil — the latter ensconced in a pulverized state in my freezer — nourished our bodies and fed our souls with healthful, flavorful delights. Homegrown oregano and cilantro, clipped and tied with twine dry, upturned and fragrant, near my pantry. I’ll reach for these crumpled bits and pieces to infuse winter soups with distant flavors of summer.

Garlicky pesto awaits a succession of winter dates with pasta and friends. Blueberries picked locally and frozen to a sturdy state will reprise their juicy roles in pancakes and Sunday morning muffins. I already miss freshly harvested corn, manna of the field. No frozen version captures the bursting-with-flavor vitality of just-picked pleasure. Alas, some things will have to wait until next year’s growing season.

Biking along the Burlington Recreational Path included frequent stops at the Auer Family Boathouse, where we’d be regaled with old-time stories by Charlie the proprietor while buying chocolaty Klondike Bars at old-fashioned prices. Who would have guessed Charlie’s dad made beer for Burlington’s German Club during Prohibition? The boathouse, though rustic, inhabits a thin sliver of nirvana overlooking Lake Champlain. We’d sit on the swing listening to Sinatra — or whatever crooner Charlie chose to play — eating ice cream as sunlight slipped behind the Adirondacks. Sweeter summer memories are hard to find.

As delicate flowers assume their autumn droop, trees outside my window take on the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of the season. There’s a renewed crispness in the air. Even mountain ridgelines seem crisper, free from summer’s haze.

We’ll mow our lawn one final time, tuck in the garden and pack away porch furniture for a long, cold Vermont winter. I’m reminded of good things yet to come. Porch picnics transform into warming candlelight dinners. Bike rides become walks in the woods with crunchy leaves underfoot. And, yes, the snow will come, sometimes fast and furiously, sometimes daintily like a gentle sprinkling of salt, altering the landscape and encouraging us to look more deeply within. Here’s to a season of introspection.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or