Back in my school days, this was the first assigned essay of the year. The Summers of my childhood were filled with play, work, family visiting and travel.
We lived in the Sayward Valley, on the NE side of Vancouver Island.
Our home was surrounded by 100 acres of field and forest, river and creek.
Mt. Hkusam stood to the west, directing the flow of the weather – you just had to look up and you’d know the kind of day to expect.
We rode bicycles, horses, tractors and at age 11, Dad taught me how to drive the red Ford Fargo truck, a standard transmission with four on the column and a clutch petal I could almost push all the way to the floor.
Dad needed an extra hand to drive while everyone else piled bales of hay into the back and I loved that special responsibility. I can still feel the lumps and bumps of the uneven ground as I drove the overflowing pickup over the field to the barn.
We always swam a lot during our Summers in Sayward.
Gentry’s Swimming Hole was a couple of miles south, up river from our place.
A perfect combination of rock and sand beach, with rock bluffs and a very deep pool. Gentry’s was where I had my first swimming lessons. I can still remember the first time I opened my eyes underwater and the clear river lit by the afternoon sun showed me this amazing new world.
In August and September, during the salmon run, fish would bump into you and slide by as you swam. With eyes wide open you could watch the salmon make spawning nests in the sand to lay their eggs.
When our skin had become completely wrinkled and we were shaking with cold, Mom would call us in for a picnic of sandwiches and watermelon. Before eating we would stand for leach removal…and they would never come off easily! Mom would sprinkle salt on them, then after a minute or two, she’d pull the leaches off, leaving bloody trails.
Wrapped in towels, sitting in the late afternoon sun, eating watermelon after hours of swimming, my Mom would begin to relax and the joy of summer would soak in, nourishing us the whole year long.
Our family processed fish every summer.
We smoked, canned and froze sockeye, coho, cod, halibut, prawns, snapper, humpbacks.
There were cousins who had fishing boats and during the season, pick up truck loads of fish would be dumped on our front lawn. I learned to clean fish like an expert, standing with my Grandpa on one side and my Dad on the other.
Fillet knives were sharpened on a stone, buckets were set up for the offal and a sink of salty water filled for the final clean.
The gutting of fish was a biology lesson in our family. Each organ was explained and explored. If there was sea lice or worms they were examined, the stomach and digestive system was opened up and there was a discussion of what the fish might have had for its last meal.
As we gutted and cut each one, the flesh was lovingly caressed for it’s life gift.
I am so grateful for my Dad and Grandpa’s approach to honouring the abundance of food that was a part of every Summer of my life.
Peaches came in late summer.
In Sayward, peach trees don’t thrive, so in the 1960’s and 70’s peaches arrived from the Okanagan on Gordon’s truck.
Gordon was the dairy & produce supplier. Every Wednesday he would arrive, back his truck into our drive way and lift open the back door, uncovering treasures.
Mom would order many cases of peaches in the summer and once again the family would go into processing. Peaches were canned in one quart mason jars, but we always ate one whole box fresh.
I still love the careful cutting along the peach seam with a sharp paring knife, then gently twisting and pulling as the flesh lets go from around the stone. Sometimes I leave the skin on, but often I carefully peal it off. The soft texture, juice, and sweetness all come together, embodying the wonder of summer. More than 50 quarts of peaches found their home in our larder each year.
This year, Summer has been one like most of the Summers of my life.
The fish arrived, the peaches abound, tomatoes are ripening as I write.
I have canned, smoked and frozen.
I swim in the lake most days and eat fresh from the garden everyday.
I have worked at the store several days a week and with the Summer buzz, I have only found time & energy for the simple things.
Garter stitch, and plain stocking stitch are great for unraveling a tired mind and body.