Forever Summer

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Fresh picked bright red dewberries, packed in open top containers, cooling in the shade on a partially submerged rock, in a shallow flowing stream, elbows its way to mind when thoughts of summer arise.
Cattails grow in profusion and provide food for humans and animals. Golden cattail pollen used as flour is a summer treat, while its roots are edible year round. Burned for entertainment or mosquito repellent, the fluff of the brown heads have been to stop bleeding from deep cuts.

An hour past dawn, the source of daylight was still obscured, as if the sun took a holiday and to honor its daily commitment, left its dimmest bulb to light the overcast mid-summer day. The reference points of shadow and light, used to mark the progress of the day, melted in compromise to obscure the passing of time. The temperature change from night to day, that stirs the wind, was on this day, unable to raise a breeze. The stillness and faded light were precursors to either rain or bright sun, as the saying goes, “a morning fog burns ere the noon”. Either way, this quintessential day defines the comfortable retreat into the natural harbor of deep summer.   

Summer may be considered the offspring of the coordinated efforts of winter, spring and autumn. All preparation for a time, when new life and old, can strengthen and renew energy spent on elemental survival. Summer temperatures reduce the energy cost of life to maintain its existence. A savings that allows imagination and creativity to be directed to places other than immediate survival and to accumulate warm memories to heat the cold days of winter.  

Stacking the wood shed with summer memories leaves no carbon footprint, is considered renewable and burns as an eternal flame. 

Images of fresh picked bright red dewberries, packed in open top containers, cooling in the shade on a partially submerged rock, in a shallow flowing stream, elbows its way to mind when thoughts of summer arise. Enough berries to make two batches of jam, used to spread summer throughout the year, to share with family and friends. 

The light show performed by fireflies, in the meadow along the river, is a legacy act that reaches back in time to childhood and a world of wonder. The purpose of the display, critical to the lightning bugs, is lost to the magic of tiny incandescent dots of yellow light, floating in the air above the darkened meadow. Magic is the honey tasted by the mind that initiates a journey of exploration. Its direction and depth as unpredictable as the choreography of this mid-summer light show.  

Cattails are another image stored in the summer album of memories and trademarks. They grew in profusion along with swarms of mosquitoes which would forage for fresh blood when the sun went down. The summer heat would force neighbors outside to sit on porch steps, their presence betrayed in the darkness by the red glow of their burning cigarettes. The smoke was a deterrent to the mosquitoes, though restricted to smokers and anyone immediately downstream. Through primitive oral history, the legacy of burning sun dried cattails to keep mosquitoes at bay and safely light fireworks was kept alive. Cattails would be cut and brought home, muddy dungarees a dead giveaway that you roamed beyond the territory deemed safe by mom. The price of the harvest was a lecture from mom about being swallowed up by quicksand in the swamps. Cattails were picked while still slightly green as they could be stored over winter without losing their fluff. Courting danger, I would scramble up to the neighbor’s low, flat garage roof then take a running leap onto our peaked garage roof and set the cattails out to dry. After a week on the garage roof aged the cattails were ready to be lit and fend off the nightly aerial attack and defend the blood supply. Waving the burning cattail produced a cloud of smoke and unlike the anemic volume of cigarette smoke, could be directed upwind to wash over the legs or neck. Aside from the favorable aroma and copious smoke, you were sanctioned to play with fire and produce your own light show by waving the glowing brown magic wand, to create the illusion of circles, figure eights and words, which disappeared as if using invisible ink.   

The images and memories contained in your summer archives are yours alone, collected at a moment when time stood still, indelibly etched, to be released when the right combination of summer conditions align.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact