Tag Archives: august

The Loaf Mass

We’ve celebrated the first of the old harvest festivals: Lammas, or The Loaf Mass. Living in an area that’s still mostly agricultural, I’m keenly aware of the seasons, though I’m also darn glad I don’t farm for a living. Our local Mother Nature hasn’t been kind. She started spring with a long stretch of uncharacteristic cold and rain, delaying planting. Then just about the time corn and other temperature sensitive crops began to grow, She sent what our Penn State Meteorologists are calling “a flash drought.” Wheat came in during the first heat, and those waving green vistas created an inland ocean, so this year’s harvest began well. Now sadly, in wide swatches east of us, where six mule teams still pull threshers and barefoot women and children hoe, the corn stands just knee high, leaves curled and blasted.

When I lived in England in the 60’s, I thrilled to walk into our neighborhood’s square stone Saxon church and see great loaves three and four feet high, baked in special lidded pans, some of which were shaped like sheaves of wheat and others like men—leaned against the altar among the floral offerings. When I asked who the men of bread were, I was told by an old sexton that they were “John Barleycorn, the life of the fields.” Here, I would later learn, was a living link to the Celtic Lugh, an ancient god of vegetation who resurrected every year to feed the British countryside.

My Uncle Richard used to give me a bucket of wheat that had come straight from his harvester. Cleaning out the residual dust and chaff and then grinding it took time, but the bread I made seemed to have an extra dimension of taste, a nutty sweetness that apparently gets lost, even from the finest brands of commercial flour.  Every year the Loaf Mass reminds me, swaddled in a/c and distanced from my place in nature by man made things, of a time when my ancestors grubbed dirt and endured summer heat and rain in order to raise the food needed for survival. The impulse remains to say thank-you to the earth, for the gifts which sustain us. August, no matter how hot, always begins at my house with the baking of bread.


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Cicada Time


Bob was sitting on the picnic table the other morning, smiling and pleased with himself. He’d been out dancing in the moonlight all night. I was sitting on the bench, patting him. He seemed entirely happy, kneading air with his paws and showing me his spotted belly, playing at being a Domesticated Animal. 

The first cicadas are starting in our area, the genetic misfits who awaken on the far edge of their particular Bell Curve. They don’t sing much and flame out early. When one fell from a nearby maple, buzzing like a clockwork toy unwinding, Bob leapt from the table with a bound which would have done a cougar credit and made short work of it.  

(It’s humbling, the way he can tune me out. Snap! Gone on cat business!)  

I suppose he ate the poor confused thing, like he does everything else. Cicadas, with heads that are pure fat, are one of Mother Nature’s most sought-after crunchy snacks. Birds adore them. I’ve even seen squirrels eat them, these winged, green-armored Doritos of the insect world.  I would think the wings and feet would make for an over-ridingly icky mouth feel, but not coming from an insect-eating culture, I can’t really judge. 

I love cicadas. When I was small, some imaginative family member told me that their wings–see-through, gossamer, etched in green–were fairy wings. I guess what I really love is their deafening song, which can be as loud as 120 decibels up close. They are one of the few noisy things in which I take pleasure. They are Nature, after all, like waves crashing on the sea shore. The males on my maples start; the neighbor’s cicadas shout out an answer. With the trees arching green overhead, it’s my favorite sort of chorale.

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