City Mouse or Country Mouse by Karen Shughart

Are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Does the thought of rural life make you yawn? Or does the idea of living in a city send electric shocks of anxiety through you?

I grew up in Pittsburgh. I enjoyed concerts performed by the symphony orchestra and boarded a streetcar with my mother for shopping excursions and lunch at downtown department stores. Our family went to the zoo, visited museums, and in the summer enjoyed the rides and games at big, regional amusement park. A branch of the Carnegie Library was within walking distance to our home.  I remember attending a live performance of what was the forerunner to the Mr. Rogers TV show. I loved the energy of the city, the hustle and bustle, the diversity of people and activities.

One set of grandparents lived in a small, rural town in Ohio. From their front porch you could see the Ohio River, and there were meadows and fields at the end of their road. We weren’t allowed to swim in that river, but I do remember hikes and picnics in sun-kissed fields, crowded with delicate Queen’s Anne Lace, purple thistles, and sunflowers. You could hear the train whistle and wave to the conductor from their backyard. I loved those visits, too.

 My children grew up in a mid-sized town in central Pennsylvania: safe, secure and with plenty of space to roam around, but we lived within proximity to major metropolitan areas. We exposed them to museums, concerts, historic sites, and a variety of restaurants that served food unlike the types available in our town. Those experiences impressed them, and as adults they have chosen to live where gridlock traffic is juxtaposed with economic and cultural opportunities.

There’s energy in a city that you don’t find in a rural setting. Where you can walk or hail a cab or call Uber to get just about anywhere in minutes. Where GrubHub is takeout. When visiting our children, I sometimes long for that lifestyle. But then, after a few days, I yearn for the solitude of the place we call home.

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We retired and moved from central Pennsylvania to a bucolic village in the Finger Lakes region of New York on the south shore of Lake Ontario, not too far from several large cities and on the other side, Canada. It’s a big lake, with beautiful beaches and waves that look and sound like the ocean.

Quiet three seasons, in summer restaurants, shops, and museums fill with visitors, and outdoor activities abound. Cars line our street for Sunday concerts in the park, and our July 4th celebration attracts crowds from miles away. You wait in line at farm stands and for tastings at wineries. It’s exhilarating and enervating at the same time. I hold my breath, not fully exhaling until September.

So, what am I? I’d say I’m a country mouse who likes best to feast on the grains of quiet and solitude but occasionally ventures into a city to forage for more exotic fare. What about you?

August by Karen Shughart

Here up at the lake we’re surrounded by orchards, vineyards and farmland; gently rolling hills and meandering streams with an abundance of fish. It’s a beautiful place any time of the year, but the end of summer, the month of August, is special in so many ways.

Sunrise is a little later this time of year, we can hear the morning music of birds at around 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. rather than 3:30 or 4:00 as in June. There’s something peaceful and magical about waking early in August to see the sun rise, it’s rose-gold rays casting brilliant diamond-like shards across the water. It’s a quiet time.

Warm days are the norm; some days the humidity rises, but on others bright blue skies, lazy white clouds, and a lake sluggishly rolling its waves onto the shore are a welcome change to the previously fetid air.  Sailboats dot the horizon, pontoons chug lazily about and motorboats slice through the undulating sea. Families play on the beach and picnic under a pavilion where long ago children laughed with delight as they rode a carousel.

A cornucopia of fresh produce offers up its bounty at a multitude of farm stands and markets. Lovely squashes, tomatoes, blueberries, cherries, corn, beans, and herbs create a riot of color far more beautiful than any still life painting.  And the fecund ripening of the fruit on trees in the orchards, especially the apples, the first of which will soon be ready for harvest, remind us that fall is on its way. The green, green grass of past months starts to brown, the flowers lose some of their bloom, and the limbs on deciduous trees, with their lush dark leaves, droop with anticipation as they begin to fade. In a month or two, their bright, warm hues will beckon an onslaught of sightseers.

Photo by Karen Shughart

Something about the light and the air bring visions of fall: bright, sunny days as crisp as biting into a just-picked apple.  It smells different, too. The air is perfumed, but in August, with a rich, heavy sweetness mingled with the beginnings of the decay that precedes fall and winter.

Later in the month, when the tourists and those who spend their summers at simple cottages here have gone, there’s silence  interrupted only by the occasional droning of a lawn mower,  the buzz of insects, the bark of a dog or the subdued chatter of friends and neighbors who pass by.