I was listening to some TV news, in the background of my morning routine, when I heard that someone, somewhere, had narrowly survived an encounter with a shark. Didn’t I hear the same news last week, and also the week before? Life seems repetitive to me on this mid-August Monday, and I consider the recurring themes that underlie the staccato notes of summer’s frantic final month. At this time of the year, it doesn’t matter whether we see each other on the boat, on the island, or in Bar Harbor; most of us from the Cranberry Isles will give each other the same slight shrug and half smile as we communicate our exhaustion from the annual overabundance with two little words; “It’s August.” Just when we wonder if we’ll survive the pace, the month is over. How could time possibly pass so quickly? Bob Pyle, the Northeast Harbor librarian, said to me last week, “August is like childbirth. We conveniently forget what it feels like until we go through it again.” I feel like I am on autopilot as I cruise through the last four weeks of vacation. If there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, it probably occurs in the eighth month of the year. My rote learning, from Augusts past, helps me put one foot in front of the other. I know I will be asked to bake for yet another bake sale, and that I will gladly do it. There will be more music, fun and fundraisers before September arrives, and little time to get work done unless I want to stay up late. I know the ferry boats will be crowded until the schedule changes on Labor Day, so I take a deep breath and try to let any aggravation roll off my back. I’ve done it before, and with luck and grace I’ll do it all again next year, regardless of how I swear I’ll have a handle on things by then. 

The thought of getting through August, by rote, got me thinking about the word and its various meanings that apply to summer in the Cranberry Isles. Synonyms for “rote” from Thesaurus.com include treadmill, rut and remembering. From Dictionary.com: “by rote” means “from memory, without thought of the meaning; in a mechanical way.” Rote can also mean the sound of waves breaking on the shore, originating in the 1600s from the Old Norse word “rauta” meaning to roar. With tropical storms and hurricanes increasing in August, we often hear the rote from storms that have passed by many miles offshore. The Encyclopedia Britannica also defines rote as a “medieval European stringed instrument, a box-like lyre.”  From Wikipedia.com, the Welsh word for the instrument is “crwth,” which translates back to the word crowd. (We know all about crowds here in August.) The rote “can be played on the shoulder like a violin, between the knees like a cello, or on the lap,” which makes me think of the Cranberry Fest music festival that recently took place in the Islesford Town Field on a perfect August day. The all-day event featured over 10 different sets of musicians playing a variety of stringed instruments from fiddle, to cello, to guitar, to pedal steel, and it raised funds toward the winterization of the Islesford neighborhood House.

When Cindy Thomas organized a bake sale to be held during the music festival, I said I would be happy to bake. Of the three things I made, one was a batch of brownies from my mother’s recipe. I have very few of her recipes because she really hates to cook or bake. Her mother, my grandmother, was the baker who spent time in the kitchen with my brother and me; but when Gramma baked brownies, she used her daughter’s recipe. These are very moist, dense brownies, not meant for someone who likes a more cake-like texture. They can be mixed up pretty quickly, especially if you’ve learned the recipe by rote.

Mom’s Brownies       Bake at 350º in a greased 9″ by 11″ pan.

2 sticks butter

6 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup flour

2 cups nuts

Melt chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler.  Let cool slightly. In a bowl, combine sugar and eggs. Stir in chocolate mixture, beginning with a small amount to temper the eggs. Add the rest of the chocolate mixture and the vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts. Bake for 25 minutes. These are best when completely cool, even better the day after they are made.

-August 15, 2011