Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Waters of March

The river is beautiful right now. Full, swollen by the thaw, flowing with such force it stops the mind. I paused to take it in this morning, awed by its new dimensions...this body of water, rising, as it must do, flooding where it will... On the surface, white spirals spin downstream, riding currents so long and deep, so ancient, they rush the blood. Within a moment it drew me in and southward, turned me toward the sun, and I was suddenly floating, dreaming nearly, at rest... So strange, so sad, to demonize this, to fear and resist it, only because we can't control it...

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart.

(To those on low ground, I wish you peace and safe passage.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh boy oh boyohboy

On my arrival home this evening I was greeted by my own shadow, standing perfectly centered in a doorway of sunlight on the blue curtain in the living room.

I opened the door to the sunroom on my way to fetch the mail and there was something just a little different today...What? It's warmer than the rest of the house!

Yesterday I saw that the check for the fruit trees had cleared.

And the word from my beekeeping friend is that the bees are out today, bumbling around for something sweet.

Guess that's about it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

wind in my liver

Spring is close.

The tip of my big toe's been numb for a few weeks now, which is not a harbinger of Spring, per se, but it did prompt me to go in for an hour of bodywork earlier this week, which caused me to revisit a few things, among them some writings of mine from last year, around this time. I found--not surprisingly--that I was in much the same state, of being "under the weather": head full and draining, tired out, flat, stiff and sore, working out seed orders. I'd forgotten that I began a round of massage treatment then, and it was interesting to re-read my notes: same trouble areas, same stuff coming up, same feedback loops. On some of this I made small breakthroughs later in the year, only to be set back again like clockwork. Got to change those gears...

It's always fascinated me how things come to rest in the body, how thoughts and feelings take up space, change the shape of us, our movements, our flesh and blood. And the opposite is also true: the sweep of your arm might change the way you think for the rest of the day, or the rest of your life. In untangling our knots--some of which are simply impossible to un-do without another's touch--it's difficult to tell which came first: the memory or the muscle. Is it the wind in my liver that gives rise to my anger, or has my anger driven that wind?

Equinox is around the bend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

could get a little corny...

One has to wonder how many different flavors of ass, perfume and microwaved obscenities one can be reasonably expected to endure in a given day. I've been under the weather this week, with my sinuses adjusting to the changing temps and pressures of Spring, and in spite of my stuffy head and running nose everything around me smells like crazy these past few days. Stinks, might be more like it.

So I was taking a little break at the old workplace this afternoon and for some reason it struck me that I never got around to posting about last year's corn harvest. Partly that was due to my being distracted by other things, but mainly it was because the harvest sucked. It was a terrible year for corn--cold and wet when we needed warmth, dry when we needed rain, etc. The result was that our zea mays got off to a slow start, showed promising and rapid growth during the warm weeks mid-summer, and then struggled to come to maturity during a long cool spell which led into an icy-wet fall.

We planted seven varieties of corn last year, in blocks set far enough apart so as to avoid cross-pollination. In the back garden was the sweet corn (Golden Bantam, Stowells Evergreen, and--filling in where those two failed to come up--Bodacious, leftover from previous years) and Hopi Blue,
a sweet/flour corn. In the front garden, Oaxacan Green occupied the NW corner while Hickory King dent stood in the SE. In southernmost strip, we tried a very small plot of Smoke Signals popcorn.

For a couple weeks in late summer there was a meager supply of sweet corn, but the ears were quite small and somewhat irregular, and didn't hold well. The three varieties we grew for grain didn't do a lot better. The Hopi Blue, much of which we grew from seed saved from the prior year's crop (in the three sisters experiment), produced a robust spiral of short and stout plants, many with deep blue-streaked leaves, and lived up to its reputation of being tender and sweet in the milk stage (although I only sampled it fresh) as well as being arrestingly beautiful, in a dazzling array of sapphire shades (with a few turquoise gems thrown in, compliments of the wind). The Oaxacan Green germinated well and grew quickly even in a part of the garden where the soil tilth was less than ideal, and although it turned out only a few mature ears, they were mesmerizing in color, lime to emerald to deep sea, trimmed in fiery orange. The Hickory King exceeded everyone's expectations by skyrocketing in just a few short weeks from knee-high to over eight feet and taller, with the lowest ears forming above some of our heads.
Unfortunately, all these grain corns suffered in the cold, rainy fall (as did just about everyone's crop, in these parts) and we ended up with a bunch of soggy ears that not only didn't fully dry on the stalk, but had to be picked wet--and most were moldy, to boot. So we didn't really get a chance to taste any of them, as meal or flour, although we should have enough viable seed to give it another go this year. Likewise with the Smoke Signals; much of it didn't ripen or cure, but the ears that did were spectacular, tiny beads of jasper in rainbow colors...We did get enough to pop a panful and all found it quite tasty, rich and nutty, if a little heavy on the old maids.

Most of these varieties are open-pollinated (all but the Bodacious), which means that the plants will grow true from seed from one year to the next, as long as care is taken to prevent cross-pollination. I opted primarily for OP varieties, of corn and everything else, to allow for the possibility of saving seed and also (knowing that we're not likely to save seed for many of our other vegetables, just yet) to support the development and improvement of the OP gene pool. I prefer OP, on principle, but I do recognize the value of hybridization, and this year I've got a couple hybrids on order, of the sugary enhanced sort. When it comes to sweet corn, hybrids tend to have the advantage: most have better cool soil germination, better quality ears, better flavor and better holding power both in the field and the fridge (or so I'm led to believe). The other two varieties I'm trying this season--if we can find room for two more--are both OP: Painted Mountain, a short-season super-productive brightly-colored ornamental/flour/parching/fresh eating corn (too good to be true?) and Pennsylvania Dutch Butter-Flavored Popcorn, an heirloom maintained by the folks at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (who, incidentally, just happen to have an insightful piece on their site about OP vs. hybrid seeds).

In searching for rants, raves or reviews about this popcorn variety--which is apparently not very widely known or grown--I turned up this rather bizarre hit about the dangers of butter-flavored...well, anything... Which brings me back to work. Thankfully, microwave popcorn is no longer allowed on my floor, so that's one less thing to contend with. Now if only someone would put up a sign that says please check your stinking loud ass lip smacking crap food munching self and try to have a little respect for, well, anything. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Sow Must Go On

Started on Sunday: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers (sweet and hot). Used a fine seed-starting mix (OM-1) I picked up from the femmes locales over at Mother Earth Gardens, and enjoyed some afternoon sunshine out in front of the garage with mom, packing up 2-5 inch pots and 4-packs. After a whole lot of deliberation about quantities of varieties, we settled on thirty-two each of tomatoes and peppers, and sixteen eggplants. These two and half trays were left to work their magic in the upstairs hallway of my parents' house, which--due to its east/west and southern exposure and radiators--maintains a resting ambient temperature of around 78+ degrees, which should be just about right if not ideal. I double-seeded everything (to avoid having to replant in case of germination failure) so I'm hopeful, but I guess one has no other choice but to be, when it comes to seeds...

The 2010 seed inventory is underway, with the current stock neatly recorded in my optimistic spreadsheet. Orders for this year will be going in just as soon as I can decide what kind of flowers I'm going to want, or tomorrow, whichever comes first. Among the more exciting prospects this year are asparagus, artichokes, and--oh, what's the point in pretending?...I get excited about all of it... tiger eye beans, painted mountain corn, copperhead amaranth, grex beets... even the stuff we grew last year still gives me a thrill...chervil, borage, calendula, favas, other things I won't remember until they come up again...

Oh, and the Paris picture show is still in the works, just delayed by my old Sony, trusty but slow as hell. One of these days...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010


It's often said that the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago; the next best time is today.

This past Monday I finally got the fruit tree order in, three weeks (or more) later than I'd hoped (and tried) to... With any luck, it's not already too late, although just going off last year's experience, I'm not overly optimistic. I've been scoping out other/local sources as backups, just in case, but a fair number of the varieties I'm after aren't often seen in these parts, and I'm not about to bring in some namby-pamby rootstock from Tennessee or Florida to weather a Zone 3 winter. Might have to do some hunting around.

In the meantime, on request from Saint Lawrence Nurseries are pears (Nova*, Hudar), plums (Mount Royal*, Toka, Underwood), cherries* (Meteor, Northstar), and cider apples* (Golden Russet, Ashmedes Kernel). The majority will be planted at my folks' place, with a Nova pear for each of my sisters and a Mount Royal plum for my yard. I plan to add a pie cherry of some kind, perhaps a Bali, and a hardy Reliance peach as well, both of which I'll probably pick up at the Friend's School sale. (* self-pollinating)

Most of these trees won't begin to fruit for at least three to five years. That fact, set against the backdrop of the trees I did not plant ten years ago, left me feeling more than a little downhearted about the prospect of putting in trees here, only to uproot myself in a few years and start over again somewhere else, and perhaps again somewhere else after that, never enjoying the fruits of my labor. I'd dreamed of building a home where I could dig in, deeply, not for a three or five years, but twenty, fifty, a lifetime... This is not that place. Maybe I'll live here happily for the rest of my days--who knows?--but coming to terms with where I am not,
as life's centrifuge hurls me toward year forty, and with what three to five years really means to me, now, dropped something slightly soft and rotten onto the sweet promise of a future harvest.

Nevertheless, I'm not about to not plant fruit here, just to spite my sorry self and the universe. Someone will be here to enjoy those beautiful, deep blue plums, if not me. I mean, peaches, why on earth wouldn't I???

Anyway, it was a lot harder than it should have been to get that check in the mail, reckoning with Father Time and Mother Earth just to place an order that can at this point only be filled by some divine miracle. Ah well. Who wants an orchard, anyway?

The other event that shaped this past week was the news that the land which borders my folks' place on the south was recently sold. More than that, a house is being built on it, is already poured and framed, is going up within shouting distance of my childhood home. This might not seem like a very big deal to those of us with neighbors so close you can taste their fabric softener, and in some ways it's not. In some other ways, it's almost impossible to tell how much this means, to those of us who have known that place as home.

For many years I hoped, thought, perhaps took it for granted that I would one day own the entire section of land to the south of my folks' place. Back then it was close to 200 acres, once corn, then a tree farm, and then more or less fallow for a long time. It could be cultivated. There was room to make homes for several families, for friends. It was wide open and full of light, our expansive horizon. And then, after successfully avoiding transformation into an (unthinkably idiotic) RV campground, it was purchased (by a guy I went to high school with, the same guy who demolished the old sandstone school in our tiny drive-through town, to build a few overpriced crap homes) and shortly thereafter it was parceled off into awkward little strips. All this transpired without my being aware that the land was even for sale--not that I could have afforded it then, in any case--and it was a wake-up call, a loud one, when the first tan cracker-box house went up within earshot, with the radio on all summer. That was about the time that CM and I first put on gloves and set to work on the old garden, and over the next couple years there was a lot of talk among the family about buying that strip on the fencerow. It stretched back almost to our Oak Grove, and would be a fine place to plant a grove of nut trees, or an orchard, or to experiment with a food forest. I entertained the idea, seriously considered even, that I might build a house there. We could live on the land and provide for others, in a place of plenty, while the world goes to hell in a handbasket full of ho-hos. But I wasn't sure I could really make a life there, didn't think I could afford to, strained to see how it could work... In July I stood at the end of that premature driveway, walked its weedy gravel to the place where that house might stand and could almost see it there, while fireworks lit the sky way back over the lake. It felt possible then. I even inquired about it, but the price was so high...a little longer, maybe. Last fall I wandered there again, alone, waded through deep grasses down to the low spot near the willows and there found myself hidden, protected--no cracker-box, no fence, no for sale sign--just the rise of that small hill before me and the moon gleaming above...This land I knew, I know, this place I saw so clearly in the wake of death, not because I was grieving but because I was alive, and I all I wanted or could hope for was to care for it, to fulfill its potential. Some part of that is gone, now.

It's not regret I feel, not sadness, just wonder at the consequences of the choices we make, at how events unfold. Illusions disappear. No one ever talks about having 20/20 foresight.

We still have land to live on and to care for, more than enough. It is no less, but perhaps more, to us now that the "progress" of the "economy" has shown us the "return on investment" of ten modest acres that have been a living part of my family's existence for thirty years or more. This isn't prime real estate, it's an old cornfield bordering on a tamarack swamp. It's not wilderness, but it has been a corridor to something closer to wild...the sandhills flying back home, a lone wolf who passes through, the milky way stretching beyond imagination, fire that jumped the fence one summer... It's the loss of that intimacy, that openness, the possibility that makes my heart ache. It's knowing that we're losing ground, all around this sphere, and once it's gone, it's for ever. If we can't protect the places we love, what do we hope to live for?

Yet life continues, and we adapt to these changes, the best we can. With all the water under my bridge these past few months, this is just another gentle wave to ride out. Now there's a house going up next door. Hopefully the neighbors won't be gun-crazy ATV enthusiasts. With any luck, they'll be a vibrant old couple who like to make apple butter or, even better, would love to take care of a wacky old dog, anytime. Who knows? So we'll plant some more trees, see what happens.

The next best time is today.
And I'd better get going.