Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not Another Sunday.

A light rain has just begun to fall, and I've just returned home from a walk to the co-op.  It's an easy two-plus miles, round-trip, even carrying 5-10 pounds of goods (in a Gathering Bag, such a perfect thing).  A pleasant stroll, most days, it was more of a peaceful surprise today, beginning with a close encounter with a sharp-shinned hawk that came swooping at and past me, not more than a few meters away from my hooded head.  (Last weekend this same small neighbor flew by just few feet from my kitchen window, as I looked out from the table.)  There's an unexpected breath of Spring in the air today, some faint warmth in the wind, a more than welcome change from the persistent grey chill of the past several weeks, and even from the bright sunshine of yesterday (that demon day!).  The sun nearly glowed its way through the clouds more than once this afternoon, while the sound of rushing meltwater from the recent snowstorm filled the streets, cascading from gutters, trickling through cracks.  I stepped lightly over puddles, glad to have my legs under me. 

For the past few weeks, while the weather here has gone from almost intolerable with a few rays of hope, to unbelievably shitty with a chance of insanity--I kid not. Every single person I know has reached impasse with this April Fool--I've at the same time had to accommodate a newly pinched nerve, apparently caused by a herniated disc in my C7 areaAlong with it, I've come down with a nasty case of tennis elbow (how can something that sounds so sporting hurt so much?), and a whole bunch of related crappy crap which has been tremendously debilitating and discouraging.  Like sunshine, even a modest amount of pain can make the difference between growth or dormancy, thriving or strugglingI had been looking forward to an April and May of hard work and transformation, but I did not expect it to include a long, slow recovery from a painful disc injury.  It's been an excruciating, challenging month, on all kinds of levelsToday was a welcome respite from that.

Yesterday I felt like a stranger in a strange town.  Today, the unfamiliar seemed friendly, and small beauties revealed themselves at each turn of my head: a few choice words of inspiration hand-painted on a bumper; raindrops as tiny as ideas lightly kissing my freckled cheeks; a pair of goldfinches picking their way through the remains of last year's lemon balm, reminding me again why I (must) choose to grow, and to leave things be.  I might have cut away all those dry stems last Fall, to tidy things up; instead, this afternoon I watched two mates feed there together for quite some time, before flitting off to their next rest. Likewise, the Brussells sprouts stalks--which (after painstakingly ripping each little sprout free from the main stem), I left standing like the belles of the ball with their perfectly coiffed little heads resting atop tiers of ruffled leaves, imagining they would be so pretty to see, all dressed up in white for old man Winter--turned out to be a fine mid-winter treat for the rabbits, who nibbled them naked... Not that I'm aiming to attract bunnies into the garden, but I still take some pleasure, and pride, in knowing that other creatures find nourishment in my small yard.  It's nice to see.

I walked up to the street-side of my house, upon my return this afternoon.  Most of the new snow has melted already, but none of the native plants on the boulevard are showing themselves just yet.  Closer to the house, there are hyacinths, allium, crocuses, windflowers, tulips and peonies, now, all poking their sexy little blushing green selves up through a wet mat of leaves.  The peach and plum trees are almost ready to bud, the former a bit plumper than the latter.  Back behind the fence, chives are up, a few strawberries have put out new leaves, lilies just keep on coming, comfrey lies in wait, and most recently, the squill has emerged, and is about ready to pop open.  No signs of asparagus crowning just yet--it needs a bit more warmth--but it won't be long now.

Also, late last week, I received word from back home of the maple sap harvest:
I guess we picked the right time to try collecting maple sap this year. We started with six taps near the house for about a week, and then pulled one when the sap started to yellow, indicating is was "old", and left the remaining five for about another week. At the end of collecting, last Sunday we had at least 57 gallons of sap -- maybe a little more.

We had bought a two-burner, cast iron propane cookstove, and a 20" x 12" x 6" steam table pan from a restaurant supply place, which we set up just outside the garage last Saturday, and started cooking. We used our stock pots in the kitchen to bring all of it up to simmering and reduce it by about a fourth, adding it in increments to the steam table pan -- a process which took till late into the night on Monday -- at which point we had a little over 4 gallons.

Wednesday we started cooking this beautiful amber liquid on the stove in the big steam table pan, and this morning (we had to start and stop for errands and other tasks) we finished it off and poured it into canning jars with a total now in storage of nearly 2 gallons, some of which is set aside to share with all of you.

Now we're back to a heavy snow storm, so I guess we lucked out and hit the timing just right. We learned a lot. And, with Dad's plan to build a wood fired evaporator out of the old wood stove behind the pole barn, we're thinking we can do and even better job next year -- depending, of course, on what the weather allows.
So it would seem that Spring has arrived, at long last, and not a moment too soon.  Thank goodness.

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