Monday, July 30, 2012

These July Days

It's been a busy time, and I haven't been posting recently because of:

1.  The Garden.  Every year in midsummer I alternately rejoice and despair.  How can just nine raised beds, 4'x4' each, produce such quantities of organic, practically free, and therefore sacred food?   In the spring, as I push in the seeds or set out the baby plants, I never  anticipate the summer explosion.  And even if I did, I wouldn't want all that chicken-enriched compost, laboriously hauled out by me in the fall and dug in in the spring, to go to waste.

So now I have to deal with the result of my spring enthusiasm.  The kale and chard are the most spectacular, with leaves as big as palm fronds.  The tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are ripening nicely.  The zucchini took a three-day break after its initial output and now is back with a vengeance.  The broccoli is still going strong.  And the three beds of beans, which I planted with my granddaughter V's assistance, are setting fruit.  The more you pick, the more you reap is the paradoxical law of gardens.  And it's true:  I pick and pick and cannot even make a dent in the horn of plenty that is my potager.  And so I wonder, how can there be hunger in this world?  Where is the missing link between earth and table?  Is it time, focus, water, knowledge?  I am grateful for the local food bank which absorbs my plenty, but I wish I could do more.

2.  The Book.  I have, as you may remember, been working on a memoir of my decades with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).  Having finished what is known in the trade as the shitty first draft, I am now struggling with the (to me) equally shitty second draft.  It's a hard balancing act, staying true to the experience of the illness while keeping the reader and myself away from utter despair.  I'm bringing my dogs into the story to help with this, just as they helped me get through the long years.  I'm thinking of adding illustrations, the kind of drawings I did in the early stages of this blog, but wonder if I have the stamina.

3.  The CFS.  This is the big one.  For many years, July has been a difficult month for me.  Even before I was diagnosed, I would always go to a doctor in July, complaining that things weren't right.  The doctors never found anything, which, as we now know, is typical of CFS presentations.  But what is it about July that gets me every time--the solstice, the heat, the tiny shift towards darkness, the alignment of the planets, the blooming of the goldenrod?  Regardless, I find myself careening between pretty good and goddam awful days, missing events I don't want to miss, holding back from projects I'm dying to take on.  It's a shaky thing, life with CFS, never knowing what tomorrow will be like. 

But then, life itself is shaky, and we never really can be sure about tomorrow, so what I'm dealing with is basically the human condition, only more so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grass And Hair

I often have fantasies of a peaceful life spent doing some simple, repetitive task--darning socks, say, or making baskets, or saying rosaries for the souls in Purgatory.  I don't know what prompts these dreams, because in reality I have less tolerance for repetition than just about anybody.

Take this morning, part of which I spent weeding the cracks between the stones of our patio, pulling up plants who think there is no better place in the whole green earth to call home than the gap between two pieces of slate.  These gaps are so narrow that I can't get my weeding tool into them, and am reduced to yanking out the weeds with my fingernails.  This works o.k. with things like clover and mint, which are easy to uproot after a rain, when the ground is wet and soft.  But dandelions and crabgrass happily surrender their leaves, secure in the knowledge that this will strengthen their root systems and allow them to put out even more luxuriant growth.

Time and time again, between June and September, I weed the patio.  And time and time again I rue the day when I decided to build a patio outside the back door, instead of a deck.  I went with the patio option because around these parts slate practically grows on trees, and it would have been a crime against nature to use any other material.  Yet every time I weed I think how a deck would have saved me this endless, boring, finger-hurting task. 

And then I wonder why I cannot simply accept this weeding, be one with the crabgrass and the dandelions, and give thanks that I can still squat for hours.  And I do, for a minute or two, but before I know it, I'm deep in technicolor fantasies about a deck.

Spent the rest of the morning brushing dogs--mostly Wolfie. If you have never brushed a German Shepherd, you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Among their many distinctions, Shepherds are the all-breed champion growers and shedders of hair.  They have top coats and under coats, long hairs and short hairs, stiff hairs and soft-as-dandelion-fluff-stick-to-your-lips hairs.  They are generous with their hair, letting you have it by the pound--on your rugs, your clothes, your air--because there's always more where it came from, in all seasons. 

Again, I ask myself, why can't I just be present with the brush, and the dog panting in my face, and the sun beating down on us all?  Why can't I be grateful, etc. etc.?  And why, why, having over the years brushed several cubic tons of hair off Lexi did I have to go and get another Shepherd?

I lucked out with Bisou, though.  Her coat is long and fine, and knots just slide off.  It doesn't take long to get her looking like a Breck Shampoo Girl, and at the end of the session all I have to show for it is barely a handful of red and gold strands. 

So now the dogs are brushed and the patio's weeded.  But even as I reward myself by writing here, I can hear the faint sounds of weeds and hair pushing up through earth and skin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Haying Time

This cool, dry, sunny weather is perfect for haying, and our neighbor farmer cut our fields yesterday.  He did this with the help of several large machines and the village librarian (could I ask for more than to live in a place where the librarian hays my field?). It was done quickly and efficiently--no fat peasants snoozing under trees at midday--and today the red-tailed hawk spent the morning circling above the field, whistling at his luck. 

I shooed Bisou away from a mouse, neatly sliced in half by the mower, that she found on the driveway.  Haying is not a vegetarian operation, and those big, fast machines wreak much havoc among the small, furry and defenceless.  Gone are the days when Robert Burns had the leisure to apologize to a field mouse "for turning her up in her nest with his plough."  But every year, when the big machines rumble up our driveway, I call to mind Burns's expression of regrets:


I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!
In this post-solstice season, after the warmest twelve months on record, we would do well to remember that we are earth born companions and fellow mortals of even the lowest, most timorous beastie, that our fates hang together, and that we should do all in our power to preserve "Nature's social union."
On a more cheerful note, driving down Route 30 yesterday I saw a man mowing the verge...with a pair of Belgians.  Is there anything more gorgeous, majestic and at the same time strangely cuddly than those honey-colored giants with their blond manes and tails?

I'm sure the horse-drawn mower had sharp blades, but I hope it was slow enough to give the wee sleekit beasties time, if not to save their nests, at least to save their skins. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gifts Of The Gods

My son in law is so serious about wild mushrooms that he keeps a special mushroom-collecting net bag in the car at all times.  Imagine my joy and amazement last week when he came back from a walk in our woods with a batch of chanterelles.  Which, while they were still moist from the earth, he cleaned and chopped and sauteed with butter and garlic.  Added some cream, cooked some pasta, and served The Lunch Of The Gods.

A close second to the Divine Chanterelles are the ramps.  In early spring I found about an acre of them--well, way more than I could use--also in our woods.  They were delicate and oniony at the same time, a vegetable oxymoron.  I felt that I should harvest more of them, and freeze them, but never got around to it.  I think that, like many things in life, ramps work best as a fading memory.

On a more humble scale, I will mention lamb's quarters.  This is a weed (not to be confused with the adorable but inedible gray, fuzzy ornamental, lamb's ears) that I had pulled up from the vegetable garden for years and fed to the chickens along with crabgrass, dandelions, ground ivy and other pests.  I had noticed that the hens seemed to go right for it, and eat it before anything else.  Then an herbalist friend plucked a leaf and invited me to taste it.  It was mild and sweet and spinach-like, but somehow butterier and better than spinach.  This year I picked lamb's quarters right along with the spinach, and froze it for the winter.

Then there's Saint John's Wort, which appears in our fields punctually at the summer solstice (Saint John's Eve).  I harvest it just before the field is hayed, for a friend who soaks the delicate yellow blooms in brandy and shares the resulting tincture with me.  The Wort is supposed to be a powerful aid against weltschmerz and depression, which is no wonder, with all that brandy.

Another gift of the gods that abounds around here is ground ivy.  It is so ubiquitous as to almost be a curse of the gods.  It creeps over everything and would come into the house if I let it.  But herbalists tell me that a plant that comes to you in such a determined way is trying to help you, so I have looked up its uses, as follows:

"An excellent cooling beverage, known in the country as Gill Tea, is made from this plant, 1 OZ. of the herb being infused with a pint of boiling water, sweetened with honey, sugar or liquorice, and drunk when cool in wineglassful doses, three or four times a day. This used to be a favourite remedy with the poor for coughs of long standing, being much used in consumption. Ground Ivy was at one time one of the cries of London for making a tea to purify the blood. It is a wholesome drink and is still considered serviceable in pectoral complaints and in cases of weakness of the digestive organs, being stimulating and tonic, though it has long been discarded from the Materia Medica as an official plant, in favour of others of greater certainty of action. As a medicine useful in pulmonary complaints, where a tonic for the kidneys is required, it would appear to possess peculiar suitability, and is well adapted to all kidney complaints."

I don't know about my kidneys and lungs, but I can certainly use anything that is "stimulating and tonic," and who doesn't want purer blood? One of these days I'll pull up a bunch of this stuff, which is trying to choke out my precious blueberry bushes, and put it in a cup with boiling water and lots of honey.  And I'll let you know what I think.