Winter’s magic trick: pictures from four weeks ago and one from last week.
Is it too early to wish for spring?
Everyone have a good Thanksgiving.
X is for Xylocopa virginica
Sitting on the back stoop under the pergola lacing up my work boots and a cascade of sawdust drifts down over me. Looking up at the rafters, I spot a neat, symmetrical 3/8- inch hole. Similar holes are found throughout the barn and other outbuildings, all testament to the industry of the native pollinator the Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. A constant presence, the carpenter bee is busy across the farm, drilling holes to lay its eggs and raise its larvae.
The piles of sawdust are one indicator of its activity. Another is the high-pitched buzz emanating from a wooden post as I pound in a fence staple. Eventually the carpenter bee flies out to angrily confront the disturber of its domicile. But it virtually never stings and is a rather benign partner on our land, one whose work is admired and cascades of sawdust deplored
Reading this weekend: Vintage Pellegrini: the collected wisdom of an American Buongustaio by Angelo Pellegrini (the author of the wonderful The Food Lover’s Garden)
In Atlanta this past week, I had a quick conversation with a man in the elevator where we both remarked on the weather. A cold front had moved through that afternoon, dropping the temperature to an unseasonable low. He said, “This must be left over from that typhoon they’re talking about.” I replied that it was a cold front. And he allowed that that made sense.
The high school kid down the road was relating to me why she loved her favorite class, English literature. The students there were currently enjoying The Scarlet Letter. I was pleased she liked to read, so I asked her if she read ahead of the class and had finished the book. She looked puzzled. “No,” she replied, “the teacher only plays one chapter at a time.” No reading, just listening to a book on tape.
For me, the phrase “eating our seed corn” comes to mind. One of my favorites, it perfectly encapsulates the trajectory of the human race on this planet. Whether we’re talking about climate change, peak oil, destruction of agricultural land, depletion of fresh water, population overshoot or any of the other things that keep us awake at night, the phrase seems apt.
We are eating our seed corn, cannibalizing the future for a convenient present. No resource is too precious to warrant saving–not the intelligence and education of our children, not the arable land where they built a new Walmart; not the diminishing aquifer pumped out to frack a limited supply of shale oil or gas; not the soil under the clearcut forest on our neighbor’s property, where reseeding did not enter into the financial equation; not our planet when it is at odds with continued growth.
Someday, and I fear rather soon, we will go to the collective storehouse and find that our seed corn for next year’s crop was last night’s cornbread.
W is for Wild Turkey
Midnight skies, a flock of wild turkeys heard but not seen on the opposing ridge.
Bush hogging the back pasture I startle a flock as they graze, like flying basketballs they lift off with surprising speed and grace. Walking through the woods to feed the hogs and a rustling overhead draws my attention to a dozen roosting in a sycamore. Driving down Possum Trot and I brake suddenly to avoid a large hen and poults. They scurry to join their kin under an oak. Wild Turkeys are everywhere in our valley.
Now I’m walking one fine November day, a week before Thanksgiving, carrying a shotgun, and finding that our intended dinner has removed itself from the landscape.
These sounds at midnight confirm their canny reputation.
Reading this weekend: Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fischer, Julia Child, James Beard and the reinvention of American taste by Luke Barr. A book about a meeting between these foodies, think Bottle Shocked meets boeuf bourguignonne meets clam chowder.
There are plenty of days here that slip by without visitors, phone calls or trips off the farm. But yesterday was not one of those days. Rolling out of bed at 6 am, I fixed coffee and fired up the computer. One of my first tasks daily is to compile a to-do list: what needs to get done, what supplies or groceries are needed, and what we will have for dinner when I’m fixing (This is my list, after all). That task done, I dedicated an hour to reading (Still slogging through the history of debt), began preparing a brine to corn brisket and tongue for a dinner next Saturday, and did my critical stretching before tackling farm life for another day.
Then began the onslaught. Eighteen-year-old Shannon showed up promptly at 8:30 to work. Most Saturdays she helps with assorted chores—cleaning buckets, pulling weeds. I assigned her tasks and marked them off the list. Once I completed the livestock feeding, I took a cattle panel, pulled it into a circle and fastened the ends together. This would serve as a new compost bin for the next project.
About that time Craig showed up. He and I had corresponded about farming and mushroom foraging, and upon my invitation he had come out for a work day on the farm. (I think Aunt Polly still has a fence to be whitewashed, if any of you are interested.) We got started cleaning out a sheep stall, deep in soiled hay and manure. That hay went into the new compost bin.
As we were finishing, our neighbor from two valleys away, Tim, stopped by to drop off a borrowed item. An orchid grower himself, he was on his way to an orchid giveaway in Knoxville, and in a hurry. He hung out for half an hour before departing. Tim, although a native of Chicago, has taken to a slower life on the Tennessee farm he owns with his brother. He gets a ferocious amount of work done–but all in good time, my man.
Craig and I moved onto clearing a fenceline for a new sheep fence. The farm’s master plan calls for cross-fencing and predator-proofing the old barn pasture, about three acres. Clearing the brambles was the first important step. Figuring the tractor and the bush hog would speed the job, I went back up hill. Cindy was busy talking with Andrew and Amanda. Andrew conducted a pruning workshop last December and will repeat the exercise next month. They stayed for an hour or so.
I went back to help Craig with the fencing, but after just minutes, was summoned back up the hill to greet Whitey. A forestry professor with an avid interest in mushroom foraging, he had volunteered to lead a mushroom hunt here next weekend. Today was a chance to survey the woods in advance. I called Craig, who was diligently clearing fence rows in my absence, and sent him off into the woods with Whitey. They returned with a three-pound lion’s mane mushroom, a real prize for gourmets, and a pound or two of small puffballs. Meanwhile, Cindy was meeting with our roofer to discuss a chimney leak and I was grabbing lunch before the Baptists descended onto the farm.
The Baptists have caravanned from North Carolina every year for the past 7-8 years. They come to learn about farming for upcoming missionary trips. They are always polite and interested in our work and I look forward to their annual visit. Soon five vans and cars pulled into the barn area and unloaded an assortment of adults and children. Cindy went up to the house to bake hoagy buns for supper.
The next couple of hours were spent walking them over the farm. We covered the past successes and failures of the year. The tour is a standard bit, but it is nonetheless always exhausting. A couple of hours later, after Cindy and a guest finished exchanging bread recipes, we waved goodbye and headed to the house.
Cindy joined me for an early cup of coffee and we headed to town for much needed supplies and groceries. Back home Cindy finished baking her bread and then returned to the workshop. She is building a pine-and-poplar kitchen cupboard, doors on the bottom, glassed-in cabinets on top. I think I added some sugar to five gallons of muscadine wine and did little else until dinner.
We set our clocks back and fell asleep early.
V is for Vegetables
Even the most devoted carnivore needs a potato now and then. But for the rest of us our veggies are an endless source of pleasure. A thoughtful dish rewards the farmer for his or her hard work and celebrates the virtues of that plant. Eggplant parmesan, fried okra, crowders with garlic and dill, tomatoes in sauces or eaten raw in the garden on a hot summer day; these are few of our favorite ways.
In rows of beans and sprawling squash, with basketball sized cabbages and the pepper plant that never gave up, in the corn field or the potato hill, among the Brandywines and onion bulbs, you pause and give honor to that ancient rustic who first grew and harvested the dish that will grace your table tonight.
Reading this weekend: Debt: the first 5000 years by David Graeber.