rolls up this valley, thick and sweet, morning mists creating islands
of the hills and silhouettes of the trees in the cow path immediately
before my eyes. I sit, early mornings, on the wing chair that was
carved out of a dead elm in the south pasture, next to the great stone
wall beside the road. The dogs come with me and splash in the tiny pond
filled in by the drainage ditch, immediately behind my “chair”. The
mist changes the landscape mysteriously from one moment to the next. It
is the silent time for me. I watch as my world becomes a different one
and then a different one again. Most amazing to me is how mistaken I am
to believe anything here on this farm, this farm that I rarely leave
is, in fact, truly familiar. A tree, glanced at from time to time,
appreciated, of course, in all seasons, becomes a new here-to-for
unseen thing, stark and beautiful against the thick white moving
backdrop behind it. Sometimes, the morning is simply fresh and clean
and sparkling. No mystery there. All familiar. Safe. Obvious. But even
that becomes mysterious because I know that the following morning may
bring a completely different perspective. It is I who seem to not
change. I like my coffee very hot which takes some doing, bringing a
full steaming cup all the way from the house to the south pasture. I
like my dogs “with me” and shout to them to come. Usually I like to
wear shoes, but when I can’t find them quickly enough I rush down the
road to the little green gate opening onto the pasture barefoot. I like
to be very silent inside myself when sitting watching the day unfold
before my eyes. Those things have not changed. Yet.
Some mornings, of late, September, I wake with the word “no” running across my mind. I don’t really want it to be September. Not yet. It is too soon. I’m not ready for it. And yet a modicum of ready occurs everyday. In tiny increments. Noticeable but too tiny to be satisfying. It is expected to rain for the next few days. I am both a farmer and the farm’s housewife. Therefore I am both heartsick at the rain and happy that it is to rain. The hay. The hay. The hay. Of course. Always the hay. Make hay while the sun shines. Not that I am the one making the hay. However, I am the one buying it, helping to stack it, feeding it out. Two thousand bales. But out of doors demands have the loudest voices when it isn’t raining. The indoor necessities have a way of being put aside when it is sunny outside. I am making, for one thing, cheese making as the other, floor painting, organizing my winter clothes, and in all ways both dealing with the present and preparing for the future. It is that preparedness that can affect how I live here and manage the farm this winter. And so the threat of rain presents its own confusion. Am I more apprehensive than ever or less?
The front apartment has been under renovation for some time now. However, recently a proficient and kind clerk-of-the-works has emerged from my life and suddenly a crew has been assembled with clear orders and proficient supervision. In short order the shambles that had been now looks like an apartment, a lovely apartment that only requires a reasonable amount of work. No apologies needed when I am to show it to prospective renters. I can almost say, to myself, at least, that I can see what it shall become and it pleases me. The transformation from a beautiful part of the house being ruined into becoming even nicer than it was is a miracle. And it is the miracle worker who has done it. And now for the missing story.
The gooseberries and currants both red and black are astonishing this year. I’ve never seen anything like it. The old gooseberry bushes that I thought two years ago were near death are laden heavily. Enough to make the branches drop to the ground. If I have the ambition, I’ll clear, once more, the dirt around them and root some of the branches that have bent themselves to the earth. New bushes. A future. The spring rains contributed to this most welcome abundance, however I do think the heavy applications of manure over the past couple of years are doing their work. Most of the bushes have had a five gallon bucket of well rotted manure spread around them at least two if not three years in a row. Ribes are quite shallowly rooted and a normal amount of moisture from snow and rain is enough to wash the goodness of the compost in well.
I’ve wanted to sell black currants for quite some time. Their yield this season was even more astonishing than the gooseberries. It has taken quite some time for me to learn how to manage the ribe family. Several bushes I bought some years ago from one source grew erratically. In other words, two didn’t grow at all, didn’t die either, but remained only about a foot high almost hidden, when I didn’t weed, by the tall grass that love the abundance of manure in which that group was planted. I nearly gave up on them when suddenly I was rewarded after circling them with the waste from the goat barn, for a couple of years. Big, bushy, and prolific!
Pruning has never been my thing and I’ve never quite understood how to do it. Oh, my little intense, fifteen dollar ribes book does show how they should be trimmed. Each year. But I’m never confident that I’ve done the right thing. So I don’t. One of this year’s reward. Some of those old branches that probably should have shown up in the firewood bucket are most heavily laden. And those are also the ones I shall pin to the ground, put a stone and some dirt on the juncture (I chose a spot on the branch that has a leaf node) and root for next year’s bushes. Things were too busy here for me to try to sell any berries this year but I did approach Annuto’s who bought a few quarts “just to see”, how they went. If there is an abundance next year like this year I’ll make more of an effort to sell them.
After a last season that produced no apples whatsoever the Saps-of-wine and the Fameuse Snow Apple my mother bought me the year I moved here are also heavily laden. July usually produces a show on my double Pound Sweet tree. It is comprised of two that have grown together at their bases. They always are the first apple of the year. My son’s favorite for pie. My favorite for applesauce. They are faintly lemon flavored and produce a fluffy applesauce that I sometimes cook with butter. But my mother’s trees produce the best eating apples on the farm and have never developed this well so early in the year. I am glad to have the root cellar.
I stand at the edge of August. My favorite month. And am beset with misgivings. The sheep have never looked better. Some seem to be bagging, although that is hard to believe. And three look fat enough to be pregnant. Although, that is also hard to believe. My two young rams seem interested in breeding the ewes but I haven’t seen the rams cover anyone as yet. The chickens are laying prolifically although three in the portable coop are molting. The goldenrod by the road is almost in bloom. And that gave me a moment of fear. Winter shall be upon us. August is a month for me to put up food. My daughter sent me green walnuts today to make green walnut liquor. Something very nice to sip by the fire, November afternoons. I’ve already frozen twenty quarts of black currants and made both jam and liquor. The two worst winters of my life have just passed. Their shadow lingers on. All I can think is I don’t want to live through anything like that again. I can’t. I can’t.
I do best here with the details rather than accomplishing big things all at once. A row of little miniature farm animal figurines are lined up on three of the window sashes in the dining room where I now sit. A rocking chair that has suffered terribly but can be revived sits in front of me. I am tempted sorely to jump up and scrub it down to be stained and varnished once more. It is not on the list. Nor were the toy animals now lined up, cows, a bear, two geese, some goats, on the middle bar of the windows. But it always seems that the big things shout the loudest at me. Demand, Reproach. And never descend to trying to entice or cajole. Not that I’d listen. Sometimes I have a day I call a lost day during which it is apparent that I won’t get anything that is serious done, except the bare minimum from my farm. And so on those days I choose to do something, anything that is not necessarily on the list, but that will be interpreted as an accomplishment later. Sometimes I’ll say I’m so glad I did that. Such as repotting the sage I bought, overcrowded, jammed in a plastic container in a super market. And so, the now three pots of that pretty green plant sit lined up on a window sill in the dining room. And going out on the road to admire the effort of painting still one more gate in the south pasture. Somehow that took me to the portable chicken coop and then to the cow path to see if there are choke cherries yet. There are! Somehow I’ve learned to carry freezer bags in a pocket. This size tree has more than enough to last me all winter. Chokecherry syrup. The birds got to the pin cherries before they even thought of opening. I need them with which to make wild cherry cough syrup, but the tree is far too tall for me to consider netting. Some of the eighty or so cookbooks I own have very old recipes for putting up food for the winter. Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, and Florence White come to mind, representing England, and Madeleine Kamman accompanied by Elizabeth David once more, represents France. One or another of them recommended using green apples as a source of pectin. I’m going to try it with the sumac that is being picked for me today. I’ve never made the famous elderberry and sumac jelly, preferring jams to jellies; however, today’s effort shall star the sumac. I’ve also a recipe for hot red pepper jelly. That may suit my son for an early Autumn gift.
Wild thyme has moved up the valley in abundance. It was only three or four years ago that I discovered one circular patch of it in Sheep Meadow across the brook. It has now crossed the brook to inhabit, lightly, but it is making its presence known, two more pastures. I love the smell. It reminds me of France for some reason I don’t understand, never having been in France in the summer, only late autumn, winter and early spring. Camomile is also making its presence felt under foot. Bunches are drying in the dining room, hanging from some nails on a very pretty molding that someone, long before me hung. Jars of green walnut liquor and pickled cherries still line up on some shelves I had built there. Last year’s work. Neither time nor inclination invited the jars to be opened last winter. Their contents are still edible. Perhaps they shall be served this year.
The gold finches are singing. They fly with grace and dispatch around the magenta thistles that are infiltrating the pastures. They use the down from the faded flowers to line their nests. I remember the first time one of those thistles appeared on my hillside. I wanted to pick it, pinchers and all, to take to the house. The magenta of its color has always pleased my eye. They are now everywhere. In the beginning I took a hoe to them, mornings, a package of salt in my pocket to sprinkle on their stems. Eventually I realized some of the sheep loved eating their spiney buds. Just as some of us like hot pepper or ginger. And in September, when they have shriveled into brown stems, clover has grown up at their base. A special treat, thick and lush, for the sheep. Needless to say I don’t kill them any more.
Gradually I am remembering once more why I came here. At the same time there is a tiny little voice telling me to leave. Fat sheep are grazing in the pasture. They have never looked so good at this time of year. There shall be hay this autumn and already is a clean barn.
The goats look good as well. One is fat enough to give the impression she is bred. Two, perhaps three sheep are bagging, bringing a possibility of August lambs. The Cochins now are laying nine eggs a day from ten pullets. The pasture chickens are doing well enough, however, shall be thinned out this week. The Aracanuas are leaving. There is wood in the wood room to carry me to the first of the year. Unlike last year, the year of the empty wood room and wet wood arriving in sheer desperation, on the part of the seller and customer.
Until the next time.
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