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Monday, December 31, 2007

The best of work

A photo on Flickr[posted by risa]

December thirty-first seems to be as good a day as any to practice living as I once did, and may yet again. The sun rose this morning -- a wonder in itself, after two months of dark rain and fog -- on a world white with hoar-frost, which remained all day in the shade; and I dressed for a bit of farm work. On the porch there were four pots of lavender which were getting root-bound, and I was determined they should not be frozen in their pots another night. Hardy as they are, it seemed heartless not to plant them. I have been making noises about going into lavender farming, as this is a crop that needs little if any irrigation, but Beloved, gazing on the land, does not see rows of lavender in her mind's eye as I do; she sees stock fences and geese and sheep, eating grass.

The pots are hers -- I'm not sure if they are a gift from a friend, or a purchase. I asked about putting them in the second long flower bed by the front walk, but it seems they should go by the house, under the southeast bedroom wall, between the lilacs. This bed, often neglected, has of late been home to a still-growing mass of parsley, some lamb's ears, hollyhocks, volunteer garlic, and money trees (we wish) and, increasingly, grass.

I brought out the spading fork and rooted about in the mess, separating the garlic bulbs from everything else and transplanting them to the border around the truck garden. The rest I dumped into the poultry yard, where it was greeted with joy by the Barred Rocks, who, being the most gregarious of the flock, often accept my offerings while all the others high-tail it to the other end of their yard, missing out on the bounty again, as they so often do, by their mistrust.

Then I got down the heavy tree-planting shovel, one of the few tools I've managed to retain from my tree-planting days. When I was younger, I worked in the woods, and some 325,000 trees' worth of habit reasserts itself when I set out things from pots. The shovel is held with the blade facing toward me, not away, and is chunked into the the earth an inch or two deeper than I mean the roots to go, then wedged away from me and pulled toward me, held by one hand and my shoulder, as the plant is held in my other hand and dandled into the suddenly-formed hole and tamped into place, before and behind, by the blade. It is a movement easily enough taught but not easily described, and is over in seconds.

Feeling too cold, by this time, to stay out, and wary of back trouble, I retired from farming in less than half an hour and took to housewifery.

While moving the garlic, I came across some red chard and beets, and brought in a mess of winter vegetables with which to make a rather Spartan lunch, which I do sometimes, by way of practice.

I cleaned the vegs and diced them up very small and set them in a saucepan on the woodstove to wilt. in very little time the water in the pan turned wine-red from the Detroit Red beets, and a garlicky aroma invaded the house.

While this impromptu stew was making, I brought out some red beans to soak for the morrow, and also set a pan with halves of an acorn squash and a butternut squash on the woodstove to simmer, for a dish with honey, raisins and walnuts for a potluck this evening. When the beet stew was done I had it for lunch, pouring off the red juice for a hot drink later, and peeled the squash and made up the dish, using much the same recipe as as I do for mashed sweet potato dishes of this kind. No one ever asks -- even those who hate squash -- what this is; they eat it all up and ask for more. The secret is to put in enough butter and brown sugar to make it smooth, and bake the dish, with the honey and walnuts on top, until the flavors blend.

Water from simmering the squash went into the bread machine, and formed the base for a five-grain bread for tomorrow that is rising by the stove. The skins and seeds went out to -- again -- the Barred Rocks, though certainly the other birds were invited.

I take pleasure in getting through a day of this kind without using the electric range and the microwave, though I know well what a difficult life I would have if I could not possess them.

It is now about the three in the afternoon of the last day of 2007. I pour myself a hot "toddy" of beet-juice and take up a book I've been reading, It caught my eye while cruising the stacks of the library where I work: Countryside Mood, a hodge-podge but vivid collection of essays aimed at instilling an agrarian patriotic fervor in the British forces in 1942.
Did God give Britons their soil, the finest in all the world, to use and develop or to waste if that suits the pockets of the financiers? Britain's growing arable acreage could provide life-work for hundreds of thousands of families, and a life-work calling for all that the best of work does offer -- craftsmanship, character, and courage." -- Peter Howard
The sun slants across the back of Stony Run. The lavender is already in shade. I wait for Beloved to pull into the garage, home from a day's earning of wages.

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