Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lady of the place

The potato-patch-to-be[posted by risa]

I started my weekend by getting into overalls and an old wide-brimmed hat. I put my hair, which is well over two feet long, up into a ponytail and did without earrings and makeup for the time being. My feet I put into clodhoppers cut down from old rubber boots.

Olga! Wooga wooga.

I made and carried about eleven mower bags of grass clippings into the circle garden and spread that around, then gathered up a few tools and a ladder and headed out to the barn to reroof where yet another windstorm had ripped the roll roofing loose. One waits until the temperature is above sixty (F.) to do this, and the roofing had hung there for a couple of weeks, with Beloved dodging around it get inside and collect eggs. Now the roofing had softened in the rare but welcome sunshine, and I set the ladder against the barn and climbed up. I set the tools out of the way, and pulled up the errant section.

This stuff is called 90 lb. felt for a reason, as a roll of it, which doesn't go very far, weighs just that. I'm much less strong than when I was, ostensibly, that other person, so there was quite a bit of huffing to get it all onto the shed roof, but it came along graciously enough -- i.e., all in one piece. Getting it down to the roof edge from which it had blown took a good deal more effort than hauling it up, as it turned out, because I could not take the ladder around and pull, which would have been the thing to do -- the chicken run is roofed over with poultry netting, up to and even with and tacked onto the barn roof -- and prevents that. And walking backwards onto the stuff would result in a dismal scene. So I had to kneel, in the heat, and push, encourage and cajole the roll roofing into place, then tuck it under the next course above it before nailing down.

Besides the nails, which had failed, I chose this time to also put in two- inch screws every three nails, using a Phillips-head bit fastened into a brace-and-bit. This tool has been in the family for a good sixty years, is precision-machined, with a chuck that rotates in the hand to lock up the bit, and large and comfortable freely-rotating Bakelite handles. This brace has been sometimes abused with weather and it has never rusted. You couldn't get one of these now, for any kind of money, I should think. It sinks speed screws almost as fast as a power drill, but without all the noise, and is one of our most prized possessions.

Looking over my work, I wasn't satisfied. This roof is always the one that catches the worst of what the winds have in mind. So I concluded to climb down and go get some one-by fours to bolt down at intervals, perpendicular to the troubled edge.

I leisurely backed down the ladder into the farmyard, with Barred Rocks running to me from all the corners for a chance to peck at the paint spots on my trouser legs, and turned around. There, not twenty feet away, stood a heavy-set young man, mustachioed and t-shirted, with his mouth flapping.

A woman alone for the day on a country place does not expect unheralded intrusions of this kind, and I checked my hip pocket first to see that I had unfettered access to my equalizing device, which I did. I then realized that the mouth-flapping meant that I had turned off my hearing aid, probably in response to my own hammering. So I reached up and switched my ears on.

The young man stopped talking for a moment, and covered his mouth in embarrassment.

"I'm so, so sorry, ma'am, I thought .. I called you 'sir' as you came down the ladder, but now I see my mistake."

"That's all right; roofing can be kind of awkward to do in a dress. Can I help you with something?" I moved toward the front of the house, where our current woodpile is, and he accompanied me, presumably in the direction of his vehicle. There it sat in the shade, with a passenger, another young man, this one with a walrus mustache, in the shotgun seat, who waved companionably. The back of the pickup truck was clearly a cooler unit, and was emblazoned with the name of a local meat locker outfit.

"I sure am sorry, ma'am, and that's a fact. Well, we ... uh, we just made a delivery to your neighbor across the street, and we, we wondered if you'd like to buy any meats -- we got beef, lamb, chicken ... " He looked back at the Barred Rocks, who were lined up along the fence, straining to hear every word. "Umm, I guess you got chicken."

"They are all layers. Good ones, too. But we have, in the freezer, mostly goose."

"Oh. wow, goose. Well, uh, maybe some good fresh beef, whaddya think?"

"I think that I like good fresh beef, but the freezer is full. Thank you so much for stopping by."

True about the freezer. Well, it's mostly fruit and vegs, but our geese, Sylvia, Susannah, and Sylvester, had turned out to be Silvio, Susannah, and Sylvester, and we do discriminate against extra boys in the farmyard. So we are down to Susannah and Sylvester, and some pretty good roast goose. Much quieter now, too.


Poor fellas!

I know that I present with mixed signals when my guard is down. One does. They had, presumably, seen me in the distance, and attempted an impromptu cold call. Men with something to sell, who are at all mannerly, as these pretty much were, are more apt to walk right up into a farmyard, two hundred feet from the street, when they see whom they believe to be the man of the place pottering about, and say hello from about thirty feet away, where they might never attempt such a thing if they see, from that distance, that it is the lady of the place. Hence their confusion. They had committed what could have been interpreted as a serious faux pas, and both apologized several more times before they drove away.

Gee, kind of sweet. I had had no idea I could pass in overalls, farm boots, and a man's hat! Such is the power of body shape, for mine, once I had turned around, was clearly not that of any man.

Made my day, anyway.

Which was a good thing, as the very next thing I did after roofing was to round the corner of the house and discover that the hose between the solar water heater and the house could not take the heat from a sixty degree day. The polyethylene outer sheath had swollen in several places, and water had forced its way through the woven inner sheath and burst the polyethylene in one spot, hosing down the house with hot water for I don't know how long. I swiftly shut down the spigot on the hot water tank (hot hot, HOT!) -- and reflected on how prone to error is this business of lowest-of-the-low-budget plumbing.

Having nothing on hand with which to carry out a better scheme, I went back to making and carrying loads of grass clippings, this time to the new potato patch...


Monday, April 14, 2008

Nesting songs

[posted by risa]

I was at a conference, and was asked about my hearing. "Did you lose it all at once, or gradually?"

Neither. I lost about half of my hearing all at once, when I was maybe eighteen months old.

Then half of the remaining half, or all of the hearing in my left ear, during a catastrophic illness back in the nineties.

I was explaining how that involved a strep infection, and my new friend said, "two decades ago, I lost a newborn to strep."

That brought a halt to the conversation. Feeling for her, my eyes filled with tears, then hers did, then we just openly wept with our arms round each other's shoulders, as passersby milled around us.

I told her about Benjamin.

Beloved had a couple of very late-term miscarriages in about 1983, when we lived in an area that was being sprayed by the Forest Service with 2,4,5-T herbicide, the spray schedule of which was later shown to exactly correlate with steep increases in miscarriages among farm families and their livestock in our valley.

There was, as was happening to others up and down the valley, a completely unexpected labor.

We lived seventy miles from the nearest hospital, around many hairpin curves between steep mountain walls, and when we got there, Benjamin, who would have been a little too young to have been a viable preemie anyway, had already died. We took it hard -- but, the hospital being a small-town one in logging and commercial fishing country, had more relaxed rules about these things than the big-city hospitals do, and allowed us to take him home with us in the morning --

-- which helped a lot, actually.

I walked a very exhausted Beloved into the house, the one that we had built with our own hands, and put her to bed, and then brought in the little kidney-shaped plastic dish, with its green towel folded over the tiny, and very still, pink form. We uncovered Benjamin and sat with him between us on the bedcovers.

He had all his fingers and toes, and his boy parts, and his eyes were closed.

I covered him again and went out and buried him by the side of the front steps, near the little apple tree, and went to bed, as the sun rose and the mountain birds set up their nesting songs all round.


One doesn't think about these things so much, and then someone says something, and -- boom -- there it all is again, and hurts about as much as it did the first time.

And this morning Beloved and I talked about this, and we both think -- it helps to understand a hurt or a loss if you have had that same hurt or loss, or a close analogue. So that the best nurses, sometimes, are people who have been very sick (and recovered!), and counselors who have been through a loss may make the best bereavement counselors, and teachers who struggled with math are sometimes the right people to teach remedial math, and so on.

Last Son, who was conceived not long after we lost Benjamin, did make it into the world, but it seems likely that the contamination issues were still present. He had six serious birth defects, two of them life-threatening, and has to contend with Asperger's syndrome as well. He handles his circumstances with immense grace and dignity, and does not concern himself with the might-have-been.

"I am who I am," he says. "I'm not less than someone else, just all of me. How is that different for anybody?"

He volunteers at a commercial-scale nonprofit food-bank garden, and his supervisor had this to say about him in a recent recommendation:
A strong team player, [he] works well in both large and small groups. He is able to remain relaxed and composed, lending a sense of stability and calm to situations of high intensity and commotion. He is at ease with the huge diversity of volunteers who come to the Garden. Having incredibly strong interpersonal skills, he is comfortable working with everyone from preschool and elementary aged children, to special needs adults, high school and college aged students and retirees. He treats everyone with the utmost compassion and respect.
She notes particularly his rapport with those with "special needs." Many have acquired a sense of shame from the way others see or treat them -- as being something "less than" others. He teaches, by example, that there is no need to accept that burden. You want to handle a shovel? Here's how. These are weeds. Those aren't. The lettuces and fruit trees have their own clock, and all of us, however "slow," that wish to have a hand in this work will find that the garden has time for us.

Having a quiet young man around who is about the garden and not about limitations is a real help.

... that's nice to know. I won't pretend raising him was easy, though.


I'm glad I could relate to my friend's sorrow. One may wish that one hadn't had to acquire the qualifications through like pain, but there it is. Life is to be lived, and death is a part of it, and if corporate greed hadn't been a factor, perhaps something else might have. Being born with Aspergers sometimes builds character, just as lifelong deafness does. Another friend once said, "I'm not the Blind, I'm a person who experiences the world in specific ways, and sight doesn't happen to be one of them." It's nice when circumstances can be played as strengths.

After the conference, a member of my organization checked on me. "Were you okay in there?"


In a manner of speaking.


Monday, April 07, 2008

The best way

Sharon Astyk says:

"I garden for food, but also, I garden because it is the best way into myself that I know of."

Ready to resume

A photo on Flickr[posted by risa]

Though I found the weather uncooperative for much outdoor stuff, I did manage to build a cold frame on Saturday for the bok choi and heirloom tomato babies, and then moved into the potting shed to straighten up. After a couple of hours of shifting stuff left and right, I found that some of the bricks in the floor, which I had set over a decade ago (with the help of Grinin, who was just seven at the time), were tilted, so I pulled them up and discovered a maze which I dubbed the "Ratacombs."
A photo on Flickr
These rats had been given ample discouragement and were no longer at home, so I uncovered the whole thing, packed recycled gypsum board into the tunnels, and relaid the floor. We are now officially ready to resume indoor gardening!

Sunday, I painted the mudroom white, with a red trompe l'œil wainscoting -- it doesn't sound like that much work, but the rough-sawn boards absorbed a lot of paint, and the job took ten hours. I'm a bit wiped today, but seeing the improved lighting in there this morning was worth it!