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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Time and circumstance

[posted by risa]

We have about run out of grass clippings for the year, so I have started in on the Japanese knotweed. This dretful stuff was in possession when we got here -- there is no hope of our ever getting rid of it -- more persistent than quackgrass, morning glories or even bamboo, which it resembles somewhat. The shoots are edible, but barely -- Japanese knotweed is to bamboo as Pikeminnow is to rainbow trout -- and by the time I remember to check, it's already seven feet tall and advancing another foot or more across the land, like kudzu. The roots are only a little smaller than Volkswagens, and the stuff travels underground and can come up through concrete -- which is amazing, as the stems are, even in old growth mode, amazingly fragile.

The leaves shaped a bit like aspen leaves, are large and soft and popular with sheep, which we've had here, and chickens too. I'm cropping the entire stand section by section, setting aside the stems to dry -- thoroughly -- for beanpoles first and kindling later, and the masses of leaves for mulch and compost. This is safe to do if you get to them before they go to seed --otherwise, it would be a death knell for a garden.
A photo on Flickr
Beloved has continued planting, transplanting, weeding, and watering the garden, while I have been harvesting, composting, mulching, and watering the orchard. We contacted the firewood man, too, and when he said he might bring wood any time, we spent much of yesterday getting the woodshed ready for him, moving the last of last year's wood to the front porch and moving the straw bales -- eight jumbo three-twine monsters; two to the barn and six to the patio, where we arranged them like a bench facing the "dining" area. Lucky for us we did, as he brought and stacked his first load that afternoon. No one before has ever done our stacking for us, so I gave him my best choker cable, with a wire-rope loop at one end, a good twelve feet long.

Firewooders love chokers, which are extremely handy for snaking logs out of a pile. I warned him it had been through a fire and so was too rotten for real cat work, though good for his truck. He was puzzled that I knew that much about logging, but said "thank you, Ma'am" with real appreciation.

The temperature while all this was going on was approaching 97 F. To keep the house bearable -- we have no air conditioning, which at our age means we have to respect heat waves -- I tacked five tarps to the south and west sides of the house, making awnings of them by twining them to bricks set out into the poultry pasture, and built an attic fan with a salvaged squirrel cage blower attached to a piece of veneer with a hole cut into it. As the outside thermometer rose to 95, we were able to keep the inside registering a mere 78, by battening down the hatches, drawing air from underneath the house and pushing the hot air from the attic at the same time.

In this kind of heat, I find I can turn off the hot water heater, open one valve and close another, and get plenty of tolerably warm water (enough for a shower) direct from the solar collector. We could get it much hotter by putting in an outside shower, but we don't want to drain onto the ground so near the well, so that idea hasn't gone anywhere as yet.

Today we took the day off from homesteading, which was as well as we were both getting a little sore by this time, and headed for the mountains where we attended Meeting for Worship at the home of one of our friends there, followed by a potluck, and then to another friend's retirement party at a famous winery nearby.

This place, where the kitchen has been featured in a series on the Food Channel, hasA photo on Flickr hundreds of thousands of grape vines in thousands of rows across the hills. The main cluster of buildings is bigger than many European castles, and occupies the top of the highest hill for miles in every direction. We felt a little self-conscious here, or rather class-conscious -- Beloved remarked that, while most of our peer group was getting educations and careers, we were homesteading in the mountains and falling steadily behind -- getting by on a tenth of the income of most of our friends -- not losing them, for sure, but losing just a little bit of their respect -- some -- and vice versa, as our goals and ideals diverged from many of theirs over the decades. But it was good to see them all, and we certainly did not turn down the Pinot Gris and fabled food.

As the band played on, and the glasses clinked, a pall of rose-tinged murk fell across the trellised hills and, crossing the sun, bled it of light until all the windows below blazed orange. Smoke from the more than eight hundred fires raging in California had reached us, perhaps drawn north by the rare lightning storm that had crackled through in the night. Time to go home -- our home, for good or ill, till time and circumstance should pry us, like a good many to the south of us, from the land.

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