Monday, April 26, 2010

Not in my lifetime

So, Risa's kitchen floor -- which was a horror to look upon, when the family moved in, in 1993 -- got, at the time, the same treatment as the dining room floor, with a difference.

There were no asphalt tiles, broken or otherwise, and no holes where roof leaks had swollen and burst chipboard underlayment, as in the dining room. But there was an unsightly black, green and yellow linoleum that looked as if it had been there since the house was put up (owner built) in 1949.

In places the linoleum was worn halfway through to the wood (not chipboard) flooring beneath. If Risa were young, spry, and full of boundless energy, she might have tried cutting up and disposing of the linoleum, and come up with a treatment for the wood. But the stuff had been glued down very, very thoroughly. Another layer, in colors we could stand, might be what to do -- but money was in short supply, having been scraped and scrounged for the down payment.

So she painted the whole thing white, lined it off in squares with a pencil and straight edge, and painted brick-red tiles over the white, covering the whole thing with two coats of satin polyurethane. (We have a thing for white with brick red and forest green trim. Our kids' friends called it "the Christmas House.")

Seventeen years later, it was obvious that thousand of steps, and the occasional dragging about of tables and stoves, had had their way with the paint job.

Time to renew. With a small brush, Risa traced over the white "mortar" ...

...switched to a larger brush to cover the red "tiles" ...

... then sealed with high gloss poly.

Not too bad.

"Think we'll be doing this floor again?"

"Probably not in my lifetime. Yours, maybe."

You don't need to wax over a urethane-finished floor. To remove dirt and stains, simply clean the floor regularly with a mop dipped in a solution of one cup of white vinegar and ten quarts of water. If your floor is particularly dirty, increase the amount of vinegar. Earl Proulx, Yankee Home Hints

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Separate but equal

Washing eggs, washing eggs, washing eggs. Ahh ... Spring

Risa has been home alone for a few days, and much of her effort has gone into the poultry. The Americaunas have been released from their pen and are anxious to explore the world, which the Rhode Island Reds are determined they shall not do. Teenagers, especially in lots of eight with a mis-sexed little rooster-man among them, are not much appreciated in the world of an established flock. Add to this the changed layout of the pastures, by means of which the Khaki Campbells and the geese can reach the grass that has, all winter, been the exclusive domain of the chickens, and you have -- Risa the Traffic Cop, with an eye on the corner girls. Hey! Behave over there!

She has taken down the grow tunnel and stashed away its parts, and re-potted all the green things -- lettuce, kale, collards, cauliflowers, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and such -- that were still in the flats. These are now back in the potting shed. Last night there was what might be the last frost. But she's not betting on it.

Today, she hopes to re-paint the kitchen floor, where eighteen years of meal prep has worn through the sealant to the original linoleum at last. The cat will have an issue with all that, so the food bowl is going out onto the porch -- where the scrub jay will get the lion's share of it. As this jay is also becoming more and more fond of taking a sip from each fresh duck egg he spies, Risa is visualizing scrub jay pie.

After the floor has been sealed, she'll cut a new countertop for the kitchen work table, stain it to match, and seal it as well. Tonight she expects to sleep in the "writer's cabin" and let a small fan clear the house for a day or so.

Weather permitting, next she'll go mowing and mulching, and maybe have a picnic on the front porch. Separate but equal food bowls, Cat; yours is over there.

When spring comes and you are gathering eggs by the kettleful don't forget to preserve some of them. But you can still enjoy your bounty. You can have scrambled eggs for lunch as well as breakfast, make deviled eggs, French toast, crepes suzettes, eggnogs, ice cream and keep a bowl of plain old hard-boiled eggs on hand for snacking, packed lunches and potato salad. Homegrown eggs make better home-made mayonnaise than store eggs. They make good leavened-with-egg batters. -- Carla Emery, Old Fashioned Recipe Book

Friday, April 23, 2010

They weren't the Kalapooyas

Risa's volunteer work at the nearby greenway serendipitously coincided with the needs of a group of young people looking for something to do for Earth Day. They would cut and strip English ivy from desirable mature trees, pull Scotch broom out by the roots with weed wrenches, and plant Ponderosa pines and white oaks, under the benevolent eye of the park wrangler... umm, ranger.

There are three contiguous parcels along the river here -- adding up to a two mile strip of park, including all of the mountain in the distance. Except for the west side of the mountain, which includes an arboretum and miles of carefully tended trails, there is almost no development.

A bush-hog had mown through the blackberry and Scotch broom thickets that blanketed the area for decades. These will come back, unfortunately, but at least the Scotch broom can be weed-wrenched prior to tree planting.

The trees will be flagged so that repeat mowings will hopefully get the blackberries but not the trees. According to the park system's data, this was all oak openings, with some Ponderosa pine, as maintained by the Kalapooya Indians with an occasional application of fire. The aim is to return the site to something like that condition.

Some of the park, nearest the parking lot area, won't get this treatment, as it has a different kind of "Historic Site" potential. There were clearly a house and barn, possibly as early as the nineteenth century. There are walnuts, black walnuts, filberts, apples, cascara, flowering quince, lilacs, and periwinkles all around the holes and mounds where the house and barn must have been.

The ranger's not sure who was here at the time; Risa may be able to go look it up, having once been a Government Documents clerk. Whoever they were, she's pretty sure they weren't the Kalapooyas.

Have you done any volunteer work this spring? How did it go?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dandelion seeds

Risa looks outside to see how her day is going to go. Good thing the kiwi vines were planted yesterday! There's little today in the way of sunshine, but if you like fog, wind, rain, and rattling windowpanes, well, she's right where you want to be.

So it must be, among other things, bake day. The fire is going to be kept going anyway, which means there will be a warming shelf for the yeast liquids and then the dough, and tea water for breaks. She can do dishes and sweep and pick up stuff during the breaks, with enough time in the interstices to run back and forth to the record player, which has no changer, and manually flip to Side Three, Side Four, and so on.

This week, the music is provided by Tom Glazer and friends, a collection of songs on twelve or so sides of wax, with a spoken introduction to each song: America's Musical Heritage. True love dies during the Tennessee Waltz, and the miners and the Union Maid fight on while the last dregs of winter drip from Stony Run's eaves and the yeast rises.

The entire collection cost fifty cents at a library sale, and there's not a scratch on it.

Poor reader! Risa's retired, she can live like this, whereas you must slog to the office, day in and day out, and ... but wait! there are some interesting economic aspects to this housewifing thing -- for househusbands, too, for that matter.

John Michael Greer, a respected futurist blogger, has posted on the resurgence of the informal economy in the "developed" world.
What would you say, dear reader, if I told you that I’ve come up with a way to eliminate unemployment in the United States – yes, even in the face of the current economic mess? What if I explained that it would also improve the effective standard of living of many American families and decrease their income tax burdens? And that it would also increase our economic resilience and sustainability, and simultaneously cause a significant decrease in the amount of automobile traffic on America’s streets and highways? Would you be all for it?

No, dear reader, you wouldn’t. Permit me to explain why.
He's talking, of course, about a return to -- oh, noes! -- the single income family.
I personally know quite a few families for whom the cost of paid child care and one partner’s costs for commuting, business clothes, and all the other expenses of employment, approaches or even exceeds the take-home pay of one partner.
He goes on to discuss: 1. The disdain of economists for the household economy; 2. The carefully constructed displacement of the household economy by corporatist-sponsored consumerism, from gadgets to adult-targeted toys to pre-packaged foods; 3. The ability of grandparents and other relatives to fit into a household economy instead of "being paid to go away and die"; 4. The rise in gender politics of the co-optation of the women's movement by corporatist-sponsored standards of self-worth, exemplified by the "career"; 5. Benefits to children restored to a family setting, to say nothing of reduced costs in child care, clothing, transportation, lower taxes...; and 6. Benefits to society from reduced competition for jobs and improved wages, reduced traffic congestion, and lower per capita production of trash, pollutants, and greenhouse gases.

He also notes the considerable resistance we are all apt to offer to a return to single-outside-income culture; aside from our suspicion that simplifying leads to a loss of "status," we've, many of us, forgotten how to do it!

During the previous great depression, the cities failed millions of workers, as they have this time round, but a very high proportion of them were only one generation away from the farm -- there was still a "home place" to go to, and work available to do when they got there, because small farms were yet numerous and on a small farm a family or community can concentrate, when and if necessary, on subsistence. Most also still knew how to do such work upon arrival.

The household economy of which we are here speaking is not the balancing of the checkbook after buying a Wii or iPad or motorboat, but the production of dinner from scratch, or even from the garden, small orchard, flock, or herd; the assembling of an apron from fabric and thread; "do-it-yourself" construction and maintenance of home and outbuildings; production of tools or other items for home use or as gifts, barter or trade; home nursing, home child-rearing, home education, home entertainment -- meaning taking up a musical instrument, perhaps, or jumping rope with friends and siblings.

Greer's essay has been widely noticed, and responses are coming in. Sharon Astyk, a feminist microfarmer, observes:
...the women's movement has yet to fully come to terms with the degree to which modern feminism's view of the world, goals and objectives has been shaped by a cheap energy, deeply corporatized society.
Thus locking ourselves into a project that cannot be sustained:
...the very fact that in order to use more energy we have to have more industrial consumers is significant - because we are running bang against the material limits worldwide of more than just oil and gas and coal - we're hitting the end of vast new worker populations to feed that growth.
Homemakers, of the world, unite! Perhaps we have nothing to lose but our corporatism. For it is from there that we will be told that our shift to an informal economy is backward-looking, anti-progress and anti-feminist to boot. An objection frequently raised is that a subsistence/artisanal world will create more suffering: think of modern medicine, which requires a vast industrial apparatus.

Risa knows that; she's only here because of a series of hospitalizations and surgeries totaling more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in costs to insurers, bringing science and techniques to bear that cost perhaps millions to develop. But, see, no one lives forever, and some live but a little or not at all, in spite of all our efforts. And searing pain is a given for some, if not most. That's not tragic, that's the course of nature. She knows well enough the world could have got on without her.

Over against this there is the much larger-scale suffering and death made possible and perhaps unavoidable by modernity. In the matter of warfare alone, we have machine guns, land mines, cruise missiles, cluster bombs, phosphorus, napalm, anthrax, mustard gas, killer drones and robot tanks -- not for defense, which is every creature's prerogative, but for the enforcement of the interests of elites, whether ostensibly socialist/communist, or capitalist/oligarchist.

Modernity's unkindly legacy concentrates wealth into the hands of three percent of the population not merely by force, but also by smarmy cajolery and smirking chicanery, with hundreds of thousands of industry lobbyists, lawyers, advertising executives and even "journalists" solicitously watching over the movement of oils, metals, factory-farmed flesh, patented seeds, the very water we drink, into and through the lives of "consumers" and on to what is called the "waste stream," diverting every household's productivity into the already gorged pockets of Wall Street's financial-instrument barons -- where it has been known to vanish in an instant, while the poisonous by-products, unleashed upon the air, waters, soils and living things, remain.

Our compensation for this abdication from producing, say, applesauce for ourselves and our neighbors, rather than dollars for the distant rich, is to get to run out and buy the latest T.V. and watch "American Idol" in pixels by the millions.

The good things are not the industrially conceived, created, advertised and distantly shipped goods from whence our great oceanic clouds of plastic particles originate.

The good things are: our short time here spent upon care for our families and friends, kindliness toward neighbors and strangers, enough to eat and drink, sufficient clothing and shelter, and a chance to appreciate beauty in our surroundings.

These are things we can do and make, or learn to make and do, ourselves. If that's "turning the clock back," then let us set about it.

Risa is, as she cheerfully admits, a fan of the "Little House" series of books by Laura Wilder, no romantic but a veteran pioneer woman and practical farmer who learned to write well but also carried a revolver in her apron pocket. She knew the risks and heartbreak of a life beyond the comfortable reach of the great cities; had seen an entire town nearly starve to death, had watched a sibling die and another go blind, lost a child of her own and watched her house burn down. Yet she thought a land rich in proportion to the number of five-acre farms it could support, for on five acres a family could be independent and self-respecting and not go hungry, yet know and rely upon neighbors and have a social life.

Yes, her books chronicle what was, for her, a vanishing way of life -- but she shows the good vanishing with the bad, when we might have done better to retain what of it was the good. And she knew which was which.


Enough for now. The dough's risen and the tea is ready. Sit with Risa at the table awhile; she'll be up and kneading soon and she wants to sip by the window; there are goldfinches out there in the rain and they are eating dandelion seeds.

Almanzo asked Father why he did not hire the machine that did the threshing. Three men had brought it into the country last fall, and Father had gone to see it. It would thresh a man's whole grain crop in a few days.

"That's a lazy man's way to thresh," Father said. "Haste makes waste, but a lazy man'd rather get his work done fast than do it himself. That machine chews up the straw till it's not fit to feed stock, and it scatters grain around and wastes it.

"All it saves is time, son. And what good is time, with nothing to do? You want to sit and twiddle with your thumbs, all these stormy winter days?"

"No!" said Almanzo. He had had enough of that, on Sundays.

They spread the wheat two or three inches thick on the floor. Then they faced each other, and they took the handles of their flails in both hands; they swung the flails above their heads and brought them down on the wheat.

-- Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

As she finds them

So now begins the half of the year when Risa is more prone to think of wilted salads, of a sort, as her main menu.

She ventures forth with scissors and roams about in the sunshine, seeing what's old enough to give up a few leaves or stalks to her project: today, for example, kale, dandelion greens, fava bean leaves, chives, a small Egyptian onion, a leaf of turnip greens, a young elephant garlic, a few spearmint leaves. She sees that some bok choi, spinach and a few other things might appear in next week's efforts, but for now passes them by.

Back in the kitchen, she takes up a Yukon Gold potato from last year's crop, cubes it, and pops it in the steamer in a bowl. Dices the onion bulb and the garlic bulb and stem, and adds these to the bowl when the potatoes are soft. After another couple of minutes she adds dehydrated tomato slices, also from last year's garden, and a little later shreds the greens and pops them in, stirring everything a bit with a long chopstick.

When she deems the greens almost sufficiently wilted, she takes the bowl out of the steamer, and dices a peeled hard-boiled duck egg into the mix, adds a little blackened seasoning, salt, oil and vinegar to taste, and heads for a lawn chair by the outside table, with bowl, a pair of chopsticks, and a glass of water with a sprig of mint in it. Later in the year, a book, and in place of the water, home brew.

One can run an infinite number of variations on this theme. For Risa, the constant is the egg, like the bass line in a concerto. As the garden matures and wanes, she will take her cadenzas as she finds them.

It isn't just our appetite that has to make a transition, either.... Americans wouldn't be in the pickle we're in today were it not for our burning desire to save time at any cost. So be prepared to spend more time in the kitchen than you might be used to. -- Robertson, Flinders and Godfrey, Laurel's Kitchen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It won't be the first time

Chits awaiting transport to the potato patch

As there were more spuds left over from a winter of good potato-eating than anticipated, or the garden had room for, Risa looks for an alternative. Across the creek, there's an area where she has been spreading cardboard and covering it with chopped leaves and grass clippings, as these become available.

Goals for this area, in the short term, have been vague. It's sloped, stony, with a thin veneer of sod over the basaltic gravel/clay mix, and everything planted there has succumbed to the summer droughts when the creek dries up and the garden and stock take precedence at the well.

These stones, from one to six inches in diameter, smooth and rounded from their clattering river journey down from the high Cascades, are ubiquitous. You can find them at or beneath the surface of the soil in every square foot for miles in all directions, but especially here, in an acre of creek bottom.

It's a mile and a half to the river, yet surely the river ran here at one time, or more times, during the last thousand or so generations of the Douglas firs that have lived here. Though there are hydroelectric dams upstream now, they are expected to last a mere five hundred years.

The river will run here again.

Risa and her son have been calling this site the "hopyard" because the young man thought, aloud, that he might like to grow hops there. Hops is a big feeder, though, like corn, and the site prep, on a budget, might have to begin a couple of years early.

Hence the cardboard, a proven sodbuster and soil amendment. But, unlike in the garden, where worms immediately find and eat the stuff down in about six months, the cardboard in the hopyard hasn't deteriorated much over the winter, meaning such worms as have been up for pionering the stony soil have been few.

Also, the mother-and-son team, who get together here seldom enough, haven't yet enclosed the area and there is a serious-looking deer path along the property line. Beans, which Risa has thought of as Phase II of the site rehab, would be apt to disappear.

So, part of the "hopyard" will become, temporarily, the "potato patch." Spuds are not as picky about conditions in such places as most crops would be, and the deer tend to avoid the alkaloid-laced vines.

Here the seed potatoes are laid, hopefully eighteen inches apart each way, right on the leaf mulch, which is about six months old ...

... and covered with straw. With luck -- in autumn, when the vines die back -- there should be fresh potatoes lying on top of the leaves, under the straw, every which way.

Yes, this is about one-fourth the recommended amount of straw. As more becomes available, Risa hopes to return with more. If it doesn't happen, it won't be the first time!

What bond have I made with the earth,
having worn myself against it? It is a fatal singing
I have carried with me out of that day.
The stones have given me music
that figures for me their holes in the earth
and their long lying in them dark.
They have taught me the weariness that loves the ground,
and I must prepare a fitting silence.
-- Wendell Berry, Farming: A Handbook

Redwing blackbird backup

Everyone should have a little getaway -- a Room of Her Own, yes? This one was constructed entirely from scrounged materials -- an old deck, an old fence, discarded windows and door, and found furnishings. Only the four concrete pier blocks were bought.

It sits right next to the creek, which is a little risky, but there is a lot of room for water to pass by underneath, should it come to that. Should it come to more, the wood will be salvaged yet again for other projects, perhaps.

Risa shares ownership with one of her granddaughters, who keeps house in it with her some summer nights.

Here one can nap, rise up, read,


and nap again.

At this time of year the creek sings one to sleep easily, with redwing blackbird backup.

Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
--A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Very, very good

Rain came, and then a surprise freeze, like nothing we had experienced since early December, and then rain again. The local meteorologists have become more and more irrelevant, it seems -- "35 tonight, 55 tomorrow" translates as 27 tonight, 64 tomorrow. Planetary mood swings?

The freeze got into the grow tunnel, overwhelmed a small space heater there, and made off with all the young saved-seed tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Everything else, more cold tolerant, did okay. Risa has spent much of the last two days planting peas and transplanting out spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, and collards, reserving some of each in case of more surprises. For the summer transplants, though, she will have to rely on flats of starts from Territorial, which, in the light of certain potentially ominous developments, does not bode well for her notions of self-reliance.

The last sack of spuds from the cold room was parted out today. Only one potato went bad, which may indicate that the dark, ventilated cold room, with its supply of clean jute-fiber burlap sacks and its broad plywood shelves to keep things off the floor, is doing its job. About thirty pounds of reds and Yukons were in the sack, and of these some ten pounds went to the kitchen (having few or no sprouting eyes) and the rest were chitted to be planted out in an impromptu potato patch across the creek.

The deer fence over there may not get done this year, and potatoes are a crop they don't seem to browse, so it seems like the way to use these up.

Interestingly, there was an apple in the sack, and it also, unlike those in the last apple box, did not go bad. Risa ate it, and it was very, very good, and threw the core out to the chickens, who also found it very, very good.

There is local lamb stew in the crock pot, after last night's shoulder roast dinner, and some of the kitchen potatoes were diced and went into this, along with an onion and some bok choi and kale, pepper, sea salt, and chili powder. Risa dipped out some of the broth, to have along with a couple of jay-pecked duck eggs fried for breakfast, and she pronounced it very, very good.

[I]n the real world most of spring is disappointing. We looked forward to it too long, and the spring we had in mind in February was warmer and dryer than the actual spring when it finally arrives. We'd expected it to be a whole season, like winter, instead of a handful of separate moments and single afternoons. -- Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures

Thursday, April 08, 2010

An embarrassment of riches

A neighbor, who is in her 80s, has half an acre of grass she wants to keep mowed, and can't really afford to pay to have it done. It's never been sprayed, and the clippings have been left to mulch for decades. Nice soil. So, the last couple of years, we've been mowing for her and taking the clippings in exchange for the work -- an arrangement that seems suitable to all concerned.

It's not a sustainable procedure, ultimately, as her sod is not getting its customary feed -- our garden is. Agriculture is like that. All over the planet, we rob Petra and and pay Paula, and, just to mix metaphors here, everyone hopes to be able to sit down when the music stops.

But for now, our neighbor's yard seems likely to hold out awhile. Meanwhile our garden gets to eat, without resorting to some corporate giant's wildly destructive and really unsustainable notions about what counts as plant food.

Last fall we covered it with opened and flattened cardboard boxes and covered that with straw. Shredded leaves went over the beds, and in late winter, the barn bedding went on over the leaves. Now the clippings are being used over the bedding, right over the humps of bedding that were used to cover the chitted seed potatoes, which will have no trouble finding their way up through the straw and clippings.

These clippings, being reasonably organic, contain wintered-over leaves and twigs from Douglas fir, oak, ash, cottonwood, willow, wild cherry, oleander, ocean spray, flowering quince, blackberries, English bluebells, chickweed, wild chamomile, wild mint, yarrow, Queen-Anne's-Lace, wild rose, moss, lichens, and who knows what else besides an assortment of grasses. Weed seeds, if any, are few at this time of the year.

A wheelbarrow full of clippings will get hot overnight; Risa has been known to plunge her hands into the stuff as a treatment for arthritis pain. The center of a load or heap will begin composting right away, and become anaerobic and slimy. So she doesn't leave piles of it around but takes it straight to the garden to spread relatively thin, so that it will break down slowly and thus serve as a combination compost and mulch.

Spread over the garden, it's a diverse environment of a kind, and rots down into such an array of trace nutrients that the PH of the garden always tends toward neutral, and we've never seen any sign of nitrogen deficiency. Undoubtedly the chicken manure in the bedding cancels out any nitrogen loss from the rot-down of grass clippings. We're not sure and also we're not worried.

And you should see the worms! The cardboard especially seems to attract them, and when it's gone they start in on dessert. There are three basic kinds here.

The big brown ones with the eel-like tails are nightcrawlers. They retreat deep underground during the day, but if you go out on a damp night with a headlamp on its red-LED setting, or a flashlight with a thin film of red plastic over the lens, you should be able to see many of them up close, lying half out of their holes. Touch one and it zips away quickly. If you have fast and unsqueamish hands, you can collect a very effective fish bait this way.

Another kind is smaller, greyish and translucent, and a bit lazy. These, I'm told, are the common garden worm. We find them in tough sod that does not much attract nightcrawlers, but they do prefer the permanent-mulch garden.

The true test of garden richness, though, is the presence or absence of red worms. Smaller yet than the garden worms, and very squirrelly when brought to light, these prefer compost or manure. I've heard them called manure worms or red wigglers, and both names seem accurate. They're pointy at both ends and reddish with orangey rings, like striped pajamas. Red worms will find, and concentrate in, your compost heaps and manure piles, but if you find them in your garden beds, then you have created some very good soil. Their approval may be the highest compliment your micro-farming can receive.

In the picture, you can see Risa went overboard planting out elephant garlic. Sometimes she pulls a smaller one, peels and eats it on the spot. Other times she'll bring one in, to dice very small and add to the potatoes and eggs. But if more of the stuff gets in the way of other plans than we can eat, out it comes and into the compost barrel. We think there is nothing more fun than deciding what to do with an embarrassment of riches.

"If every restaurant got just ten percent of its food from local farmers," Tod boldly proposed, "the infrastructure of corporate food would collapse."

Ten percent seemed like a small pebble to aim at Goliath's pate. Lily picked up her spoon and dipped into Rock Bottom Farm's maple ice cream. We could hear the crash of corporate collapse with every bite. Tough work, but somebody's got to do it. -- Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Vegetable Miracle

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


The grow tunnel has withstood several 40-mile-an-hour windstorms, in, of all things, April, after a mild winter -- but just barely. It will have to be redone. If Risa finds enough Craigslist windows she may relocate it to a permanent greenhouse attached to the barn and potting shed.

In the picture you can see the 2X2s she has used to brace the tunnel. Also visible are some spring and summer garden flats at left, and peas, favas, and elephant garlic at right. The peas are using string supports suspended from a couple of tripods of willow, which have sprouted as well and may be planted out as trees next fall.

The mature kale plants at left were grown last spring and then were transplanted into the tunnel last fall. They've provided continuous greens for a year and are now trying to go to seed. We're holding them off as long as we can while the new kale, about three inches tall, gets established. The elephant garlic, bunching onions, mustard, peppermint, and potatoes that are coming up in the tunnel are all volunteers, but the favas were planted two months ago and are supplying a lot of greens, along with dandelions and the kale, as our early spring greens.

This all does seem worth doing but you would have to be better at it than we are to take full advantage of it.

This morning Risa met with a really nice young park ranger to talk about volunteering to help with one of the local state river greenway properties. There is a parking lot and pit toilet but the place is gated much of the year and seems forlorn and lost. It's very sweet, really, with traces of an old homestead (was that a root cellar? And over here was the well) and its old fruit trees and walnuts. Along the river there is a dark stand of cedars and there are many mature cottonwoods and some wetlands, with a flood-prone little isthmus sheltering a small backwater.

The mighty river, currently brown and swollen, is moving at impressive speed. A deep hole along the opposite bank is popular with steelheaders and salmon fishermen in drift boats -- but not today. They value their lives.

There is only a skeleton crew of rangers for 3000 acres of parks along here, and they need all the help they can get. When Risa gets her paperwork done, she's hoping to weed-wrench some Scotch broom, and lop some tree-choking English ivy, to her heart's content. Trust me, if you need more exercise than your little farm can provide, don't head for the gym, just go talk to some harried, understaffed park ranger!

As they walked the property, they came across a lovely specimen of birdsrape mustard. Risa gathered some to use with the grow tunnel greens in tonight's dinner. A friend is coming over who likes foraged foods, and she aims to please.

Never overcook wild plants. -- Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Friday, April 02, 2010

Up to their eyelids

Oh, Risa is around, but even to herself it sometimes seems just barely. She's napping a lot, then reading a little bit, listening to music, napping again. Listen, before you send her a get-well card, she's grateful. The last three times this stuff hit her, it tried to kill her. This time around, it's just making her a little spacey. Spacey she can live with.

Not that there is much to do on the farm at present.

After almost two-and-a-half months of spring, while the rest of the country shivered, the upper West Coast is getting a late string of wild storms. The rain sheets down, and at the upper elevations and over on the east side the silent snow drifts into fir needles or hisses onto the rivers. The coots, ever our winter waterbird, have hunkered down and aren't leaving, and Risa's starts, which were growing like weeds, have all halted any vestige of activity and huddle, crabbed and irritable, in their flats, complaining of migraine. In the garden, peas and worms poke their heads above the puddled straw, gasping for whatever it is they breathe. The blooms have been blasted from the lilacs and the chickens roost indoors all day with their hands in their pockets, inconsolable.

Beloved and Risa have, it would seem, permanently lost their footing as the mud deepens and deepens, and when either one returns from barn chores, she peels off layers of disaster and throws them on the washing machine, regaling the other with aggrieved tales of how many mud angels she's just made.

Risa's compensation is Bach and Mozart: over the years, she's collected wax impressions of "old masters" at fifty cents a box from library sales, and, with a headset on, hunkers down like a coot, familiarizing herself with the Mass in C Minor. Beloved moves to the back office to practice storytelling for a gig with kindergartners. She's doing a workshop on quilts, and steals one from Risa's lap, replacing it with a down sleeping bag.

Out back, the creek roars, and things go by in it.

Things could be worse.

In '97, between eleven and twelve inches of rain fell on the pasture upstream from us in just a few hours. The creek jumped its banks in the poultry yard and in the garden, which then was over on the other side of the bridges (there were three of them then). It picked up one bridge and then the other two, shoving them downstream to smash against the road culvert, ripped out the garden fence, ripped out the garden, flowed across the herringbone brick floor of the potting shed, bounced off the foundation of the house, and went from three feet wide to eighty feet wide for a night and two days. Our neighbors' house across the street became an island.

None of this was of any interest to anyone else around here, because their troubles were worse. There were cars underwater, cellars, basements, garages, houses, barns. Cows stood on melting manure piles and took bets on how long the manure would hold up. News helicopters solicitously stood watch over the cows and over all the little pink and blue houses that were up to their eyelids in brown goo.

Now, that would have been a good year to take a little bit sick for a few weeks, neh?

And I have dreamed
of the morning coming in
like a bird through the window
not burdened by a thought,

the light a singing
as I hoped.

-- Wendell Berry, Findings