Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frost Upon Frost

We have a few inches of snow on the ground from a lake effect storm that brushed us after we totally missed the Great East Coast Blizzard of ’10. Then this morning, somehow, we also have a coating of hoarfrost everywhere. This prodigious lily-gilding adds to the wonderful light at this season, and the watercolor sunrises and sunsets. It’s a beautiful week to start a new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Most Carefully Upon Their Hour

Tree sparrows are a pert little bird that lives in Canada most of the year, but they winter here in the Endless Mountains. Often we don’t see them until January, or at least the week after Christmas, but this year they arrived most punctually at the feeder when it got light out on December 21, First Day of Winter. It’s like they were hiding in the bushes, waiting for their cue. Thank you, as usual, to Cornell University’s bird program for this picture. And now it's back to the cookies-and-eggnog feeder for me. Remember, it's important to keep a supply of unfrozen eggnog in your yard so that migrating writers can refresh themselves there!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Solstice Eve Eve

Like most gardeners, I have a short list of favorite plants. The winterberry is near the top. We used to have a big old centenarian in Lilac Lane, the flowering shrub border planted by the original inhabitants of Wren Cottage. When that winterberry died the year before last, I was very sorry. But this year the North Orchard has given me a new one for Christmas: the volunteer pictured here turned up beside the trunk of an apple in a state of grave disrepair. I am so glad to see it, and I hope the birds will sow more all over the place.

This year on the solstice, we are having a full lunar eclipse, something that has not happened since 1554 or 1638 or some other unspecified time just before or just after Shakespeare. And who knows if it was even clear that night? So obviously this is a moment of some import. And with the revival of the winterberry clan on our hill, it seems to me that this new era will be a good one.

Happy solstice, everybody.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lo, How E’re The Rutabaga Is Blooming

Here you see dinner in an early stage of preparation. I have never grown rutabagas before, nor ever dug something out of the snowy earth and hossed it directly to the kitchen to be consumed. But it turns out that you can plant rutabaga seed in July and by early December, with no further attention, you have rutabagas so large they are hard to cut up with the biggest kitchen knife.

I made a gratin of these rutabagas and a couple carrots, plus a frozen leek I prised from the ground, topped it off with Bechamel and some sourdough breadcrumbs, and damn. With the snow outside and the fires inside, it’s a lot like Switzerland. So in addition to my own admiration for rutabaga gratin, I felt the satisfaction of many generations of relatives who were glad to see this dish again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Can’t I Go Out Today? Huh? Huh?

A Guest Post By Murphy The Labrador

Mama is not walking me. Why? Why? Where else can I eat frozen rotten apples? Where else cat poo? Where else can life have meaning until dinnertime? Nowhere, that’s who.

She says we are not walking because I am the size and shape and color of a deer. Eat your carrot! Chew your treat! Go! Lie! Down! This is stupid. I am always this color and shape. And we always walk.

I am full of resentment. I will nap.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Owl Together Now, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving night I was flopped in front of the fireplace with a book, overstuffed and much relieved to be home and out of the slushy weather. Some while later John returned from visiting still more kin, and he reported that there was a little owl in the hemlock at the foot of the drive. We got the flashlight and trekked down there, and sure enough, a screech owl was perched on a low branch, not troubling to hide its irritation at our presence. Owls really do not care about your emotional state and how excited you are to see them. They wish only to eat mice and be left alone. Our little fellow had dramatic great ears for someone who was only eight or nine inches tall. The guidebook shows him also having magnificent two-prong feet, which I wish I had noticed in situ. Our little man was from the red clan, but he looked a lot like this gray individual. Thank you to Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the loan of their screecher, and for all their excellent work in the field.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Fall has sped by in a blaze of cider and art openings, and the house now has more wooden storm windows on it than it has had in probably 80 years. We are hoping this will make us toasty warm on less oil this winter. Now I am getting ready to settle in for a long, snug winter at my desk, getting lots of writing done in between cooking meals, walking dogs and cats, and feeding barnyard folk.

In the photo above, you will see all the modern conveniences required by a writer, ie a big monitor, a laptop and a cat basket to keep the cat off the laptop and out from in front of the monitor. Yes, the basket has cut down considerably on my work surface, but since the cat was overheating the computer and using his sharp little elbows (even through the closed lid) to delete important emails and highlight long passages of the New York Times while I was reading, thereby rendering it impossible to scroll down to read the rest of the article, the cat basket is an acceptable compromise.

The other black cat, btw, sleeps on the printer on the opposite side of the desk, for symmetry. This is not super convenient, because if you forget and start a print job, the printer ingests the nearest part of the cat, but it does promote thrift in the use of paper and toner.

You are probably wondering why I don’t just close the office door and lock the cats out. And the answer is Ha! Because cats (also dogs, sheep, hens, children, husbands, etc) are the great annoyances that, like Keats’ flowered chains, bind us to the Earth.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dolly Madison R.I.P.

Poor old Dolly Madison: that elegant creature gobbles no more among us. Although she lived only 17 months, that was still about 500% of the life most broad breasted white turkeys get, and she brought us—well, me anyway—a lot of satisfaction. At the beginning of the summer she lost her ability to locomote, so she spent her last weeks sitting in the grass in the barnyard, taking in the action of chickens and sheep and wild birds and chipmunks and house cats. She was fond of her kibble to the end, as I hope to be myself. The barnyard is notably green now, with no big white orb in it.

I am going to bury her down by Dermott in the orchard. I don’t think she would have had a lot of use for that terrier gentleman, but he would have found her a source of endless fascination.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sheep Out to Eat

Sometimes circumstances cram you into a really nice spot you never would have gone to otherwise.

It’s practically impossible to move the sheep fence after the middle of June without a brush hog. But the New Holland and the brush hog had gone to John’s mother’s farm to cultivate John’s cornfield, and they never came home. So when the sheep pasture got overgrazed, I couldn’t move the three lengths of fence. Then Joshua, my four-horned problem child, got tangled in one length. Like so tangled he had 50 loops around each of his four horns. We had to cut him out of the now completely useless section of fence, arrivederci sixty dollars, and the overgrazed pasture was even smaller than before. The hay for the winter had not yet arrived, so in a moment of sheep starvation panic, I turned the fence off, opened the end of it and walked out into the orchard with the three sheep following curiously along behind. For an hour they stuffed themselves as fast as they could on multiflora rose leaves, ash sapling leaves, orchard grass, poison ivy and windfall apples. Then I walked back inside the fence, they followed me, and I locked it all up for the night. This worked so well, I have continued doing it even though there is plenty of hay in the barn now. In fact, it has become one of my favorite things to do. I take a book and a step stool and I go sit there for an hour in the goldenrod while my friends chow down. When everyone is visibly larger in diameter and burping up clouds of cider breath, we go back in. We’ve done it so often now that the sheep are the ones who decide when they’re full and it’s time to go home.

I have no idea how long it takes to re-chew that much plant material, but it has to be awhile. It seems to take about 24 hours for me to need my refill of orchard time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hay, You!

Lot of water over the dam since the last time I wrote. We’ve frozen some pesto and some Granny Puzo Sauce, put up some jam and froze not enough blackberries, started taking the sheep out to eat early each evening (outside the electric fence, that would be), and my submission to the Fair won the third place ribbon in the class called Flower Arrangement Under Five Inches, In A Thimble. I have heat rash AND hay rash, so you can tell it’s still summer.

The hay arrived this morning, fifty bales of first cutting, which ought to see us through the winter. The neighbor brothers who raise it and deliver it have at least one gas well between them, which makes me wonder why they still bother to sell hay. I guess they like it. I am reminded of the old Midwestern joke about the farmer who wins the million dollar lottery and is asked what he’s going to do with all that money. “Well,” he says, “I guess I’ll just keep farming til it’s all gone.” If I had a million dollars, that’s what I’d do.

So the hay room is full, the jam shelf is populated and the heating oil has been paid for. That means all we have to do is lay in a few cords of firewood and we’ll be ready for winter.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Benji Met the Bear

The dogs and I were just out for our morning walk around the North Orchard trail, and naturally the corgis had run on ahead while Murphy, the Labrador, and I came lumping along behind. There was some rustling and crashing in the thick undergrowth where we never brush hog any more because we’re letting the forest come back up there between us and the road, and I started to worry the corgis were messing with another groundhog, so when I reached the hairpin bend in the trail, I yelled, “Corgis! Corgis!” And both dogs come back around the next bend, and about 20 feet from them in the deep brush behind the raspberries, up comes a big old black head and shoulders. The dogs were mighty surprised, and Medwards offered to advance, so I started hissing powerfully and the dogs came back to me, and then me and all three of them lit out for the other side of the hill as fast as we could get through the brush.

I have no illusion that that bear meant us harm—the subsequent crashing indicated that he was running for the road while we were running away from him, and I hope he did not run out in traffic without looking, but years of Scottish terriers makes me think it advisable to put the largest possible space between your dogs and your wildlife.

So. I think we can dispense with the second cup of coffee today.

Thanks to for the image. Now just picture that fellow chest deep in berry bushes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Surprise Visitor

John came home one day this week with a Great Horned Owl that had gotten hit by a car and was nursing a bum wing and leg. He was on his way to a client meeting when he spotted the poor little guy on the shoulder of the road, so the owl rode to the meeting in John’s lap, and then transferred to a cardboard box donated by the client. (Side note: you have to love a building designer who shows up to your kitchen renovation carrying a piece of saved wildlife.)

We called the Game Commission and they said an officer would call us, but time went by and none did, so I left a message at the raptor rehab about 25 minutes from here. Then the phone rang, and the Very Cranky Game Officer, who was sitting at the intersection about a mile south of here, demanded to know where the owl was, and then whether I had made clear to the dispatcher that the owl was in my possession, and then the gender of the dispatcher who had supplied him with the false impression that there was a Great Horned Owl lying in a state of distress along Route 29 in Dimock. Although the VCGO would not confirm, it appears that he drove an hour to get here from the regional office, and maybe that’s why he was pissed.

He was not a great deal nicer in person, but he did take the owl off to a rescue center, saving me the trouble.

It was a real treat to see such a beautiful animal up close, and in our subsequent research we found out that where a big, mean game officer has 60 pounds per square inch crushing power in his hands, a Great Horned Owl has 500 pounds per square inch, enabling them to catch and eat animals two-thirds their size. I just wish we had called the nice lady from the raptor rehab first (she called back right after the owl left). Because as it is, I feel like we narced out the little guy to the cops.

And, for the record, if I thought I could get Officer Sunshine out of the building for two hours by neglecting to mention that the owl was resting comfortably in a box on somebody’s porch, I would do it too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Psalm 23

The shearer came yesterday to relieve the overburdened sheep of their four inches of very warm wool. It’s been pretty hot for weeks, so they should have been glad to be shorn, but since it involves being torn one by one from their safe place in the barn and wrestled out the door to God knows what, they were not. Roger was gone by 8 a.m., but the sheep bawled for the next hour until I left the property for a wedding, and when I returned at 5, they were still bawling. I went back out and came back home, and at 7:30 p.m., they were still out in the barnyard, yelling their heads off. Finally it occurred to me that they sounded hungry, so I went out and walked down the barnyard with them and stood still at the bottom and let them bunch up around me. After a few minutes of butting and jostling, they settled down and began to eat ravenously. It would appear that all day long, they had been too frightened and unsettled to risk lowering their heads to graze.

It got dark as I stood there, letting the sheep eat and singing that Sweet Honey in the Rock song about King David playing his harp for his sheep, and the fireflies and the lighting started to come up in and above the orchard. And I developed a new appreciation then for the twenty-third psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters;
He restoreth my soul.

I’m afraid a lot of the Bible is thrown away on folks nowadays, not because we’re all corrupt and going to hell, but because we mostly don’t have sheep. Until you have made it possible for someone to go to bed with a full stomach merely because your presence makes them feel safe enough to eat, it is hard to appreciate how nice it would be to feel that way about somebody else looking after you. But lately I’ve been thinking that getting all bent out of shape about life doesn’t seem to be making a lot of difference, just losing me sleep, so maybe my new attitude should be, “Screw it. The Lord is my shepherd.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Frodo Has Left the Building

You can see just by looking that this White Polish Crested Rooster believes himself to be a rockstar. Even when it’s been raining on him all day, he doesn’t look like a bedraggled bird. He looks like a guy shooting a music video in the Islands.

Frodo (so called by the grandchildren of his original owners because of his aFRO hairDO) came to us as a very nice adolescent a few months back. Unfortunately, once he hit the ugly testosterone stage, he took over the flock and in addition to fighting with the older Auracana roosters and the little English cockerels, he somehow induced the Auracanas to fight among themselves. Now my oldest and most revered rooster, Paco Negro, He Of The Crippled Toes, he who survived illness as a chick and overcame, he who ruled in benevolence and equanimity all these years, is standing down in the corner of the pasture, totally bedraggled and terrified to come back up the barnyard where the rest of the flock is. Now the harmony of the flock has been shattered. Now the carefully laid out hierarchy of bird status, AKA the pecking order, which all chickens can remember in exact detail up to a flock of 30 birds, is all disarranged.

Now I am pissed.

So I got on the phone to the Extension and fifteen minutes and three phone calls later, Frodo has a date to be picked up in the parking lot of the hospital tomorrow morning to be carried off to the eastern part of the county to become part of a nice high school girl’s Polish Crested 4-H project. That kind of efficacy, my friends, is the hand of God.

So while Mr. Wonderful goes off to stand stud to a bunch of sparkling white babes, the younger Auracana has 10 days to return to good behavior. If he doesn’t, we’re taking a ride to the Poultry Auction at the fairgrounds on the 22nd. Now Playing: Bye-Bye, Birdie.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Sad State of Affairs

I am sorry to tell you that Dolly Madison is a murderer. I am also sorry to tell you that, as predicted, Dolly hurt herself leaping from the barn one day and for two weeks could only stand up with assistance. That’s right, I went out every morning and hoisted the turkey to standing position, and then I went out in the afternoon and lifted her again. I understand what this says about me. I understand what my life has become.

The sheep would not let Dolly rest in their side of the barn, even though they don’t use it that often at this time of year because they would rather be outdoors, lying under the hemlocks. So I put Dolly in a pen closer to the house, with a tarp over it to keep the rain off. For company—and since it’s time to incarcerate the English hens and practice birth control for them so we don’t end up with even more English chickens—I put a handful of English in the pen too. They may well be the same ones that lived in the bunny crate with her last spring when they were all infants. I also added another hen—Hickety Pickety, a black yearling who liked to lay her eggs in the hay feeder in the sheep room, and whom I found one day hanging headfirst down out of the feeder with a paralyzed leg. At first I thought it was broken, but it failed to become useable again. It simply continued to stick straight out in front of her. But Hickety Pickety got around remarkably well on her wings and good leg, and it was obvious she wanted to live, so I let her.

After two weeks of physical therapy in the Paraplegic Poultry Ward, Dolly was able to stand on her own. The timing was good because I had to go away for two nights on business, and John was spared the task of standing the turkey up each day. The second morning I was away, he called to say that Dolly had gotten up on her own and had used her regained powers of health and locomotion to walk over and stand on Hickety Pickety, who had come down out of the coop for breakfast. Then she stepped off, took the hen by the neck and shook her hard. John return the poor hen to the coop, where she died overnight of her injuries.

Today it is almost a week later. John and I brought down a calf hutch his mother kindly let us borrow from her farm, and I cut out the doorsill so Dolly can walk in. She did not, of course. But last night I made her walk in, so she gets the idea of sleeping in there out of the rain. Unfortunately, as of yesterday, she needs help once again to stand up. I am no longer convinced that her problems are injury-based. I think she may just be engineered to have been eaten last November, not to be still walking around. Her suspension is not adequate to the tasks required of it at one year of age. So now this irritating bird, who killed another animal with a disability almost identical to her own, is suffering the legacy of her own genetics. And eventually I may have to decide what to do about it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chez Dolly, Or The Problem of Turkey Housing

We are having serious issues of turkey mechanics. Dolly Madison cannot get in or out of the hen room of the barn by herself because the door jamb is about three feet off the ground, she weighs maybe 45 pounds, and her wings are about 6 inches long and molting anyway. The barn foundation is concrete, with nowhere to mount a ramp. Dolly has grown accustomed to being put in and taken out each day, which involves me bracing myself, lifting with my legs and giving her a boost onto the jamb, where she poises herself and then jumps to the other side. Going into the barn, this is fine because the drop is only 18 inches. Going out, she invariably lands on her feet in the barnyard and then flips ars over tea kettle from the sheer momentum of her giant bulk striking the earth. It’s only a matter of time before she gets hurt.

I was hoping Dolly could sleep in the sheep room (next door to the hen room) because it is at ground level. But the sheep harass her and will not let her stay in there. I tried the old dog house, which is just the right size for a turkey shed, but she’s a little too wide for the doorway. Next I am going to call my mother in law and ask whether they have any calf hutches that are so banged up they can’t keep calves in them any more. If we can keep the sheep out, that might work—sheep are pushier than you might think. Otherwise I am going to have to build a mini-shed-roof off the side of the barn above the spot where Dolly sleeps on the ground when I don’t put her in the barn manually, just codifying what is already the de facto turkey bed.

Farming is just an endless series of making things up and trying to string together a solution out of a pile of assorted doohickeys lying around the yard. If I didn’t have the family’s native engineering impulse, I would hate it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dead But Not Endangered

I am a close watcher of roadkills as I make my appointed rounds, and I have often considered creating a roadkill calendar, from the first dead skunks of February through the deceased rabbits of early March and the August gray squirrels driven out of their minds, I suppose, by thirst. This year I noticed a lot of dead minks in the second half of March, and one day, not too far from here, I saw a really big one that was lighter in color than usual. Could it be, I wondered, a dead pine marten instead? I had heard that someone had seen one last fall during deer season. It was worth turning around and going back to find out.

My stiff little friend was in great condition, so I put him in the car and went home. The mammal guidebook said minks had a white patch on their chin, but pine martens had one on the chin and another on the chest. The deceased did indeed have a chest patch, so I measured him and photographed him and left a message for the neighborhood naturalist.

[Game wardens and other DCNR types will please note that I never even considered adding this critter to my earthly possessions. I was just looking him up.]

It turns out that pine martens were extirpated in Pennsylvania more than a century ago, so for this to be a pine marten would have been rare indeed, and I would have gotten my name in the Fish & Game News. But it was not a pine marten. The naturalist and our other neighbor, a retired wildlife biologist from a part of Canada where they still have living pine martens, both said it was a mink, and that the chest patch was just a kind of extended chin patch, not nearly yellow enough or glorious enough to be a real chest patch.

So our pretty fellow is just a dead mink like all the others. In a way, I feel better about that because if it were the only pine marten in Pennsylvania for a hundred years and it were dead in my freezer, that would be pretty sad.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lilac for a Day

My husband has a thing for certain breeds of livestock, including Highland cattle and Boer goats. So when he phoned from band practice last week and asked if it was OK to bring home this little practically orphaned Boer goat kid that we were only keeping for six weeks and not a day more, so help him God, I figured it was time to let him work through the goat thing. (We worked through the cattle thing a couple years ago by way of the late lamented Herkie.) So Thursday after school, John and St. John went to get Lilac.

Lilac’s problem is not that her mother is dead. It’s that her mother prefers Lilac’s twin brother, and won’t stand for Lilac to nurse. In fact, she was seen yanking Lilac’s tail when she tried to make the effort. My longsuffering friend Pete, of Clodhopper Farm, solves this problem by holding the mama goat’s lip in a twitch while Lilac nurses. Lilac was three weeks old when we got her, so obviously the plan was working, though she was smaller than the other kids.

I went online and poked around for advice on what to feed goat babies. John stopped at his mother’s barn for some raw cow milk and calf panels, and at the feed store for a lamb bottle. Then he and St. John went out and came home with the cutest little goat you ever saw. She was springy and adorable and curious about everything. And if you went out of her sight, she went off like all the car alarms in New Jersey. Also, no amount of effort would persuade her to drink milk out of the bottle. Then John announced that he was going out to band practice. Because they had a gig tomorrow night. When he would not be available to care for the car alarm again. All I can say is “Good thing my blood pressure is not naturally high.” Because this would have been an excellent way to precipitate a major coronary event.

I watched Lilac for a few hours and tried a hundred more times to get her to eat. There is not much more frustrating to the cooking mother than an infant animal that will not eat. I sat down finally on the floor beside the wood stove, and Lilac came over and after tentatively sniffing and even licking at the stove a bit, folded up her knobbly knees and laid down beside it, apparently finding its warmth very like goat maternity. And at least the wood stove was not yanking her tail. I didn’t want to sleep on the kitchen floor, so I removed Lilac to a dog crate in my bedroom, where she slept quietly all night, with just one reassurance that we were still there in the dark with her.

But the next morning I sent her back to the farm. Because a little milk from an unwilling mother is better than no milk from the willingest foster family. St. John was sad; he and Lilac shared a common interest in jumping off stuff. I don’t know if 14 hours was enough to resolve the Boer thing for my husband, but I think I helped him complete the emotional arc when I offered to murder him with a skillet the next time he brought home a live animal. So now we are back to just dogs, cats, sheep, chickens and Dolly Madison, of whom more next time.

P.S. The maple run was practically non-existent this year, and coincided with rising creeks and a bunch of work gigs. So no syrup for us. We will buy some from the neighbors for whom the maple run is the work gig.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ready to Run

Just as I was steeling myself for the New Ice Age and the permanent descent of winter upon us (and never Christmas), I have started to see some early signs of impending spring. We’re not talking anything as out there as crocuses or anything, but the house has sprouted some very impressive icicles, some of which are almost as long as me (not a big wow by human standards, but pretty big for an icicle), and although just a few days ago I poo-pooed my husband’s tentative plan to tap the sugar maples this weekend, now I can practically feel the sap starting to rise in the trees around me. That’s what 2 degrees Fahrenheit can do for you.

Furthermore, the big male skunks are out getting hit on the road at night (not something that would normally gladden anybody’s heart, but an indisputable sign of spring, because they’re out looking for mates after hibernating since Thanksgiving); my family in southern Pennsylvania and my friend in southeastern Vermont have both seen large traveling flocks of robins (my uncle says they left D.C. early this year to avoid the blizzard); I saw what appeared to be 2 hawks riding a thermal today (a thermal!); and I also saw three wayward Canada geese noodling around near some open water a couple dozen miles south of here, where it is a good deal warmer.

Obviously none of these things is going to cause a stampede of Easter rabbits and daffodils. But the evidence is accumulating, and apparently the sap is also rising in me, because I feel a sudden urgency to order seeds and march up to the sugarhouse to make sure they are no bears under it in advance of next weekend’s tapping session. I am taking charge of sugaring this year, because John is too busy, so you can expect to hear more of that shortly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Adventure Thrust Upon Us

I have always had an interest in wood-fire cooking, and have always intended to learn about it some day. The previous occupant of our dear cottage, a woman of considerable oomph, had spent several years in the late '30s doing everything the hard way in the wilderness of British Columbia, and she left us some interesting cooking tools. I have even fantasized more than once about dragging the original wood cookstove back out of the barn and into the kitchen. But I have never been quite interested enough in wood-fire cooking to, like, do anything about it. Fortunately, yet another opportunity to learn and grow and fulfill my every ambition has been thrust upon me.

The gas range is dead. Well, it may not be dead, but it’s not feeling very well, and nobody is coming out to fix it until Monday, if it is fixable and the guy happens to have the right part in the van. So for a few days, it looked like microwave tea for me, and that is a level of culinary depravity I was not going to take lying down. It struck me that my mother on numerous occasions has said that the best tea she ever had came from the kettle that was permanently installed on her grandmother’s coal stove, because the water was still boiling when it hit the tea bag in your cup. So I tried putting our kettle on the wood stove, and by God, it made the water hot. So then I tried flipping some corn tortillas and frying my eggs in a little skillet on the stovetop, and by God, they cooked and were good. And then I remembered that there was a cast iron griddle in the cellar (shaped suspiciously like the work surface of the cookstove in the barn, come to think of it), so I brought it up and am going to try cooking naan on it this afternoon. And why not soup, right? So back to the cellar for some of the onions left over from the wedding, onions so immense that they can never be used at one time, and so have never been chosen for use. But what better onion to sweat down for French onion soup, am I right? So now I can smell the onions from the other end of the house and I am chainsmoking cups of the most wonderful green tea, and if the naan works out, a curry would be another good candidate for the cast iron pot.

Possibly the Complete Disaster of the gas leak and broken stove, which evoked yesterday’s anthem, tentatively entitled “Even As Men Wracked Upon A Sand,” has led to a culinary revolution at Wren Cottage. I recall a field trip my son’s class took to a canal, which involved traveling some distance on the canal boat at about 2 miles an hour. I remarked to one of the other moms that this seemed like a pretty good pace at which to live. She was aghast, but I think I just found the right way to cook dinner on the very slow-moving canal boat of my life.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Weather to Fly

My godfather passed away overnight. He was 83 and had been ill for quite a while. I am the only one in my clan who lives upstate, so I haven’t seen him too much these past few years. I heard how things were going, so I went down over the holidays to visit him at the nursing home. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, but he did. I didn’t think he’d be able to hear me either (he wasn’t about to spend money on a hearing aid when he was old and was just going to die anyway—this went on for about 15 years), but he could. My dad was 18 years younger than Uncle Walter and they had been close all their lives, so Dad spent a lot of time taking care of him and doing for him toward the end. When Dad knelt down by the bed and told him I was there to see him, he replied, “Yeah, they told me she’d be here soon.”

I told him about my recent wedding and showed him pictures of my children. I told him about all the dogs and cats and sheep and chickens we have now, and the turkey, and this led to a conversation about the nursing home’s chicken management strategy, somewhere in the ether between how my grandparents did their annual flock planning and what turned up on the lunch cart at the nursing home. We rhapsodized a bit about roasted chicken on Sundays, and were just getting on to roasted rabbit when the nurses came in to help him dress and give him his medicines. This process must have been exhausting, because after that he went inside himself and was apparently too tired to come back out.

Today I have been thinking of another thing he said to me that day. I asked him whether they’d gotten snow a few days before and he said, “Yeah, when I seen them high cirrus clouds, I knew snow was coming.” I know there is snow coming to us tonight, so I went out to see whether I could tell that from the clouds. Sure enough, they were high, wispy bands. Then I realized that he'd learned to read the weather because he was a pilot, flying his own little Piper, whose engine he had rebuilt himself. Yes, his house and barn and the yard in between were crammed with boxes and piles of junk, but maybe that was because you never knew when you would have to build a flying machine from scratch, go taxiing down the driveway and sail off over the cornfield across the road.

This is a good time to resort to the Elbow song Weather to Fly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Falling On Sheepers

The holidays blew by in a muddle of twinkle lights and eggnog, and already it is not black as pitch at 4:30 p.m. any more. That suits me fine. I am glad to lie down and shut my eyes in the darkness, but not before dinner. I am not quite to the point of lending any credence to the seed catalogues on the dining room table, but we’re getting there. I see at the end of the 10 Day Forecast, there’s a day when the high temperature will be in the upper 20s. I guess that will trigger the neuronal cascade that causes your hands to retrieve the credit card and open the websites of key seed companies. My son has already requested that we grow the snappy bi-color hippy tomato Burpee put on their cover this year, the Tye Dye. Why they felt the need to make the two syllables symmetrical, spellingwise, I do not know, but anything that a child wants to do in the garden gets my support.

Meanwhile, back in January, the waste hay that the sheep pull from their manger and then drop while chewing makes up their bed, and it is about a foot deep now. It’s nice and bouncy and full of sheep poo, which the USDA highly recommends, and when it comes time to mulch the kitchen garden in spring, it will be a rich top dressing. Again I am drawn back to the summer garden…. Maybe it’s closer to the surface than I thought. As the woodpile dwindles and the chickens and the turkey stay hunkered down around the de-iced waterer in their end of the barn, I guess we are all hoping so.