Something There Is That Doesn’t

Yesterday, in the dark wee hours of the morning, I woke to what I swore was the sound of glass breaking.  The wind had picked up followed by torrential rain, as promised by that day’s weather forecast, and our old house shuddered and whined as the newest wild weather system crashed into it.  I went back into an uneasy sleep.

I wake up early these days, 4am.  Bundle I has a half-day in the public school kindergarten, and Bundle II’s pre-school days end at 2pm.   My progressive, “we’re all about life-work-family balance” employer doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, and is apparently large enough that it needs a policy in order to accommodate a lone individual with a 70-mile round trip commute, two young children in school and a job that is, let’s face it, 99% about remotely managing servers.  Lionel now works three days a week; someone has to get the kids to school, and someone has to get them back out again.  So; he goes to work at 10am and finishes up his day at 6pm, and I go to work at 5am and finish my day at 2pm, where upon I scramble around to pick up the kids from their respective places (Bundle II at her pre-school, which has a robust aftercare program, and Bundle I at the at-home child care provider, since her publicly funded school does not).  If I’m lucky, I might be in bed–and asleep– by 10:30pm.  Suffice to say I’m not getting the long end of the stick at the moment.

Yesterday upon waking up, the wind and rain lashing the house,  I uneasily ventured outside to retrieve items from the car which inevitably get left behind from the previous day, and was greeted by a moist, warm, evil blast of air.  I checked the thermometer.  57 degrees F.  The tiny bit of snow pack we’ve managed to accumulate this winter was rapidly disappearing.  I shivered despite the warmth, grabbed my items and ran back inside.  Finally I was ready to venture back out, and slowly made my tedious way through the rain and gale force winds to my job.

As I finished up my day in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature had dropped down to 38 degrees and was forecast to go back down into the 20s by sunset.  I complained about the crazy commute in and the weather in general to a colleague and their comment was “Yeah, well, if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”

Yeah.  Okay.  Trite Twain platitudes aside, the weather pattern was actually breaking temperature extreme records all over the place, and was a direct result of a misplaced jet stream and stratospheric warming, causing tornadoes further south and forcing flood and gale warnings up and down the eastern seaboard.  And furthermore, just the week before we had seen temperature records falling on the other extreme, dipping well below zero.  Eventually, gentle reader, if it looks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.  And the carbon that I was spewing into that warm, unseasonable, extremely high force wind at 4:30am on my mostly unneccessary-but-for-policy commute wasn’t helping the situation at all.

When I was in my 20’s and reasonably endowed with a strong education, I believed the solution to problems was pretty much black-and-white.  Don’t enjoy your commute in the morning?  Move closer to your job.  Or get a job closer to home.  Or, don’t work.  Case closed.  But with the passage of time, a few small children and a whole lot of brain cells dying every minute of my day, the situation has gotten a lot more complex from a whole bunch of different angles.  The need to be employed in order to obtain adequate healthcare.  The reality of needing to pay out for electricity and phone services and taxes and food.  The fact that the town I live in has no industry and furthermore has no interest in having any industry.  My children’s future educational needs.   The ties that bind us to the land we live on.  Each angle has its own, sometimes even relatively simple, solution, certainly.  But the solutions we  arrive at might not add up to a coherent whole.

When I got back home yesterday after navigating around downed branches and trees and rapidly freezing puddles, I pulled back into my own driveway with some relief  to see that the only visible damage was one chicken coop which had blown over.  Even though I had woken to the sound of shattering glass, we could find no evidence of it.   The wind continued to howl outside, the audible, tangible roar of a climate officially gone awry, a human populace officially failing to navigate its way out of the hole it dug.  It blew long into the night and finally departed in the wee hours.  The shattered glass sound?  Maybe it was just the sound of clashing possibilities.

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The Supermarket Reality Show

In the summer, especially in a good year, we’re able to successfully avoid conventional grocery stores almost all together.  Every once in a while we run out of some dry good staple like toilet paper, and we’ll make a reluctant run to Market Basket or Big Lots or Walmart–whatever is closest or isn’t bugging us as much that day.  This year we were able to make our tomatoes last all the way past Thanksgiving.  There’s still frozen corn, a few bags of peas, some swiss chard and some beans in the freezer.  We have all the meat we’ll need for the year except when we might hanker for sausage or fish.  We have potatoes, onions, garlic.  We have rutabaga, beets, and carrots.  We still have a few bags of frozen blueberries left.  We are up to our ears in pickles, dilly beans, and tomato sauce.  We even have our own catsup.

We’re able to get our milk, eggs, honey and bread at a local farmstand, and sometimes our soap.  We could even get cheese there, if Bundle I and Bundle II weren’t so specific with their love of Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar. 

It’s the fresh fruit and need for green vegetables that get us.

So, every two weeks or possibly longer if I can help it, I bundle the kids up and I make my laborious trip to the least offensive grocery store of the moment.  These days I’ve been trekking to Brattleboro, Vermont’s Co-Op, mostly because of all the various Co-ops in the region, they are the most likely to still be carrying local produce (apples, tomatoes, occasionally broccoli or brussell sprouts, and greens from various local high tunnels).  They’ve got a fair amount of bulk items like pasta, rice, oatmeal, flour, dried fruit.   I can get cases of wine there for pretty good prices which will last us for months.  But the majority of the store is as conventional as it gets, except with higher price points, so I then travel to one of the various supermarket chains for the rest of it– usually fruits and vegetables that aren’t local and are therefore coming from the same distributor regardless of whether it ultimately ends up at Market Basket or the Co-op, canned goods, cereals, paper products.  Depending on what time of day and the day of the week that I’ve chosen to do the shopping, I can come up against all sorts of obstacles; completely unripe fruit which was likely picked too early so that it could withstand the harsh trip from Mexico; items which try to hide the fact that they contain sugar by calling it “evaporated cane juice”, the ongoing and usually unsuccessful search for milk that doesn’t have Omega 3 added to it, or for yogurt which hasn’t had all the fat-and thus most of the nutrition- stripped out, items which proudly proclaim they are Gluten Free because they were never made out of wheat in the first place, rows and rows of bags claiming to contain bread but appear to only contain sponge, the lipservice to “Organic” which either involves wrapping said items in indestructable shrink wrap plastic and scattering them about the produce section or lumping it all together in a begrudgingly small space and then using that space as a storage area for the Kellogs Corn Flakes about to be re-stocked, the obligatory and utterly insulting and paltry display of “Local” items which are usually local only as the 747 flies, and finally, the other shoppers, most of whom have filled their carts with the very stuff I had studiously been avoiding and now am staring at while they-slowly- meander through the aisles and usually end up ahead of me in line.

At some point during the trip, I start muttering.  Usually it takes the form of a conversation with my children, but it is most likely obvious to everyone else around me that I’m actually about to go postal.  When someone randomly tells the package she holds that Rice Cakes have always been Gluten Free because they are made out of RICE, god-damn it, well, you just stay clear of that person.  You might even keep an eye on her kids just to make sure she isn’t, you know, really crazy.  I’ve also successfully cleared the “Organic” section by insisting that I wanted to look at the entire aisle, thank you, and please move the Kellogs Crap Flakes somewhere else until I’m done…but I’m not sure I should really be proud of that.

Here’s the thing though; the majority of the U.S. gets their food this way.  And they apparently don’t think anything of it.  They just blindly go down the aisles, blithely picking up “bargains” when they see them, skirt around the various displays, pay little attention to labels, and generally buy items which I personally wouldn’t consider edible, at least not on a daily basis.    They don’t care if the fruit isn’t ripe or the cucumber is soft because most of that is an after thought anyway, or maybe they’ve never actually eaten the real thing.    They buy the sponge bread and the peanut butter and jelly mix because they’ve been led to believe they’ll save time this way or possibly because their kids don’t have enough of an attention span to find both the peanut butter jar and the jelly jar.    So as I’m going about on my crazed hunt for the least offensive items on the very edges of the store, the majority is staying out of my way by buying up the middle.  So actually we don’t cross paths that often, except at the check out line.

The majority of the people that I come into contact with are omnivores.  Yet they are genuinely horrified when they realize that the chickens in our backyard are destined to be chicken salad.  For them, food comes from a supermarket, preferrably on styrofoam or possibly pre-cooked and microwaveable, its actual origins far removed from whatever form it takes in the package.  As long as the store offers convenient parking and the carts don’t wobble, they’re good to go.  Welcome to reality, Aileen.   Yeah.  What you think you’re doing?  That’s just a dream.

All for the Love of Carrots

After doing this for a number of years now, I’m finally beginning to come to the conclusion that most of farming is not digging in the dirt or weeding but actually busy work that has nothing to do with farming at all.

Take, for instance, the fact that we have too many carrots.

I’ll have to qualify that. We don’t have too many carrots.  We have just the right amount of carrots to feed our hungry and growing family of four.  Fresh carrots, properly handled, will last until at least mid-January, assuming we don’t eat them first.  Then there will be the frozen variety to last us until June.  Also the pickled variety for added diversity.  We’ll sell the rest.  So it’s not as though we have more carrots than we know what to do with.  It’s that we have more carrots than we have room to store.  And its not just carrots.  Its beets, broccoli, rutabaga, swiss chard, apples.  What we really need is a root cellar.

Failing that, as an interim, what we really needed was another refrigerator.  A cheap or free one, preferrably.  And oh by the way, we needed it yesterday. 

So we did what any crazy busy farmer in the midst of harvest season would do.  We dropped everything and went online to Craiglist in search of free-or-cheap refrigerators in the area.  After a few hours of that, we found one, not free but cheap, within 20 miles of us.  We bounced emails back and forth for awhile, trying to get the price down, then unloaded the wagon (full of wood) and hitched it onto our car, drove the twenty miles, helped the sellers remove the door of the house so that we could take their fridge, loaded the fridge, put the door back on, paid the people, and drove back to our house, whereupon we unloaded the fridge onto the porch and not down into the basement where it needs to be because the bulkhead was full of the aforementioned wood.

Naturally the refrigerator that we needed yesterday stood on the porch for an additional week until we found the time to clear out the bulkhead of wood and the basement of detritus so that we could move the fridge back onto the wagon and around the back of the house and into the basement…. after removing a shelving unit, which theoretically should have taken all of five minutes but ended up taking an hour due to our inability to find our hammer, our screwdrivers, or a saw.

Two weeks and two full days of actual labor later we now have a fully functional refrigerator down in our basement.  It is empty.  Who has time to pull carrots?   We’re too busy running a farm, here.

Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

It’s a good thing we at least know what we’re doing now.   Because the rest of the world is still chaos, and, at times, actively campaigning against us.

This year we discovered a Mobile Processing Unit was available to rent nearby  for the cost of $35 a day.  An MPU is a boon to small farmers  like us, who want to process our chickens ourselves but aren’t independently wealthy enough to purchase the necessary equipment.  The MPU has everything in it and it comes in a small trailer.  All we needed to provide was manpower, utensils, ice…. And chickens.

So I went to pick up the MPU on Friday afternoon, with the intention of filling and lighting the scalder that night so that it would be ready bright and early the next morning.  So naturally, the first real, and hard, frost settled in on us as the sun started going down… which found me scrambling to harvest or cover the remaining crops which are not frost hardy instead of unpacking the chicken equipment.  Around 8pm, when we finally went outside to start the project, we discovered with dismay that the hoses had already frozen solid and our four-way had split.  Recognizing the futility of trying to heat 50 gallons of water to 150 degrees using frozen water from our well in 21 degree-and-falling weather overnight, we bagged the project and vowed to get up the next morning especially early to start.

Lionel had the brilliant idea of filling the scalder with hot water from our tap to jump start the process, so we started filling up available buckets, pans, and bowls with hot water to transport out to where the scalder had finally been released out of its trailer.  Lionel poured a few gallons in as I connected the propane up and prepared to light the pilot.  After successfully lighting the pilot I turned on the burner to heat up the scalder and got… nothing.

Then…. BANG! And then rattatatatatatatat!!!!! ….and then silence as I rapidly jumped in to turn it off.

Much more warily this time, I tried again, with the same worrying result.  I get nervous when propane-fueled items make explosion noises, so I called the man who keeps the equipment.

“Must be ice in the line,” he said, in his southern drawl.  “Just bang on various parts a few times, and try again.  It should light.”

So I banged on some things.  A few times.  And, eventually, it lit.

Well!  That crisis was averted!  Things should go smoothly now….. right?

Both kids woke up on queue and wanted breakfast and clothes and shoes.  My aunt was  coming to take them to a new Children’s Museum in Keene, and they were very excited.  She arrived shortly into the breakfast routine, so I took the moment to go down and open our farmstore.  While I was there I took our new, snazzy, digital, Certified for Sale scale and put it in the back of the car, intending to give it a recharge before we use it on our chickens.  Then our help arrived and I set them with the task of setting up the other equipment –feather plucker, tables, hoses, extension cords, utensils, etc.  Then the guy from whom we borrowed a wood processor came to pick his equipment up, and he had to drive over our lawn, right through where we’d set up, to get to it.  So…. We picked up the hoses, and the tables, and the extension cords, etc.   Then he left.  We put them back up again.

My aunt was finally ready to go but wanted to drive our car instead of her car.  She needed the diaper bag.  I got the diaper bag.  She needed a change of clothes.  I got a change of clothes.  The kids needed coats.  I got coats.  Finally they got strapped in and I turned away to do something else.  Five minutes later I looked up and they were still in the driveway.  I went up to them and discovered that all four windows were down.  “What’s wrong?”  I asked.

“How do you make the windows go up?”  my aunt asked.  She was in our Prius, which has automatic windows.  Vague alarm bells went off in my head, but I merely opened the door and made the windows go up, all four.  I wondered aloud how they had gotten down in the first place, but my aunt claimed they’d been that way all along.  Who knows?  Maybe, in the chaos that was happening around us, Lionel had gotten in the car briefly and, for some reason, probably a perfectly valid reason, put all four windows down.  I said goodbye again and headed off to do some other stuff and, five minutes later, noticed that they were still in the driveway.

“Is something wrong?”  I asked again. 

“Do you have a street address?” she asked, holding out her GPS unit.  “’Colony Mill’ doesn’t show up on my GPS.”

Colony Mill Marketplace is as big as day, there in the middle of Keene, but I suppressed the vague alarm bells again, resisted handing her the map in the glove compartment, and  Googled the damn address.  That accomplished, I watched with relief as they finally left the driveway.  Everything was finally ready, so I got two birds and set them in the cones.  A few seconds later, they were on their way to becoming meat.

Five minutes later, I started to curse.  “What?” my friends asked.

“The scale is in the back of &%@#!! car!!”  I ran off and leaped into our other car, hoping to find her on the side of the road, perhaps trying to figure out how to work the steering wheel—but no, they were long gone.  I came back despondently, but Lionel  was confident that they’d come back before customers came to pick up the birds.  We’d just bag them and put them in the refrigerator without weights until we had a proper scale.  Reassured, though still mad at myself, I went to check on the progress of the scalder and found that it had gone out.

I tried to relight it.  BANG….ratatattatatat!!  I banged on some things.  BANG!  Ratattatatatat!!

Okay, this is a big problem.  And it’s already 10:30 am.  And I have two dead birds, with feathers that won’t come off unless I have hot, 150 degree water.

We dithered for a while.  Should we try to locate another scalder?  Should we call it for the day and try again, maybe tomorrow?  Except someone was coming to pick up the equipment that night for their own use the next day.  We called the guy again, but he was at a market with no cell service.  So we dithered some more, and then finally tried to light it again… and it lit.   Our friends speculated that it might be the regulator, which we might or might not be able to pick up in the local hardware store, which is at least 20 minutes away.  At any rate, the scalder stayed lit, and finished warming up the water….so, finally, we began.  By now the sun had come out and had warmed up the landscape considerably, and things were pleasant for quite awhile.  The scalder went out again, but re-lit without making ominous bomb noises, so I was able to establish a fairly regular pattern of chicken slaughter-and-scalding with dashes of scalder-relighting here and there.  Once you are juggling a whole bunch of balls in the air, what’s one more?

Once we got going we made a good dent in the chicken population.  But there were 60 some-odd all told, and because of the late start we were racing against the clock, both to finish before our customers got there (we think it is bad form to be splattered in chicken guts when people come to buy their chicken), and to finish before dark and incidentally with enough time to clean the equipment, so that it could be carted away.  So naturally, around 4pm Lionel came back out of the house, where he’d gone briefly, to inform me that my aunt had borrowed someone’s cell phone, and left a message to tell us that she was unable to get the Prius doors to unlock and wanted to know how to open them?  And, naturally, since she’d borrowed someone else’s phone, there was no way to answer her question since there was no way to call her back.  And she had our scale.  And customers were coming in an hour.  And none of the birds had been weighed.  And we weren’t done.

Those vague alarm bells ringing in my head?  Oh yeah, I remembered.  The remote key no longer works, and so you can’t lock the car with it.  Or, in this case, unlock the car either, if you happen to be really ambitious and judicious about locking the car and lock it manually, even if, previous to that, you were unable to figure out how to open and close the windows.

Because the remote key function hasn’t worked for ages, we’ve actually taken to not locking the car, even when we are in places where we normally would lock the car.  There’s nothing of value in the car generally, except some juice-and-cracker-stained car seats, so, you know, have at.   I’d forgotten about it entirely… until now.

Fortunately, though, the remote key actually has embedded in it a manual, old fashion key with which you can open the front door should you happen to find yourself in just such a situation.  Which we’d gladly tell my aunt, assuming that we could locate her in the Colony Mill Marketplace.  But none of the merchants had seen her.  And she didn’t call back.

With foggy images of my aunt and my two children wandering aimlessly in the mall begging random strangers to help her figure out how to open her niece’s car, I managed to do in the remaining ten birds while Lionel retrieved our old, hokey, kitchen scale and began to backtrack on the weighing project.  Not a moment after we were done, the first car pulled into the driveway.    Birds began to disappear rapidly.  It was getting colder again and beginning to get dark, so I retrieved the tractor and hoisted the gut buckets into the bucket, traveling down the private road at as high a speed as I could muster to dump the offal far enough away so as to not encourage predators.  By the time I came back, it was dusk….and lo and behold, there was a Prius in the driveway.  My aunt had belatedly remembered that she had AAA and had managed to find her way back home.

We scrubbed chicken equipment in the rapidly cold and darkening night, put it back into the trailer for the next crew to use, went inside to change and wash off the day’s work, and then set out again with aunt and children to find food.  At the restaurant I showed her the hidden key and listened to the kids’ excited recounting of their day, and finally was able to relax into my dinner and glass of wine.  Lionel, who was supposed to come after the equipment was safely away, never showed up, so we boxed up his dinner and brought it home…. Whereupon he informed me that, just after all the equipment had left, something had gotten into the turkey fence and attacked and killed one turkey.  Still reeling from the day’s adrenaline rush, I replied “I’m gonna do it right now!!” and whipped out our largest pot.

 It was 9:30.  I was exhausted.  As I stared at the pot, envisioning how I was going to accomplish this feat of scalding the bird, on our stove,  with a pot that was clearly not big enough to accommodate an almost fully grown 20 pound turkey, I realized that I had to let it go.  Something had to give.  We’d spent all day beating back reality and Nature, and it was time to let reality win a point.

 Up 64 chickens.  Down 1 turkey.  2 kids in bed and 1 Prius (with scale in the back) in the driveway.  All in all, not a bad day’s work.

Eating what money can’t buy

We were processing our chicken flock outside under our pop up tent in the humid, awful heat that has pervaded us of late, when the skies clouded up and it began to gently rain.

“What’s this wet stuff?” I said to my colleagues, who chuckled. 

For the past month and a half, we’ve been schlepping hose around our property, trying to water an acre of vegetable garden and two acres of orchard (across the road) off of our house well.  Because the past few years have been exceptionally wet, we’ve delayed setting up formal irrigation for the orchard or the gardens.  This year, though, we’re in danger of running our house well entirely dry. 

We finished our clean up in what became a steady downpour, cleaned ourselves off as best we could, and went out to find a well deserved meal.  Coming back from the restaurant we drove through a torrential downpour.  Coming back home, we discovered the sudden onslaught of water had been too much for the tent but good for all else; one inch of rain had fallen in the space of 15 minutes, more than enough to last all of our gardens for the whole week.

Because of that rainfall, we’re not officially in a drought; it is merely “abnormally dry“.   We’re lucky to be small enough to be able to irrigate our gardens.  We’re lucky that we’re not the kind of farmers caught up in the Monsanto soy bean and corn production scam.  Luckily, our gardens and orchard are relatively productive this year.  But our luck could run out in the blink of an eye; a hailstorm, a microburst, a major insect invasion, a cold snap– all these could wipe us out in minutes. 

This has not been a stellar year for agriculture.  The maple crop was cut short by the mild winter and subsequent March heat wave.  Then a cold snap in early April devastated the tricked out fruit trees.  A hailstorm and flood did in the rest a few towns west of us.  The midwestern drought is killing off the corn and soybean crop, which means the livestock which most of the nation has been duped into eating will have nothing to feed on.   Still, since we as a nation view food as a commodity, and a cheap one at that, the only thing that we can think of is that our grocery bill will go up.  No one can imagine a world where the shelves are actually empty because there is no food to buy.

We won’t notice, for awhile, because distributors and food processors will search far and wide across the globe for the necessary corn to fill up your Snickers bar and your sirloin steak and your Diet Coke.  There will still be apples, peaches, blueberries, watermelon–albeit from across the seas where conditions this year aren’t as harsh as they are here.  The good times will last a little while longer while the ground gets dryer and dryer and the farmers who are producing the very stuff you live on go deeper into debt and finally throw in the towel.  It’s a free country, right?  It’s okay if a basic commodity becomes a liability, because we all live and die by our own swords and we all have a choice in what we do… right?  If farmers don’t want to farm anymore, that’s okay… as long as they pay off their debts.  That’s taxpayer money, you know.  Eventually, though, as humans consume more and more and care less and less, the demand for simple food –let alone your highly processed, HFCS and pink slime laden grocery store specials– will outstrip the global supply.  And when that happens, it won’t matter how much cash you press at the cashier.  They still won’t have a loaf of bread for you.

March Madness

It was hot.  Nearly 80 degrees, in fact.  And sunny, dry.  Not a cloud in the sky.  The magnolia was beginning to bloom, buds were ripening, the daffodils were poking up, the wood frogs were croaking.  I got out the wagon and wheeled my two children, dressed in short sleeved shirts, shorts, hats and sunscreen, to the library for Story Time.  The librarian looked up when I arrived, sweaty, with a beautifully open smile.  She was clearly reveling in the weather.

“Isn’t it gorgeous outside?” she said.

“It’s March,” I replied, which has been my retort ever since the unprecedented heat wave began, actually has been my reply for the entire winter, even when it wasn’t March but we were apparently perpetually in what used to be considered March weather.  We were into our seventh day of ridiculously high summer temperatures with no end in sight.  But this reply is lost on almost every one I talk to.  Everyone revels in the warm temperatures and the dry winter, and they don’t understand why I get so grumpy about it.  Paradoxically, the fact that nobody else gets it makes me even more angry. 

Today, a friend complained to me that it was sleeting and cold outside.  After ten days of intense summer heat, the temperatures cooled back down to the point where it got down to 16 degrees at our house, killing off the magnolia blooms, shocking the daffodils, silencing the wood frogs and very probably killing off the blueberry and apple flower buds in the orchard.  It’s sugaring weather again—or it would be if the maples hadn’t budded out.  That ship has sailed.  Better luck next year.

“Well,” I said, “It is March.”  Whatever that means, any more.

A few weeks ago we had finally gotten enough snow to cancel schools.  Almost immediately the buzz of snowmobiles could be heard outside.   A drive down the road revealed trucks and trailers, parked on the road, with an already muddied snowmobile track snaking off into the distance.   Last week, in the midst of the heat wave, thousands of people converged on Hampton Beach.   So it’s not as though people aren’t paying attention to the weather—clearly they have to prepare for their recreational activities in some thoughtful way—but they’re not thinking beyond the moment or beyond their own enjoyment.  If you’re liking the weather because you don’t have to break out your snow shovel, you’re spending less money on fuel, or because you believe that lack of snow will mean a lighter mosquito season this year, you’re purposely not thinking about the long term possibility of drought, higher food prices, or the fact that no snow cover will kill off a lot more than just mosquitoes.  I’d argue you’re not thinking at all.

And by you, gentle reader, I mean, actually, you.

If you’re reading this, then you likely have a longer attention span than the average American, plus you are able to comprehend fairly convoluted sentences that might contain words only a college graduate might know.  That makes you reasonably intelligent.   But really, you’re just an animal, living amongst your species, and basically your modus operandi is eat, live, reproduce, die.  That’s it.  So I’m not really blaming you, per se.  And I’m not saying I’m above the above average of my readers, either.  What I’m saying is that we’ve all been duped into giving up control of vital portions of what keeps us actually alive and functioning to entities that don’t actually care and don’t know what they’re doing, and the result is suspect food products, pollutants in the air and water, radiation particles, and extreme and unpredictable weather cycles due to climate change.  Even those of us with above average intelligence apparently can’t handle more than one complex issue at a time, so we numb ourselves down with catchy platitudes and simple pleasures and we get all Zen with the moment.  People like me, who apparently can’t turn it off, must annoy the hell out of people like you.

I care about the food stream and the increasingly unpredictable climate because I’ve actually gotten to the point where I’m trying to produce the food and the weather patterns are making it almost impossible.  We’re not talking about a bad carrot year, now and then.  We’re talking about constant, unpredictable, extreme uncertainties, every single year.  If one year I live in a rainforest and the next year I live in a Siberian like desert, and there is no way to predict which one I’ll live in, I can’t really buy clothes to suit the environment, can I?  Neither can I plan or adequately protect a garden or an orchard.   And even if I could, it would mean pouring money into additional infrastructure and technology to mimic what used to be a fairly stable and predictable environment, which means that when I sell my food to you, it will cost more.  It has to.  That money has to come from somewhere.  The fact that you are basking in the eery March sun and openly making light of the issue doesn’t change the fact that that same sun is actively upping your food bill.  And when you are presented with the higher price you won’t blame the erratic weather you were enjoying before.  You’ll blame me.

Now that I’m here, I’m even more aware of how fragile we’ve actually become.  Not only have we created a society that is so overwhelmed with its day to day trivialities that it can’t manage more than simple thoughts such as “I’m cold” or “I’m hot” and a simple emotion “I’m sad because I’m cold” or “I’m happy because I’m warm” before shutting down, but that same society isn’t capable of stepping out of its box even when it is reminded of the base reality.  Processing more complex information such as the time of year and the climate you’re supposed to live in should translate into more complex emotions such as “It’s okay to be cold because it’s winter—therefore I feel safe in my environment” or “It really shouldn’t be 80 degrees and sunny on March 15th –therefore I believe there is something wrong”, but it doesn’t.  You’re too busy worrying about bills and prowlers and the news-of-the-day issue.  The fact that you haven’t worn a coat all winter?  Bonus!  Hey, look Ma!  I’m wearing a bikini in the ocean in New Hampshire in March!  I’m skiing in shorts on artificial snow!

“It’s March,” is a reply that becomes a complete non-sequitur when you can’t connect the dots of what it means to be March in New Hampshire, and what it might mean to your future when March isn’t March and winter isn’t winter and it’s not your papa’s climate anymore.    You’ll complain about the exorbitant price of maple syrup and the lack of peaches and cherries, how your well has run dry.  You’ll freak out about the next “record” “freak” “extraordinary” “extreme weather event,” but you still won’t connect the dots.  Maybe you don’t even see the dots.  Maybe they’re obscured by sound bites and Limited Time Offers and the price of oil and your next hair appointment.  Frankly, I don’t really get why you don’t get it.  I’m pretty sure I’m not really smarter than you.  Maybe I just have better eyesight.  And a better memory.  Or maybe you’ve all really discovered a Zen I can’t perceive.   Hell, if I could achieve your Nirvana, I’d like nothing more than to hang out on my chaise lounge in a pretty matching bikini under a sizzling March sun watching the snow turn to mud.  Maybe then I could enjoy the “once in a lifetime” “freak” phenomenon and accept the costs of it later.  At least until it happened the next time, and by then I’d have forgotten all about it in favor of this year’s March Bikini Fashion Sale.

Nope.  Sorry.  Looks like reality is still there, dots and all.

If Money Did Grow On Trees…

No one would think it was worth anything. 

Since this is our first PYO season we’ve been proudly sending out invites to come pick berries to family, friends, and neighbors, with the understanding that as a business, the expectation was that said family, friends and neighbors would come experience our PYO for the set price of blueberries which, for this year at any rate, we set at $2.50 a pound.  A number of family, friends and neighbors took us up on this and came bearing cash, containers, and compliments on our accomplishment.  So imagine our surprise when word got back to us that one family member expressed dismay that we would actually charge family for a “small amount” of blueberries.  A small amount, in this case, was approximately 8 pounds of fresh blueberries.

 To put 8 pounds of blueberries in perspective, that is approximately 10 pints of blueberries which retail at the farmer’s markets around here for $4.00 a pint if picked and packed by the farmer.  That’s $40.00 of product which we were apparently expected to give away to family.  After all, it was just blueberries.  It wasn’t a wad of cash or a $40.00 necklace or a resource that we might actually miss, right?  They just grew there on those there bushes, right?  Where do we get off charging anybody at all for blueberries?  I mean you might buy blueberries in a store, but they’re in a store…that’s where you buy things.  But blueberries off a bush?  The time, effort and money placed into the orchard was just a hobby that we did on our free time instead of going skiing or going to Europe, right?  I mean, who expects to make food for a living?

 These same family members would gladly feed us lunch or dinner and host us for a night and possibly even give us a guest pass to a local attraction they have access to, just as we do when they come to visit us, but they would never hand us 40 dollars in cash simply because we’re family and we came to visit them.  That’s absurd.  And they certainly don’t get their food for free.  That’s why they work at some service oriented job from 9 to 5, after all.  So why treat the food you might pick off of carefully cultivated bushes as some kind of lesser commodity than the pesticide treated, plastic wrapped, force-ripened substitute you might find in Stop and Shop? 

 Aside from my obvious resentment at the offhand statement and growing anger at the dismissive tone of this remark which discounts pretty much everything that we here at LLARCS have been working to accomplish for the past ten years, I am truly baffled.  Are my suburbanite brethren really so far removed as to be that fucking clueless?  Do they really begrudge the cost of food as a necessary evil which takes away from what they truly earn money for—large TVs, overpriced cars, membership to a facility in which you jump up and down for an hour,  and brand named clothes?  If so, we’re doomed.    We’re all going to sink fast into the ever rising sea.  And we’ll deserve it.

 At least we here at LLARCS live on a hill and have a ready supply of food near at hand.   By then we’ll be the only ones on earth who can identify food which isn’t pre-packaged, so we won’t have to worry about the roving, hungry, hoards.  They’ll all dine out on rampaged Cheezits and die from over-exertion before they ever make it out of the city limits.

Hurricane Irene: Big Fat Whatever

It’s not that it didn’t pack a wallop.  A forgotten open window immediately brought in a pail full of water.  The power went out at around 10 am, right about the time our basement started flooding, which made us sacrifice our gasoline sap pump and even so took the entire day to deal with.   The same roads that flood every time we have torrential downpours flooded, the same roads that wash out every time washed out.  The orchard porta-potty started the day upright and ended the day slightly tipsy.  We haven’t assessed the damage to the orchard yet.

It’s that we’ve been through it before.

Yeah, sure, hurricanes don’t hit the New England area very often, but in the past ten years we’ve had three major flooding episodes and an ice storm, all “once in a lifetime” events, and I don’t buy the media hype anymore.  I just don’t. 

We here at LLARCS declined to join the masses at the gas station, filling up their vehicles and every gas container they had.  Our containers were already full since we use them constantly, and since all of our roads wash out whenever there is flooding there isn’t much point in filling up the car.  We did not rush out and buy a month’s worth of nonperishable canned goods or bottled water.  We have canned goods because we can our own goods and regularly stock the pantry for those unexpected disasters, and used some yankee ingenuity and filled some containers the night before with some perfectly potable, and incidentally free, tap water.  We don’t have cell phones so we didn’t worry about charging them up.  Our headlamps had battery power, and our wind up radio requires no batteries.  We certainly do need to invest in a small generator to keep our freezers going in the event of an extended power outage, but we by no means were about to buy one for some panicky price at Home Depot.  We had better things to do, like pick out the blueberry orchard before the berries all blew off.

Sorry Walmart.   Sorry media.  Sorry, corporate America. I’m way ahead of you now.

Now if only someone would put two and two together.   Three floods and an ice storm in a ten year period.  Climate change leading to extreme weather.   Hurricanes coming up the East Coast.  Tornadoes in Massachussetts.

Yeah, if you think about it its not really all that news-worthy, is it?  It’s exactly what climate scientists predicted would happen and we don’t seem to care about it as we drive to kingdom come and consume all of our dwindling resources and then get all panicky and excited when actual weather comes, as if we didn’t just have an extreme weather event two months before.  

We here at LLARCS are cleaning up today, per usual with an event like this.  Hurricane Irene dumped a bunch of water on us and made a mess of things.  This morning it is a beautiful summer day, and most people have already forgotten all about it. Get used to it.

The Anatomy of a Pick Your Own

I’m the first up–as usual these days– and as such I feed and water the chickens and let them out of their coop.  I do a load of dishes and a load of laundry as surety for later, when the day has ended and we’re ready to wind down.  Pretty soon everyone is up and we all eat breakfast, which is cereal without fruit, since there will be much gorging throughout the day and too much fruit definitely wreaks havoc on the digestive tracts of young children.

We pack a lunch for everyone, even though Lionel is just splitting wood at the sugar house and I and the Bundles will only be across the street–it’s just better this way.  We also hunt around for a container which can be used as a make-shift kiddie pool to keep the kids occupied for large swaths of the day.  Everyone smears on sunscreen, we find hats, and down we go.

Today being Sunday, we don’t have to put up the road signs which direct people to our orchard or put up the tent; those things were done yesterday.  But there is still some arranging to do; the open sign needs to be put out, the maple syrup, mint, garlic and the hats my mom crocheted need to be displayed.  Oh yes and—as evidenced by the loud screeching sound we just got startled by– we have to turn off the Critter Gitters, which are supposed to deter the turkeys and any other animals which venture down into the orchard but really only appear to annoy humans.

And then we settled down to wait.  We’re really hoping that the turn out is better than yesterday, which started out promising with a knock on our door by an eager customer around 10 am and then the arrival of said customer to pick 15 minutes after we first opened, but ended with a whimper, with only one more customer for the whole of the day.  We’ve already thought of contigency plans, which involve us picking a large amount of berries today and selling them wholesale to local businesses, which might work if I could only convince the Bundles that the peaceful playing they are doing right now in the water can also be done if I walk a few hundred feet away from them.  But Bundle I is having none of it.  Mainly, she doesn’t want to play with her sister, or doesn’t want to have to play with her sister, which she knows she’ll have to do if I am not around.  So I sit, bleary eyed, watching the kids splash in mud puddles and spray the ground with hose water.

Meanwhile, cars drive by.  Some wave, some pretend they don’t see me, one stops and asks what we’re selling, and when I say blueberries she thanks me and drives off.  One passerby, taking her morning walk, actually comes down into the orchard but tells me she doesn’t have time just now to pick.  She takes our number and says she’ll be back “later”…I presume she means next week.  We wait some more.

Finally as we break out lunch one car drives very purposefully into our parking lot, as though it was her destination the entire time, and comes out with a container.  She’s picked here before and she’s back for more.  I weigh her container so we don’t charge her for it later and show her where the best berry picking is today.  She comes back in short order with over 5 pounds picked.  Alright!  Shortly afterwards another couple arrives, and then the passerby who said she would return “later” arrives with friends.  More return customers come and they have brought their friends also.  There’s a big bonanza going on in the orchard now.  They laugh and talk and come back to get their berries weighed and buy syrup and garlic and thank us for having this orchard here and promise to spread the word.

This crowd fizzles out after a while and it’s nap time for Bundle II, who doesn’t know she’s tired.  My best bet is to put her and her sister in the car and drive around the block, so I put them in the car, turn it on, remember that I left something on the table under the tent and go to retrieve it, come back and see that Bundle II is asleep.  So I turn off the car and open the windows, and get Bundle I out of the car.  She’s been waiting for this moment because it means that she and I get to pick berries together.  So far, I was only able to pick 1/2 a pound.

As we’re getting out of the car, another car drives into the parking lot.  It’s a car that’s been driving back and forth all day.  We all remark that the sky is getting dark and as they are retrieving their 11-month old out of the car they ask if we have any berries picked.  I tell them I’ve only managed to pick the 1/2 pound but they can buy it if they like.  They do buy it and start eating berries, then decide that they’d like to pick too, so I give them containers and show them to some good bushes.  As I am doing that, more repeat customers arrive with lots of friends, as well as yet another couple, and pretty soon I have ten people in the orchard.

The sky gets darker.

Some people come back, we weigh their berries, they buy some syrup and then they leave.

The sky gets darker.  There’s thunder in the distance.

I pack up the crochet stuff so it won’t get wet.  Somebody else comes to get their berries weighed.

It starts to rain.

I pick up Bundle I and we run to the car, which I quickly turn on, put on the air and put up the windows.  Bundle II still sleeps.  I ask Bundle I to stay in the car and I rush out again to process the straggler’s berries.  Thunder and lightning crash overhead while we stand in a metal framed tent in the middle of a field.  It occurs to me later that I could have just guessed at a price and been happy with that, but in the moment my fingers fly over the calculator–three times, because I am hurrying– and come up with some random number which I relay back to the customer, who hands me some random money amount in return and we all run quickly to our cars.

Bundle II is still sound asleep, but Bundle I is crying with  her hands over her ears, from fear or loneliness or the loud noise or all of the above.  I watch with dismay as various items I didn’t store or tie down get tossed about or soaked.  I decide to go back up to the house to get Bundle I something to distract her with, and notice that a screen has blown in at the front door and now it is raining inside the house.  Brilliant!  I fix that up, run around trying to batten down the hatches, grab a snack and a few library books and make another mad dash for the car.  We drive back down to the orchard and I am relieved to see that the tent is still intact and upright.

Finally the rain stops.  Bundle II wakes up, Bundle I stops shivering, and the sun comes out.  We all trudge out to the orchard and I pick up all the pieces that got blown away.  We get back into the car and see if our signs are still standing, which they aren’t, so we pick them up.  We go back.  The sun is glistening off of the berries and the leaves and it’s almost 4:15, so we do what we had planned to do all day:

We pick blueberries. 

No more customers come.  We pack up the car, we dismantle the tent, we take down the open sign, turn on the useless Critter Gitters, close the gate, remove the road signs and we go home.  The next day at breakfast, we have blueberries on our cereal.

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