Friday, August 14, 2009

In which ownership never enters the equation of blackberries

I had a conversation one time with an officer of the law:

"Where do you think you are going," he asked in an I'm-pretty-sure-I-won't -believe-the-answer-anyhow tone of voice, "with a pickup truck, a bashed up wooden pallet from the hardware store, and a bunch of coffee cans?"

(The fact that I was married to the officer at the time of the conversation should give you a clue about the state of my marriage. I consider myself fully recovered now)

My now-former husband was a city boy from Maryland, where (according to him) everything belongs to somebody. He could not ever grasp the (apparently local) custom of lack of blackberry ownership.

Here in the Swampland, blackberries not only don't belong to anybody, but also, all blackberries belong to everybody who is crazy enough to donate enough blood to the vines in order to harvest them.

In rainy summer years, the birds claim dominion over the blackberries, which are nutritious but bitter. Crows especially enjoy fermented bitter berries, and will eat them to the point of drunkenness, which is a special form of hilarity that we won't get to enjoy this year because the berries are just too good.

In hot dry sunny summers like this one, the sweet, juicy berries belong to the first person savvy enough to notice that they're ripe...and clever enough to carry the tools around in her truck ready to grab them.

The tools?

You guessed it: a bashed-up pallet from the hardware store, and a bunch of coffee cans.

My berry-picking tools get loaded into my truck during the first week of August so that I'm READY for berry picking on short notice.

This year, I took Willy with me. He is a huge fan of the pallet, which allows access to those super-sweet berries at the very top of the bushes.

We'll freeze a bunch of berries for mid-winter smoothies, and eat them by then handful while they're fresh. But for "opening day" of blackberry season, it's important to celebrate with the proper food:

Blackberry pie.
Oh yeah. Life is good.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In which I ponder hay, because I've never served it with condiments!

We got some hay last weekend. The local hay crop, which is usually yellow, slimy, and only rarely mown and baled without rain, is actually suitable for horses this year.

Usually we have to truck all our hay in from the Dry Side of the mountains. Hay farmers over there don't grow hay as much as they grow Freakin' Amazin' Square Green Leaf Candy for Horses. It's not cheap, but horses will eat every single stick of it, and generally the nutrition of Eastern Washington Hay is far better than the best stuff we grow here.

Of course, the weather rarely wrecks Dry Side hay. Sigh. It must be nice.

This year, though, in the region where a single cutting of "horse-suitable hay" is considered a good year, our Swampland farmers have gotten two and sometimes even three cuttings of hay from their fields already, and some are rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a fourth cutting. Me, I wouldn't bet on that fourth cutting, but the second and third cuts look amazingly good.

Since Hana likes to eat but is prone to roundness, I prefer to get hay that is a little less Freakin' Amazin' when I can get it. Local hay fits her needs perfectly.

I buy hay all over the county. Whenever I can afford a ton, I spend a few minutes with Craigslist and a few more minutes on the telephone, and then I throw a bunch of ropes in the truck and head out to buy hay. I wish I were prosperous enough to just roll up to some field or other with my empty truck and trailer and pick up three tons of premium hay at a time, but I'm not...and bouncing a check to a hay farmer is the worst possible karma. So instead, I wait for payday and shop around.

This last batch of hay came with something extra: salt.

What the....?

The farmer (who has clearly been growing hay since Noah unloaded the first two bushels of grass seed from the ark) nodded wisely at me. "It draws out the extra moisture from the bales," he said. "Keeps down the chance of spontaneous combustion."

Salt does that?

I was skeptical. However, this hay was some of the nicest I've seen out of Swampland fields in years, and his price was low, and he helped Willy and me stack it on the truck and tie it down. The salted hay is now stacked neatly in the neighbor's barn.

(Did I mention how nice my neighbors are? They offered to house hay for us, right behind the gigantic fish. But that's another story....)

I'm not a librarian-by-trade for nothing, so when I got back to electricity from the hay barn, I started looking for information about salted hay.

And, whaddya know?

It's traditional to scatter salt on hay bales to draw out moisture and reduce the danger of spontaneous hay combustion. According to the most authoritative article I located, the practice works, but not very well. It certainly does no harm, anyhow.

As long as the mares don't start demanding pepper and ketchup on their hay to go with the salt, I think it will be fine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In which the word "rain" is examined in minute and loving detail

It turns out that the whole concept of the Eskimos having a hundred words for “snow” is greatly exaggerated, even without examining the political incorrectness of the label “Eskimo” (the term “Inuit” is more polite and precise).

However, the concept of a group of people having a huge number of distinct and separate words to describe something that other groups of people describe using only a few words…well, it’s a neat idea.

It’s not entirely outlandish, either.

I offer as an example: RAIN.

With the help of a few online dictionaries and thesauri, I counted around 40 common “rain” words and phrases in the mainstream American-English language:

bucket, burst, cat-and-dog weather, cloudburst, condensation, deluge, drencher, dribble, drizzle, flood, flurry, heavy dew, liquid sunshine, mist, monsoon, patter, pelt, pour, precipitation, rain, raindrops, rainfall, rainstorm, sheets, showers, sleet, spate, spit, sprinkle, sprinkling, storm, stream, torrent, volley.

Here in the Swamplands, we have many flavors of rain.

We have the long-awaited and much-celebrated first rains at the end of summer, the rain that knocks the heat and grit from the sky and becomes virga-esque on the long journey to the dirt.

We have the fat plopping splat rain of early fall, soaking into warm ground and rapidly refilling our parched wells, re-inflating our slugs, softening the crusts around the edge of our swamps.

We have the never-ending grey drizzle of late fall, the overcast skies that hover a few feet above the ground for the express purpose of covering our jackets and hoods and eyelashes with tiny liquid gemstones.

We have the winter’s cold drippy sleet, which blows through our bodies and settles deep in our bone marrow. Rainclouds in winter turn the sky, the ocean, the ground, and even the trees a monochromic gloomy grey.

Deep in midwinter, we sometimes avoid snowfall by having icestorms instead: raw porcupine skin-piercing spines of rain that form a protective shell of silver water around every exposed surface.

In late winter, the rain softens and fattens into fragile, distended blobs. A single raindrop in late winter can land on top of an un-hooded head, and instantly traverse the long frigid slug-line from scalp to underwear.

We know it’s springtime in the Swamplands when the rain gets warm. While we never “cancel on account of rain” here—if we did, we’d never get anything done—spring rain calls us out from under our hoods and roofs. We tip our faces up to the sky to smell the promise of summer encased in springtime rain.

We have rain in the summer here, too. Summer rains are children’s rains, because you can swim in the lake and on the shore in summer. We don’t run through the sprinklers most years; instead, we run around the back yards, sliding on wet grass and shrieking when we slip and land on our knees and elbows.

The hiatus from rain in an average Swampland summer is brief and welcome, and most native swampdwellers truly enjoy both days of blue skies and sunny weather.

But we really are much more comfortable when the clouds move in and the rain returns us to normal life in the Swamplands.

Monday, August 10, 2009

In which we celebrate something long-awaited and quite wonderful

At last!

The Swampland has been hot and dry this summer--a hotter and dryer summer than any on record. And now, today, finally: a respite.

The ground isn't saturated yet. The dirt is barely damp.

Water is falling from the sky at last.

The forecasters are predicting that we will have rain for at least a few more days. I couldn't help myself this evening: I ran around the farm taking photos of the beautiful, beautiful rain.

Life is good!