Thursday, September 10, 2009

In which I disclose a Key Coping Strategy for Life in Winter

Here's the thing about autumn in the Swampland: it ends.

Sometimes we Swamplanders get lucky and autumn doesn't end until mid- or even late-October.

Sometimes autumn shows up at the front door on the day before Labor Day, and it ends about a week later, driven out the door by icy rain, blustery winds, power failures, flooded roads, frozen pipes, and endlessly grey skies.

It could happen at any time.

Seasoned Swamplanders know this, and we prepare for winter by stocking up on food and firewood, by unboxing all the polarfleece clothes, by mending the tears in the Gortex parka, and by checking the emergency box in each vehicle to make sure that it contains useful stuff like jumper cables, a wool blanket, a jar of peanuts, a gallon of water, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and a paperback book.

There's one other important strategy that we Swamplanders utilize to get through the winter:

We store up as many Happy Blue Sky Moments as possible before the clouds clamp down and hold us as prisoners for the duration.

That was my task today. The day was bright, the laundry could run without me, and the truck's starter was running reliably, so off I went with Fiddle for a Day of Blue Sky!

In elementary school, the teacher showed us pictures of autumn featuring trees with bright red-and-yellow foliage. We don't get that much here. In fact, I hunted all day to find a brightly-colored tree, and finally found one. I think it has a beetle infestation.

(There are a lot of weather disconnects that we learned in elementary school: winter here isn't bright white and fluffy, it's dark grey and drizzly. Spring isn't green and dazzling, it's green and drizzly. Summer here isn't yellow and hot and dry, it's usually green and drizzly and slightly warmer than spring. The teachers told us to learn the "school seasons" for school and to ignore the school seasons otherwise and to remember our raincoats).

Warm weather and blue skies are meant to be enjoyed no matter what color the trees are, and Fiddle and I spent a few glorious hours trotting and cantering on trails that could turn to cold, ankle-deep mud by the weekend.

In college I learned about the concepts of carpe diem, and memento mori, to seize the day and remember that you will die. These made a lot more sense to me than the "school seasons" ever did.

Clearly, the poets who espoused those beliefs were, in their hearts, Swamplanders who have learned to memento hiber: remember that winter is coming.
ADDITION: While Fee and I were out playing, I took a couple of videos. The "trotting" video just gives me a headache to watch--I guess without my body to absorb the up/down part of the trotting, my eyes can't handle the motion! The "walking" video worked just fine, even though it looks like I've got a horse-head puppet in front of the camera, bobbing around! It took me a couple of tries to get the YouTube link functional--it should work now.

Happy Blue Sky, everyone! Memento Hiber!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In which we continue to celebrate Fall and prepare for Winter

Fall has definitely arrived in the Swamplands.

According to people who know these things, the way to tell when fall has arrived is to listen for the jays.

According to the crowd of bluejays in the tree this morning, the hazelnuts are ripe. You'd think they'd want to keep that a secret, but I guess that's not the way that jays do things.

Plums are also getting ripe.

Lots of plums.

I'm not sure what to do with them all...

There's only so much plum jam that a non-sugar-eater like me wants to produce each year. Maybe I can talk Jim into making some plum wine? Maybe he'll make a LOT of plum wine?

Grapes are getting ripe too. Aren't they pretty?

There's not very many grapes on the vines this year because they have been smothered by blackberry vines for yonks. It took me two months to hack them free--I assume they will grow better when they have a year or two of non-strangulation!

Small batches of grapes make tasty treats for hens--they chase them around the pen like they are playing a highly-caffinated round of grape-rugby.

I figure that the grapes are a nice reward for the eggs we are collecting now--a total of three so far, for those who are counting. We are hoping to get a few eggs each week through September, and then the Egg Machines will probably shut down for winter in October.

Our friends Megan and Henry came to visit over the holiday weekend, and showed us how to make garlic pickles.

Sorting the cukes. Cramming cucumbers into the jars is harder than it looks.

Pouring on the brine. Around Hallowe'en, we can open the first jar.

The goats are growing up, and are eagerly eating back the blackberry vines and anything else they can reach. I think they want to be fat and furry to be ready for winter...or really, they just like to be fat and furry.The goats were really upset when the rain started in earnest: when I went out to feed in the morning, they wouldn't come out of their goat house, but stayed under the dry roof hollering their complaints.

I think these goats have never really been rained on. They were born on the Dry Side of our state, probably in late Spring. It's entirely possible that our recent weather systems are the first rains they have ever experienced. They were so mad! Lupin was clearly trying to tell me that I needed to fix the sky because it was leaking and he didn't want to get wet.

The most important fall activity for Swampland country-dwellers is getting the firewood in. Jim and Willy knocked down an alder tree earlier in the summer, because it was fixin' to fall on our fenceline--and you just know that it will drop on the fence at three in the morning in the pouring rain, right? Better to take it down under controlled circumstances, during daylight hours.This weekend we rented a log splitter and hacked all the rounds into manageable chunks of firewood.

The splitter is my favorite kind of machine: the kind that a 45-year-old librarian can operate without endangering body parts.

The goats had to taste the machine, just in case it would be good goat food. Naaaaaaahhh.

The horses decided that woodsplitting is like trail work: boring. They ignored us after the first five minutes.

After the wood is split, we load it onto the truck to haul up to the woodshed by the house.

Willy holds a blackbelt in Tetris: he got a whole truckload of wood into a very small space!

I'm afraid that if I remove the wrong piece, it will all come crashing down on me. Hmmm. Maybe I'll send the kid out to fetch firewood this winter. He seems to have an affinity for this stack.
It looks like a lot of wood, but I'm anxious to get even more. We have two more alder trees that can come down, and I hope we can take them down and get them split before the weather gets really cold.

There's no such thing as too much firewood!

Monday, September 7, 2009

In which we participate in an American Tradition: FAIR!

Labour Day Weekend, already? Yes, with skies like these: must be September in the Swamplands. So, off we went to the Fair.

Willy had been to carnivals in Korea, and he was eager to try the rides here. Since Jim and I are sensible people, we were happy to stay on the ground to cheer him on from the safety of the soggy pavement.

The mighty adventurer scoped out the landscape
and chose his target:

I looked with a great deal of skepticism at the carny running the ride. He didn't seem entirely sober...or particularly sane. Before collecting tickets from the kids, he summoned an equally wobbly carny from a neighboring ride, and the two of them went behind the curtains of the Ring of Fire with a couple of huge pipe wrenches. I heard two big "ka-wang" sounds--were they clobbering each other with those tools?--and then they both emerged, no more disreputable-looking than before, and went back to collecting tickets and strapping kids to machinery.

Willy wasn't worried. He was first in line to trot up the steps and grab a front-row seat in the shining contraption.
Up and around went the Ring of Fire. Beside me on the ground, Jim was shouting "WO-oooooo!" Me, I just muttered phrases like "never on this earth, I swear to god" and kept shooting pictures.

Mission accomplished--he survived it and emerged smiling.

Now for the agricultural exhibits. This part was new to Willy. I guess the whole concept of farmers congregating at harvest time to show off their best and brightest accomplishments is sort of an American (or at least northern European) tradition. Other culture groups are happy just to get the jam in the jar and the pumpkins into the cellar, but we turn the entire process into a community-wide party.

We cruised the horse barns, of course, and admired the Belgian draft horses and their incredibly gigantic feet, and also talked quite a while with a fellow who leads a local Civil War reinactment group.
This little Morgan mare has beentheredonethat, and she was ready for the crowds.
After the horses, we moved on to other livestock.
Here in the Swamplands, we take cows very seriously.
Inside the Dairy Shrine, you can refresh yourself at the vending machine:
There are some interesting skills needed for successful cow-showing.
One example: getting the cow to MOVE when she is disinclined to move.
I would think that teaching a cow to follow where you lead would be pretty simple, especially if you start lead-line lessons when the cow is still a calf. Teaching a horse colt to lead is easy, after all--especially if you start when they're little, instead of waiting until they weigh 800 pounds or more and have all their teeth.
Maybe cows are just different. Or maybe it's traditional to wrassle them for every stride--perhaps that shows off a desirable quality in a cow to the judge who is watching. Hopefully, I'll never know; cows are not on my agenda!
This cow was very patient while she was being polished up before she was dragged out to be judged. At least, I think she was patient. It's kind of hard for me to tell, with cows.
Our next stop was the goat barn.
When I was growing up, raising goats was mostly a kid-thing--a lot of the younger 4-H kids would raise goats to prove to their parents that they were ready for the responsibility of raising a cow.
These days, adults take goats very seriously.
This fellow told us a lot about goats in general, Nubian goats specifically, and his goats in particular. He spends one or two hours every day, twice a day, milking his Nubian goats. I gotta admit that I spend that much time commuting to work and back four days a week...but I don't have to spend that time on holidays or weekends and being a librarian is more financially rewarding than being a goat milker. Still, it's an interesting thought.
Our goats are wethers, though. Scheduling milking times for them is not an issue. Whew.
There were other animals at the Fair, of course:
Alpaca farming is becoming a big industry in the Swampland--I counted five alpaca farms in just the northwestern corner of our county. A little girl drew a "smiley face" indentation on the body-fluff of this baby. Very, very soft.
Less soft, and more attitude: these rastafarian sheep. Great hair-doos, gang.
Here's something that Garrison Keillor doesn't encounter when he writes a report from the Minnesota State Fair: chainsaw sculpturing.
Because the Swampland's original industries were fishing and logging, logging equipment and skills are a part of our harvest culture here. Some people have taken chainsaw carpentry to the level of artistry, creating amazing pieces of cultural work, including story poles and furniture.
Others cater to the kitschy tourist crowd. Hey, it all pays the bills.
Of course, one of the reasons--for some people, the ONLY reason--to come to the Fair is the food. Taking a photo of this menu board was as close as I was willing to get to some fair specialties. Blech.
I do have a traditional favorite "Fair Food": strawberries and scones. I avoid sugar like the plague under normal circumstances, so I only had a few bites...

Oh, that is good stuff.
The strawberries and the whipped cream are local, and most of the other ingredients are regionally-produced as well. Served by two smiling kids from the local high school, THIS is a reason to come to the Fair.
Happy harvest, everyone!