After a long break without artists in the Shark’s Ink. studio artist Terry Maker arrived to make a new print. Each day I prepared a special ‘artist’s’ lunch. As is my wont, I mostly served salads accompanied by Moxie bread – brought by Terry from the original bakery near her home in Louisville, Colorado. (We also now have a Moxie Bakery in Lyons, lucky us.)
Here is a selection of some of my concoctions.
I had a bag of Royal Corona beans in my Rancho Gordo stash, perfect for a winter salad. After cooking them until tender I marinated the large beans in a lemony, garlic vinaigrette, added diced red pepper and parsley. For the cauliflower salad go to Busy day dinner for the recipe. I had wonderful anchovy stuffed Spanish olives – a gift from the VanDyks – to add to this favorite dish.
I’ve been making a new kale salad adapted from one in The Smitten Kitchen. Remove the kale leaves from the tough stalks and slice very thin across the leaves. Place in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two olive oil and squeeze and massage the kale. It will shrink to about half the original quantity. In a small bowl combine a tablespoon of vinegar and one of water. Add a ¼ cup of sultanas (golden raisins) and let macerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Toast ½ cup of walnuts, watching carefully so they don’t burn, about 3 minutes at 250° in the toaster oven or in a small, heavy skillet on the stovetop. Combine ½ cup panko or other bread crumbs and a clove of finely chopped garlic in a small skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Toast until light brown, a couple minutes over medium heat. Grate ½ cup parmesan. Toss together the kale, walnuts, parmesan, and the drained sultanas. Top with the bread crumbs just before serving so they stay crunchy.
We still enjoy the kale salad that is inspired by one we often ordered at long gone Acorn in Denver. Go to First post for the recipe.
One day Terry brought a dense loaf of Moxie Bakery’s rye bread that seemed perfect for avocado toast. To the mashed avocado I added a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt, and a minced green onion. Then placed slices of cucumber and a shower of pomegranate arils over all.
To end the week I celebrated my birthday with Sheila, Walt, Moira, Zoë and Bud at a Sunday lunch. I made grilled salmon skewers with salsa verde, a big green salad with roasted butternut squash, fennel and pomegranate. Zoë made a cranberry ricotta cake and good fun was had by all. I do love cooking for dear ones.
I’d gone out to the Park to sow poppy seeds in Cadfael’s garden when much to my surprise I found him sitting on the bench in his garden, head bowed and looking somewhat serious. Usually I stay out of his garden when he’s around. If he wants to visit, he leans over the boundary of either the Culinary or Cottage gardens that touch his. Braced on his shovel, he greets me, smiles, comments on the new growth of the betony or other herb, then turns around with a wink and goes back to his world. We respect each other’s solitude. Both of us need and want the silence when we work, only the birds and insects, the wind and sun accompanying us. But on this day, with a light snow on the ground, I felt concerned and stood at the entrance to his garden clearing my throat to catch his attention. Brother Cadfael is a man of few words. He said, “It’s the shrine to St. Fiacre.” I looked at him with astonishment. He’d never complained about Fiacre’s shrine. I asked him, “Do you object to us honoring him?”
I must interject this. Brother Cadfael lived mostly in England during the 12th century. St. Fiacre was raised in Ireland but left for France to find solitude when his healing skills became too much in demand, building a small hut in the forest surrounded by his garden. That was in the mid-15th century. And you say, hmmm…now we’re in the 21st century. Yes, yes, I realize that. Please do not expect me, humble me, to explain how such things happen. You know they just do. I feel sure you have secret communications with folks from other centuries, you simply keep it quiet so as not to make people look at you with THAT look. I’m beyond that. I accept my eccentricities and feel pleased we don’t live in times when they burned witches at the stake. But we’ll keep that quiet, now won’t we!
Anyway, Brother Cadfael slowly shook his head. “You know how often I visit his shrine, how many bouquets and special herbs I leave there. Have you seen him today?”
And that’s when I knew something had happened. I did an about-face and hurried out to the shrine in the fence row. As I approached I understood Brother Cadfael’s sadness. I fell to my knees. The strong, even violent winds had taken down the wooden structure Ron built 35 years ago. And St. Fiacre laid, face down, on the snow. Unharmed. I picked him up and with utter joy raced back to Brother Cadfael. As I approached I held up St. Fiacre and shouted, “LOOK!” He lifted his tired head and burst into a “glory be”. He invited me to sit by him. We sat silently together as he marveled at how St. Fiacre had survived the fall, how he never thought to go closer when he saw the shrine laying on the ground, that he thought that was the end of his pilgrimages to his shrine and the communion the two gardeners shared. I assured him I would repair the shrine and we would put it back up, better than ever. He smiled at that.
Then he did the unexpected. He asked a favor of me. “Would you, could you, ah, do you think, would it be possible…could we possibly put the shrine in my garden? I could watch over him then and he’d always have fresh greenery, everyday I’d put something beautiful on his altar.” He caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to say. First of all, the repair will take me a good while. Just getting the nails out of that seasoned oak will challenge me. I’ll need help. Everything weighs so much. And then transporting the shrine a thousand feet… I just didn’t know about any of it. It seemed like too much to think about, but at the same time, he’d never asked anything of me before and is always grateful when I give him seeds or another plant or when I opened up that new garden spot for him. I didn’t want to disappoint him nor did I want to put the shrine in danger of future damage. There are these huge white willow trees, the mimosa tree in the corner and any of those branches could fall on the shrine. I started going in circles. All this time Brother Cadfael remained silent. He allowed me time to think it over.
Finally I told him, “Brother Cadfael, I’d love to put the shrine in your garden. It seems appropriate to have him closer to your monastery garden. I know he would feel at home here. While I’m repairing the shrine, we can hang his statue on the white willow’s trunk. If you’d think about a good, safe spot for the shrine during that time, I’ll trust your judgment, one way or another. Does that sound agreeable to you?” He nodded and smiled. I left St. Fiacre with him while I went back to the house for a hammer and nail to hang the statue.
Within a few days of the accident, I had the nails out of the oak boards with the help of a pry bar. The pieces we can still use have moss and lichen growing on them, gorgeous and rustic, just what I admire. The restoring process will be slow as other chores come first, burning the plots, sowing seed that needs stratification. Brother Cadfael doesn’t mind. He has St. Fiacre with him.
We sowed the poppy seed after I’d hung up St. Fiacre and Brother Cadfael’s already thinking of the potions he’ll make from the flowers and seeds. Peace has been restored and Ron, or Thirsty as he liked to be called, would be shaking his head and laughing, saying something like, “How many projects of mine have your hands touched?” And I’d smile, because I never would’ve thought I could’ve rescued any of them.
December has been busy with friends, family and food. I expect that many of you have also experienced a flurry of activities around the holidays. I mostly enjoy the commotion but need moments, or days, of quiet and solitude. Our perch on Blue Mountain Road gives us a lovely, calm view of life with visits from many birds and beasts. We’ve had frigid temperatures, warm, sunny days, and snow, in our changeable Colorado winter.
I spent some time baking goodies to share with friends and family ─ walnut crescents, cuccidati, nut roll.
We met up with friends at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art holiday party. Everyone dressed up, eager to celebrate together.
Sherry, Jamie and Sherry’s mom, Suzy, came for Christmas Eve dinner. That afternoon, Zoë, Bud and I made sweetcorn tamales to accompany the salmon Bud would smoke. We had a lovely time with these dear ones.
My sister Susan and husband Charles hosted the Colorado family for Christmas dinner (and Thanksgiving). The center of attention was, of course, Corey and Liz’s daughter, little Lilikoi, eleven months old and just beginning to walk. A delight to watch her explore the world.
So, here we are about to begin a new year. I know we’ll have new challenges and opportunities. I wish you the best of luck in navigating it all. Many thanks to all you loyal readers.
We brought wine bottles from Colorado forty years ago, half of them filled with home brew. Now that I don’t make beer and wine but once every 4 or 5 years when I can’t resist the abundance of elder flowers, all those bottles simply take up space down in the root cellar. Plus the back room of the hand-dug cellar needs refurbishing. The railroad ties Ron used to line the walls have deteriorated and allowed mice and other earth dwellers to tunnel in. We’re going to rebuild the interior with fresh lumber, making it somewhat smaller, and it’ll pose problems for the tunnelers trying to gain entrance. All those bottles would get in our way and we’d have to move and then move them again. I asked Elizabeth if they could use any. She said maybe a dozen but she could take a photo, post it on Facebook, and ask for bids. And she did just that. I don’t do Facebook so this was a new experience.
A few weeks later, she had two offers. Sarah bid the highest so she had first dibs. She’s starting a business for stress relief. One of the rooms will be a rage room where kids will break glass. In another room, they’ll splatter paint all over themselves and onto a canvas, and another room will host gender reveal parties. She’ll use the vintage bottles, filling them with blue or pink powder, maybe both, she exclaimed, for the new parents wanting to celebrate their baby’s arrival. All this was new to me. I hadn’t heard of any of it and for a moment I felt possessive of the bottles: “Those bottles have wine and beer in their souls. They shouldn’t be used for anything else!” And then that patient voice spoke to me, “Let go of your preconceptions. Move on. Embrace change.” When I watched how Sarah handled each bottle, looking with satisfaction, holding them up to the sun and how she expressed her gratitude for the bottles, I relaxed, smiled and let go. Ahhh…
After helping load 70 wine bottles into every nook and cranny of Sarah’s SUV, I came in to find a message from Elizabeth saying she and Cody had been out in the woods and harvested 7 pounds of oyster mushrooms. They had already dried as many as they’d need for winter and did I want the rest? This is just one more act of kindness two of my new gardening friends have bestowed on me.
Petra and Patrick, Elizabeth and Cody represent the first gardeners in forty years who have a similar passion to what Ron and I had. How odd to meet like-minded people after so many barren years. It makes me believe in the possibilities of anything. OK, here’s another example. Ron and I used fluorescent shop lights to start our seedlings. When the old bulbs burned out, with an awareness of energy-saving LED lights, I recycled the frames and bulbs and moved on to LED shop lights. I assumed, I didn’t research, that these lights would give the same output of energy. My seedlings last spring did not measure up. I knew I had to make a change. I asked Elizabeth for suggestions. She said they use an LED grow light from Spider Farmer and produce healthy seedlings. One fixture would cover a 3’ x 3’ space. When the box arrived, I expected a 3’ x 3’ box and almost panicked when it arrived in a tiny box. This fixture measures 11” x 12” and feels heavy and substantial. It’ll cover more than enough space for my seedlings. Once again, that kind voice reminded me, “the world has moved on, you can too”. I’m excited to watch this year’s seedlings thrive and thrilled to have advice from someone’s experience. (Elizabeth and Cody inherited the LED shop lights. They needed new ones and were pleased to get them. Yes!!)
All three of us homesteading couples have a unique piece of land with its own glories and challenges. For example, the road to Elizabeth and Cody’s is so steep my ‘96 Honda scraped bottom the first time I went down. Now Elizabeth picks me up at the top of the hill, a taxi service, after I park in front of the gate. Their land has a remarkable diversity of plants and animals, a huge lake, 18’ deep at the deepest. They get flocks of wild geese and all kinds of water birds. They’re making paths through their beautiful woods and have many wildflowers, vines, trees and oodles of mushrooms of all kinds. Their permaculture gardens inspire me. Elizabeth scatters seed to the wind, letting everything grow in a mishmash, successfully. She uses strawberries as a ground cover and has thousands of runners.
Petra and Patrick’s place sits on top of a steep hill with brilliant views of the sky. The stars dazzle with no interference from trees or buildings. A spring-fed pond keeps the ponies happy. Because most of their land, like ours, was pasture, they get to landscape it and grow whatever trees and shrubs they like. Petra has plans for an oak savanna and edible natives everywhere. Patrick is looking into wind and solar power and moves about on their tractor like a pro. They set up a clothesline early on and I smile in solidarity when I see their clothes blowing in the breezes. They insisted on a riding mower with a bag. Patrick spreads all the clippings on the trees and shrubs Petra has planted. In one short year they’ve increased the biodiversity a hundred fold. What a pleasure to know these couples.
The head gardener and I have our own autumn tasks. Stashing the bamboo and spreading mulch chief among them. We put up a large, tall wire basket to store the branched bamboo. I like to stick these pieces in the gardens to give the birds places to hide and perch but the freezing and thawing of the soil pushes them out and then I can’t get them back in because the earth’s frozen. So this year the head gardener thought ahead and made some hideouts before the freezing cycle began. We staked down this big basket so the wind can’t topple all the wonderful pieces that vines love to twine around. And birds have discovered a refuge from the cold winds.
Look at how neatly the head gardener uses the obvious storage holes for the unbranched bamboo. When she threads the pieces into these openings it feels like we have a bamboo lumber yard. Sometimes I’ll amble over to the storage bins and poke in some bamboo pieces. She frowns at me. “One at a time,” she’ll shout! Oh yes, she loves order and if one piece is poking out, she’ll take out the whole lot and redo it so it’s neat and tidy. I have to confess, it does make it much easier to get them in, in the autumn and out, in spring. Come spring these horizontal canes provide a sheltered space for a vining plant to begin to grow, protected and shaded once the summer sun comes.
The birds mercilessly hit the windows. I’d put up a line of feathers on a string, but as my daughter pointed out, I needed larger feathers than the little ones I used. And then bamboo spoke to me. I split a cane, drill a hole near the node, put a strong string through the hole, hang them, and watch them move with the wind, telling the birds not to come near.
Jeremy, Johnny, John, Patrick and 3 year old Easton all filled the woodshed with beautiful oak. I stood out visiting with them as they stacked, told stories and teased each other, and of course me. There’s something special about being out in the cold, doing a job together, watching the woodshed fill up.
Our Lady has her autumn garb. And a new head. With no more bushel basket gourds, I felt puzzled. Then I looked at some frames for unfinished baskets I inherited when Walt, my friend and fellow basketmaker had passed. He did unexpected things that made you laugh or smile, I can give him this. I know he’d be tickled to see one of his frames become the head for Our Lady. And she loves the way the wind blows through her mind, clearing the cobwebs and freeing her to dream.
We’ve had a busy couple weeks. In late October we flew to New York City to participate in The Print Fair which opened on the 27th. Cynthia and Bob again graciously lent us their wonderful loft in Chelsea for the week. We ate simply at familiar restaurants close to our temporary home like Cafeteria and Westville. I’m still walking with a cane so we took cabs and limited our walks. I told folks I was doing art fair PT.
Bud, Roseanne and I were happy to talk with artists, clients, and colleagues not seen since the last Fair in 2019.
Enrique Chagoya was honored and had an on stage conversation with Kara Maria and Bud. All in all a successful trip.
I think the NYC PT worked. I feel better and more flexible each day. Wonderful Bronwyn Muldoon at Lyons PT has discharged me and I continue to take walks in Apple Valley and at Pella Crossing.
On our return to Lyons, Zoë convinced me that I should get an I-phone, something I’ve put off, feeling content with my flip phone. With her help I’ve figured out the basics and the kitchen photos in this post were made with my new phone.
Sister-in-law Jan came for a visit and we viewed the Sharkive exhibit at the CU Art Museum, played Scrabble, cooked and ate with Zoë, viewed Picasso prints at the art museum in Fort Collins, and had lots of good conversation.
Snow fell all yesterday and through the night. It’s cold. What to bake? I chose gingersnaps to sweeten the grey and warm the kitchen. This recipe is from Marion Cunningham’s Baking Book. I use blackstrap molasses for its deep, slightly bitter taste.
I make these in my Cuisinart. Use a mixer or a bowl and spoon.
Cream together 6 ounces butter (1½ sticks) and 1 cup of sugar.
Suddenly the landscape has changed, seemingly overnight. We’ve gone from intense summer to sumptuous autumn and my eyes cannot take in the beauty quickly enough. It would not be an exaggeration to say I’ve been gobsmacked. The orange of the sassafras, the reds in the sumac, creeping Virginia and maples. Bright yellow glows as the witch hazels and persimmons go about their changes. I walk around with my mouth wide open, looking and looking and wanting to fall on my knees, overcome with the beauty and wonder even when I know winter waits for his performance.
And isn’t that what these transitions in the life cycle give us, signs, signals of the constant change all things in this universe undergo? To tell us to glide from one episode to the next, to not fret, that a ‘mostly’ predictable transmutation occurs at intervals to make us pause, take notice that we do live on an ever changing planet. Introspection comes easily at this time of year, especially when the harsh, even brutal, summer has finally come to an end. There was no time for introspection then, we simply survived.
When I began to think about writing a piece for Barbara, the heat was still with us, as was the endless drought. The photographs I took now seem from another time, another place. And I guess they are. A few weeks, a lot of changes. And those changes continue. The temps will drop to the low 20’s in the next few days, and then a few days later, it’ll be 70 degrees, sunny and mild at night. I sure hope all the critters know how to handle these mind-boggling changes because this gardener has had a tough time deciding what to do.
The head gardener loves to prune and I must say, she has a good eye and can go after any tree or shrub, cut out the dead and overlapping branches and allow the tree to show its graceful presence. I admire her skill and gladly haul brush for her. It’s quiet work as she stays absorbed and thoughtful, stepping back often to look, tilting her head from one side to the other. It’s more than a pleasure to see her so happy and doubly wonderful to do tasks usually reserved for late fall.
With canning at a minimum, I had time to play too. I save up stuff that would otherwise go in the trash, and put them together in ways that make me smile, like Blowin’ in the Wind does. Whenever we cut a piece of our native bamboo, we often have little pieces we can’t use. We throw them in a basket and then, like this Bits and Pieces, we string them and watch the wind play. The next one will have much longer horizontal pieces so the birds can lite on them and swing too.
Wood boring insects created The Fierce Warrior, I simply rescued it from obscurity and gave him a platform to give pause to predators.
Jeremy brought me a 12 foot long white oak board that he was afraid would just sit and rot if someone didn’t do something with it. I appreciated his thoughtfulness and asked Patrick to put a bench together for me. While Petra was in Germany he had some time and came over and made this. He commented on how tough the oak was, how hard it was for his saw to cut through it, looked at our house and shook his head. Green oak is easier to cut. Old oak becomes stronger than concrete. We left the bench right where Patrick put it together. It feels wonderful under the mimosa and from this perch another world opens up.
Just like the world under the short leaf pine, our only native pine tree. I built an Aldo Leopold bench from junk wood as a place to sit and pretend I’m back in Colorado. Of course it’s the fragrance, the smell of the pine that takes me back. Because the branches swoop down so low, I can sit there, hidden from the world and watch the coming and goings of the zebra swallowtails in the pawpaw patch, birds of all sorts darting here and there.
One night not too long ago, the sky beckoned me. I took a blanket out to the hammock and lay facing the northern sky. If you’ve never laid in a hammock and looked at the night sky, do it! And again, enter another world. As I lay in the night chill, I thought about us coming to Missouri almost 40 years ago. I was thinking about Ron and our journey and all of a sudden, whizzzz! A shooting star came down so close to me I just may have been able to catch it. I blurted out, “You show off!” because Ron was just that, he’d do anything for a laugh and him streaking through the night sky seemed apt. I don’t believe in such things, but the coincidence of my thought of him and the shooting star were just too tempting not to put together and it’s just the sort of thing he’d love to do.
September has been a busy month. We began it with the opening of the Sharkive exhibition, Onward and Upward – Shark’s Ink. – at the CU Art Museum, a wonderful mélange of prints. Curator Hope Saska chose works I might not have and put them together in a colorful overview of the Museum’s holdings in the Sharkive. We greeted old friends and met new ones. I felt a mixture of pride and sadness. Bud has made an amazing body of work with so many amazing artists. And there it was on the walls. A life’s work. Altogether an exciting – and exhausting – affair.
The following Saturday we again celebrated the Sharkive exhibition at a breakfast reception. I spoke with a woman I had known as a young girl (sixty-some years ago) and we remembered the food and the games we played in Superior, Wisconsin. Like s’mores made with saltines rather than graham crackers. Buttered saltines and gooey marshmallows! If I can bring myself to buy marshmallows (why do I have such an aversion to this purchase?) I will make these to relive that childish memory.
Barbara Takenaga arrived the next week and made a group of monotypes. Beautiful and strange atmospheres on paper. On her heels, Enrique Chagoya worked with Bud and Evan to get a BAT of a new lithograph. A new kind of codex, full of colorful characters and poignant images.
We had great conversations over meals and I made sure those meals were special. We had a spatchcocked chicken, lots of salads, bison burgers, and this salmon dish first encountered when Sherry and Jamie brought us dinner during my recovery.
Green Salmon Skewers
First make a salsa verde. Roughly chop two cups of cilantro, leaves and tender stems, then pulse in the Cuisinart with a tablespoon of olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic, and a big pinch of salt. Add drops of water to help the machine whizz the cilantro into a chunky paste. Cut a pound of skinless salmon into large pieces – 1 ½ or 2 inches. Toss with the salsa verde and leave to marinate 30 minutes to several hours. Arrange on skewers and grill or broil for 3 minutes. Turn and cook another 3 minutes or until done to your liking. We prefer the salmon lightly cooked.
If you have any leftovers they taste great with an assortment of salads.
This zucchini gratin makes a nice accompaniment to the salmon skewers or other grilled entrees.
Coarsely grate two medium sized zucchini by hand or in the processor. Wrap in a piece of cheesecloth or a smooth kitchen towel and squeeze until dry.
In a large skillet, sauté half a medium onion, diced, in two tablespoon of olive oil until lightly browned. Add the zucchini and a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a few minutes.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the veggies and mix well. Stir in a cup of milk and cook until thickened. You may need a little more milk to make a thick but not stiff mixture. Add ½ cup grated parmesan.
Tip into a baking dish, or as I did into individual cazuelas. Top with a handful of panko or other bread crumbs. Drizzle a little olive oil over all and bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until browned and bubbly.
Sometimes everything does work out. Why is it we don’t know this until we’ve almost given up hope? How do you keep believing when all signs point to disaster? And why does this optimistic gardener even venture into such dark territory? Like so many folks the world over, we’ve dealt with a profound drought. Granted, not on the level African countries, Iran or Afghanistan endure, and certainly nothing like the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, or that China faces today, but enough drought to bring despair to our psyches and wonder if rain had become another old fashioned idea. We burrowed into our shells and waited out the heat, the dryness, the shriveling up of the landscape. If I paint a grim picture I’ve only recorded reality.
Through day after day with no rain and unrelenting heat, the gardens held on ─ held on but didn’t look pretty. By 5pm each day, everything had wilted, expressing utter exhaustion. Shrubs and some perennials sloughed off leaves to reduce evaporation as they too waited, waited. It was sad, just plain sad. I didn’t smile much and began to feel what other people must feel as they watch their world, their livelihood collapse a midst one natural disaster or another.
Last summer I decided, over the protestations of the head gardener, not to water the gardens except for plants in pots. With predictions of water shortages in the future, we could learn which plants do well in drought and gather some information as to how to proceed as the climate continues to change. I felt excited to gather information and begin a large experiment. Not the head gardener. With a not so gentle voice, she puffed up, turned red, and told me I was crazy. “You have a deep well. It goes down 333 feet. Why would you let everyone else use that water and not you? All the work we’ve done to plant will just be wasted. I just don’t get you!” I looked at her, saw her utter frustration, and understood her logic. It didn’t seem like the right moment to have a discussion on climate change and we had work to do, so I told her she’d raised some points I’d think about. Fortunately last summer was generous, we didn’t need to water as the rains came and most everything did well. The discussion was forgotten or postponed, depending on who you asked.
Last Friday when she came back from her summer retreat and stopped in to say hello she wanted to walk around the gardens. I tried to deflect her but she moved right on, pushing toward the gardens. She stopped in her tracks and was horrified. Simply horrified. The naked ladies, or surprise lilies, and the zinnias were the only bright spots for her. The tomatoes weren’t producing much, only a few cucumbers on the vines, no beans, peppers sad, squash being eaten by deer (or that dratted, but cute, ground hog). I kept interjecting “but.…” though it did no good because she was on to the next angry declaration as she flailed her arms about and shook her head back and forth in total disbelief. I thought maybe she’d quit on the spot and at that point, I really wouldn’t have cared. I received her sharply delivered words like a piece of wilted lettuce. She was right. It all looked disastrous.
She spotted the straw stacked up and wanted to see it. She loves the smell of fresh straw. We walked over to the pile of beautiful golden straw. A week before, I told her, Jeremy called to say he had our straw. He enlisted the help of Petra to move the 4 stacks of 21 bales each with her tractor, taken off of Jeremy’s flatbed trailer. I told the head gardener Jeremy said they could’ve unloaded the straw bale by bale, but Petra was happy to help and seemed to enjoy showing the guys how a woman can easily lift a ton of straw with hydraulics and a calm demeanor. The head gardener smiled at that. (Phew… I continued with the story as it seemed to amuse her.)
After figuring out the route to the straw’s home, Petra slowly maneuvered the tractor’s fork into the huge bundle, stabbed it, lowered the bundle like an expert until she found the balance point and carried each ton of straw the 100 feet to its allotted space. With the triple digit temperature and high humidity, Jeremy and his dad appreciated the kind help. Afterwards, the four of us hung around Petra on her tractor, the Queen of Sheba, and talked and talked, mostly about tractors, at which point the head gardener laughed. She knows I’m ignorant about machinery of any kind. The story was a nice distraction from the calamity she had witnessed in the gardens. Her mood had changed. So I took the opportunity to ask her to come next Tuesday for work as I had plans for the weekend. Yes, plans to feel sorry for myself.
The weekend came in woefully hot and so dry there was no dew on the browning grass in the early morning. I mustered the energy to go about my duties but I felt the presence of the apocalypse. Yes, I do have the tendency to be overly dramatic but after hearing of disasters the world over, I figured it was our time to endure one too. I felt ashamed of my pathetic response, at my lack of cheerful, upbeat energy. I lost my belief that things could get better.
I stewed for several days, taking care of mundane challenges like a clogged toilet ─ is that not a metaphor for the apocalypse? And I’d lost several items, a paring knife, later found on the floor, and my pruners, placed in the wrong basket. All this indicated a lost spirit. And Agnes would come on Monday, freshly back from Germany where heat and forest fires raged. My sad gardens would assault her too.
And indeed they did. Our first chore was to clean the garlic. We sat in the shade of the sweet gum tree and she chirped pleasantly about all the adventures she and Thomas had in Dresden. With no air conditioning in her mother’s house, they suffered through the nights as they couldn’t open the windows with the fires so close by. (Doom and gloom abounds when you’ve let down your optimism spectrum.) After we’d finished cleaning the garlic, a lovely harvest this year, she too wanted to tour the gardens. I could not deflect her either. So I took her to all her favorite places and the best she could muster was, “I’ve never seen it look so bad before.” Yes, I thought, dig me a grave and bury me now. Everything seemed downhill.
We hauled some of the new straw to various beds, leaving the bales for the head gardener and me to spread. We cut back the dead zinnias. Agnes works so quickly and efficiently we finished those tasks in jig time. My enthusiasm dipped and I suggested an early lunch. We went inside to prepare what the garden offered. To her, the zucchini fritters, the millet and corn dish, the cucumber salad and the fresh tomatoes tasted like ambrosia. “You make such good food Mimi” she pronounced. That cheered me a little and she told more stories about their new kittens and their adventures in Germany. I think I even smiled.
She left before the heat became unbearable and I collapsed into a nap. Within 12 hours the rains would fall, and fall, and fall until 3 ½ inches had graced the parched landscape. I would lie in bed, in the dark, and weep with joy. Gifts from the heavens have arrived. We’re saved once again.
And indeed the gardens would come back with a vigor that surprised even me. More importantly, when the head gardener showed up for duty on Tuesday morning, she walked around with an open mouth. She couldn’t believe the transformation. I reveled in her wide eyed look of wonder and exclamation, “How can this be?”
I smiled and muttered about the underground river and mycelium, mulching, using compost etc. etc. but she didn’t hear a word. She simply walked from one plant to another and oohed and ahhed. I held on to the quiet victory. This theme of water shortages will remain a constant. We’ll have many conversations, disagreements, but now I have this one “miracle” to relate to, over and over again as we slowly try to come to an understanding of our new world, how we have to adapt and what a difference a day makes.
On the 4th of July I took a fall and broke my hip and wrist. An unfortunate accident but aren’t they all. After a partial hip replacement and a pretty pink wrist cast, I’m home, getting stronger every day.
Zoë was in California on a mountain bike trip with friends when I fell. On her return, she moved into high gear, cooking and helping Bud at the house. They brought me lots of treats at the rehab center from granola and yogurt to lovely dinner salads, saving me from the dire menus offered to patients. My sister Susan visited with veggies and fruit and – Cheetos. I feel fortunate to have wonderful support from my family.
And from our friends. We have enjoyed dinner from Walt and Sheila – gazpacho, crab cakes and corn bread – and the pleasure of their company at dinner on the porch.
Sherry is a pal, making a meal each week. Poached salmon and a zucchini gratin, baked herby chicken, cornbread and salad with goat cheese and peaches. She and Jamie joined us last week for grilled salmon skewers (in a green sauce marinade), sauteed summer squash, and salad, with Colorado peaches and ice cream for dessert. I wish I had photographed these delicious meals.
Ana Maria cheered me up with her positive attitude and velvety cold cucumber soup, a leek tart and a loaf of spinach and feta bread.
Sandra came for a visit with a ready-to-bake lasagne from MoxieBakery in hand. Better yet, we had a wonderful conversation about books, art and life.
Peter and Denise brought dinner and stayed for a lovely evening on the porch eating a delicious Salade Niçoise and catching up on our lives.
Roseanne helps me make lunch and picks up groceries on her way to Shark’s Ink.
Zoë visits each weekend loaded with produce from the farmer’s market. She also brings the fruits of her cooking – jars of gazpacho, grain and lentil salads, a pan of terrific chilaquiles, and always, cookies.
Wow. Writing this makes me grateful again for these dear ones. Not to mention Bud, my rock through all this. He has taken over the chores I am unable to do such as laundry, cleaning, and helping me shower. He picks up things I drop and cheerfully ties my sneakers for walks in Apple Valley.
Thanks too to sisters Mimi and Susan for the phone talks that help me keep everything in perspective. I’ll be out of my cast soon and by the end of August, over the hip restrictions.
I am cooking some, using leftovers from the meals friends have provided and the bounty of the season. One of the first dishes I have made is adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Roasted eggplant salad
Cut two long eggplants into ¾ inch slices, crosswise. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush or rub with plenty of olive oil, up to ¼ cup. As the eggplant absorbs the oil, add a bit more. Roast at 375° for 35 minutes until very tender. I used my toaster oven for this. No sense heating the house by using the big oven.
Meanwhile, cut a sweet red or yellow pepper into dice. Combine with 12 halved or quartered cherry tomatoes. Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil, a big pinch of salt. (Ottolenghi calls for 3 tablespoons of capers and some of their brine. I didn’t have any so added the salt.) Let sit for at least 30 minutes – or overnight in the fridge.
Arrange the cooled eggplant slices on a platter, slightly overlapping. Top with the pepper salsa, 2-4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled, and a big handful of chopped cilantro. (The original recipe calls for torn fresh mozzarella.)
Still in the midst of the dog days of summer, I rise early and complete my rounds by noon. Walking into the gardens at 5:30, enough light comes through the horizon to show me the way. This morning, a breeze came up, moving the bottle brush and Canadian rye grasses as if autumn had arrived. I stand still, close my eyes, and revel in the coolness, soon to become a distant memory. These early hours trigger the bees and butterflies. I’ve found bees sound asleep, attached to a blossom, as if they crashed in a moment of ecstasy. And then I see the bee roused, looking for the first nectar of the day. The pipe vine swallowtails go high into the mimosa trees that seem to bloom forever. After those initial caterpillars the boys and I watched go into chrysalis (and hatch) I see hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars doing just that. Luckily, two enormous mimosa trees will give the newly minted butterflies unlimited nectar. The garden phlox comes on now too, plus the zinnias, so they will continue to feed in good style, the drought not affecting their food source.
After checking for squash bugs and picking the cucumbers and tomatoes, however sad they may look, I next fill the bird baths. The poor birds, wasps, frogs, all the critters, feel desperate for fresh water as the resident chipmunk will attest to, jumping up to the bird bath as a bird in flight. The deer come at night and drink from the bird baths in the Park. I push a wheelbarrow out to the Park with a full watering can and a 5 gallon bucket as full as I can safely deliver it those 200 feet. Of course I’m down on my hands and knees many times as I deliver water or check for bugs, so by the time I come back to the house to do my tai chi, make coffee, have breakfast and write in my journal, my knees are covered with soil and straw. No wonder I can never get either my fingernails or elephant knees clean.
Each day I set one task I want to accomplish. If I make this job something I’ve wanted to do for a good while, I’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and the heat and humidity won’t affect me. I try to find chores in the shade so I don’t wilt too soon. These paths I excavated with a hoe, and then smoothed with a rake, became essential this year. The American holly tree has grown so large I can’t easily push my wheelbarrow through the south border of the Cottage garden to the compost. The garden has spoken. We need another way. Plus, the Cottage garden covers so many square feet we’ve felt overwhelmed when we try to weed it all. Small victories seem important. If the job’s too big, like detassling 5 acres of corn, we lose hope and feel done in before we even begin. Dividing the garden into smaller, recognizable plots, with paths running through, helps organize the plants in the various plots and we’ll feel more satisfied with weeding one plot then another. (At least I hope we will. The head gardener has gone on vacation and will come back to several changes…)
Now as I stand in the shade where these paths have been carved out, I see a new scene, a different way to enjoy both the Cottage garden and the Medicinal garden where the gingko tree grows so majestically. A bench, a small bench, just enough for one person, will go here, in the shade. Such a quiet spot, perfect for spying on birds and butterflies, even that groundhog that likes to hide under the sauna. The site lays far enough away from the gingko tree to give perspective, some distance, and that changes everything as any new point of view can do if we relax and absorb the change. In this unrelenting heat and oppressive humidity, I seek out these shady retreats and ways to enjoy them even more. Sitting for a few minutes, listening for the call from some brave bird, makes me breathe deeper and feel renewed.
Last week neighbor Patrick called. He said he had rocks for me. I’d admired some along our county road as I rode with him to look for telephone poles Ron and I had stashed in the lower pasture. (Patrick needs posts for a project.) He had one HUGE rock I’d declined, but then wished I hadn’t. I confessed I’d thought about that rock since he’d shown it to me. He said he’d bring it too. His tractor has a king-sized bucket and he ended up bringing 3 bucketsful of impressive rocks, enough to create this short-cut path past the mimosa tree, into the Sycamore garden, to the path to the house, plus extra for the paths in the Cottage garden. He hand delivered each rock, except the two humungous ones and used the hydralics! as Petra would say, to move those two into place.
I hadn’t conceived of rocks that size for the barrier between the Sycamore garden and the garden phlox. I wanted a riprap wall from rocks I’d pick up along the roads, driving slowly in my Honda, with all the windows opened, pretending I was in our ‘62 International pickup, driving the back roads like we used to, one of us throwing rocks onto the bed of the truck, the other driving and scouting out more rocks. Well now I had a new perspective and would have to change my vision. I’d collected smaller rocks with the boys down at the creek. They mostly have holes in them or ledges or something that caught my fancy, as rocks will do, as we played in the creek. They’ll sit on top of the big guys and maybe a collection of even smaller ones will get flipped onto the big ones when I find a rock I can’t live without. Whatever, I continually look out the window at the new wall or when it’s not so blazing hot walk out and try adding a rock here or there. It’s more than I imagined but it will definitely tell the phlox it needs to keep in its space. Of course like all plants, it will find a way to slip across the boundary, and I will dig them out, give them to Petra or another eager gardener, and maintain my discipline over who grows where. Such a funny notion, that we can control the plant world, but most gardeners deal with that illusion until they can’t fight the plants anymore.
The crab apple tree Barbara painted came down during a storm this May. Jeremy cut it up while I was gone and when I came home I saw the souvenir he’d left. He told me, “You’ve rubbed off on me!” I liked that and I like the mare or the elephant or whatever you see in the carvings. Summer moves along and before you know it, I’ll be out at that pile of branches, making little ones out of big ones.