So much happened over the summer on the Would-Be Farm, and so little of it has anything to do with us humans.
Each year, I find myself taking photos that I hope will catch the visual essence of the sweetness of the season.
This year, of course, I've snapped any number of pictures of the farm, but really, summertime in the North Country?
It's about cottage life, boat-rides, and the Water (whichever body of water, it's always capitalized: The Lake, The River, The Beach).
For over a hundred years, my family has spent weekends or weeks or the whole season on the granite shores of the St. Lawrence River.
The scent of old life-preservers and clean seaweed.
Sleeping porches. The "whap" of a screen door pulled shut by a long spring.
Pine needles. Lichen.The lapping of water under the wooden dock.
And the inexorable march of Labor Day...
This is the longest stretch in his adult life that my favorite skipper has spent away from sail boats.
For decades, we schedule our year around various regattas. We've missed weddings and birthdays because of our sailing calendar. As I remember, we'd been together for five years before taking a trip that was NOT related to sailing.
Because of regattas, we've traveled to Italy and Sardinia and Greece and all over South America. And North America. Hawaii even. The year the Flying Scot North American championship was held in Texas, we planned a summer adventure that took us looping out West. All for sailing competitions.
Racing on the bounding main –– it's a sport, a calling, a joy. It's the bones of our life together.
Then along comes the Covid-19 Pandemic, leaving us high and dry.
Which is how we've managed to finish the Woodbee in a matter of months.
When last we left the build, the 600-square-foot structure was dried in, with a pair of walls and a loft accessible by pull-down ladder. Jeff and I had put down flooring, lathered paint on everything that held still, and set the wood stove into place.
When we arrived in late April, the list of to-dos was not inconsiderable: walls, plumbing, electricity, kitchen, bathroom...
And a drumroll, please....
My favorite skipper eventually called it: mad dash.
It will seem quaint someday how we drove north in a self-contained little world of snacks and Lysol wipes with a U-Haul full of Would-Be Farm equipment and furniture.
It will be just another page in the Quarantine Chronicles how we isolated and monitored.
Perhaps we'll remember how we could only hope our precautions and cheerful masks will have made a difference.
But it seems instead that this is the year we are reminded that Mamma Nature not only holds all the cards, but that she has sharp teeth, and claws at the end of a long reach...
If it wasn't the black bear emptying the bird feeder (effortlessly snagging it with a claw and pouring the contents –– like the crumbs from the bottom of a potato chip bag –– right down the old pie hole), it was porcupine eating the gazebo. Or birds flying down the chimney.
And how does one deal with a 300-lb black bear with a penchant for black oil safflower seed? One puts a decorative cow-bell –– an inexplicable tourist purchase finally coming into use –– onto the formerly lovely red metal feeder.
Pavlov's crazy dog at the midnight clank, one dashes onto the screened porch closest to the feeder, shouting and clashing together an aluminum saucepan and lid. The noise was like nothing I have ever made before. It worked.
Though of course the raccoons followed the bear in the violation of my bird feeder. They are less shy of human attention. After some weeks of interrupted sleep, I decided the easier –– though not unproblematic solution was to take the feeder inside at night. Now I only rouse myself to chase things off the unscreened porch. Which happens a lot.
And how to address the ongoing porcupine issue? Porcupines eat bark and tree parts...unless of course they develop a taste for pressure-treated lumber.
Fair's fair. The porcupines were here first. I tried putting rows of hardware cloth around the perimeter, but Mr. Linton took the reins. We call the gazebo The USS Monitor now. The damage has stopped.
Sidebar fact: tom turkeys sometimes get really worked up by the sound of a carborundum blade working through metal roofing sheets. I guess it sounds like a big sweet gal of a hen.
And as for the bird, we were sitting on the couch in front of the cold wood stove when we heard a gentle tapping on the glass window on the stove door.
A youthful house-wren politely requesting a hand.
Of course it panicked. All birds do, when confronted with the inside of a house. It flapped into a window, and then briefly fainted in Jeff's hands. But it eventually regained its senses and flew off, rewarding us for a few weeks –– possibly –– with extra noisy morning songs.
You know how it goes. Everything peaceful and chill.
Maybe the iPod is playing the soundtrack from Hamilton. Perhaps you're watching Rabbit TV (a limited lineup, but endlessly entertaining). Maybe you're cooking on the newly functional propane stove. Anyway, it's relaxed.
When EEEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEE!
The noise is designed to either wake you from a sound sleep or possibly drive you in-freaking-sane.
Whichever. It works.
Okay, you you press the reset button. Two minutes later –– just as the old heart-rate is returning to normal –– EEEEEEEEE! and EEEEEEEEEEE!
My handsome gallant saves us, holding a thumb over the button repeatedly. It becomes clear that the damn 10-years-guaranteed, never-needs-batteries, save-your-life-and-required-by-law has gone rogue. It will not stop alerting us.
It EEEEEEEs in the bathroom. It EEEEEEEEs outdoors.
Jeff eventually puts it into the van, so it could, as he said, "Simmer down."
All during dinner, an errant wind gave us brief hope, and then, faintly, EEEEEEEEE. and EEEEEEEE.
Dishes done (in a sink! with running hot and cold water! cabin life is better and better!), Jeff betakes himself off and the next thing I notice is that he's taken out the 50-year-old .22 his father gave him.
Whatcha doing? I ask.
He points, and I hear a faint EEEEEEing across the field. He's put the damn thing into a tree. I admire the dispatch with which he handles tech troubles.
A clean through-and-through, and by golly the thing has stopped EEEEEEEing.
The test button suggests that it's still working, but I'm taking it back to the local hardware store where we bought it.
I don't mind explaining why.
It's a very good Scrabble day when I can play "jonquil."
In the world, I rarely call these flowers anything but daffodils.
Be that as it may, my sweet mother-in-law calls them jonquils, and when she proposed a big honking field of them at the Would-Be Farm, I said heck yeah!
Pat is a wonderful gardener, and even in her early 80s, she can out-shop, out-weed, and out-sew me pretty much any day of the week. So when she said she wanted Jeff and me to be reminded of her each spring at the Would-Be Farm, I enlisted her actual aid.
Long story short, we ordered something like 200 bulbs from Holland last fall. Thank you John Scheepers. We hopped a plane (back in the days when people did that kind of thing without thinking about it much) once the package arrived in the North Country.
We made a girl's weekend of it, staying at my sister's civilized house, eating yummy meals, and playing dominoes at the end of the day.
And we flew South, happy but full of anticipation and the usual worries: Would squirrels eat the bulbs? Would the plants freeze to death? Would deer eat the bulbs? Would an early thaw fool the plants?
Springtime is brutal on hopes. When bright flowers do indeed rise from the cold clay -- oh glory.
Okay, so everything has changed.
More or less.
Less in some states.
But for many people, especially those with a healthy respect for both the science of infectious disease and the preservation of our elders, this summer seems like the start of a not-so-brave new world.
So here's what I am missing.
In photo format, because nobody wants to hear that tone of voice.
With vintage photos, because it does seem like a long time ago since we went out dancing, or hung out without a care with multiple generations of the family ––or not-family –– or planned a trip, or hugged people, or shared aprés-sailing stories...
But all this aside, please be sensible and gentle with one another. We're all trying our best –– even when it's not that great, it's likely all the effort we can manage.
That is all. For now.
A title like that and you're still reading? Bless you! I hope I can make it worthwhile.
As a rule, I prefer to share stuff I adore. Rare finds. Unlikely but likable things. Unexpected pleasures. Books that I think deserve a wider readership, for instance, or experiences that I'd like to encourage others to have.
But that basic human urge to share the other side --the irresistible impulse that says, "Jeepers, this stinks! Sniff it!"
Is there a Germanic term for this instinct , like schadenfreude? There ought to be.
It would be generous to imagine that our impulse to share things revolt the senses is like –– as the old phrase has it, trouble shared is trouble halved.
But I don't guess kindness is any part of the underlying motivation. I believe the reason we love sites like cake wrecks and people of Walmart is NOT to reduce the shock one feels. Sharing amplifies that shock but also, like a clever party-goer, scrapes off the offending image or scent onto someone else. Here, look, isn't it awful?!
So when I say the three worst songs in my music history are as follows, I am not simply trying to entertain.
And as a bonus, because back when irreverent reporters waited for results or otherwise idled in the Sports Department of The St. Petersburg Times, the game we played was to pick the line-up for the band that was playing in Hell.
Karen was always on the skins.
For many years, my book-loving Mumsie used to tell me about stories she remembered but hadn't had in hand for several decades. She had an ongoing quest to find a copy of The Swish of the Curtain, which she'd adored as a child.
It was, she told me, about a group of theater-mad children who staged shows in their English village. She looked for it at every used bookstore, but when I told her I'd located a copy (ah! early days of the internet!), she shied away from actually getting it. She said she didn't want to find it like that. She admitted she'd rather not test her memory of its charms.
Naturally, in these internet days, there are online services that can help.
For a couple of bucks, Loganberry Books helps the hive mind focus on your need.
The Library of Congress has a page of suggestions for how to find lost books/lost lyrics and more. The LoC site links to a veritable warren of rabbit holes, by the way, if you are so inclined (declined?) to potter around chasing other people's trails.
Like this Reddit page, this specific one, and so. many. more. <shakes head vigorously>
We started on this Would-Be Farm adventure with the idea of novelty: new experiences are meant to keep our brains nimble and what-not. The effort of tackling a fresh set of challenges would be good for us.
Such as driving a tractor and putting fruit trees into the ground and helping them grow roots.
Such as returning to the North Country where I grew up and re-learning that country environment. Plus introducing Jeff to some exotic charms: a bullhead fry, turkey hunting, snow.
Knowing that, unlike actual farmers, our livelihood and future is not on the line when the dam busts and the crops fail.
So, round about January of each of the past five years, seed catalogs begin to sprout in my mailbox. Deals from on-line nurseries pop up like weeds. Calls to branch out into new crops... I won't belabor the metaphor any more than I can...bear. Muah ha ha.
Round about April, it's become our happy habit to make our ways North. I try to get there in time for my sister's birthday early in the month, and Jeff generally follows after sailing Charleston Race Week. We usually get a snowstorm or two, maybe an ice-storm, just to remind us that we are mere tourists in the North Country.
It's too early for planting in early April, and it's more than a bit nippy –– though we do have a WOOD STOVE this year!
Still, even with a crochet throw of snow, you can see the rocky bones of the land early in early spring. And it's an exciting few weeks while plants wake up out of the cold clay and yawn hope into the landscape.
We're not sure when we'll get there this year. What with the Pandemic and all. Of course I ordered plants before COVID-19 was no more than a small cloud on the horizon.
I can't resist those colorful packets of optimism that promise poppies, lupins, chamomile. Plus garlic and seed-potatoes (thrifty hint: if your potatoes sprout in the fridge, put them in the ground -- you'll generally get a smallish bonus harvest a few months later instead of adding to the landfill).
And, because the larger fruit have not flourished under our neglectful stewardship, I have ambitions for Chinese chestnut trees, red currents, bush-cherries, and yet more elderberries. Although elderberries are not a favored deer browse according to experts, empirical evidence suggests that some deer will "sample" an elderberry bush to within inches of its life.
As with so much recently, we'll just have to wait and see. We'll shelter in place and I'll let my farming daydreams slide me along a little longer. I'm not complaining.
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