Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Stinkin' Rose

He doesn't have running water. Half mile away at the base of the ridge that runs around the entire twenty mile valley is a spring where he gets his water in five gallon containers. On one of many trips to here or there, he asks me to stop across from the derelict and rundown trailer house across a gravel road. Disappearing down a ditch and into the weedy woods, he comes back with a mug of cold clear spring water. All I see is a few squashed plants at the base of a muddy pool.

It's garlic harvest time. Garlic is currency. At $6.25 per pound for organic garlic up in the cities, these large heads of "Stinkin' Rose" are gold. I slice four cloves and add them to mustard seed, dill and peppercorns in my short brine pickles. The odor is overwhelming.

His uniform is baggy sweat pant shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, size triple XXX. When he lifts his arm you can see ripples of flesh from armpit to navel. Garlic oozes from his pores along with the sour smell of sweat. In his hands are two quart jars of yellow fluid. Homemade canned chicken broth from free range chickens. He tells me there's a wild rooster running free. He hasn't been able to catch the critter. Each morning at dawn it perches on a woodpile and crows the beginning of day. The feral cat hanging out in the neighbor's barn stalks the rooster. Having lost chickens to mink, raccoon and fox he has no truck with a feral gray cat with white paws.

The law of the wild prevails. He reaches for his gun, sights through the screen door and rips off a shot. Feral cat leaps five feet in the air. The bullet trajectory is off a mite because of the path through wire mesh. Cat disappears, appearing later on the the hay field across the road. People down the ridge road have a similar kitten. Must be a male with a wide range.

Nine cabbages salvaged from an overgrown weedy patch that bring instant swarms of thousands of mosquitoes over your neck, arms , back and every place that one can't reach to scratch are hustled into a plastic tub. Harvest is quick cut and run. It rains every three days. Wave upon wave of mosquitoes are born, feed and die. Only the heat of midday squelches their hunger. The cat and dog shake heads, freeing ears of the irritating pests. Twenty pounds of cabbage make eighteen pounds of saurkraut. Sitting on a metal card table chair, he flicks an occasional earwig out of the kraut. Shred, salt, mash and repeat.

Later it's sweet corn by the tub full after the prep area is swept and hosed down. Sixteen quart freezer bags filled to the three quarter mark. One and a half pounds each. Twenty four pounds of sweet corn, blanched, cut and bagged. Sweet, milky sap covers the cutting board attracting swarmy flies. Husks and cobs fill a plastic tub.

Two plastic Wal-Mart bags full of cukes and pickles are tied to the tractor along with the five gallon bucket of sauerkraut. It's mid afternoon. After four hours of food prep for the bitter January winds in a plywood cabin up on Hunter's Ridge, he heads home to short brine his pickles.

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