Friday, August 20, 2010

When the early morning fog predicts another muggy humid day, it's hard to get going. The dog is lying on the carpet behind me groaning. When Dawn left for work, Mandy sat at the top of the short flight of steps to the back entrance moping. She's tired and logy. El Gatto, who's lying on the cutting board table that serves as my computer work table, keeps Mandy up nights. I take a moment to sit on a step and talk to my buddy. Her eyes droop. I avoid the promise of a R*I*D*E because she doesn't understand the concept of later. The rustle of my keys, the clink of her rabies shot tag when I grab her collar and other movements I make, like swooping up the milk jug or an snatching an empty carton of eggs is all the information she needs.

The hill to the east looks like a huge dark thunderhead as I walk down the steps early this morning. The sun behind the hill, fog and patchy puffs of white cumulus clouds add to the surreal effect. The LED clocks on the stove, coffee maker and microwave read 6:21. "O'Migosh it's 7:27," Dawn says as I rub sleep out of my eyes and walk to the north windows. She sets her alarm clock 5 minutes fast in a delusional way and misreads the time.

The tomato sauce in the 12 quart stainless steel pot is ready to be canned. It's been simmering for three days, off and on, when I run errands or work outside. My wooden spoon test-putting the spoon in the sauce to determine if it stands straight up without falling over-says it's ready. Last night I diced a small bulb of Johann's garlic and added kosher salt to finish it off. This morning at breakfast I put the sauce to the taste test. Amish noodles, fresh Italian sausage and a heavy blanket of Parmesan cheese form the base of which I ladle large plastic spoonfuls across the pasta and meat. It's a nice respite from the 19 ways to cook potatoes at breakfast. Mind you, I'm not complaining. It's just the way things work here on Blackbird farm. Two weeks ago, it was sweet corn . I'm jumping between harvests. Jalapenos are deep fried, sliced and chopped fine for mealtime. I slice a huge Pink Girl tomato, cutting away oozing parts and insect damage to make one nice slice on a ham and cheese sandwich. Turnips, fresh carrots, small round potatoes, red onions form the blanket around a shoulder roast in the slow cooker. Dawn checks the sauerkraut daily in the cool basement. I turned the humidifier in the basement down to 3, hoping to increase the humidity for the new potatoes stored on and under the laundry drying table. I'm half way through restacking firewood in the wood bin so that I can shovel out wood middlings from past woodpiles that are damp from seepage after the record rain and resultant near flood. The Air Wick deodorizers help ward off the musty smell.

Yesterday's workload was a self imposed sentence of brutality. I've been watching an invasive vine slowly form an impenetrable mass over the tops of the red dogwood planted along the north fence line when we first moved in this place. Initially the dogwood began as a hundred feet row of 12-18 inch sticks. There was ample room between the barbed wire fence and the mulched dogwood plants to allow me to mow grass between barb wire fence and bush. With double the normal rainfall this year, the grass disappeared and nine foot tall spiky weeds shut the door on mowing between fence and bushes. The dogwood grew to over 8 feet. Weeds grow tall and lush on the hill between the barb wire fence leading up to the state highway, an area I first took a brush hog and clear cut. I found our chimney cap blown off in a windstorm and other debris and kept it mowed for three years until the cost of time and gas grew unworkable. The varmint vines climbed the tall weeds and leaped the gap between highway berm and fence, forming a canopy over the dogwood.

I use a garden rake to pull off bunches of the vines from the tops of the dogwood. Eight piles like miniature haystacks lay on the grass on the garden side of the dogwood. Armed with my Colombian jungle machete, I swing wildly at the base of the brittle weeds. Starting at 10 am I finish clear cutting weeds and removing vines after noon. Several times I don't see the iron fence posts holding the barbed wire and dent the machete. Going back to the garage workshop, I resharpen the blade and guzzle any liquid I can find that's not going to give me brain freeze. The dog spends her time digging for moles in the grass. The cat inspects the cleared area for mice and rodents until I shoo him away. The last task is to spear the vines with my pitch fork and like the Amish stacking hay in the field, I walk to the low area at the east fence line and toss the vines into the marshy area. There are branches, compost and garden waste forming a large pile on the low spot of the berm. Rocks I found in the area that is now the garden, I piled around the silver maples near the shed. Once the weather has worn down the trash, I'll move the rock pile to form another protective shield between us and the treacherous river.

The decision after lunch is "to shower or not to take a shower". I'm dirty, sweating and smelly from insect repellent and vanilla. I eye the woodpile next to our driveway. Weeds have grown up around the box elder I cut up after the tree fell on the driveway during a rainstorm in July. The kids inspect the area daily, which leads me to believe there are varmints living in the wood pile. Carefully, I stack small limbs on the gate of the truck. I roll bigger logs onto the driveway. A small grass snake slithers under one log. Since I'll be mowing the area with the push mower, I warn the snake that it'd be safer to live elsewhere. He doesn't listen and crawls into tall grass when I've moved all the logs off the bare patch of lawn.

Any mowing I perform lately involves keeping an eye out for leopard frogs, toads and snakes. All are important insect predators. The sight of a mangled animal after a pass of the riding mower, saddens me. When I hand mow the weeds next to the wood pile, I move slowly to give the baby snake ample time to get away. My last task is to test a large log. I want to see how dry the wood has become in the course of a month. I have three wedges, a 16 pound maul and another sixteen pound splitting axe. The splitting axe barely makes a dent into the log. I slowly tap a small wedge into the wood and wail on it with the sixteen pound sledge hammer. It sinks to the top of the triangle shaped wedge. The wood doesn't budge. I add another small wedge and perform the same operation, It goes in half way without any splitting or cracking of wood. I call in the monster wedge. It, too, sinks half way in the wood before it refuses to budge. I take full swinging arcs with the sledge hammer, using all the force I can muster. Nothing, but drops of water seeping from the side of the wedge. Now I have a dilemma. Three wedges stuck. I turn the log sideways off the flat side and roll it back to the pile hoping no one will see the mess I've made. Tomorrow, I'll get the chainsaw and delicately try to free the imprisoned wedges.

I grab a beer from the mini refrigerator in the summer kitchen and cool off in the house slurping cold gulps of Milwaukee Special Reserve. I can't wait until winter.

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