Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Farmer's Club

Over twenty years ago as a freshman in high school, I rode the soccer bus to a game with the varsity team. I fell into a thorough conversation about trees and forests with a player older than I. Our enthusiasm ratcheted upwards until he cries out loudly, describing a tree with arms circled wide to demonstrate, 'It was HUGE!!!'

The busload of our teammates stopped and started giving him the raspberries for such a display of well, I don't know.

What I didn't know then, but I am starting to see now is that he and I were new members in the local farmer's club. The sweeper on the same soccer team is a full-time farmer. His friend is a hobby farmer and now my assistant coach administrator for the local youth soccer team.

The guy who described a huge tree is a science teacher at our high school.

And as I sit and write, I am contemplating the next step for a broiler with a broken leg (or wing?) in the brooder down below (written as I hear my rooster crow).

The four of us and others are part of a small club in the local area who wake at sunrise and care about being a steward to the land.

There are other clubs in town and by club, I don't mean anything formal, just a clear collection of like-minded people who share a common interest.

There's a golfer's club intent of physical sports, gamesmanship, socializing, and pride (I guess). There are bands of mothers, and home schoolers, and clubs based on heritage and faith.

And then there are us farmers who undoubtedly think about things like I do. For example, I posed this scenario and question to my friend who is involved with soccer.

'My uncle and I let the field grow between our houses for the bob-a-link birds and we were thinking that my cousin could use the hay. Do you think that Matt would hay it when he does Dixie's fields?'

And the response was that he might if we could get his attention because Matt does charitable work like that often. But if I call John or bump into Mike, I might ask them, too.

'And of course,' I added, 'I'd be happy to trade a day's labor for the hay, because I have been bugging Mike about getting on the haying crew anyway.'

So while the other clubs in town brag and jeer over a well (or poorly) played ball split off into the woods, when we get together, we'll talk about how to preserve nutrients in first cut hay, how to diagnose health problems in chickens, what to do when raccoons visit the henhouse, and so on.

My fourth grade teacher said, 'Ok, kids. I want you to write a paragraph about something that is ineffable. Ineffable is something that cannot be described.'

That's how I feel about the fundamental and magnetic attraction I have to my place in the farmer's club. Words fail me. Farming is ineffable to be so close to the land, the outdoors, the potential that we feel charged with harnessing, preserving, expanding for ourselves and our communities.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Offer on the Homestead

"My great-grandfather died in this room. And many of my aunts and uncles were born in here." I say this casually to the realtor who has no deep sense of the homestead like I do.

Earlier, I walked easily up the stairs from the driveway as hundreds of thousands of my relatives footsteps traveled before me. The rain fell gently on the worn roof and cascaded down off the uneven eaves.

The Homestead In Late Winter

Last weekend, my uncle and I casually spoke about the house and property where he was born. I made a passing comment that tripped a domino in his mind. We talked and made a verbal, family-based agreement to make an offer on the homestead.

One of the local papers indicated an auction today and last night, my uncle's voice was on my answering machine. 'Give me a call, Tim. There has been a big change.'

The change is that there is no auction and the house is on the market for a fixed price that is in my price range.

So I didn't sleep and I felt like I barely worked this morning before I left to meet the realtor. I arrived at home and trudged wearing rain gear from my property to the homestead.

History and comfort and memory flooded back. Although the building is simply wood, nails, bricks, and windows; the structure has stories and secrets within its walls. And the well-worn steps made me recall hours and days spent with various family members.

My approach is that if I am to buy the homestead, it will be easy. So I guide the realtor around the house, talking incessantly. We are upstairs and I hear my uncle enter. The realtor doesn't.

Edwin joins us upstairs and I ask him if some hidden space used to be open. We walk into one of five bedrooms and I ask Edwin, 'Was this your room?'

'Oh yeah. This one and that one,' as he points to the rear of the building, 'But that one in the front was always my sisters. We never got to use that room.'

We walk through the building and my uncle tells more stories. We go downstairs to discuss the finer points of the heating system, water, electricity and so on.

Edwin leaves.

The realtor shares the simple, practical sense that I have for the value of the house. He gives me insight into the process and I absorb what he says. He suggests a price and I verbalize my intent back to him.

I make the offer and now I wait.

My mind is full of an extensive laundry list of dominoes that must fall in a syncopated sequence.

At the realtor's car before he leaves, I point up to my current house and say, 'I imagine this field open all the way to my house up there.' I see delight in the realtor's eyes as though he understands the connection.

He leaves.

My gaze remains on the building and the property as I am full of technical and business thoughts and comfortable emotion.

I return to my house.

I wait.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Old Man Pants

A Billy Joel song wakes me up at 3:52 AM today and by the time I brush aside the covers, the next song plays on my radio alarm clock. I lean up towards the end of the bed and stroke Nelja's fur.

I walk into the kitchen and flip on the light, pouring some food into the cat dish. My thoughts turn to my breakfast as I prepare to meet some other crazies at the Hillsborough Balloon Festival at 5:00 AM.

I hear Nelja's claws tick softly into the laminate flooring in the hallway. She walks slowly behind me toward the food dish.

Since she was sick earlier this week, now recovered, she moves and acts cautiously, perhaps a little tired.

But as I watch her walk I laugh inside. Every time that I see the back legs of a cat, any cat, while they walk, I can't help but think that it looks like baggy old man pants!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My Cat and the Garden Meal

Earlier tonight as I shucked fresh picked peas and snapped beans, I envisioned a story here about my home-grown meal consisting of beans, peas, an onion, potatoes, a beet, and two fresh eggs. I heard my cats running around. Life was good.

Soon my food was boiling, microwaving, or frying on the stove.

I called my neighboring uncle to talk about his recent trip overseas and I walked to the picture window. I noticed drool on the floor. Curious.

Then I noticed some more and I took keener interest.

In the kitchen, I looked towards the bay windows and I see my cat Nelja looking at me, drooling and breathing quickly. Oh boy.

'I have to go and investigate this more.' I hung up the phone.

Childhood stories of rabies circled in my thoughts. My anxiety welled up and I wondered if Nelja had rabies. Instinctively, I shied away from her.

I flipped open the phone book and called the local vet. The lady who answered assured me that any animal with rabies has to have an open gash from a rabid animal. And symptoms develop over two weeks before the mouth foams. She politely explained that they were closing, but I could call the emergency vet in Manchester.

I did. The kind lady answered my questions, gave me directions, and explained that the emergency office visit was $75.00 and that included a consult with various options. She also referred me to the national animal poison control hotline. I called and for $60.00 I could talk to an expert.

I waited and investigated.

I couldn't think of any poisons that Nelja could have gotten into. I walked into the basement, and I saw that she vomited several times, but each time was simply undigested food. There was nothing unusual.

She moved around and followed me. She crouched on all fours, trembling and breathing quickly. This reminded me of the sweetest thing, when she was 6 months old and recovering from being spayed. She sat for hours trembling, purring on my chest while she bravely withstood the pain.

Memories like this welled up emotion inside.

My thoughts cycled into a series of what-ifs. What if this is my last night with her? What if she dies? What if she needs to be put to sleep? What is the best way to do that?

I approached her with a washcloth to wipe away the drool. I cleaned her. When I touched her haunches, she startled. I breathed deeply and retreated upstairs, thinking. The cat moved to the foot of the stairs.

I called my friend and his wife later called me back. I contacted someone online. I called a recent date who has experience with animals.

Briefly, I panicked.

While I talked to my friend's wife, I worked through some of the technical and emotional aspects of my situation. She bravely shared her experiences. I listened. She narrowed down Nelja's plight to a gastro-intestinal distress and thought it was good that there was no diareah or discolored vomit.

Then the simple, obvious question emerged, 'How is she now?'

I didn't know.

It had been a half-hour since I watched Nelja curl up in safety under the desk in my clutter room. My imagination had been casting her drifting peacefully into sleep forever.

She suggested that I investigate, and call her later with an update.

Nelja wasn't there.

I looked in the spare bedroom, and she sat on her four haunches, looking at me as I approached.

I extended my hand. She sniffed it. I touched her. She purred.

I left to get a plate of water, returning with it to encourage her to drink. She took no interest.

I touched my finger in the water and touched her nose. She licked the water droplet. I moved to the bathroom where her water was. Somehow or other, she followed and I started to pet her. She purred.

Eventually, she started drinking water and then later slowly walked to eat something from the food dish. And then she walked past my familiar seat and sat on a chair arm next to an open window, enjoying the cool breeze.

She seemed normal, but tired.

At some point during the concerned period tonight, I ate my meal of two fried eggs and fresh vegetables. Despite the anxiety and potential deep sadness, I enjoyed the fruits of my farming and gardening.

The circle of life nearly closed today for my dear cat Nelja, but she persists. Laying outstretched now, she sleeps on the chair next to mine as she enjoys the cool breeze pouring in the window.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mountains and Fresh Water

I'm catching my breath.

Yesterday morning, I woke before sunrise and met some people from the New Hampshire Flickr Group to climb Pack Monadnock and take photos at first light.

The dew point hovered at the temperature and we had fog and billowy clouds rolling over us until 7:30 or so when sunlight started to shine through.

Glen at the Pack Monadnock Meetup

After this, four of us went for breakfast in Peterborough before I returned home and went to church. At church, a cousin asked me if I would go fly fishing at dusk at Waterloom Pond. I smiled, sure.

After church, I went to Concord, NH for a meetup at Bagel Works where 18 of us from the photography club are hanging printed, framed works. After eating a quick meal at Subway, we left.

When I returned home, I sat down for a minute to breath and I nearly fell asleep. But I took my fly fishing gear with me and went to the pond and the story begins...

We wade into knee-deep water and the lines start whistling through the air as our flies softly plop onto the water. The sun is a few degrees above the horizon and casts glorious colors into the sky and reflected in the dark water.

Dean Fishing at Waterloom Pond

'Just wait, Tim. Last night, I was here and when these moths hatch, the fish go crazy! But we have to wait for the sun to go way down before it starts.'

We fish. I catch a variety of sunfish, perch, and shad (we think).

Fish start to surface. Their mouths break the surface of the water.

'See those wings floating by on the surface of the water?' My cousin points out to me. 'That's a moth that is hatching and flying for the first time.'

I start seeing the wings pointing straight to the sky. And the fish rise close to the hatchling moths. The circle of life is tight tonight.

Men in a boat across the pond struggle to start their motor, running it intermittently while the darkness deepens.

Faint colors continue to paint the sky and the reflected water as we see fish surfacing to eat bugs.

We continue to catch fish. I land a small, large-mouth bass.

The pond empties of everyone else yet we wait as the nighttime envelops us, our lines whistling through the air as we drop the flies where the fish are.

Finally, the magical hour starts and fish all through the pond start surfacing as we see hatch circles and corresponding fish going for the new moths.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fresh droppings.

I think to myself, 'This is a good place for deer.'

I turn and see them. A doe and two fawns look at me, the smallest fawn has spots.

Surprisingly, buck fever isn't setting in and I think clearly. I snap a photo, aware that the shutter speed is too slow. So I extend a tripod leg to stabilize the camera. Too slow again. I adjust the ISO to 1600, adjust the shutter speed, and start taking photos.

The deer remain frozen as if they are posing.

Deer looking back to see...

Finally, the doe turns and walks into the Souhegan, body lengthening as she springs once, twice to the other side. The fawns follow.

I walk directly towards where I saw the deer, through the river and upstream on the far bank. I cross again and I look through the field to see a different deer making its way from right to left in the waist-deep grass. The doe moves slowly from the woods to the river, looking at me.

I set the tripod down and snap photos until I see her pass. Without thinking, I try to escape an angry bumble bee buzzing around my head, and I startle the doe. I see the doe spring urgently upstream along the far bank away from me. With more care, I could have stalked her and made a better shot.

After crossing the river again, I walk through the waist-deep grass, through the edge of the cornfield and see the cellar hole for my great-grandparent's house. The light isn't interesting, but I take a photo and walk down into the river again to see the waterfall under Warwick Mills.

The Cellar Hole at Ma and Pa's House

The fog continues. The skies are dark, heavy. Today is day three of a five-day weekend and I walk home as the dark edges of lonliness press inward.

Yellow Mushroom Kind of Day