Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Days Make for a Perfect Pepper

The temperature fell last night. It's fall officially. J will work late tonight to close out the fiscal year. My mother's birthday follows, and then mine and J's the week after. Leaves are spotting the ground, which is damp, and the grass is thinning. Two pumpkins are on the porch and as is the custom at my house, their fall orange flare will clash with the pots that hold the springtime purple and pink blooms that I can't bear to pitch.

On Sunday, with minutes to spare before a darkening sky brought another deluge, I raced to mow the lawn. The clumps of wet grass are still out on the sidewalk. I can't possibly find enough time to clean everything up before an autumn gust blows in more detritus.

It's the way of fall. I mourn the passing of summer, but I love the coming of cool days. My jeans fit loosely after a summer of exercise and my arms long for the warmth of a soft sweatshirt. Everything is in order with the girls back in their school routine. Early morning coffee, fast departure, dog is walked, house locked up for the day. No deviations, no late night teen parties. Chaos over.

In the garden, the parsley is plentiful, the peppers are turning a deep red and a burnt yellow, a thin growth of arugula is coming in from the seed that I threw down about ten days ago. There's a sweet bush of lavender that anchors one corner of the farmer box balanced by the thick bunch of chives at the other corner.

I've stored up some grass to salt the next pile of leafy compost. And the compost from last fall is wormy, warm and black.

It's time to stop blogging and blast off to work. That is the routine of fall. The Putterer

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now I Want Chickens

Meet Caley, my dog. She is not a farm animal and she has no job to do other than to sit artfully around the house as if Diego Velazquez might happen by. Caley would be most annoyed if I were to follow through on this morning's vaguery--to buy backyard chickens, though they would certainly upstage her productivity.

But just the other day, J and I were driving home on a nearby street, when he suddenly lurched his head around and exclaimed that he'd just seen a flock of chickens in someone's yard. He was incredulous; suggesting that it must be a recent immigrant family that brought them in. I informed him, however, that raising chickens was the new, best thing in gardening. Fresh eggs; ready, steady fertilizer; and even something to throw in a pot, if for some reason you couldn't walk the few blocks to Whole Foods. We pondered the idea together and considered turning around to go gawk at the menagerie, but we had to hurry home.

This morning, I got up earlier than I really should and settled in with my New Yorker and found Susan Orlean (I have a secret crush on her only because I just wish that by now in my career I was as famous a writer as she is). And of course, she's one-upped me again, because she's moved to the country and bought chickens. And the chickens are lending her a special credibility in the arena of gardening elite and domestic goddess. "When one of my hens laid my first home-grown egg," she writes, "I was as proud as if I had been attending my daughter's bat mitzvah." I know this emotion. I've shared it many times. When my first tomato ripened. When my mixture of grass and leaves and kitchen waste turned to black compost gold. When my eggplant plant (is that what you call it?) delivered. This is the ecstasy the domestic goddess achieves when her efforts bear fruit.

So calculating my latest vaguery. . .That would include purchase and upkeep of a chicken coop ($1,000, because everything costs $1,000 to begin with); nurturing and care of said chickens (do you walk them on a leash?); veterinarian bills (rabies shots?); neighbor complaints (attorney fees?); J's protestations (divorce attorney?), and of course, Caley's feelings (the elite Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's bark is pitched at an ear-drum-shattering spike). . . my first egg would likely be costly.

The truth of the matter is that Orlean, because she's such a great writer and observer of life and culture, nailed it right were it hurts. Pegged me with this provocative observance, that chickens seem to go "hand-in-glove with the post-feminist reclamation of other farmwife domestic arts--knitting, canning, quilting. . . . newly appreciated as a declaration of self-sufficiency, a celebration of handiwork."

My hero is a cynic. True scorn for the post-feminist working/wife/mother/hand-maiden still to male dominance. Us girls, clinging to the hope that we might have stepped up and out of our domestic roles and always hoping to briefly touch on Orlean-like fame. Oh, if only, we just had 37 more hours in the day to do it all, and raise chickens, too. The Putterer

Saturday, September 19, 2009

September Hurries By

September arrived and left me in its wake. September is a hurry month. Everything comes in a crush in September. We arrive back from an August vacation. There's a pile of things to do at work. The pile of dirty laundry is insurmountable. There's a pile of bills and paperwork on my desk. School starts. There's shopping to be done. The dog needs a bath. Softball starts up again. Before long, any wisp of a vacation calm is lost. This year, though, I've kind of whipped the final days of September into shape. I took a pick axe to those piles and chiseled them down to size. It's a Saturday morning and I'm luxuriating in the weekend possibilities as if time and errands have no meaning. It's a cool, fresh morning and in a moment, I have to rush away to take P to softball practice. But for this iota of a moment, I have all the time in the world and I'm filling it with ideas of things I'd most like to do outside in the garden. Arugula. I want to plant some arugula and see if I can't squeak out a few more weeks of growth out there. I want to weed. I usually hate that. But something deep in my soul is fostering a need to bring order to chaos. I am born to putter. The Putterer

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm Back!

My dear blog, you have languished far too long and I am so sorry to neglect you. I have been away from home and hearth as is the August tradition in Washington. We ventured out to see the world. But in order to leave, I had to accomplish double the work in half the time so that my absence wouldn't be noticed. Thus, the week away was equivalent to four. Because of course, when I came back I had to redouble efforts to make up for the lost time away! And, as I have over the past two days achieved the high status of Domestic Goddess Priestess, having done ten loads of laundry, the shopping, the cooking, the sorting of mail and papers, the doctors' appointments, the dog grooming, the moving of furniture and the dusting of dust bunnies, I am ready now to putter in the garden. Tomorrow, Labor Day, is the much anticipated return. I won't be gardening, however, I'll be cleaning up--pulling weeds, whacking back, mowing and otherwise clearing detritus. It's a mess.

But then again it really isn't. It's a natural paradise where seed and soil and rain have crafted a devil-may-care landscape and I must say, it's still quite lovely. Tonight, as I write this a gentle rain is falling, certain to make the soil more manageable and my mosquito friends all the more plentiful.

So, where was I? In the photo above, I have trained my binoculars into the meadow that is located adjacent to the Wawona Hotel, built between 1876 and 1918, in Yosemite National Park. The day we hiked the meadow, a four-mile loop around its perimeter, we took our time and breathed deeply of the peculiar scents. I could have sworn I was picking up the acrid smell of an artichoke after it had been boiled to a delectable appetizer. Not really a pleasant aroma, but something kind of almost addictive, like the scent of rubber cement.

I wanted desperately to know the names of all the delicate plants in the field. And I carried with me reference cards that identified the wild flowers, the trees and the birds, but naturally none of the designated wild flowers on the card were in bloom at the moment I was traipsing through the meadow. So I could only admire and not catalog. The trip was so beautiful and restorative. We also hiked among the giant sequoias in the Mariposa Grove on an exhausting climb that began at the lofty elevation of 5,000 feet and ascended on a gentle switch back trail to 6,100 feet. The thin air truly taxed us and we unfortunately had to descend without seeing the entire trial. But nothing topped the day that we climbed the steep mist trail (no mist in August, thankfully, it would have made the trail treacherously slippery) to the crest of Vernal Falls. There were some 160 steps carved into the side of the granite cliff and we stepped up endlessly, over, and over, and over again, panting and sweating and worrying that we might not ever reach the top. We rented bikes in the Valley and pedaled our way around the entire eight-mile bike loop, stopping to admire whatever caught our interest. At one point, the girls and I parked the bikes and plunged into the cool mountain spring-fed Merced River. Feeling reckless, I let myself sink so that my head was completely submerged. The water was so chill that the hairs on my head and skin seemed as if they would all drop from their follicles. I emerged breathless and thrilled. Incredibly, the hot sun instantly warmed and dried me. We also traveled the distance of the park on Rt 120, the winding high-country, west-east road, and slipped out of the far eastern park entrance for a quick trip to the toxic salty, but exquisitely beautiful, Mono Lake. And on our way there, we sampled the delicious fish tacos served at, of all places, the Lee Vining Mobile Gas Station.

Once back home, I hastily did the wash and repacked for two other short trips, one to Chicago and the other to Columbus, Ohio. Now, just as I l was once looking forward to all our summertime travel adventures, I relish staying here, happy to putter. The Putterer