Fiori di Zuccha

Freshly harvested zucchini flowers – you can explain the chemistry and biology that makes them but not the miracle of their exquisite flavor!

 

A friend of ours from the coast recently visited, and upon seeing our garden asked, “What in heaven’s name are you going to do with all that zucchini? Down at our farm we only have two plants a year and we’re flooded with the stuff.” I think she was a bit taken aback by our two forty foot rows of zucchini (about thirty plants or so).

I planted so many not because I like the squash (though I love zucchini fritters with dill and tzadziki, and of course it’s great on the grill), but because I like the blossoms. I first had them in 1994 when I was a grad student in Rome; the Romans pluck this flower – as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to eat – stuff it with a small piece of cheese and sometimes an anchovy filet, dip it in batter and presto, a fabulous appetizer.

Zucchini flowers rolled and ready to meet the batter!

It’s both an exotic and easy thing to make. It takes 1 c. of fizzy water, 1 c. of flour, a couple of eggs (though some recipes omit egg), and a bit of salt. Twist the end of the flower, dip it in batter, and fry it in about 2 inches of oil until brown, and sprinkle with salt. Right now with that many plants we end up with about a dozen blossoms daily, and the harvest of the flower does not affect the development of the fruit.

So, while you might not be able to leave the farm, a Roman trattoria is still just one or two plants and a frying pan away (sans security checks and obnoxious, clueless tourists).

Horace, Satire 2.6: The City and the Country Mouse.

The view from the breakfast table, 8:30 AM, several days before the Kalends of August, AD 2012, (2765 Ab Urbe Condita “after Rome’s foundation”).

Hoc erat in votis: modus agri non ita magnus,


hortus ubi et tecto vicinus iugis aquae fons


et paulum silvae super his foret. auctius atque


di melius fecere. bene est. nil amplius oro,


Maia nate, nisi ut propria haec mihi munera faxis.

 

This was among my prayers: a piece of land, not too too big,

With a garden, and a spring near the house,

And above them a little bit of forest stand. More and

Better the gods brought to pass. It’s fine. I ask nothing more,

O son born of Maia, except that you make these gifts last.

 

Horace, one of Rome’s greatest poets and perhaps second only to Vergil, once wrote a wonderful satire that contrasted his harried life in Rome with the quiet retreat of his Sabine estate. Now Horace moved in the highest circles in Rome, and the ancient biographer of the Caesars, Suetonius, could actually cite letters that still existed exchanged between Augustus, Rome’s first emperor (if one does not count Julius Caesar), and Horace. Maecenas, a friend of Augustus, was Horace’s patron, and for his exceptional talents and poetry bestowed upon him an estate in the Sabine land, and he celebrated the peace and beauty of his land in his works. Presumably there were plenty of slaves to help work it, so of course, for Horace it was a quiet retreat. Our place in the country is a bit different: the only slavery is that self-imposed on ourselves, we have no time for poetry, and no patron bestowed our farm on us – we have a mortgage. And this past week more closely resembled the hustle-bustle life in Rome rather than the dulce otium of Horace’s terra Sabina.

For starters, we were and are dealing with a major outbreak of scours among our goats and suspect either worms or coccidiosis, so are spending an hour and a half or so each day administering sulfa, probios, and electrolytes. Lori holds them and opens their mouths and I squirt the meds into their mouths. They are remarkably cooperative and patient, especially given that we need to withhold grain to give their rumens (okay, I’m a good Latinist so I should say rumina!) a break. Bleach and Clorox rule our lives as we try to maintain a healthy level of sanitation, and to wash off the sticky baths we take in molasses and stevia which we use to help sweeten the medicine and make the situation more pleasant for the goats. Again, all I can think about as I do this is the wisdom of the ancients and it is quite humbling. Goats and all livestock are both incredibly robust and incredibly fragile. Even modern organic farms need to worm and treat for coccidiosis regularly, and for us it is just a matter of the welfare of our animals. But the Greeks and Romans (or any other of the ancients) did not have ivermectin, probios, or sulfa dimethoxine – they had herbs, transhumance, and strong animals. They changed pasture to avoid illness (caused by parasites about which they had no clue) and culled weak animals mercilessly. We instead administer meds and try to keep clean pens and feeders; milk stands are bleached, as are the rags we use to clean animals messed up with runny manure. We spend time talking to friends about dosages, composing emails to them asking about how many days to medicate, and to seek advice on homeopathic remedies. And that is just the goats.

Then there are our obnoxious ducks, who are verging on “processing”; before we do that, however, we really want to fatten them up with some nice succulent fruit to give them a good finish. We give them the now overripe cherries from our trees and they love them to the point where they will fight and brawl over them. The juicy black cherries transform a flock of beautiful white ducks into creatures that look something like Lavinia in Titus Andronicus post mutilation. We are waiting for the pears and apples to come in but I want the apples to make our own hard cider, so the ducks may be out of luck on that score unless we keep them long enough to turn them alcoholic, which might be an idea if we want them for fois gras. The chickens are much easier by comparison – let them out of the coop and they are content to scratch on pasture for the day as they go after bugs. They are in fact singularly dull except for the fact that they are gorgeous and regrettably underrated birds in terms of their sheer physical beauty.

The garden has also been a challenge this week – windy and dry and now that we are watering the whole thing we’ve been puzzled by problems concerning how much to water the individual crops and by what method. The only sure thing is that we can let a rainbird do its job with our oats, which take up about 25% of the garden and which we sowed this week. Monitoring moisture levels and delivering water to everything has seemingly taken over our life. In addition we are besieged by critters – and I can’t honestly tell whether it’s a rabbit, vole, or slugs – who are devouring our carrots, chard, spinach, and cabbage even as they come up. With only about 60 days chance of getting things established before winter, we are going to need to resort to trying to do the chard, spinach and cabbage from starts. Aaaargh!

Not that we are complaining; it’s more of a Maxwell Smart lament:

Chief: You know Smart, on this mission you’ll be in constant danger for your life.

Smart: And, loving it!

Because at the end of the day we are not in Rome, we are still in the Sabine land. And our commute to the barn, and our office window in the garden, and the view from the lunch room is non iam in votis sed in vitis nostris (no longer in our prayers but in our lives). So raise a toast to the chubby bald poet, the one with splayed feet and a pot belly with a slightly bawdy temperament, the one with the garlands on his temples and the cup in his hand who took his goat to fons Bandusia and taught us all something about what is best in life. You will find his wet clothes in the Temple of Neptune, a votive offering of thanks for his rescue from life’s storm.

Vegetarians and Modernism.

Lori and I love veggies. Roasted potatoes; marinated eggplant; deep fried zucchini flowers; a garden salad; spinach drenched in olive oil; chard sautéed with onions (or chard frittata with smoked salmon); roasted peppers; braised collards; buttered corn on the cob; steamed asparagus; sauerkraut; broccoli done any way; roasted root vegetables; vegetarian shepard’s pie; marinated mushrooms; pickled beets; cucumber salad; carmalized onions (which I’d put on cardboard!); mashed sweet potatoes – I could go on and on, and I love the stuff. But something that has been on my mind this week as we work our garden is how difficult it would be to be a vegetarian using pre-industrial methods to work the land. Modern agriculture in a sense, allows one to pursue what they view as an ethical way of life.

Rows of beet greens await the fry pan and some onions and olive oil; the roots we’ll use as feed for our animals or for kraut.

Let me explain: In the interest of getting any garden at all in this year, we initiated it by machine, having a tractor rototill all of the turf on our quarter acre garden; part of it we rototilled again after putting compost on individual rows, hauling the compost in the tractor bucket and shoveling it from there onto the rows then tilling it in. But I was really uncomfortable with this method; I hated how the tractor compacted the soil, and rototilling I know compromises many of the beneficial organisms within the soil, especially worms.

So we stopped rototilling in the compost and decided to do mostly raised beds for purposes of heat and drainage and to dig in the vast majority of the garden by hand. It is back-breaking work initially digging the trenches for the beds, hauling the compost in a wheel-barrow, then raking the compost into the soil by hand, and this year we have been racing the clock, so have done it in a fairly short space of time; fortunately next year we will have April and March to work the garden gradually, and half the battle will have been already won since the raised beds will have been put in this year. We were unable to get our turf scraper functioning properly on the tractor so had to rototill the turf and weeds directly in – not, I know, ideal. However we plan to control them over the winter with green manure crops and plastic sheeting, which should also help dry out the beds if we get one of our soggy Oregon springs.

Onions stand sentry over the lettuce; to the left are strawberries, to the right potatoes.

Now for the most part we are expending huge amounts of calories on work in the garden to produce foods that are not calorie dense – spinach, beets (we eat mainly the greens), squash, corn, asparagus, lettuce, onions, etc. The only really calorie dense crops we are growing are potatoes, unless you consider grapes calorie dense (in the form of wine), or sunflowers if you consume their seed. For every calorie produced I would guess that we expend 10 if not substantially more. Add in hand watering, weeding, hand sowing, fertilizing, thinning, all the movement that entails, and well, you get the picture. We spend entire days hand weeding, while hand watering thankfully only takes about an hour before breakfast (and helps conserve water and suppresses weeds and grass).

We’ll eat gobs of corn, but with 300 plants there will probably be plenty left over for our chickens and goats. To the right, sugar pie pumpkins destined for pies with any extras for the critters.

Compare this now to our animals. Thirty to sixty minutes of relatively light labor in the course of the day and we are done. We are not milking yet, but that should only add another 30-60 minutes. Animals are simply easier to raise, and what they produce is calorie dense. That is why the goat is the most popular farm animal in the world – it produces great meat and milk, and considering much of the world still consists (particularly in Africa) of small, poor farmers, it just makes sense simply from a caloric perspective to expend one’s energy and limited resources on that which requires the least caloric input but gives the most return.

Yes, vegetarianism is healthy and there are times in our lives when we have gone vegetarian, but in preindustrial societies my guess is that it was a relatively rare phenomenon, simply from the perspective of required caloric input versus caloric return. In fact, I just don’t see how it would be physically possible. Unless you have room and climate for olive oil and heavy-duty cereal production (but both are intensive in terms of harvest and production), forget it – not happening. You are going to tend animals for meat and dairy. Sure, the Greeks and Romans had wine and olive oil, but once you hit, say, northern Italy, they turn to butterium (butter) for calories where olive production is not possible, while the peoples of northern Europe, as archaeological evidence shows, relied on cereals and meat for calories. I am not saying that it is impossible to live off a quarter acre of beets, potatoes, and lettuce farmed by hand, but I am certain that most people, once they tried their hand, would not find it a pleasant prospect, and you are going to eat mostly potatoes, unless you want to live on desserts (like marionberry cobbler).

So, if you are going to be hardcore and both manually farm AND be vegetarian, you may as well have some fun and a calorie boost along the way. Thus, so as not to leave you on a down note, without further ado, here is my recipe for marionberry cobbler . . .

With this recipe the only dishes you’ll have are empty ones!

Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Whisk together 1 1/2 c. flour, 1 1/2 c. sugar, and 2 1/2 t. baking powder. Mix in 1 1/2 c. milk and 1 stick of butter (melted). Pour the batter in a baking dish, spread 3 c. marionberries on top, sprinkle with 1/2 c. sugar and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Serve warm with ice cream. Repeat frequently for happiness.

Quid faciat laetas segetes . . .

Thus begins the greatest of pastoral poems, Vergil’s Georgics, in which he proposes, first of all, to tell his readers ‘what makes the crops happy’. One of the words for ‘happy’ in Latin was the adjective laetus, which also means ‘fertile’, and is in fact an adjectival form of the Latin noun laetamen, which means manure. For the Romans happiness was related to fertility, and they knew that one of the keys to fertility was animal by-product. They knew to rotationally graze animals that would both eat and fertilize pasture, and they understood the symbiosis involved.

So when you read gurus like Joel Salatin (important a voice as he is), I think it is imperative also to credit the wisdom of our ancestors, of those who knew how to tend the land out of not an environmental ethos but existential necessity. We here at DFF are trying to do rotational grazing because it makes good sense from an economic and environmental perspective, and so it was very exciting this week to finally get our hens out on pasture. However it was not easy.

One of the frustrating things about this undertaking at times are the gaps in information as you try to set up infrastructure, so we had to figure out how to set up an electric fence on our own. We first had to move the coop to the field, then we had to mow the perimeter so that we wouldn’t have any tall grass or weeds shorting out our fence. We secured the bottom with small staples, and the four ends we secured onto T-posts with plastic ag-ties. Because poultry netting has a fair amount of sag we created some added tension in the net by securing it in between the portable netting panels to 60” fiber glass rods (of 7/16” width). We added an extra T-post at the place where the two ends connect and mounted our solar panel battery to it facing south so it gets full sun; we then clipped the positive charge to the top end of the fence and the negative charge to a 24” ground rod that we drove into the ground. After turning on the contraption we tested the fence which had a pretty god 8.1 volt charge at the far end of the fence – good enough to give a serious shock to anything that touched it.

The chickens seem much happier in this situation – they now get to scratch the grass and weeds for grubs and bugs and do what chickens do (plus the fact that they are lovely birds and look beautiful on pasture). Because we left them in the coop for so long they knew to return to it at night; in fact, it was as though at sunset someone had turned on (or off as the case may be) a switch, and they all went into the coop to roost for the night.

New Hampshire Reds, Black Austrolorps, Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons make a bad day for a lot of bugs and grubs and weeds in our pasture.

The goats also had a rather exciting week – we finally took them out of their enclosure individually to get them used to their milk stand (which we will also use to trim hooves and to administer meds). But all we did was to weigh them, brush them a bit, and feed them oats and some honey nut cheerios; we intend to repeat this about every other night for the near future, and the logic behind this is to make them want to go to the milk stand, to make sure that they have good associations with it.

Lori massages and strokes yet another unappreciative and demanding animal at DFF.

Apart from that, the garden, cherries, and blueberries continue to keep us extremely busy, and today we put up a half-gallon of cherry preserves from our trees. The pits and stems we will put in our compost to help make green manure for the garden, which, as Vergil observed over two millennia ago, is quid faciat laetas segetes.

Cherry preserves and syrup cool off on the counter awaiting a cold dish of ice cream.

What’s In A Name?

 

Marguerite, Janet, and Leah greet us at the gate.

We got our goats before my birthday during the last week of June. While we were overjoyed to have these wonderful animals on our farm, we were initially preoccupied with a sick kid. She was the youngest of a set of twins and had diarrhea which we at first thought was caused by stress but then some of our goat friends alerted us that we need to treat monthly for worms and coccidiosis (parasitic infestation that can prove fatal). So we gave her a dose of probiotic, electrolites, an oral injection of invermectin (dewormer), and treated all of the goats for five days with sulfa dimethoxine, the drug used to combat coccidiosis in all livestock. You administer it orally with an oral syringe – I held the goats and Lori administered the medicine (no needle involved, just a squirt of liquid in the mouth).

Now three of the goats were bottle-fed and are real easy to handle, while the other two, the twins were raised by their mother and were – and still are – a bit skittish about our approaching them. So when we gave them their meds at 6:00 PM nightly rounding up the twins ended up looking like something of a rodeo. Both Lori and I got a good clock from their horn stubs at one point (yes, even the stubs can hurt!)

This little bit of drama with our patient (who has now made a full recovery it appears) aside, we spent the first few days simply enjoying the goats, who appeared very needy as they caterwauled every time we left the barn; the first few days this went on all night as well until they became adjusted to their rhythm of life here.  I spent 27 years studying Classics before I truly understood what the meaning of tragedos is! (Tragedos is the ancient Greek word meaning goat song from which we get the word tragedy).

Living with goats has been a great experience this past (almost) month. Each has their own personality and are very much individuals. They mob us when we enter the corral and barn and want to eat our shoes, our shorts, the gloves sticking out of our back pockets. When one enters the corral or barn you need eyes on the back of your head since they have a tendency to try to climb on one’s back. In the corral they sport on the wood piles, and have already eaten down an ornamental plumb using a cooperative effort of push, pull and eat; they are currently working on the pines which I do not expect to survive the fall.

Twice a day we give them a feed of oats and sunflower treated with molasses, while they have free choice of alfalfa and the pasture corral all day. As we’ve thinned and trained our corn crop we’ve found that our goats have a special fondness for corn plants.

The one issue we’ve most struggled with got resolved finally today, and that was their names. When we got their papers they were just numbers and we’ve been calling them 16, 12, 9, 26 and 27 (though 26 and 27 because of the color of their collars have been known as Pinky and Blacky). I made a slew of suggestions to Lori – how about naming them after ancient courtesans (like Aspasia and Phryne)? How about after famous ancient women who rebelled against Rome (like Boudica, Zenobia, and Cleopatra)? How about Shakespearean women (Porcia, Ophelia and Cressida)? How about the fairies in Midsummer Night’s Dream (Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and Mustardseed)? But we finally decided that since these are the goats who will be the mothers of our herd, to name them, as per Lori’s suggestion, after our grandmothers, and since we have five goats we also decided to skip down a generation and to name the fifth after the next generation, choosing the oldest of our living parents, my mother. So our herd now consists of Anna, Margeurite, Leah, and Obie, with Janet the fifth (which works out well since Janet is both my mother’s name and the name of Lori’s birth grandmother, Marguerite being Lori’s adoptive grandmother). We hope that these wonderful creatures will one day be the ancestors of a handsome herd of lady goats who will give us mounds of chevre, kefir, yogurt, feta, butter, and cream as white as the lovely white creatures they are.

Our young twin kids, Anna and Obie, pause to chat about the days events by the local water cooler.

Janet, Marguerite, and Leah browse the pasture for what little they have left in it of tasty weeds.

Leah pauses for a cud-chewing glamour shot.

Surprising Talents

Our lives have been taken up at the farm with an enormous amount of construction since May, which has now, for the summer at least, ended. Today we finished our much over-constructed chicken tractor also known as our eggubator. It is a minor Fort Knox built for our laying hens, all of whom Lori transferred today into this contraption.

And Lori ever after will be known as Lori, Wrangler of Chickens, since we discovered se has a surprising talent for dealing with birds, unlike myself. But I did help her to herd them into corners, and she proceeded to lasso them and ride them into the eggubator, all 27 of them. We were able to complete the task within an hour; they had been in our barn for about four weeks, and after we cleaned up their pen we prepared it for our turkeys, which are now safely ensconced where the chickens had been.

So our tasks with the animals have now become simpler as they move to adulthood, and we can focus on our garden. Still, hauling the one ton nine foot high eggubator from one end of the farm to the next with a riding mower was one of the harrier experiences thus far on the farm – but we survived.

The chickens appear to have taken very well to their new surroundings, and we will let them stay and get used to them for a few days before opening the door and letting them out on pasture with a poultry net and a prayer.

We are happy to have this done – and to now turn to focusing on our quarter acre vegetable garden and to harvesting some of the great fruit this property produces – we are still inundated with cherries, and the blueberries are starting to give us a run for our money (we’ve had them fresh off the bush every morning this week with homemade yogurt and local blackberry honey).

Hopefully now comes some routine, rhythm and monotony, because the green house is looming, electricity needs to be run to the animal barn as does water before winter, sometime in August or September some of our girls will need to have dates set with bucks for breeding, and the 23 rows of vegetables we put in, each 40-60 feet, promises to keep us busy with harvest and storage.

Until then, we will raise a glass to the pleasant Zen of regular chores: to watering, feeding, and tending.

 

God in the Army of Lucullus and Michelangelo’s Brush

 

It was a year ago this week that we first looked at this property, and one of the things that most delighted us at the time was the presence of blueberry bushes heavy with fruit. We looked forward to July and August on this property for that very reason. But so far was have been stunned by something that we didn’t notice at the time, and that’s the presence of countless – yes, countless – cherry trees on the property, all of the black sour sort that are fabulous for pie, preserves, and syrup. We made our first pie for the crew when they came over to finish the chicken tractor this weekend and fair to say it was a hit.

The history of the cherry in the west has a fascinating tale, and it essentially relates directly to Roman provincial maladministration. So gratias ago legatis malis. Roman greed and the poor administration of the province of Asia in the first century BC led to a power play by Mithridates, King of Pontus. He not only invaded the province but massacred all of its Italian and Roman inhabitants, prompting a harsh and tenacious response by the Romans, who sent no less than three of it’s most illustrious nabobs – Sulla, Lucullus, and finally Pompey the Great – to crush the upstart tyrant. It took two decades before he was finally subdued, and one of the more happier episodes in this grim chapter was when Lucullus, as commander, brought back the cherry tree from Asia (today what we would consider modern Turkey).

It should not be surprising that it was Lucullus – one of the most renowned and sybaritic of Roman gourmands, who nearly out-did Apicius in his taste for culinary adventurism – who brought the cherry to Rome, nor is it surprising that the place of its provenance, Asia Minor, still has a deep passion for this wonderful stone fruit. Brightly garbed merchants still carry tanks of cherry juice on their backs in Turkey shouting “Vishna su vishna su vishna su”, “Cherry water, cherry water cherry water”, as they hawk this wonderful refreshment. Breakfast in Turkey always included several items you could count on – hot fluffy bread, thick yogurt with a crust, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and the highlight, cherry preserves – which are great on the bread and yogurt.

I have never picked so many cherries as I have in the past week – my hands are now permanently stained black and red from picking, cleaning, and pitting. And we love them so much we resort to almost pathetic acts of desperation to reach them in the tops of the trees. We have parked the pickup under the trees and mounted ladders in its bed; we have hoisted up each other precariously in the bucket of the tractor to obtain the trees’ fruit.

And as I picked them the other day I realized that my neck had not been this strained since I was in the Sistine Chapel; and as I looked up at the fruit, one of the finest things in creation, I thought of Michelangelo’s devotion in straining his body to replicate and celebrate that creation, and I think he would agree that for all his genius, boldness, and ingenuity, the sheer simplicity of the conjunction of golden sun, blue sky, green leaves, and bright fruit is a thing incomparable.

 

 


Out of Zeus’ Head

The prophecy foretold that the Greek goddess Metis would give birth to a child more powerful than Zeus. To forestall this he swallowed Metis after he lay with her (a standard alternative to cuddling for most males), but soon afterwards Zeus came down with an enormous headache (of course Metis would have done better to have one) that the god Hephaestus remedied by cleaving Zeus’ skull with an axe. Out of Zeus’ head sprang a fully armored Athena with a mighty war cry that terrified all the other Olympians who were in attendance. It was an episode most famously commemorated in sculpture on the front pediment of the Parthenon.

We feel these days as though we have in some respects reenacted the myth. We have managed within six or seven weeks to fence the garden, though it is still not fully planted, put in a small six tree fruit orchard in our garden, fenced the corral, renovated the barn, nearly finished our portable chicken coop, kept alive nearly all of our birds and nursed then to adolescence, and now have five beautiful white Saanen kid goats (about which more in a separate post). This does not include a myriad of other things we’ve done around here, including completing our final move in from Maryland and getting settled, but it represents the biggest tasks and challenges we’ve faced, particularly since Lori and I know nothing about construction, mechanics, or engineering, and much of this has entailed an extensive learning curve.

So we feel we are nearly there, and soon will be able to focus on cheese production and possibly some charcuterie as well (hooray, no more sawing, drilling, or struggling with come-alongs!) In short, we will be able to focus on the things we got into this for in the first place, and today we will make a special offering to Athena, goddess not simply of war and wisdom, but also of all human skills in arts, crafts, and mechanics, for her divine assistance in guiding us, as she once did Odysseus long ago, to our home.

RIP Little Red

Originally published June 13, 2012

The spring of 2005 marks a transition point in my life.   The relentless but winding path that led me to Dancing Faun Farm accelerated that fine spring day in April that I leased a shiny, red Mini Cooper S.

Steve! and I had finished a tumultuous few years in which we had survived some family drama that left us with only one car.   I had taken it hard when the last of our three elderly, ill cats died a few months earlier.   No responsibilities for elder care, no sickly pets to tend, and my business was six years old and humming along.  I actually was a little bored.

Most folks’ introduction to the Mini Cooper in the US was from a couple of exciting movies that featured them in spectacular car chases.    Steve! and I had spent plenty of time in Europe and become acquainted with them many years earlier.   When they were introduced in the US, we decided to check them out, and see if we could get over two threshold  issues:   what did they cost and would Steve! even fit into one?

Turns out that the Mini was affordable and Steve fit beautifully.    I rationalized the choice that it was very fuel efficient and would be easy to park in all of the tight places in the metro Washington, DC area where we lived.   Also, most of my business appointments were an hour’s drive away at least, so it seemed to be a smart choice.   More importantly, the car was cute, and seemed like a way to thumb my nose at the militarized, bigger is better, consumption is great world that surrounded us.   Picture soccer moms and suburban dads each driving big SUVs and Hummers, as if they were marines on maneuvers.   Really.

I loved driving that car.  I received my first speeding ticket ever flying over a large hill on I-70 at 84 miles per hour.    I don’t regret the ticket or traffic court trip to plead for mercy—which I received.  I pleaded that the car was brand new and I had never driven one that was so powerful and I had humbly learned my lesson.    A year’s probation was the minor slap on the wrist I received.

A car’s potency is measured by its horsepower.    Horses were part of humankind’s great leap forward in evolution—the ability to travel fast and far by one’s self  changed the world.   So, in my early forties, I picked a conspicuously red symbol of my (horse) power to tootle around in.    Changes flooded into my life and all of them led me to where I am today on the farm.

On May 8th, Steve! sold the red Cooper.   The sale of the Mini is paying for the move of the last of our stuff from Maryland to Dancing Faun Farm, and possibly some goat fencing.   I am not really feeling sentimental about it—just grateful for the car’s steady, fun service.   I won’t miss being so visible—I rather prefer a low profile in this life, and a bright red foreign car is a beacon.

So, RIP, red, sort of.   Let me introduce you to the new red (horse)power in my life—my 2001 Ford F250 truck.     It’s so big I need a stepladder to get into it.   I can only imagine the changes it will bring to the next seven years of my life. Oh, and we aren’t quite done with Mini Coopers yet—we still have Steve!’s silver bullet—just for a fuel efficient ride, of course….

Calories

Originally published June 12, 2012

Four or five years ago while driving across the country from Oregon back to Maryland, Lori and I listened to Steven Ambrose’s book about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage. I was struck by an entry in Lewis and Clark’s journals cited by Ambrose that the men were eating about nine pounds of meat – bison, elk, deer, and other game – per man per day. It struck me because I was always impressed by the logistics of the Roman army – all of those legions of young men, marching, digging, building fortifications, felling forests of trees for siege engines, and so on; how could the Romans keep so many young men (many if not most still in their growing years) fueled up for such heavy labor? I’m guessing lots of meat, olive oil, and grain – not wine because that was not a regular drink for military men (in the interest of discipline).

I recall how much I ate as a young man – half a roast and a six pack of beer was a good start. My parents must have been in sticker shock trying to feed me in my late teens until I left home for good at the age of 21. All of this is by way of saying that, as I approach the ripe old age of 49, I find myself in a place I never thought I would be again: trying to consume enough calories to keep up my energy for heavy labor.

A day like we had yesterday was pretty typical. We had to haul feed for the birds and do all the bending and stooping that that entails several times (in addition to breaking down our flock so that, as the hens grow, they are not over-crowded). Then we finished the western side of the corral fence for the goats. We sank five wooden posts and three T-posts. The gate poles were two used utility poles that we had on the property, but we had to lift and attach a chain and pull them across the property with the tractor. The holes had been augured already, but one of them, a three footer that was a foundation for the gate, was eight inches or so off, and we had to re-dig it by hand. That meant using a hand augur and a clam shell digger to deepen, widen, and clean out the hole. We only found that it was off center after we sunk in the utility pole and tried to line it up with the line of twine we had tied from the first large post we had put in to the smaller one we set in place at the end – we always set in our end poles first to get a straight line for the others.

When the pole got stuck, we had to chain it up and use the lift on the tractor to pull it out since it would not budge. That single post took up about two hours of our day. And each hole is idiosyncratic, and always needs to be partially dug and clean out by hand – a long and exhausting process. Once a post is lined up and leveled, we shove dirt in the hole and tamp it by hand using a narrow iron bar that weighs about 30-40 pounds. It’s easy to run out of dirt because we’re compacting it and we always have less dirt than we need so we need to shovel and haul it from the garden. It’s hell on the muscles, and yesterday we had the added factor of sun and heat – I got so hot I took my shirt off and wore it like a kafia on my head, and ended up very sun-burned, sun screen not withstanding.

Once the five wooden posts were in place we lined up our T-posts – we set them at a space of 15 feet between wooden posts; they are 12 feet each and since I’m better with the tractor Lori stands in the bucket of the tractor while I send her up about 6 feet in the air – she starts in with the post-pounder which weighs about 30 pounds and sets in the post about 18 inches, then I lower the bucket, hop in, and finish the job. We keep the tractor running because we constantly need to adjust the distance and height of the lift and tractor in general, and each posts needs to be driven four feet deep into what yesterday proved to be very hard ground. We started yesterday at 8:30 and finished this at 5:30, with a fast break for lunch and an enforced break when Lori had to head to McMinnville to get a new level when ours broke after a post fell on it.

It was a long, hot day that ended with copious amounts of food and beer just to keep up our strength. Chips, beer, large sandwiches, roasted meat, cold white wine, hard cider, coke, stuff we generally wouldn’t touch, have become something of a staple around here, along with eggs and bacon for breakfast, with a side of ibuprofen. And now if you will excuse me, I think I hear the trumpet of the thirteenth legion that signals the start of another day with more calories to burn.