The start of the school year always meant two things: a slight loss of weight, and dry hands.
From weeds and brambles to wonderful and beautiful. We cleaned up the back area and have made it a lovely spot for sitting. The path leading away from the paved area with the gap in the upper left corner of the picture will be converted to a small rock garden with rhododendrons and a fountain.
The first because it is unbelievable how much energy one expends when one lectures. The sheer physicality of teaching on a large university campus is remarkable: running from one’s office, to the bookstore, to class, to any number of other places on campus just to get the logistics of one’s class in place. This does not include the energy expended in lecture as well. In the fall and spring in particular, I would always, even in buildings with decent air conditioning, leave the room drenched – and in my later years I always dressed casually when I lectured, without a tie or jacket (in fact, usually just jeans and a button work-shirt). Thank goodness I am now on a small college campus – having demoted myself to a mere adjunct I now park in front of my building (hooray, no more 10 minute walk to and from the car!), and have an office with a window and a lovely tree outside (in all my years at a university I was sans window, let alone view).
The circle garden is cleaned up and the roses will hopefully fill in during the next year or two.
The second because of chalk: writing declensions of Latin or Greek nouns and adjectives or the conjugation of verbs on the board, scribbling terms in white chalk against black board, words like ablative, Linear B, Klytemnestra, pater familias, or (a personal favorite) pentakosiomedemnoi. After class it was off for a swim, so my hands would get further dried out after plowing through heavily chlorinated water for fifty minutes. Added to that was the pushing of paper – student papers to read and thumb through, administrative paper work, letters of recommendation to write, proofs to read, and endless flood of white sheet after white sheet, a universe of whisps and crinkles and shuffles, all of which dried out my hands still further. Shortly into the semester I was anointing my hands in lotion, a ritual that endured from late September to May.
Our sweet potatoes have gotten up a head of steam and are now producing lovely purple flowers.
This year I go into the school year with my hands already dry, cracked, and chaffed, from the handling of feed bags, of wooden handles on antiquated hand tools, from constant washing after touching birds and their feeders and waterers, but most of all from dirt, oceans and oceans of red and brown and black clay. And there is no getting them clean. Wash as you will, when your hands spend so much time in clay and loam and decaying matter, they crack, and the rich blackness of the earth fills the tiny furrows in one’s hand, and you become the conveyor of a rich palimpsest of geological eons in the single dry vein of an index finger. Your hands simply look dirty all the time, caked with filth – the manure of your hens and goats, the green stains of a kosmos of weeds – plantain, vetch, and thistle, the tiny furrows of your prints a botanical stew of land and field.
OUCH!!!!!! The brown chicken egg in my hand would qualify as a jumbo in the supermarket; so what do we call the quarter pound duck egg next to it?!?!?!
Throw into this mix is the fruit. The picking and washing of apples and pears, the harvesting and processing of plums, makes one’s hands black. We have picked about 25 pounds of green plums from our tree in our front yard so far, and peeling and processing these for jam is a considerably messy business: there is no easy way to peel and pit the fruit, and the residual mush of residue from the skin quickly turns from yellow to brown to black, setting up residence in every crack and crevice of one’s fingers and under one’s nails. But it is worth it: the product is a rich, delicious, golden jam that I would put far above the cherry, strawberry, blueberry, or even red plum jams we have put up this year. So far we have put up 12 jars, and I think the tree can easily handle a dozen more.
A glorious September sunrise.
The callouses around one’s nails and on one’s hands quickly grow quite thick from spending so much time shoveling gravel, loam, clay, and compost. Since posting last, in early August, not only has the harvest taken over our lives – the remaining tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds still to come – but so too has the sheer will to finish up our renovations of the circle garden and the raised beds we are putting in in the backyard gazebo area. These, thankfully, are finished, and much easier now to maintain, but one’s hands spend a great deal of time in peat, compost, and clay when putting in plants.
The whole herd is out in hopes of snacking on a treat of kale!
A further hand blackener is the processing of apples for cider. Even with a grinder and press, the apples need to be culled, chopped, and the grinder, whose handle resembles the wheel of a ship complete with ancient wooden stays, blisters and dries one’s hands very quickly. Thankfully the grinder and press can simply be hosed down, but you still end up with sticky juice and mash up to your elbows; the residual cake you end up with after the pressing process can be fed to the hens. In fact, it is astonishing that so large a pyramid of apple and pear mash can be so handily and quickly demolished by about 50 birds. But the constant washing and cleaning of apples, of hands, of equipment, means arid, thirsty skin.
Ooooooh! . . . .
. . . aaaaah!
And this skin binds together a series of muscles, bones, and tendons that are constantly stiff and sore from milking. Although we now have a milker, we have not yet had the time to figure out how to use it, so we still milk manually, and this has taken a big toll, not just on our hands and skin, but on our arms in general. Elbows and forearms occasionally need to be packed in ice in the morning and evening to help us make the task less painful. But woe unto you if you need to use the tractor with sore arms: tractors are awesome labor saving devices, and I just used ours to till up part of our garden and put in cover crop (after which, thankfully, we received our first soaking rain in about five or six months), however they do not have automatic steering, and it requires a strong grip, and for that matter a strong constitution, to drive and operate the machine over rough terrain. As when you ride a bike, you become a part of the machine, and every shock it absorbs you absorb with it. Feet, hands, arms, legs – all tighten and stiffen as you rough ride over furrows, clods, holes, and a trove of hidden hazards.
We tilled the northeast portion of our garden to put in cover of vetch, field pea, clover, and winter grasses. We won’t cultivate it for several years as we build up the tilth.
Okay, I got a bit tiller happy, but it’s a great way to clean up the garden and to build up soil health in the long run.
Our breeding flock for broilers (that we have dubbed the Pink Rangers) is going gang-busters!
The healthy leaves in those boxes are a crop of late fall potatoes – I’ve never seen such healthy plants, and only hope their roots and tubers are as vigorous.
Nothing says fall like the pressing of cider . . .
. . . and the harvest of pumpkins.
But our hands separate us from the other species. They are what allow us to write in chalk on the board, or to till the clay. In return they are paid back with desiccated skin and painful joints. Could it be that they have been dealt, forgive the pun, a bad hand? Or are they simply extremely generous?