Potatoes have sustained nations. Now, the ones I planted myself sustain me. In the late spring Joe tilled the ground and returned with his arms frozen into the pose of a Hells Angels biker. It is hard to till ground in Mid-Ontario. I hesitate to call it Northern Ontario because of the respect I have for those who live in Timmins or Sudbury. Parry Sound area is North enough to make planting a vegetable garden an exercise in optimism. Well, we did. We planted potatoes, many varieties, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, garlic and onions. We planted some carrots too.
The summer was dismal. It rained all the time and a tornado descended on us once a week. One of them uprooted a twin-trunked poplar at the edge of the trail. Poplars are not very strong trees but still, it is disconcerting to see a wall of sod appear where the tree is upturned. All this time we fretted over our vegetable garden. We never once had to irrigate so that tells you something about the sunshine level all summer.
The garlic simply disappeared. We never found a trace of it. The peppers sulked and finally sent out a few measly specimens in August. The tomatoes grew large but most had to be picked green and ripened indoors. A squash, a cucumber here and there, two carrots, helped keep our spirits up.
The acid test would be the potatoes. Here they are – so different from those awful monsters covered in foil and baked in the oven. Aren’t they nice? We ordered heirloom species during the cold days of March and now for the first time ever I get to eat fingerlings, blue and red potatoes and to serve them with a superior smirk to my guests.
We did learn a few lessons. First, we needed to till the earth more. Potatoes like more aeriated soil. Second, we should have planted them further apart so they had room to grow bigger. Third, we should forget all about the other stuff and only plant potatoes. Joe does not agree with that but my peasant side comes out. I know I can buy tomatoes, onions and cucumbers for pennies at harvest time. However, nothing can duplicate the joy of munching those potatoes that my poor Irish ancestors depended on to survive – or to perish. I feel like calling down the centuries, “See, I can make potatoes grow too! You would consider the blue ones funny looking. But those are the South American ones, the original ones. I plant them to say thank you to the mountain people who grew them in the wet climate and who ate them to stay alive.”
My guests had lamb shoulder too, falling off the bone in a sauce of onions and garlic and the potatoes in a garlic and oregano and lemon juice sauce. No Irishman or South American could have asked for more. The guests dragged the serving plate this way and that mopping up the juice and did not leave one potato. I looked at my hands as I washed the dish late at night and thought of the cool earth into which I had pressed the potato segments, each with an eye to grow the green plant. I liked what my hands had done. (Joe eventually was able to open his fists and lower his hands but next year he swears we’ll ask the neighboring farmer to till that patch.)
Yesterday they delivered the wood and we stacked it in the woodshed. Yesterday was Sunday but today is turning out to be the day of rest. Some may be wondering what a cord of wood is and how it got that name. I wondered too. Turns out the cord was the string wound around the stack of split wood to measure it. It cannot be sold by weight because different woods weigh different amounts and whether the wood is green and wet or dry also makes a difference. The mass should be 128 cubic feet. The classic dimensions of a cord of wood is 4 x 4x 8 feet. However, it turns out that wood dealers have a whole vague other set of dimensions and names for the loads of wood they offer. You can buy a “bush cord” a “face cord” or an “apartment cord” and this is one area where no one is going to offer too much of a guarantee. Problem is that stacking the wood calls for a certain skill. You want some air between the logs since they have to dry out and yet stacking too loosely leads to instability and inaccurate measurement. Trust and an understanding of what the buyer and seller mean by a “cord” is important. Suffice it to say that $330 Canadian dollars for fuel supply for the winter delivered to the door of the woodshed seemed about right. Yesterday we stacked split wood to a height of 7 feet across a width of 8 feet with a depth of 3 feet (two rows of logs one behind the other. That’s a lot of wood for two oldies to haul and stack.
You need work gloves and decent shoes. The loose wood pile is a bit unstable so having an errant log tumble onto sandaled toes would be a disaster. A short wheelbarrow ride brought the loads inside the woodshed ready to be stacked. There was something satisfying about seeing the wall of logs climb up. The hardest part was getting the back wall up high enough. Each log weighs about ten pounds so the higher you have to stack them the more exhausting it is. We sweat, we took breaks, we drank lemonade, we persevered even though at some points I thought the pile of wood would never diminish. There is another wall of logs in the shed from last year. It is already dry and ready to burn. In a region where snow is deep and winters are long and cold, you want to be sure you have your supply of wood in early in the season.
I love the woodshed. The floor is a beautiful smooth stretch of rock – pure Canadian shield like the rock the house sits on. The walls and a lot of the roof is made of reinforced plexiglass so there is a lot of light in there. I proposed to my oldest grandson that he sleep in there when the family came to visit recently. At that time it held only sweet-smelling dry wood. A little rill that feeds the creek runs down beside the shed. He still opted for the tent out back. The idea might grow on him though.
The pictures show part of the load delivered and ready to be put in the shed and where the two walls meet – dry wood on the right, green wood just stacked on the left
It has been one month since I took a year’s leave of absence from giving tours as a volunteer guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Do I miss it? Do I miss walking into the Museum and feeling in a way that it is “mine”? Do I miss looking for my friends guiding or researching or browsing the book store? Do I miss checking out who is checking coats or looking at tickets? Do I miss the nice feeling of waltzing around anywhere I like because I wear a tag? Not yet.
I have spent almost all the month of July in Muskoka country. It’s not a bad place for a guide who loves Canadian art to be. Gliding in a canoe or swimming in a Group of Seven country lake can’t hurt, right? It is a totally different world from the city environment of the metro or searching for a parking spot. I have only read for pleasure here and happily concentrated on my own writing.
Some things remain the same though. I think that besides a love of study, a good guide should have keen observation skills. Here I learned how many kinds of grass there are. I learned to look and see how many shades of green there are. I learned how many minor treasures are to be found in a dump. After all, one of the lectures we enjoyed in preparation for the Faberge exhibition opened our eyes to the opinion that the missing Imperial Faberge eggs are in North America. Our distinguished speaker encouraged us all to scour garage sales and recycling centers. Although I haven’t yet found a Faberge piece, you would be amazed at what people throw away. Yesterday, I came home with two beautifully embroidered tablecloths. A quick spin in the washing machine and the table is set for the seven (yes, 7 ) visitors we are expecting here in Eden tomorrow. I can hardly wait to show them the frogs.
The picture? A certificate I was given just before I left town. Seems I conducted over 500 tours…..but who’s counting. I know I’ll be back because I can’t resist the thrill of studying for a new exhibit or for some obscure item in the permanent collection. In fact, the only pang I have had about my absence was a stab of regret when I missed a reference on the Antiques Roadshow. Chinese porcelain has been a bit of a mystery to me so far. I wonder if there’s anything in the library here……..
PS. Today I was published in an on-line magazine “The Lake” out of the UK in the August edition. Lucky me that my name starts with “C” which means I get to be read first. The other poets are certainly more widely published than I am and their awards are pretty inspiring. Check it out on line.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently hosted a party for the opening of an exclusive exhibition of wedding dresses (make that wedding attire) designed by John Pail Gaultier. I had a ball guiding his big show a few years ago so I was dying to see what had been whipped up for the “Love is Love” theme. The finale of every fashion show is the wedding dress but given Jean Paul’s very inclusive attitude to love, I was sure more than dresses would be on show.
I have been spending a lot of time in the wilds of Muskoka with a dear person whose tastes run more to home-crafted birdhouses and planting various strains of potatoes than the Parisian fashion scene. I anticipated something of a culture clash as we left the house. I was dressed in my only fashion item – an ancient Escada jacket of startling checked fabric embroidered lavishly with butterflies. I bought this in a consignment shop (second hand to you) more decades ago than I care to remember over the objections of my conservative friend who dresses only in black, grey or beige. It grew on her after a while. Thank God shoulder pads are making a comeback.
Speaking of beige, I had to bite my tongue when I noted that my escort was wearing his best black pants teamed with ……another color shoes. However, bitter experience has taught me that if you want the guy to show up, don’t comment on his outfit.
We arrived to a mob in the lobby that brought a hunted look to the eye of my shy woodland lad but with a flash of my volunteer guide ID we were whisked upstairs with the VIP’s. There wasn’t much elbow room up there either but the museum had devised a charming way of crowd control. We were given colored rings (in keeping with the wedding theme) and admitted to the exhibition in groups according to color.
As a woman “of a certain age” I can say that many of the openings are attended by my contemporaries. This was different. City mice and men ,dapper damsels and dogs were out in force and wearing the most fabulous shoes! My footwear has been confined for many months to snow boots or rain boots. I have never worn heels like the ones I drooled over that night. “Wear chic flats”, you say. I have a habit of paying my bills and some of those mules and ballerinas would make a serious dent in my budget.
One thing being a guide at the museum cured me of is the desire to acquire art. I get to study it, look at it and discuss it with visitors. Soirees like that one help me dampen my ardor for clothes and shoes. I can never aspire to that level so – just look and admire.
To my surprise, my country mouse was a great hit. He is very sociable and no one even noticed his shoes. Well, maybe they did and copy-cat designers will make him a trend setter.
Oh, the exhibit? Fabulous, darling. Just check out the Irish knit inspired his and her outfits. Oh, I kept the orange rings – you never know when they might come in handy.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I can go off into raptures about nature in all its forms. However, living in the country brings home the dark side of Mother Nature. As I told a dear friend of mine today, I had considered myself on top of the food chain. Black flies do not appear to have been informed of their position on the hierarchy and have bitten me unmercifully over the past week. In spite of bug spray, bug jackets, ugly nerdy looking hats with nets attached and a nineteen-thirties look around the feet due to pants tucked into socks, they were not deterred. A couple of the little blighters even managed to get into the house and I awoke on Wednesday morning with my eye swollen shut due to a vicious bite just below the eyebrow. The local pharmacist was quite impressed with my chest – not the first to have exhibited a vivid interest if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, her awe struck gaze was due to a livid string of welts. “Like Christ before he was put on the cross.” was a rather dramatic description by my boyfriend. I doubt Our Saviour was afflicted by the intense itching behind the ears and down my legs incurred by the damned black flies. I had great hopes that the pharmacist would produce some miracle salve – this is 2017 for heaven’s sake. She led me confidently down an aisle and triumphantly produces a bottle of ……calamine lotion. Sixty years ago this chalky liquid was slathered over my legs after I fell into a patch of stinging nettles. Crushed I was led whimpering out of the pharmacy.
Yesterday was a hot and humid day. I helped a bit with the garden and took refuge in the cool house hoping to catch an episode of Coronation Street. It was not to be. At exactly 4 pm – air time for my favorite dose of British working class soap opera, a tornado hit our house. With amazing speed a storm packing gale force winds, torrential rain, thunder and hail engulfed our house and land. I was convinced the living room window was going to blow in and took shelter in the bathroom. The picture shows a substantial tree that was uprooted during the ten minute storm. Many trees in the neighborhood were felled and we had no power for six hours.
So, you can perhaps understand that my feelings towards Mother Nature are a little cooler than usual. I know all moms can have bad days but really, I shall expect some pretty spectacular lilac to make up for this.
There is enough Irish blood coursing in my veins to think of planting potatoes as a sacred task. I doubt any ancestor of mine ever planted Blue Russians or Congo Pot varieties but scrabbling around in the dirt seemed to come naturally. I have never planted potatoes before and in spite of the very annoying “no see’em” flies which plagued us, we got them all into narrow beds. Ready for the first showers of the weekend.
A bit of sad news…the little birds that nested over the door of the shed lost their eggs. We think it was the blue jays that attacked them. As a consolation ( to us) we saw a lone turkey running over the farmer’s field and a partridge and what was either a mink or an otter. The joint is jumping
Here are a few more beauties that just appeared as I was going around this morning. I have no idea what they are called but I will try to find out. Lovely, aren’t they? It is very interesting to see all the nesting pairs of birds and see how they are enjoying the bird feeder. We saw a pair of Jays this morning. Lots of people think they are noisy and bossy and I suppose they are. I love them, though. Part of the crow family, like Magpies they make their presence known. The little nesting pair in the shed are still holding us hostage. I don’t know what we will do when it is time to go to Montreal as we can’t close the door. I hope the little ones will have hatched by then. The days are long but as soon as it gets dark we can hear frogs making that high spring chirping sound that means….what exactly….we’re getting ready to do our springy thing?
Now, about the title – I had this feeling when I found the little pink flowers this morning. What will come next? What is all this? Where does it go in winter? Why and how does it all come to life in Spring? Who am I in all this? Was I like this, springy and innocent when I was young? Am I now like an old tree with a rough bark and what will happen when I die? Will I be like some old fallen trunk rotting away on the floor of the forest? Am I a tadpole? So all these questions come down to one question. What is the meaning of this? So many philosophers and religious leaders, writers and thinkers have wrestled with this. Do we always come to a tie, a draw, a no contest? I think so. These little pink flowers brought forward this question. They are more profound than any newspaper or TV show or book. I bow to the little pink flowers and recognize that I am helpless before them.