Monday, September 24, 2012

Pekin Ducks

It was so cool this morning, about 46, I decided to work for a while then run at lunch time. I prefer that because it splits my day. Even at noon it was only 69.

I ran up to Arrowhead Lodge and turned around. On my way back, I heard some wheels slow down beside me and a fellow said through his window, "You live in the big brick house at the corner, right?" I said yes. (It's not really a big house, but people always say that.) 

"We were wondering if you'd like a bunch of ducks? We like watching your animals when we drive by, donkeys, goats. My wife has dementia and is getting worse and it's getting to be too much work for us. They lay a lot of eggs, double yolks, too." 

Well, Karen had been talking about ducks lately (dare I say Peking Duck?), so I was tempted to say yes, but I said, Maybe, let me talk to my wife, she's in charge of our livestock. May I call you? 

"BW's the name, Air Force Retired," he said. "Dial 1700. I'm usually home, but if I'm not, call again because my wife may not remember to pass the message along. They're like our children."

This evening I called about 7 and said we'd like them. "Great, when would you like to pick them up? I've got some appointments tomorrow. The sooner the better." I said how about now. So off we went, with a dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

They live a mile down the road in a brick house I'd noticed on my runs when their dogs barked from inside a fenced yard. While we talked, he clapped his hands, "Time for bed, time for bed." The ducks came from the corners of the yard and ran into the enclosed space underneath their back porch. 

One by one, Karen and I crawled in to gather them up and put them in a couple crates we'd taken in our pickup. When we counted 8, he said, "There's one more. Let me get a flashlight. He might be behind the dividing wall." I'd noticed a low wall and had looked on the other side but seen no ducks. With a flashlight I saw a white tail wiggling back behind an old wheelbarrow. That duck was smart, not quacking like the others, as silent as a stone. So then we had 9. 

He asked Karen's name and wanted us to come in to meet his wife, so we chatted for a while, looking at pictures of them when they were "young and beautiful," as he put it. He told about some other ducks they had given away. They missed them so much, he visited the buyer and asked if he could buy them back. Nope. How about $25 per duck? Nope. $50? Nope, my daughters love them too much. So last spring he heard some birds chirping in Tractor Supply and said, you've got chicks? Ducks, too, said the clerk. He bought a dozen. One fell out of the box when he gave them to his wife. He accidentally stepped on it. (Boo-hoo.) Two others later got crippled, I forget how, maybe an incident with dogs, so he gave those two to a fellow down in the valley. 

So now we have 9 ducks again, same number as before. I wonder if he'll be tempted again next spring in Tractor Supply. They've nestled down for the night in the house inside the kennel by the garage. Karen says they're Pekin ducks. And we have a couple dozens of duck eggs. Would you like some?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Garden Wind-Up

Our garden lulls at the moment, issuing a few tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, onions, carrots, parsnips, and herbs. Okay, not so bad, it's still offering most of our meals, though not enough at the moment to "put food by." Except -- we planned well this year, and have been eating sweet corn since early July, no slowdown in the corn category. I should be reaping two plantings for freezing or canning. A third is almost ready for picking.

Every year seems to star one vegetable. Last year, I called friends to pick an overwhelming abundance of peas. This year, green beans. 42 canned quarts and about 8 frozen gallons stock the basement. The squash seeds I threw into the mulch pile over in the field are yielding a pile of orange stuff we'll enjoy during the winter months.

I understand why many gardeners let up this time of year. They've worked hard since Spring and now the first frost approaches. I keep planting because I long to avoid a table lacking fresh vegetables. I have trouble calling food "fresh" after it has been shipped 1500 miles from somewhere I've never seen. It's amazing to reach down through the white stuff to pull beets and carrots.

Near the end of July, the fall garden began with green beans (may not make it but worth a try), lettuce, peas, beets, broccoli, kohlrabi. August added more lettuce, beets, spinach, kale, onions (fat chance), peas, rutabaga, carrots. September I've neglected, though my intentions have been good. Too much going on. The greenhouse awaits lettuces, peas, spinach, onions and more.

Now those late-July sugar snap peas are blossoming, a good sign that we may have little pods to harvest in a couple weeks. Sweet potatoes are growing underground, I hope. Last time we checked they were too small, as if most of their energy had gone into greenery. The fall and over-wintering beets have sprouted, while last spring's beets wait to be harvested for wine-making, roasting and canning. A fine stand of spinach has escaped rabbits (so far) and I'm hoping the rain predicted for tonight and tomorrow will coax up the carrots.

"It sounds as if you're winding up, not winding down," says Virginia.

We hope so.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Farm Tour

Now that elk cliff farm has become a destination and no longer occupies the boonies, jellystone resort traffic fills the air like main street usa and eyes wander through farm listings in west virginia where larger farms off the beaten track don't require a heavy pile of gold. Just for fun, mind you (really?), they call like a long beachfront farm in new zealand, a zillion miles from friends and family, a short drive from new acquaintances. 

I think nietzsche talked about happiness being poverty and filth and wretched contentment, while the taoists speak highly of the contented person who can be happy with what appears to be useless, and certain religions suggest that contentment, though a virtue, is not natural to the human heart; it's strange that the same words can be used by different people in varied, seemingly contradictory fashion, with admiration and disgust. Maybe fashion or fad guides feeling.

Complacency, contentment, self-satisfaction, contented cows -- political conventions suggest these are enemies of capitalism, the greener grass engines that drive a growth-oriented economy beloving bootstraps. Picture wrinkled visages in tattered clothes, sitting along a fenceline, frowning, living on years of past labor, or make them young, yawning, collecting welfare or living on parental kindness, or think of someone hoeing at high noon, a grand garden richly ripening, not punching a clock or suited and tied for wall street.

As our bodies change, we dream. Overcoming bias is a furious fight after years of work and hating laziness, settling down gives us the shakes, searching seems more sensible.

"What on earth are you trying to say?" says Virginia.

Duh. How about a burger, french fries and milkshake?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reunion of Runners

Every few wrinkles, old friends gather. You know how it goes: you haven't changed a bit believe me, my how your chinese wingnut has grown, are you happy with the prius, the old girl has canine dimentia, dad passed the sign test on the third try darn that macular degeneration, the republicans sure had fun with that empty chair, getting to know medicare parts a b c d, and so forth.

This time we ran in the glow of a blue moon, probably not yet as slow as a certain vice presidential candidate who thinks he ran faster (in his dreams, along with the p90x(?), gotta wonder why he thinks self-revisionism is necessary). To run in next year's boston marathon I'd have to qualify at 3:55. Hey, fellow, race you? If you beat me, I'll consider voting for you, maybe, naw, who are you anyway, you and the guvnuh both?

We gathered at 6 am, in hurley park, same name as on that tee shirt my son gave me because he's now bigger than i or it shrunk, and aimed up hospital hill, its air conditioning unit chugging away like the freight trains at elk cliff farm. My left contact fogged up, or maybe it was the humidity, I was already sweating unlike a pig in my large shorts trying to reach my ankle, having mis-packed my overnight bag. One of us, not i, shot ahead, as usual, look at me, no worse for the wear, so we spoke quietly enough to draw him back, finally we ran together so we could talk, the competitiveness of youth dispatched by longing to belong.

The darkness, feeble memory, or the air hanging thickly moist (sister mary, love that) lost me for moments, remembering fifty years ago when my mother loaded the car with kids for sunday drives and asked us to try to disorient her, turn left, now right, right, left, straight, am i lost yet, and she drove straight home. The 7th street extension, hawkinstown road (with the gold medallion home of which the mother of an acquaintance was so proud), polo drive, and all the once familiar street names returned as we wandered through each others' lives and those reminded by things we passed, silently hoping it will be another ten or better yet twenty before we recite obituaries.

Along the greenway a pack of four or five thirty-somethings streamed toward us and for a moment they carried us back to six-thirty miles, dreams of sub-three-hour marathons, and children in elementary schools. Topping hospital hill, we leaned downward, waiting to see if anyone would pick up the pace as we might have back then, holding steady to show we had finally matured, which we had. High five, guys, another memorable 10-mile run.

"It sounds as if you covered some ground," says Virginia.

In more ways than one, yes.