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Planning the Garden

We have moved and things are different. Our mortgage is gone. Our taxes are halved. And my garden has doubled.

I left behind a 40’ x 50’ garden in New York, and now I have a 100’ x 180’ garden in Maine. I had better plan this carefully.

Here is a photo of the sketch Husband did of the area I will be working on this year. The scale: 1” = 10’.

SketchOnBoard

The rectangular shapes are stone walls, and the poofy swirls are trees.

From left to right, starting in the back: that smaller rectangular area has woods to the back and our neighbor’s field to the left (northeast). My plan is for this smaller area to have sunflowers, herbs, a seat for quiet contemplation, lots of fragrance, and lots of butterflies.

The larger area to the right will be the flower garden, with the wooded area at the far-right becoming the shade garden.

The area in the left foreground will have the orchard (we have apple, peach, and pear trees coming on April 30th!), and that circular area is the base of a silo. I’m thinking of a rose-covered arbor across the back half of that curve.

How will I tackle this enormous area? Here are my first thoughts:

Step 1. Don’t plan to do too much this first year.
Because we are starting two new businesses, which includes Husband’s art gallery and studio, and a rental apartment above the studio, and because we are having the outside of the house painted in the spring, I cannot plant everything I would like this first year.

I will not be planning or planting anything that is next to the house. I’m going to let the painters come and go as they will, trample anything they want, and I will not be biting my fist in an attempt to stop screaming. I will let this area go entirely.

I have planned 11 flowerbeds out in the back field, and I will be happy if I get 4 of those beds up and running this year.

Step 2: Know the enemy — earth.
What is under that lovely dark, formerly-a-horse-farm soil that I have out back? Is it rich dark loam, enriched over the years by those long-gone horses? Or is it one or two inches of dirt sitting on top of rock ledge? We have lots of granite rearing up that we can see, and that I’m already planning to use as flooring or backdrop for seating in the garden.

But the rest of that vast expanse….will I be able to dig beds there, or will I be begging Husband to supervise the construction of 11 raised beds?

Husband prefers I dig into the ground rather than go to the expense of building raised beds. So as soon as the ground thaws (April?) we will be out there with a metal spike and a mallet, and will tap our way across the field, trying to determine how deep the soil is. We will be graphing the underground lay of the land.

Step 3: Put my thoughts on paper.
Done. I filled several pages in my notebook with lists of the plants I wanted, with the goal of having something blooming all season long. Here’s a look at one corner of one page:

NotebookPageClose

Step 4: Shuffle the cards, and stack the “beds”.
After I write, I need to see. I wrote the name of each plant on an index card, and borrowed Husband’s colored pencils to mark the color of the bloom. Here are the pencils he so graciously loaned me:

ColoredPencilsClear

I mixed and shuffled and reshuffled these cards for days and days. I wanted the tallest of the plants at the top of the stack, with the spring-bulbs at the bottom. Once I was happy with the 11 stacks of cards, I taped them together so that I could then move the “beds” around and arrange them.

CardsOfElevenBeds

And here’s a closer look at a few of the “beds” I have planned:

BorageCardClose

LilacCardClose

WitchHazelCardClose

I am planning to scatter shade-loving woodland plants under the trees at the southeast corner of the garden. While I have these gathered into a “bed” stack, I’m going to plant them individually. Here’s what I’ve chosen:

SweetWoodruffCardClose

Step 5: Know the enemy – roots
I want a bed of mints, which means I need to plan ahead to thwart the invasive roots of these plants. I figured I would gang them up in one area, and install some kind of gulag around them. I’m planning to have monarda didyma to welcome the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and flank it with lemon balm, and mint. While I wanted peppermint and spearmint specifically, I now know that mint plants do not produce true from seed, and so my seed packet is labeled, humbly, “Common Mint.” If I want specific mints, I will have to buy plants. I may do that.

AstersCardClose

Step 6: Think tall.
I ordered some shrubs, trees, and plants from FedCo, a cooperative seed and garden supply company in Waterville, Maine. My neighbors rave about them. My garden heroes (Barbara Damrosch, for one) recommend them. FedCo offers the plants and shrubs and trees that I want, and their catalog is jammed with wonderful advice. And their prices are astounding. I had to exercise enormous restraint when filling out my order form. I got all of my taller plants from them.

FedcoCatalogClose

Step 7: Know the enemy – Odocoileus virginianus and Meteagris gallopava silvestris.
These super villains have secret identities: white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys. They have free run of the place when my dogs are inside.

I need to keep the deer out of my garden at night, and the turkeys out of the garden during the day. I have considered and rejected installing an electric fence. I am concerned, of course, with the safety of our garden’s guests, but truthfully, the most likely casualty of an electric fence ZAP would be me. I tend to look down when I am in the garden, and I’m certain I would walk directly into that fence daily.

The plan, for now, is to buy yards and yards and yards of deer netting, and fasten it to the trees on 3 sides of the garden. If that isn’t effective, I will add a 4th stretch of netting across the house-side of the garden, and will add another chore to the daily list: walking the “4th wall” across the garden and fastening it at the end of each day. I will be, I guess, tucking my garden in for the night.

And so there you have it, my Plan to-date. What’s next? My favorite task of the year: Making soil cubes and planting seeds. That will happen in mid-March, and I am counting the days.

This last plan solves T.S. Eliot’s dark observation of the despair and frustration gardeners feel each April: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

My plan is to thwart cruel April by tending my seedlings inside. When May comes, I will have my memories of gardens past, and my desire answered by the seedlings. I will be ready.

Stay tuned.

Every time I think about social change, I think about a sea star eating a clam.  It is a long, exhausting, and unpleasant event.  The sea star slowly gathers the clam into a death-hug.  It pries the clam’s hinged shells far enough apart so that it can push part of its stomach inside the shell and excrete digestive juices.  The clam is liquefied, and the sea star drinks its meal.

It takes a long time.  It is messy.  It is, ultimately, inevitable.

Social change is initiated because of outrage.  It is accomplished by patience and persistence.  People have recognized this since Shakespeare’s time.  He said:

“How poor are they that have not patience!  What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

These days, the social issue of the day is same-sex marriage, and I keep thinking about that sea star.  I think about it every time I see a furious, impatient comment on FaceBook or in the media about how long it is taking for this concept, this right, to gain universal legality and acceptance.

I’m with you.  I’m impatient, too.  But history has shown that, like the sea star and the clam, some things are inevitable, and history is moving along a lot more quickly than it used to.

Think about the Suffragette Movement.  While it started in the United Kingdom, the Americans had their brave women, and reluctant men, wrestling over this issue too.  It was part of the Liberty Party’s presidential platform in 1848.  And while Wyoming and Utah granted their women the right to vote much earlier (1869 and 1870, respectively, and God bless the American West and its recognition of practicality over social mores), women were not fully granted the right to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in time for the 1920 presidential election.  That’s a long time to advocate – to suffer beatings, imprisonment, and ridicule.

Those women, born from the time of horse-drawn carriages to the invention of the automobile, knew this truth (from William Eardley IV):

“Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

The Civil Rights movement formally began in 1955, but African-Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1965 – a very long ten years for the country, and for those beaten, and imprisoned, and ridiculed.

Inter-racial marriage was another enormous social shift.  While 1887 saw the first states repealing anti-miscegenation laws (including my new home state of Maine), it wasn’t until 1948-1967 that saw another large scattering of states repeal these laws (mostly states in the mid-west and far-west), followed by the Deep South that finally joined the rest of the nation in 1967.

Inter-racial marriage, from the days of Shakespeare’s Othello the Moor marrying Desdemona, to 1967:  That is a very long time to wait to legally marry the person you love, if that person is of a different color, race, or ethnicity.

And now, same-sex marriage.  By contrast to those other monumental societal changes, this event is happening quickly.  In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. As of last month, January 2014, 17 states in the U.S. have made same-sex marriage legal.  This issue is making the news almost daily, with changes in the law moving to make same-sex marriage the law of the land.

My personal impatience is with the opponents of this issue who fail to appreciate that marriage is, at its core, a civil event.  You can get married without the involvement of a church, but you cannot get married without your state government issuing you a marriage license.  The involvement of the church is a personal addition to the ceremony, and as such, is a choice and consideration that belongs only to the married couple. The state issues the license, and the couple determines the rest.

I cannot wait for the day when people say, “Can you believe people had to fight for this right?”

I appreciate the impatience I hear every day over this issue.  I regret the outrage and unpleasantness it too frequently sparks.  I will be persistent in voicing my opinion and lending my efforts to seeing same-sex marriage become legal for all.  I will be patient until this happy day arrives.  Because, as Albert Ellis, psychologist, observed:

“The art of love is largely the art of persistence.”

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

— Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father (1706-1790)

That would be Husband and me: primed to save on our heating bill but unprimed as to how.

Enter Topher Belknap, Habitat for Humanity, Midcoast Green Collaborative and Round Top Farm. Mr. Belknap introduced his design for interior storm windows at the 2nd Annual Midcoast Sustainable Living Expo, to enormous acclaim. The Midcoast Green Collaborative estimates that 10,000 windows have been built to his design, by and for Mainers. We built 2 of them.

We were first told of these interior storm windows by our locksmith. One of the advantages of moving and having contractors in your house, is the constant recommendations for who you need to meet, places you need to go, and things you need to do. The locksmith advised us on weather-stripping our rattling doors, and that led to a discussion of heat loss, and that led to the workshops on how to build interior storm windows.

The workshops are free, held every Saturday morning, and are run with the precision of a finely tuned engine, or an efficiently sealed window, take your pick.

We arrived armed only with a piece of paper with window measurements. Six other people attended, a varied assortment of folks, mostly first-timers like us, and a few repeaters. Topher asked the first question: Primed or Unprimed?

That was the wood frame – and we chose unprimed for our first window. It seemed the basic, sensible choice. (We’re trying to fit in here, in basic, sensible Maine.) There was a stack of 1 x 2’s, and because our window is large (height = 63”), we also needed a 1 x 1 for a mid-frame brace. Everyone grabbed their lumber, and Topher cut the pieces for us.

1_MeasuringWood

Because the frames would ultimately have ¼” weather-stripping on all sides, he had a jig ready that subtracted ½” from our measurement. The lumber was quickly cut.

2_Cut

The frames are assembled with two long screws at each joint. Again, jigs made drilling these holes so easy – Rookie-Proof.

3_Jig

4_Drill

5_Jig2ToDrillHoles

Please note: I had an advantage over all of the other attendees: Husband. He is a skilled and artistic woodworker. He just “got” the concept, and took off. I was the Cheerful Lackey.

Then it was time to assemble the frame:

6_AttachJoint

Next came a critical decision: deciding the front and back of the frame (knot holes, and whether you think they are attractive or not, played a big part in this), and labeling the window’s location in the house (to make it easier to re-install next autumn). Done and done.

Double-stick tape came next, applied to the outside edges of the frame:

7_PeelDoubleStickTape

And then, the star of the show: the plastic sheeting:

8_RollOfPlastic

We cut the plastic, unfolded its 40” width, and (“Seam up! Seam-side up!”) carefully stretched it taut and laid it down onto the tape.

9_PeelTapeBeforeStickPlastic

The plastic is applied to both sides of the window. Next came the hair blower, and we watched all of the wrinkles shrink away, and the plastic tighten on the frame. Those are my fingers, as seen through two layers of plastic sheeting. The clarity will be welcome when the window is installed – we will still have good visibility through the window this winter.

10_ClearAfterShrinking

Clear 2” packing tape applied on all 4 sides of the frame sealed the edges.

Next came the tabs that will be so useful when taking the window OUT next spring. Each tab is just a strip of packing tape, folded in the middle with the two ends attaching to the frame, about 10” from the bottom.

10a_Tab

We weather-stripped the window and proudly received this notation on our card: DONE

11_UnprimedCard

Cost for a 33 x 63” interior storm window? $20. An incredible bargain! We immediately made a second window, and the workshop ended. We took our window home and installed it. We think it looks very nice, and I swear, the room feels warmer already.

A look through the window, with the brace featured.

A look through the window, with the brace featured.

Our view, through the double-plastic'ed interior storm. I think it's just fine.

Our view, through the double-plastic’ed interior storm. I think it’s just fine.

Gordon gives the new storm window his "I can still see the chipmunks through this stuff" Seal of Approval.

Gordon gives the new storm window his “I can still see the chipmunks through this stuff” Seal of Approval.

That’s the good news. The bad news? We have 22 more windows to go. The only way to build that many before spring returns is to buy the material from the collaborative (they buy in bulk and pass the savings on to us), and build the windows in our basement workshop, instead of building them two-at-a-time each Saturday.

Another obstacle is Husband. He’s decided Primed/Unprimed is not an acceptable look for the frames, and he’s already planning to paint each frame the same color as the window trim, so that it looks better. I appreciate that, but am once again reminded that Life with an Artist is always beautiful, but never easy.

There is the surface, and then there is what lies beneath.

Our lives are so often spent frantically skimming across the surface, racing from one event to the next, one milestone after another, phase to phase, ice flow to ice flow. It can be treacherous. It is often unsatisfying.

Appreciating abundance is a familiar state. If the snow is deep enough, we can ski. If there is enough food, we can feast. If the tide is in, we can surf or swim or fish. We look for abundance. We cheer its presence.

Nature offers more than abundance, and Rachel Carson understood this. She would quietly sit by the shore in New Harbor, Maine, observing the tides, appreciating the birds and the salt and the sounds so abundant at high tide. And when low tide pulled the watery covers off of the beds of rocks and mollusks and plants, she observed, appreciated, and learned anew.

All of the songs, and maxims, and greeting card mushy banalities have that germ of truth: Stop and smell the roses. Slow down, you move too fast.

It seems so obvious that it is tempting to skim over this truth each time, and race to that next event. But kneeling by a tidal pool at low tide, I paused. I hope I don’t stand up again too quickly.

Photos of that day:

The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve:  looking north.

The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve: looking north.

The view to the south.

The view to the south.

The ocean, the land, and that very compelling tidal pool.

The ocean, the land, and that very compelling tidal pool.

Just offshore, a lobsterman hauls up his traps.

Just offshore, a lobsterman hauls up his traps.

And the point of all of this: The insight that is low tide:

RCSaltPondPool2Better

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”

— Rachel Carson (1907-1964), American biologist, conservationist, author

Zombie Run, 2013

It was a beautiful day to run for your life.

The first annual Zombie Run was great fun for both the living and the undead. Sponsored by the YMCA, with all proceeds going to youth scholarships, the event took place during the weeks of the cheerful and very busy Damariscotta Pumpkinfest.

66 runners participated, with most choosing to run as Humans over the 5K course. The Humans were required to wear three yellow plastic flags attached to their belts, and they had to navigate natural obstacles (steep, muddy hills), man-made obstacles (stacks of hay bales, and rows of tires), and the unexpected zombie “Jumpers” hidden along the path.

The Zombies, all in full makeup and torn bloodied costumes, were tasked with chasing the Humans and removing as many of the yellow flags as they could.

Once a Human was deflagged, he or she was dead, but could still continue to run. After all, this was the Day of the Undead in Damariscotta.

A few photos of this event:

A few Zombies warmed-up, stretching both their legs and their groans.  It was a noisy morning.

A few Zombies warmed-up, stretching both their legs and their groans. It was a noisy morning.

2HorrifiedOnlooker A horrified spectator.

3HumansStart The starting gun sounded and the Humans were off. They had a one-minute head start.

4ZombiesStart And here come the Zombies.

The first man-made obstacle. A "spider web."

The first man-made obstacle. A “spider web.”

This obstacle proved challenging for Humans and Zombies alike.

This obstacle proved challenging for Humans and Zombies alike.

A Zombie clears the hay.

A Zombie clears the hay.

A very successful Zombie.

A very successful Zombie.

Maybe being Undead isn't so bad.  The Zombies were, to a corpse, a happy bunch.

Maybe being Undead isn’t so bad. The Zombies were, to a corpse, a happy bunch.

Ready for any Human casualties.  (Assuming the Undead were not needing treatment.)

Ready for any Human casualties. (Assuming the Undead were not needing treatment.)

This Zombie waited at the end of the Tire obstacle, and reaped the rewards.

This Zombie waited at the end of the Tire obstacle, and reaped the rewards.

All runners, living and non- , received a medal for participating.

All runners, living and non- , received a medal for participating.

All Humans that crossed the finish line with at least one flag received this certificate.

All Humans that crossed the finish line with at least one flag received this certificate.

All Zombies and all de-flagged Humans received -- what else -- a Death Certificate.

All Zombies and all de-flagged Humans received — what else — a Death Certificate.

The YMCA was delighted with the turnout and is hopeful that next year’s event will see the participation jump from 66 to 150-200 runners. I hope that wish comes true, and plan to be on the sidelines again next year, cheering for all runners, the quick and the dead. (In Maine, that can sometimes describe the same creature.)

WORDS FROM OTHERS

zom·bie, noun
1. a corpse said to be revived by witchcraft, esp. in certain African and Caribbean religions.
2. a tall mixed drink consisting of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice.

“Yeah, I know I’m ugly… I said to a bartender, ‘Make me a zombie.’ He said ‘God beat me to it.’”

— Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004), American comedian and actor

Pumpkinfest

It is Pumpkinfest in Damariscotta, Maine, and how happy I am to be a part of it!

The Weigh-Off was last weekend — 65 giant Atlantic Pumpkins were brought to the local garden center and weighed. The 1st place prize went to a pumpkin weighing 1,266 pounds, and 2nd place went to the slimmer 1,264 pound pumpkin — both produced by the same grower.

The pumpkins are sponsored by local businesses, and after the Weigh-Off they are brought into town and placed on palettes by trucks and forklifts. It is Damariscotta’s version of the inflating of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, and it is a wonderful, traffic-tying-up event.

It takes two days for local artists to carve and paint these pumpkins. The giant pumpkins have their insides gutted and the seeds removed before they are turned over for decorating. Why? Because the growers do not want their seeds falling into the hands of a competitor. The total purse of prize money awarded is $10,000, and so the genetics and growing practices of these farmers are a highly guarded secret.

Husband and I walked the streets of our little town today, so delighted that we had chosen this charming place to call home. Here are photos of a few of the pumpkins, some in progress, and some completed. Humor, artistry, imagination, all on display here. I will include captions where appropriate.

1Metcalfs

Outside a jewelry store, this "Day of the Dead" theme is continued on the jewelry for sale inside.

Outside a jewelry store, this “Day of the Dead” theme is continued on the jewelry for sale inside.

3MaineKayak

4Mouse

Every side of this pumpkin shows hardware, and bits and pieces of household stuff.

Every side of this pumpkin shows hardware, and bits and pieces of household stuff.

6SaltBayCafe

Outside the bank, of course!

Outside the bank, of course!

8Mice

This is a monkey-in-progress, and one that had had the seeds removed to protect the genetic secrets of its giant-ness!

This is a monkey-in-progress, and one that had had the seeds removed to protect the genetic secrets of its giant-ness!

Outside King Eider's Pub, this pumpkin was painted by Glen Chadbourne, resident of the neighboring village and illustrator of many of Stephen King's books.

Outside King Eider’s Pub, this pumpkin was painted by Glen Chadbourne, resident of the neighboring village and illustrator of many of Stephen King’s books.

The Princess and the Pea, pumpkin-style

The Princess and the Pea, pumpkin-style

A goldfish, with fins-to-come.

A goldfish, with fins-to-come.

Outside a facial salon.

Outside a facial salon.

Sponsored by a local plumbing company, of course.

Sponsored by a local plumbing company, of course.

16StarFace

17Type

The carving echoes the artwork of the restaurant's logo: the Damariscotta River Grill.

The carving echoes the artwork of the restaurant’s logo: the Damariscotta River Grill.

Herons, sharing their sand bars with pumpkins, and with...

Herons, sharing their sand bars with pumpkins, and with…

...the pumpkin stem that became a bald eagle.

…the pumpkin stem that became a bald eagle.

Outside the Colby and Gale gas station, this artist had just started carving into the huge pumpkin.  Intrigued by the roof, I peaked behind and found ...

Outside the Colby and Gale gas station, this artist had just started carving into the huge pumpkin. Intrigued by the roof, I peaked behind and found …

...the little theater, destined to be placed under that shingled roof.

…the little theater, destined to be placed under that shingled roof.

Outside the ice cream store.

Outside the ice cream store.

Pumpkins can wear masks, too.

Pumpkins can wear masks, too.

14Crissys

This week, Hansel and Gretel discover a house made of sweet squashes and gourds, and....

This week, Hansel and Gretel discover a house made of sweet squashes and gourds, and….

...a witch!

…a witch!

Outside the Newcastle Public House, this pumpkin became a giant cheeseburger, with the pumpkin seeds transformed into sesame seeds.  This one gets my vote for Best Carved Pumpkin Ever.

Outside the Newcastle Public House, this pumpkin became a giant cheeseburger, with the pumpkin seeds transformed into sesame seeds. This one gets my vote for Best Carved Pumpkin Ever.

And of course, what is a pumpkin festival without a little humor? After a day of seeing huge, enormous, gigantic pumpkins, resting their great weight on stacks of wooden palettes, I loved seeing this:

24ClarkFarmStand

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“…dark furrow lines grid the snow, punctuated by orange abacus beads of pumpkins…”

― John Geddes, author, “A Familiar Rain”

Before the Fall

I’m not talking seasons, and I’m certainly not talking about grace. I’m talking about falling down.

I’m talking about the pain to both pride and backside.

The day started out in such a lovely way. It was early. I was taking both dogs for a long walk along the Damariscotta River. We were walking upstream, and it was low tide. The morning was cool, with a bright blue sky, and I was so pleased to be in Maine, on that river, with those dogs. I kept thinking, “It is a beautiful morning!”

We walked farther than we ever had on that path. We went deep into the woods and encountered an enormous tree across the path. Rather than turn back, I chose to walk around it and keep going. Nothing was going to end this beautiful morning.

We emerged from that thicket onto the riverbank. I realized we were across the river from the Whaleback Shell Middens State Historical Park – a site I’d taken the dogs many times before. It is an historic site because of the heaps of oyster shells left by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. On the eastern bank, the site has placards and paths, and the shells are scattered amongst the overgrown forest. On the western side, where I was now, the heap was larger, whiter, and more visible from the opposite shore.

Right now, it was behind me, and I was gazing out across the water:

LowTideMiddens

And the same view looking down-river towards town:

LowTideMiddensTowardsTown

And again, up-river:

LowTideMiddensUpRiver

Beautiful morning, yes? The low tide left swirls of grass. Lovely to see and easy to walk over. I went closer to the edge of the river, and saw the sandy shore sparkling with shells:

ShoreWithShells

And closer still:

SparkleShells

How beautiful! How sparkly! How…….Where did all that blue sky come from?

I was flat on my back, with the river water seeping into my coat, jeans, and sneakers. Those sparkling shells were resting on slick mud, and it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen that hard and that dramatically. I think I made a noise on the way down. I know my backside looked pretty funny – wet, muddy, and sparkling with thousands of bits of snickering oyster shells.

I sent up a silent prayer that no one was within video-distance.

I walked back to the car with a lot more dignity than I felt. I tried to recapture the magic of the morning, Before the Fall. No good. Advil and the photographs will have to suffice, at least until my pride heals. And that will take longer than…the other part that’s healing.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

— Mel Brooks

Our First Apple Harvest

We are the proud owners of two apple trees and one pear tree at our new home. One of the apple trees bore fruit this year. The house has been unoccupied for at least one year, so I am confident that these apples were not sprayed or tended to in any manner other than that dictated by weather and God. Husband saw those bright red fruits on the too-tall tree (it hasn’t been properly pruned), and ordered an apple picker.

ApplePicker

Because it is so late in the season, most of the fruit had already dropped to the ground. Deer and squirrels took care of that mess, and our dogs found a few remaining to carry around the yard – a sweet alternative to a tennis ball! But there were enough left on the tree to encourage the purchase of the picker and for me to plan that night’s dessert. Here is what we harvested:

ApplesInTheBag

There are 12 decidedly organic apples in that bag. Two were unusable – too much insect damage – but the rest went into a pie/crisp. More on that in a bit.

The debate about the merits of organic versus non-organic food production is a lively one. I am decidedly in the organic camp for health and environmental reasons, but the challenges of raising apples in particular, organically, are known. I did a quick search of a few representative opinion-holders in this debate. I chose three voices: medical, consumer, and Mother Earth News, and found the following (please note I have cut some content for space reasons. Ellipses are telling):

From the Mayo Clinic:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/

“The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable in their nutrient content. Research in this area is ongoing…. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as:
• Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don’t exceed government safety thresholds.
• Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
• Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.”

From the Daily Green (a consumer guide produced by Good Housekeeping):
http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/organic-apples-pesticide-residue#slide-2

“Apples consistently rank near the top of the annual dirty dozen list. More than 40 different pesticides have been detected on apples, because fungus and insect threats prompt farmers to spray various chemicals on their orchards. Not surprisingly, pesticide residue is also found in apple juice and apple sauce, making all apple products smart foods to buy organic…. Some recommend peeling apples to reduce exposure to pesticide residue, but be aware that you’re peeling away many of the fruit’s most beneficial nutrients when you do so!”

From Mother Earth News online, October/November 2001:
http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/organic-apples-better-taste-comparable-yields.aspx#axzz2g5YT1Z2l

“Organic apple-growing methods leave soil in better shape and has fewer potential negative impacts on the environment than conventional growing methods do.

“The organic apples were sweeter and as firm or firmer than fruit from conventional systems. Organic methods also left the soil in better shape than conventional methods and had fewer potential negative impacts on the environment than conventional systems. The results of the six-year study were published in the April 19 issue of the prestigious journal Nature.”

To me, the conclusions of the debate are clear: How you raise food may or may not affect its nutritional value, but it will certainly affect its safety. The use of pesticides is of enormous concern, and keeping this concern in the public eye will insure that good science is practiced and the collective wisdom of farmers, scientists, and consumers will produce a safe and delicious fruit. Good science is good business, and both contribute to a healthy society. And as always, the most direct way to change the world to suit your point of view is to vote with your dollar. Is organic farming important to you? Then buy organic! Every business pays attention to where you spend.

But, back to the highlight of the day: Using the harvest! I only had one pre-made crust – not enough for a traditional pie. It was late – too close to dinnertime to shop. I decided to make a half pie/half crisp. I lined a pie pan with the crust, filled it with apples and topped it with my Apple Crisp topping. Here’s how:

Apple Crisp/Pie

Ingredients
Topping:
• 6 T flour
• 1/4 c light brown sugar, packed
• 1/4 c white sugar
• 1/4 t cinnamon
• 1/4 t nutmeg
• 1/4 t salt
• 5 T sweet butter, chilled, and chopped into chunks (for easier processing)
• 3/4 c pecans, coarsely chopped (for easier processing)
Filling:
• 8-12 apples (depending on size), peeled, cored, and cut into big chunks
• 1/4 c sugar (less if your apples are sweet)
• juice from 1/2 lemon
• zest from 1 lemon

Instructions
1. For the Topping: Put the flour, both sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a food processor. Add chilled butter and pulse until mixture is chopped to a coarse texture. Add nuts and pulse until mixture resembles crumbly sand. Don’t overprocess! Refrigerate the topping for at least 15 minutes.
2. For the Fruit: Toss the apples, sugar, lemon juice, and zest together.
3. Assembly: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a pie crust in a pie pan, and pour the fruit in. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, and bake for 60 minutes, until the fruit bubbling and the crust is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And here is the happy result:

applecrisppie.b

Tip: Serve this with a scoop of the very best vanilla ice cream you can find. In our case, it is from the Round Top Ice Cream Stand in Damariscotta. Open from May 15-October 15, their ice cream is worth organizing your entire year around a visit to them!

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Don’t get fancy. Have you cooked an apple pie? You don’t know what you did wrong? Do this: Take two or three apples. Put them on a table. Study them.”

— Paul Prudhomme (1940- ), American chef

Robins on the Lawn

Today was a long day, and I am tired. I walked the dogs along the Damariscotta River, which I have done before, but today we ventured further than we’ve ever been. The newness proved exhausting. The woods were too close, dark, and cold for that early in the morning, and the river-dampened dogs were as unhappy as I was in my light sweatshirt. Later, I worked at my desk. I unpacked 2 boxes of books and emptied 4 plastic bins of my son’s clothing and desk accessories. And I marinated chicken for tonight’s dinner.

But the most tiring event was gently cleaning beloved decorative plates that we found yesterday by surprise. The box was badly labeled, and I find these incessant surprises more wearing than exciting. (Perhaps if I could find the juicer for the kitchen, and my warm sweaters for my closet, I would not be as petulant.) The plates were from my mother’s household. I was happy to wash them in preparation for putting them out on display.

What made me tired was the emotion these dishes brought to the surface – memories of my gentle mother and how she loved these things, of the house in which I grew up, the scent of the lemon furniture polish she used, the untimeliness of her death. All from rinsing a few plates.

I went to the kitchen window, not to look out, but to think about what I should do next. It didn’t seem right to start the evening with my husband in this tired, unsettled state. But of course, I did look out.

On the lawn, in the fading light of this cool autumn day, were 8 robins. Robins! The birds I associate with spring and new beginnings. And while I am the very definition of New Beginning in this house, and had spent a good part of the day unpacking items to roll into my New Life here in Maine, it is autumn after all, and the world outside my window is winding down for the year. Seeing birds of spring was surprising.

And yet, those robins were there, quietly dipping their heads into the deep grass, in short determined motions. I’m certain they’re feeding and hoping to pack on a little weight to hold them during their long trip south. A lot of Mainer’s are doing that now: getting ready to go south. Our new next-door neighbors will be leaving shortly. I’m sure the lines at the grocery store will reflect this new state of affairs soon. My life will be empty of close neighbors and robins.

The birds are preparing for a new beginning in the sunny south. My new beginning will be my first autumn in Maine. I am looking forward to leaves that turn earlier, and a longer season of cinnamon donuts and pie. I am eager for this longer season of cold, when much of the warmth comes from the brighter color of the food – squashes, pumpkins, turnips, beets.

How lovely that this season of rest and quiet healing will be new to me. I plan to sleep well tonight so that I am fully ready for tomorrow’s surprise outside my window. I will take my place in this new family of things.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

― Mary Oliver (1935 – ), American poet

The Father and Family weed-whacking crew arrived at 2 o’clock Sunday, and stayed for 4.5 hours. I have never seen so much accomplished in such a short time. The crew was 3 teens, and they waded into the tall weeds and stands of sumac saplings armed only with weed whackers. Their dad hauled off four truckloads of debris. You’ve seen the “Before” shots in my last post. Here are the “After” shots:

The weeds and stands of sumac saplings are gone from this half of the field

The weeds and stands of sumac saplings are gone from this half of the field. The two walls are now much more visible.

Here are a few more shots of their efforts:

This was the Shady Corner.  The curve of the garden remains, but taking the weeds out shows that there is no rock border here.

This was the Shady Corner. The curve of the garden remains, but taking the weeds out shows that there is no rock border here.

Now the three spikes, mostly likely used as fence supports, are clearly visible.

Now the three spikes, mostly likely used as fence supports, are clearly visible.

Back in the corner where we found the leather straps and horse tack, the crew found more iron.  That large spring is too heavy for me to lift even one end of it.

Back in the corner where we found the leather straps and horse tack, the crew found more iron. That large spring is too heavy for me to lift even one end of it.

The weeds had covered this broken plastic barrel. I  am looking forward to pulling it out of the field.

The weeds had covered this broken plastic barrel. I am looking forward to pulling it out of the field.

You can see where the bramble canes and weeds had flopped onto the lawn.  Weeding reveals that this area as well is without a rock border.

You can see where the bramble canes and weeds had flopped onto the lawn. Weeding reveals that this area as well is without a rock border.

And finally, you can see where this stand of sumac saplings was thinned. More thinning to come!

And finally, you can see where this stand of sumac saplings was thinned. More thinning to come!

This is just the beginning. Father and Family are due to come back in a few weeks. In the meantime, Husband and I will continue to pull trash out, and try to determine how much of the field is rock ledge and how much is soil. I waver between wanting a flowers-only garden, or a flowers-plus-vegetables/farm garden. These are nice decisions to have to make! I am not complaining — how could I possibly, with so many fewer weeds taunting me?! The Taming of the Field has begun, and I am ready for the long effort ahead.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”

— Doug Larson (1926 – ), journalist whose quotes frequently show up on t-shirts