Equinox and Fox Walks

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

Cosmically speaking, there are a lot of neat things going on these days. The aurora is supposed to be good on Thursday, which is exciting as it hasn’t been spectacular for a while. The equinox was a few days ago, launching fall in other places and winter here. Last, but not least, there is supposed to be an eclipse tonight. I am going to have to go out this evening to watch the eclipse. If last night’s moon is anything to judge by, it’s going to be pretty spectacular. The moon is supposed to be rising mid-eclipse, which could be really strange and special, but might be hard to see. Some thoughtful planning is in order. I wish I had access to some high ground.

Last night's moon over the slough.

Last night’s moon over the slough.

Yesterday, Terri, Ben and I went for a hike out beyond the gravel bar on a quest for a view of the mountains. We never really got there, but we had a nice walk and a campfire dinner of baked potatoes and apples. DSC03867On the way out, a local guy on a four-wheeler stopped to talk and warned us about leaving the village without a gun. We were carrying bear spray and making plenty of noise, but folks here are very cautious about wildlife, and he hated to think of our needing a gun and not having one. We did see grizzly tracks and scat, and the bears are known to hang out by the gravel bar where the dog salmon are spawning now. DSC03856After our friend took off, we stopped by the gravel bar for tea and to watch the fish, which are huge and numerous. Apparently, a large portion of the world’s population of these salmon come back to our slough. They’re called dog salmon because folks around here use them for dog food. I let two kids out of school early the other day to take in nets and feed dogs. The fish are clearly tired out, sometimes rolling a little sideways in the current. They’re two feet long, and all muscle. They have to thrash a bit to get through the skinny water, and they sound like a herd of caribou splashing through the shallows. Sometimes you can see their dorsal fins sticking up out of the water, even when they’re completely still and silent. It’s totally strange. Our friend found us there, watching the salmon drift in the shallow water, and pressed a rifle on Ben, just in case.

The three of us walked a while beyond the gravel bar before we lit our fire. I wanted to hike to someplace new, and the weather was perfect: forty at least, with day-old snow on the ground and blue skies and sun.

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We found a hole in a tree

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and fairy sparkles

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and the sky looked like a bomb pop all the way around, the east more pink and violet, the west more peach.

We wound up walking home in the dark, which I haven’t done before. I walk within the village after sunset often, but I haven’t ever been out beyond the firebreak after sundown before. It was new, and new was just what I wanted from my day yesterday.

Friday’s snow has stuck, the first to last more than a few hours. We’re due for more on Tuesday, so this may be it, folks. My kids begged me for a hike on Friday, and I gave in with pleasure. There’s something magical about walking in falling snow, and it’s not something to miss out on when the opportunity comes knocking. When we got back, I opened the classroom windows and we watched snowflakes blow in and dissolve on the carpet.

After school, I went out alone and followed fresh fox sign around a pond beside the old airport runway. DSC03831It’s the kind of thing that has to be done alone, a very personal pleasure. I walked out to the pond on purpose, knowing that there’s a fox that hangs around near there, thinking I might pick up his trail. After some bumbling around, I did, with deep satisfaction. The snow was only a few hours old, so I knew with certainty that the prints were fresh. I followed the fox’s tracks until they doubled back on themselves and I lost them under my own garbledy old boot prints. By that time, I was ready to move on to other things anyway, so I walked on up the runway.

DSC03842I love the way ravens’ wings make that whipping sound, a weighted rope swinging beside your ear. I like the way they leave wingprints in the snow.

DSC03846The snow is still so new. It’s a change in the landscape, for now, and I’m seeing it fresh. It’ll be with me a while, though, and after a while, I’m sure, it won’t seem so sparkling. Still.

I’ve been eating well, and walking out often. School is great and I’m mostly happy. I miss having friends around, but some of my favorite people have called me up lately to say hi, and that’s been awesome. If you tried me yesterday and I missed you, try again! I still can’t make outgoing calls, but I’m in touch with the phone company about it, and when their technician gets back from moose hunting, I think the issue will be resolved.

Gideon sent me a box of honeycrisps, which arrived just after school dismissed on Friday. I can’t wait to share them with the kids on Monday. The two who were still around when the box came in said (and I quote) “wow! How juicy!” and “I think… that is the best apple I have ever eaten.” They go crazy for fresh fruit, and really fresh really good fruit is unheard of. It’s freaking awesome.  Here’s a picture of apples in the snow:

mmmm! Picnic!

mmmm! Picnic!

Microgreens!

Microgreens!

Today, Jake and Shannon are taking me out shooting, and I’m excited about it. If I’m going to be an Alaskan, I guess I should learn to be comfortable with firearms. Later, when there’s more snow, I’m going to learn about snowmachines. Terri and I are talking about going in on one together, and now that my boat’s sold I think I can commit to that. Why not? I’ll for sure be able to get out to the mountains if I’ve got ski power, and that could make all the difference.

Arctic love,

Keely

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The Farmer’s Table, July 2014

Every muscle in my body is sore from this week of hard work, but especially sore are the ones I use for smiling. When everyone had left the Farmer’s Table last night, we abandoned the dishes, scattered on the table like exhausted revelers in the glow of the garlic chandelier, and slowly strolled down the driveway. This place is more irresistible every time we visit.

Friends, white wine, sweet-tasting evening breezes, Queen Anne's Lace flowers hovering over the pastures like tiny clouds.

Friends, white wine, sweet-tasting evening breezes, Queen Anne’s Lace flowers hovering over the pastures like tiny clouds.

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The Farmer’s Table is Chelsea’s venture, a monthly dining experience hosted by the farm. There’s a farm tour, a hands-on-experience, and, at last, a three course meal served family style on the patio that showcases the farm’s meat and local, seasonal vegetables. Sean was a guest chef for this event, which constituted his public debut. We all worked for the better part of two days to prepare: Sean and Chelsea created a menu and began cooking well in advance while Jesse and I did the enabling work of dishes and venue preparation.

The lamb ribs had to thaw

The lamb ribs had to thaw

The ice cream had to be rolled up and refrozen

The ice cream had to be rolled up and refrozen

The potatoes had to be harvested

The potatoes had to be harvested

On the big day, it rained buckets. While we worked on the tent, there was lightning. the weather man issued a tornado watch, Chelsea made brioche, Sean made a pork-belly slider for a mockup, we all drooled, I decorated the tent, and Jesse built a gutter and awning system not thirty minutes before the kickoff to ensure that no one would get soaked in the rain on his or her walk to the bathroom. We were nervous. Tornado watches are not good news for outdoor dinners.

When the guests arrived, Jesse greeted them and gave them a short tour of the farm, his eyes on the sky. I met them with a basket full of umbrellas, just in case. Each couple or family got a pair of scissors and a basket to cut flowers, and we all met on the front porch to arrange them in mason jars for the table. One family had two small children, and the little girl was tremendously excited that her flowers would decorate the dinner table. That done, Jesse swept the guests off to watch the evening milking, and we had a few minutes to do some last minute prep. I placed the flower arrangements on the table, and it looked beautiful.

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When milking was over, the guests made their way to the table and Chelsea and Sean’s big moment was upon them: the first course.

The chefs were nervous, but excited

The chefs were nervous, but excited

Sean whipped up some sweet wings for the kids. We hadn't realized just how little they'd be, and he was worried that they wouldn't like adult fare he and Chelsea had prepared.

Sean whipped up some sweet wings for the kids. We hadn’t realized just how little they’d be, and he was worried that they wouldn’t like adult fare he and Chelsea had prepared.

Grilled chicken wings tossed with Asian inspired sweet and spicy sauces, served with nasturtium flowers on a bed of kale chips.

Grilled chicken wings tossed with Asian inspired sweet and spicy sauces, served with nasturtium flowers on a bed of kale chips and garnished with shaved onion and fennel.

There’s nothing like eating chicken wings with strangers to break the ice.  After the first breathless rush, everything went smoothly. Jesse and I dined with the guests and chatted about the food or farming while Sean and Chelsea continued at a manic pace in the kitchen, turning out course after beautiful course.

The second course was plated for each individual.

The second course was plated for each individual.

The chefs presented each course to the guests with a description: "the light, fresh look of our pork belly sliders is deceiving. You'll find them surprisingly rich."

The chefs presented each course to the guests with a description:
“the light, fresh look of our pork belly sliders is deceiving. You’ll find them surprisingly rich.”

Pork belly sliders served on brioche with fennel slaw and microgreens and a splash of Asian barbeque sauce.

Pork belly sliders served on brioche with fennel slaw, local micro-greens and a splash of Asian barbeque sauce.

Jesse's expression is fairly representative of the sliders' reception: blissful, blissful silence at the table.

Jesse’s expression is fairly representative of the sliders’ reception: blissful, blissful silence at the table.

The main course was slow-roasted lamb ribs with a tangy coriander pomegranate glaze; roasted fennel glazed with local maple syrup; cucumber and tomato salad with feta, all sourced locally; and roasted potato salad with herb dressing. I was too busy consuming my share of the feast to take many pictures, I’m afraid.

The head chef grinning ear to ear with her main course in hand.

The head chef grinning ear to ear with her main course in hand.

After a short break wherein the guests surreptitiously let their belts out a notch (not really, as far as I know, but you get the picture) came dessert. Dessert was mouthwatering to look at and symphonic to taste. It couldn’t have been a more perfect take on the classic ice cream sandwich.
“Did you make the ice cream here?” on woman asked.
“Of course. We used eggs and cream grown right here on the farm.”
Her jaw nearly hit the floor.

Sugar beets grown on the farm were grated and dried to make these crisp, yet chewy cookies. The blueberries in the compote were locally sourced, and the lemon-lavender ice cream was made here from eggs and cream

Sugar beets grown in Chelsea’s garden were grated and dried to make these crisp, yet chewy cookies. The blueberries in the compote were locally sourced, and the lemon-lavender ice cream was made here from eggs and cream produced on the farm.

Everyone stayed to talk after the meal, to ask how the pork belly was prepared or to comment that they’d never imagined that fennel could taste so good. When the last guests had left after promising to reserve for the next three dinners and to give The Farmer’s Table a sparkling review on tripadvisor, the four of us shared a happy, laughing, bouncing hug, and then a glass of wine, which takes us back to the beginning of this post. If you are in Ohio, you will not regret a pilgrimage to Fox Hollow Farm to eat at Chelsea’s Farmer’s Table. Check out her website or facebook page to make reservations.

A week (and some) in pictures

Our first (pink) watermelon. It's hard to know when they're ready, and melons left in the garden too long invariably get devoured by the hungry Chunky family.

Our first (pink) watermelon. It’s hard to know when they’re ready, and melons left in the garden too long invariably get devoured by the hungry Chunky family.

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round bars of soap! I used a pringles can for a mold, then just peeled the cardboard off.

round bars of soap! I used a pringles can for a mold, then just peeled the cardboard off.

The hardnecks are much less prone to rot in our climate, apparently

The hardnecks are much less prone to rot in our climate, so we’re taking another stab at dry storage.

Behold: The mid-summer potato harvest! We're putting in a fall crop in a week.

Behold: The mid-summer potato harvest! We’re putting in a fall crop in a week.

The cukes got a bit rambunctious and knocked down their trellis.

The cukes got a bit rambunctious and knocked down their trellis.

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A Day in the Life (Summer School Edition)

5:50 a.m.  I try to wake up and start my run before I realize what I’m doing. Sean stays in bed, letting the sun pink the walls slowly as he eases into the day. Usually by the time I wake up fully, the sun is just breaking over the trees and I’m smiling, halfway down the road. I try to push my distance a little every day, to run the length of that sorghum field, to circle that pole barn, to turn around at that road cut. This morning, I startled a young possum in the ditch and was myself startled by a rattlesnake, as big around as my bicep, curled dead in the road.
I come home, shower, and get dressed in my teacher uniform: usually a skirt, a t-shirt, flats, and earrings. Sean packs my laptop, a waterbottle and a banana in my bag and pops in a bagel for me. At 7:00, we’re out the door.

7:45 a.m.  Papers laid out, pencils sharpened, we’re in the cafeteria, watching the kids eat breakfast, breathless from the whirlwind of copying and tidying before class. At 8:00 we walk our groups to our respective classrooms, and teach for two 90 minute blocks with a thirty minute recess in the middle where we supervise the kids on the patio. The first few minutes of class is always a push to get kids settled and working on their do now/bellwork/entry task. The bells don’t ring during summer school, so there’s no distinct start to class, and kids take advantage of that blurred line. Someone is usually singing or building a paper airplane or pretending they can’t find a pencil or paper (I provide them: they’re right in front of you, dingbat), or squabbling about a seat. After bellwork, we get rolling with a discussion or experiment and I get them going on a problem or a problem set within ten minutes. At Lee, I’ve found I can count on about a three-minute class-wide attention span. I’ve got ten at Palestine, but I have more relationships, authority, and reputation up there. I break up the work-time accordingly, so we review problems frequently and I give plenty of opportunities for kids to talk math. It looks like mayhem, but it works pretty well. I did a bangup job of captaining my team to victory over function notation today. The most fabulous disruption of the day was this:

I’m assisting a student on one side of the classroom.
A student asks permission and then gets up to sharpen his pencil.
There’s a commotion on the other side of the classroom from me, near the pencil sharpener.
K: Whoah! he’s getting sexual over here!
R: did you see – he – he – he tried to kiss me!
J: (from across the room) BWAKAHAHAHAHA  — HE’S GETTING SEXUAL!
I glare at J and she turns down the volume
M: I didn’t try to kiss him! I was just making kissy noises! (Makes kissy noises)
J: (from across the room) OMG (Makes unreasonably loud kissy noises)
R: He tried to kiss my EAR!

12:00  It’s hot at noon in Marianna. It’s really, really hot. I get headaches and I sweat like pigs would sweat if they could (they can’t). We wait outside on a covered walkway for the buses to come after lunch, and keep kids from hurting each other or sneaking away to do who-knows-what behind the building. It’s a steam-mirage of sneakers smacking the concrete, yellow buses, sticky blacktop, yelling voices, sweat. At 12:30 we get to leave, and it’s a horrible relief to sink into the soft passenger’s seat of the Nissan: a relief because I’ve been on my feet for six hours already, horrible because our car is black and the inside at noon is hot enough to explode cans of soda (true) and melt rubber bands (true). Sean starts the car and we crank the A/C. It roars and sputters and blows hot air like a salon for the first few minutes, then blessed cold. By the time we’re halfway home, we can turn it down to half-power.

1:00 p.m.  It’s too hot to work outside. Sean fixes us lunch and I spend a few hours in the afternoon each day working on indoor projects: canning, tanning, lesson planning. I do some dishes, dick around on the internet, read a little, tidy something somewhere, check on the chickens, and suddenly it’s sunset, and well past time to think about dinner. Sometimes, we manage to work in the garden for a while, but lately it has not cooled off until just before dawn, and gardening in the afternoon in these conditions is out of the question.

8:30 p.m. Dinner is usually something wonderful: we rarely visit the store these days, so our meals are almost all Arkansas-grown. Tonight, it’s braised cabbage with green apples and caramelized onions, our cherry and tarragon turkey sausage, and cucumber, basil and mint salad with slivers of red onion. Not from here: red onion, green apple. We eat on the futon under the clicking ceiling fan and watch a movie or an episode of something (Freaks and Geeks, tonight) with the volume up to drown out the window unit that growls in the background.

900 p.m. It’s storming and, inevitably, there’s a crisis. Sean goes down to check on the pigs and I hear him hollering over the thunder. I rush to the porch door and peer out through the curtain of rain, looking for the flashlight.
“are you there, Sean?”
a flicker of light through the six-foot tall jungle of wet grass
“yes but the pigs aren’t. I can’t find them anywhere.”
Sean slumps up to the steps, exhausted at the prospect of the wet, muddy search ahead, and I’m ready to head in and grab my coat when there’s an unmistakable grunt from under the porch, then a chorus of snurfles. The pigs are under the porch, sheltering from the storm.

10:00 p.m. late, cold dinner. Turns out, there’s not a damn thing you can do to move a 150 lb pig that doesn’t want to go out in the rain. Damn. They’ll be there in the morning, the impudent swine.

Garlic, Corn, Cukes and a Poem

Bonus Points: I also froze a couple quarts of stock today. Stock is not photogenic.

Bonus Points: I also froze a couple quarts of stock today. Stock is not photogenic.

Today, I confirmed what I had long suspected: Arkansas is no place for garlic. We may be the only people in Lee County who grow it, which should have tipped us off. Several weeks back, we hung thirty heads or more to dry on the porch. It’s the only dark place with any air circulation that we could think of. Ideally, you hang your garlic someplace cool, dark and dry with plenty of air circulation, but we had to settle for just dark. Cool and dry don’t exist here in the summer. When I cut one head off of a bundle recently, about half of it smelled horrible and the skins had gone to brown slime. Most of the garlic inside was fine after a few rinses, but it was worrying. We were off on vacation a day or two after that, so I put it out of my mind.

After summer school today, I cut down three more heads and they were all as bad as that first one. I asked the oracle (internet) and it yielded a bounty of suggestions. We’ve decided to try a few different methods for putting up our garlic just to see what works for us.

  1. We packed half-pint jars and poured boiling vinegar over raw heads of garlic. These should keep for several months (one source said a year) in the refrigerator.
  2. We packed more half-pint jars and poured cold vinegar over raw heads of garlic. These should keep for slightly less time in the refrigerator, so we’ll eat them first.
  3. I vacuum-packed and froze the remaining garlic.

Word on the street is that frozen garlic tastes right but loses its texture. Garlic packed in vinegar is supposed to taste close to fresh garlic. We’ll see.

In addition to garlic, we’ve recently found ourselves swamped with cucumbers and corn.

The cukes seemed to fly out of our garden like missiles for a week or so there. We’ve already eaten some of the quick-pickles that Sean whipped up and stuck in the fridge before we went to NC and they are wonderfully crunchy. That crunch is something you just can’t get with canned pickles. I wish we’d made more. We canned seven quarts of dill pickles already, and if the cukes keep up the good work, we’ll put up plenty more before we’re done.

The corn came from a friend. M invited us over to pick some of her sweet corn a few nights ago and we couldn’t resist. We nearly filled the trunk! Her husband put in more than an acre and it’s just for their personal use and for giving away. I have never tasted sweet corn so sweet. We couldn’t resist biting into it in the field, and that first syrupy crunch gave us enough of a rush to keep us picking until we were fixin’ to drop. Pulling the ears from the stalks made a satisfying crunch, and it left my hands sticky and my neck itchy from where the tall leaves had brushed my skin. We shucked and blanched the corn on the cob, then cut it off into a bowl. I tried to vacuum seal several bags of it but the corn was too juicy! The machine couldn’t seal the bags because the vacuum would pull all the liquid up to the edge. I have been freezing the corn on trays prior to vacuum-sealing, which is working well. Putting it up is a lot of work and we bit off more than we could chew, so we gave away bags of the stuff today to the women we work with at school.

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Sunrise Run Poem

I saw a buck in velvet
still in the green puddle of his shadow
that shattered on the gravel

I never saw him move
only saw him hanging over a field of sorghum
like the moon hangs in the sky