Here on the croft, we prepare to harvest Honeycrisps, Macintoshes, Haralsons—among other apples—and several grape varietals. The garden suffered a flooding early in the season, coinciding with a microburst, or tornado; we weren’t sure which. Our son the pilot related that microbursts tend to fell trees in neat parallels, while tornados simply wreak havoc any old which way. This storm created a bit of both, a half mile away. The growing rows have somewhat recovered, though replanting beans was necessary.
My sister Alexandria is traveling here to help pick apples, bless her, and during her visit we’re heading to Livingston, Montana to the Wheatgrass Bookstore for a Riven Country series book signing , weather-permitting, of course. Thank you, Lisa Snow! Come on over if you’re in the area. It’s scheduled for Saturday, October 1, 2022, from 1:00 to 5:00. We’ll stay the night at the venerable Murray Hotel, then swing back down to Powell, Wyoming, to retrieve an old autoharp luthier Anton Lehman is repairing for me. Caveat: be sure to check your instrument case latch before grabbing it—this one wasn’t secured and the harp fell out, breaking a crucial piece, scattering chord bars, popping strings, and inflicting a painful lesson.
I have been busy formatting my latest project, in case the literary agencies don’t bite. Below, I offer an excerpt, taken from one of the chapters focusing on autumn. My next post or two will be in the form of a travelogue, as daughter and I are embarking on a longed-for trip to Scotland, then on to Paris, to pay our respects to the dear family of our nounou, Micheline Pommeret Labrousse, who passed away this winter. Here we are near St. Remy-les-Chevreuses in 2017. She wanted to crash a wedding taking placeat this old abbey we were touring. We did not. The notion was enough.
If “first frost” honors the traditional date, by the Fall Equinox we should see utterly deflated winter squash greens spread like languid strands of seaweed over the garden. The buttercup variety is our favorite, as it tastes the sweetest and keeps well enough. These near globes must be “hardened off,” meaning, left in the sun for a few days after they have been harvested. A curing process, much like allowing garlic to hang.
In consulting Jeff’s tidy daily agenda, I’m reminded of his industrious bent—and recall what jobs fit the season. Only “a hand” in certain enterprises, I would not expect him to sit beside me in my writing cabin, compose sentences and/or type my thoughts. Besides, he is the “hunt and peck” type. I typed most of his papers at university. We do consult on chore procedures, however, and he willproof the salient chapters herein. The man is a work horse. Which? you ask. More of a light breed—certainly not a Clydesdale. Quarter Horse, maybe.
September 9 entry (not officially Autumn, but relevant): Trimmed hail-damaged grapes on lower vines. For the next day, after noting his early-morning temperature record (forty-eight degrees), and the sky as “clear and hazy,” I read(?), Cleaned and organized shop bench [Halleluiah!]. Fall can be rainy, and on the eleventh day of that month, he recorded .7 inches in the plastic amber gauge (fastened, recall, to the top of the fence, near the cattleguard). Jeff also noted he had misread the bedside clock, to rise at two-thirty in the morning, believing it was five a.m., his usual Rise and Shine. I see he cleaned out the gutters on that day; between storms, he wrote. The next day, Cody arrived to help with a project. Our go-to help when we need more expertise, we thank heaven for him and his affable willingness. Our acquaintance began when he was eight years old and his family moved to the area. Cody’s a good carpenter and plumber, two useful occupations in a rural area. He and Jeff re-plumbed and installed a new water heater, in case. It wouldn’t do to have the current one break down at an inauspicious time; it was old. Practicing preventive maintenance is not to be mocked. Especially in rustic America.
The twenty-third of September had Jeff building a dog house for the new pup, Gabe. Several members of the Amish community arrived to pick grapes at $1.25 a pound. On Saturdays, members of the colony can be found outside the local grocery store until the weather changes, selling their goods. Once, after picking, several jars of grape jam and jelly appeared that weekend on their sale table. I also put up preserves, much of it to give as gifts.
A neighbor’s son helped us last year. We harvested the rest of the grapes and sold several pounds to a farmers’ market in Spearfish, where Jeff is renowned as “The Garlic Guy.” Apple harvest must wait for frost, which coincided with “first freeze” this year. Tricky, guessing when apples are at risk. It’s a-seat-of-the-pants decision; intuition and gut feeling. Celebrating harvest time is an exercise in mindfulness and acknowledgment of generosity. “The desire to celebrate is the longing to enter more deeply into the mystery of actuality,” wrote the late John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. In spring, as we celebrate the orchard bloom, we might also assign the latent intention to further anticipate and rejoice in the crop—like neo parents around the birth of their first child.
On a bright, sunshiny day in early October, crisp and invigorated by radiant heat from our very own star, Ivan helped us harvest twelve bushels of apples and haul firewood. We protect the neat wood pile with a large tarp against rain and snow—which brings me to these “uncertain times,” as they are being called.
I debate mention of the present chaos, to wit, the falling economies, the Covid-19 pandemic, the changing climate, and worldwide political unrest. A mouthful of dust and ashes, all of it. But when I consider my reasons for this manual (and memoir), I feel a shiver down my spine, with respect to purpose. In wishing to create what may serve as a map for our children (irrespective of their decision to spend more time here), I quickly revised the notion to include anyone who might find themselves in a similar lifestyle situation, never mind where (though location would make a difference to the details).
Today the news cycles once again report horrendous statistics and painful realizations, and each morning I awake conscious of a world in upheaval. The tide has turned, and not merely so. A tsunami threatens—a tidal wave of woe. Could it transform us like raw gemstones tossed into a rock tumbler, in too-facile analogy? Living sanely on the Earth, with renewed respect and purpose, will require and entail a more profound epistemology and appreciation of the land: how to defend the planet, work with her systems and, finally, for her. Listening more attentively to aggrieved parties in the world, with “the ear of the heart,” as Saint Benedict suggests, is just as crucial. Peace follows justice. It seems we’re all still grains of sand in the oyster, evolutionarily speaking.
The present age is being hailed the Anthrópocene, with emphasis on how humanity has altered the course of species and the Earth herself. Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer winner, The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, ishardly escapist literature, but strangely comforting, despite well-researched studies designed to keep you awake at night. No, really—wouldn’t you rather enter the future with eyes wide open? With a clue? With hope? I came away feeling more pragmatic than ever. And determined. At least more aware. I wish to grasp the dynamics and repercussions, at least insofar as I am able.
When I read about the symptoms associated with the Covid-19 virus, i.e., difficulty in catching one’s breath and hypoxia, landing many on ventilators in order to simply breathe, I hear the Earth whisper: “Now do you understand how I struggle to breathe as well? My lungs—the forests—are being decimated every day. Now do you see? I choke on pollution, too. What will it take, child?”
Rather than create a radical’s manifesto to accompany this homestead manual and memoir, I take up my original intent, by way of personal Field Notes, in a yin-yang balance of duty and observation. I take the tortoise tack, to keep on keepin’ on, in equanimity, letting the low side drag, as they say, meaning, “This is a disaster; I’m depressed about it. I let it drag behind me and keep on going,” to allow it. It somehow belongs here at this particular time in history. I’ve heard it phrased as letting the rough side drag. Feeling rough is British for sick. But onward! As friend Shirley encourages—to good effect, recalling Churchill’s advice, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
Excerpt from CROFTER, A Wyoming Homestead Manual and Radical Memoir, Rooted in Place. © Renée Carrier 2022