FALL

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It’s Fall

Well after a summer of very grey weather but no rain, fall is here with a blaze of glory.  We have had a very strange year in the maritime Pacific Northwest, here on Puget Sound.  I live on an island in Puget Sound and this morning the fog has rolled in densely and is cocooning us in its wraith-like quality. Certainly appropriate for the up-coming Halloween season.

Yes, it was a very strange summer with few days where the sun shone, but still we had a drought.  By October first the y-t-d rainfall was less than eight inches, a very rare thing in these parts.  It is rare to have a drought and even more rare to have clouds throughout the season that did not bring rain.

Finally about the end of September it started to rain.  And rain it surely has. We are up to almost eleven inches and it is still the middle of October.  It has poured and poured, too late though to make the broadleaf maples turn beautiful colors.  They just got crisp and turned brown, but not so with most of the other deciduous trees which are performing spectacularly now.  It is some of the most beautiful color I can remember.  Too bad the broadleaf maples couldn’t have joined in with their show, but alas, they suffered more than most.  Cedars suffered from the drought as well, sacrificing the top third of their noble visage to conserve water, and a few have died, they being somewhat shallow-rooted.

Another phenomenon we are experiencing is a bumper crop of every kind of mushroom you can imagine including some we haven’t seen in years.  The drought has brought on varieties that require drought in order to “bloom.”  Not only are there rare varieties, but the common ones are standing in abundance in my orchard, flower beds, walkway gravel, in the woods and in the open. One state park here has limited the daily amount you can collect to two gallons! I didn’t even think it was legal to pick anything without permits in state parks.

There is heavy fog this morning and I can hear the ferry “sounding” to detect the echoes from shore.  When I first moved to this island forty-nine years ago there was also a siren that sounded like a police car winding up it siren.  It rang about every thirty seconds.  That is no longer in use and modern technology doesn’t require the ferry to “sound” any longer.  I think he does it to wake up the dock attendant.

Fog can do strange things to acoustics.  There is a railway along the shore of the mainland about three miles from my home.  I can hear the train whistle too.  It “sounds” at most crossings.  It is as loud and clear as the ferry.  If I listen carefully, I can hear the cars getting off the ferry with the clunk-clunk of the wheels on the ramp to the dock.

My rain barrels are full now.  I had emptied them early watering during the drought and had to resort to the old fashioned hose bib to water by early summer. My mint never came up until the rain came in the fall.  Now it is going great guns and mojito season is past, more like hot buttered rum and spiked cider time.

I’m not complaining as the temperatures are still in the fifties and comfortable.  The weeding is much easier now that the ground is wet.  You could hardly pull weeds when the ground was like cement. I enjoy the fog and to me it feels cozy, hiding much of the world and giving me the privacy I once enjoyed when I first moved here, before the hoards discovered that living on an island in Puget Sound is close to paradise.

Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

The Race to the Finish

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Remember when you were a kid?  Time seemed to drag on and on.  When you had to wait for Mom, it seemed like she was gone for days instead of hours.

When you are two days old, today is half of your life.  No wonder when you are five and your playmates aren’t around, time really seems to drag.  Remember having to wait at the table until everyone finished eating?  You couldn’t get out of there fast enough, especially if the food wasn’t something you liked.

When we are children, summer days, waiting for family or friends, these things take up a larger percentage of our lives.  By the time we are five, summer vacation takes up about 5% of our life, i.e. 1/20th of our life.  At this point in my live 1/20th would be more than four years.  Yikes.  That would be a long time.  Hopefully it would be filled with fun rather than waiting for friends to come out and play.

Now I am toward the end of my time.  Summer, the time that in the Puget Sound Basin of the Pacific Northwest, is the only time we can expect some reasonable weather.  The sun will generally shine and there are about three months of decent weather.  The remaining year is either dark, wet, snowy, cold or all of the above.

If I were to be generous, I would say three months of tolerable weather, the key word here is tolerable. This seems like such a short time.  If I harken back to the three month summer vacation mentioned earlier, and compare it to the days I have spent living, it is a little less than .3% of my life, not the 5% of my early days. No wonder the good weather seems to last such a brief time, it is just a flash in the pan.

My days, now that I am partially retired, seem like a moment.  I cannot finish anything I set out to do.  I have more time to do chores and projects now that I don’t work full time, but it seems that I have less time to do everything.  I know, you’re thinking, she is older and slower because she is older, that’s the reason she doesn’t get much done.

Not true.  I may move slower, but I do accomplish some chores in record time.  If a project takes a month, it is such a small part of my total life, that can I finish in .1% of my life?  Too little time to accomplish that?  If I were ten years old, that would give me eight times the amount of time to finish it (.8%)!

I think you get my point.  Time flies when you are getting old.  I look back on some event that I think happened six months ago and realize that three years has passed.  Friends sold their home and it seems like it was yesterday, but it was two years ago.  A friend passed away and it has been six months and I still haven’t sent a card to their family, thinking it was only a short time ago.  Shame on me.  I didn’t forget, I just felt I was still in the proper time frame to acknowledge their loss.

When you are racing for the finish, it really seems to fly.  I suppose if I were in poor health, rather than wanting to try new things, go new places and meet new people, it may drag.  I have a friend who has been five years in a full care facility due to lack of mobility and the ability to take care of herself.  She finds time to turn out beautiful paintings with the only limb that moves, her non-dominate left hand. She tries to find things to keep her busy and to stimulate her mind.  I should be so lucky to have that drive if it were to happen to me.

So as I “race to the finish,” may I work hard to find those new things, places and people and enjoy them to the enth degree. I hope as you race to the finish that it is as full and wonderful as mine.

 

 

 

Back Roads

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The Back Road to our Farm (the only road)

Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island.  The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall.  This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey.  This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road.  I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.

The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion.  It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit.  I have talked about growing there in former blogs.  The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm.  I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden.  The farm is ten acres of very secluded land.  About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing.  We have farmed here for about seventeen years.  It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.

We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard.  Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords.  About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle.  If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck.  He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.

The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers.  Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area.  They had their own grange in the community as well.

In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay.  The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned.  We bought it in 1988.  The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down.  A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here.  He didn’t know what happened to them.  When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.

There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar.  The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks.  They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls.  The outsides had shiplap siding.  Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out.  Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well.  The same was true of the boards on the floor.  The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.

It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned.  We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened.  We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land.  It is never easy work.  Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work.  I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries.  They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.

Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it.  The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.

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Hundred Year Old Apple Trees

The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata

Here is the recipe.

Italian Strata

Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)

Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft

Finely chopped onion

Pesto

Sun-dried tomatoes

Goat cheese (chevre)

Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in

Red and yellow peppers chopped

Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)

I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over

Topped with shredded romano cheese

And bake until set.  Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.

I know, I didn’t give any measurements.  It is just great to do it by feel and sight.  You can add lots of goodies or a few.  Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just have fun.

Peace and the Bountiful Harvest

It is late October and I just looked out into the very dark evening after a somewhat mixed day and I see the crescent moon through the trees.  It is a peaceful sight.  There is also no wind.  It isn’t warm, but it is peaceful.  I have just gone out and gotten wood for the fire to keep us warm through the night.

I guess that we can say, officially, that we are headed to winter.  That is the thing about living in the maritime northwest.  Winter is usually at least two months before and after the winter solstice.  Why does winter start then?  We have our coldest, wettest weather before AND after that date.  I never could understand why winter officially started on the 21st of December.  We are long in the throes of winter by then.

I have just finished doing all the tomatoes I am going to do this year.  We have been hauling home buckets of them from our farm for processing.  I have made zillions of bottles of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato pickle relish (both red and green), marinara and more. I had two large buckets left to finish today and I am hoping this is the last of it.  They do look beautiful sitting on the shelves in the root cellar.  We had thirty-eight plants at the farm and another nine here in the greenhouse.  They stopped blooming a month ago, and then we just hoped that some ripen, which they did in abundance.

Most of the preserving is finished.  The old apple trees, over a hundred years old, are just about ready to pick.  They are good keepers if I pick them while they are still in the starch.  Seldom do you find apples in the store “in the starch.”  If all the starch has turned to sugar, then the apples will start to deteriorate.  If they are in the starch, then they have a while to reach their full ripeness.  We pick them and they taste wonderful all the way until May.  I find that most of the ones I see in the store are already on the pithy side.  Many times, here in the northwest, they dump last year’s cold storage apples on us which lack flavor and are already mushy.  I love the ones we pick because they are so crisp and crunchy.

I finished freezing the green beans two months ago.  The pumpkins I grew this year are the kind that have hulless seeds. I will scrape them out of the pumpkins and clean them and roast them for pepitas for winter.  This is the first time I have grown these, so I have no experience with this.  Folks tell me that the pumpkin itself is not very tasty.  We will see, and if not then the chickens will benefit from their flesh.

We did have a bumper crop of peppers this year.  Mostly varieties of sweet peppers.  The hot peppers don’t get very hot in our climate as it is generally to cool for those flavors to fully develop.  I used a lot of them in the marinara. We did make poppers.  I make them by cutting the small  peppers in half lengthwise and filling with chorizo and covering with cheese (jack or mozz, but gooey cheese) and then baking in the oven until bubbly.  Boy, are these good.  You can serve them as appetizers, but we make a meal of them we have so many.

I am truly proud of myself this year as I actually had three gorgeous eggplant.  I have harvested two and will go get the last this weekend.  I made mousaka with one of them. Homemade ricotta, fresh tomato sauce, garden peppers, a real homegrown treat.

Well, I have ranted enough about the bounty we experienced this season.  I need to go damper the wood kitchen range where the tomato sauce bubbled away all day and is now safely cooling in the pressure cooker until morning.

I feel like I accomplished a reasonable harvest this year.  Yes, it is peaceful and I am enjoying watching that crescent moon.  Now we can bed down for winter.

 

 

Dining in Middle America

IMG_4321Today we were traveling through north/central Oregon on our way home from camping.  We stopped to have lunch not far from the Washington/Oregon border.  Many of the small towns in this region are dying away. This was really brought home to me while I “dined” in the local cafe.

 

This town had one main street which was the interstate highway.  Most folks just blazed through without taking in the local color.  Since I am a painter of “vanishing rural America,” I take in everything.  This means every derelict truck, tractor, falling down barn, abandoned gas stations and more.

 

It was one o’clock and my husband thought that we should stop for a bite to eat.  This town included a diner which probably had fifty feet of frontage on the main drag, a market which has a sign painted on its side that says, “Last Market for 67 miles,” and a post office.  There was also a rock shop to purchase stones from piles of plastic boxes stacked in the yard full of rocks.  We went into the diner.

 

When we drove up an older gentleman also arrived on his lawn mower and parked beside the front entrance.  I can only assume that he either didn’t have a car or a driver’s license.  He took one of the ten, or so, stools at the counter.  There were three additional tables for four people each.  We chose a table by the window so we could watch the world drive by.

 

Not long after our arrival, another man pulled out of an alley between two buildings across the street, but since he was headed the wrong way, he went around the block and pulled up out front, well away from the sandwich sign which stated “open.”  No use blocking the information that indicated any signs of life in this little burg.

 

We ordered from a VERY limited menu, but had not received our food when three elderly folks drove up.  There were two women and a man who had trouble exiting the vehicle.  I noticed that the waitress already had the coffee or dishes ordered up and almost ready when the various customers arrived.  One she asked, “Will it be the usual?”

 

Once the group of three where located at the table next to us, the conversations began.  “Where are you from?” “Oh, I have (insert one of many relatives) from near there.”  The conversation continued in a very one-sided way telling us all about things that happened there, how long the man had farmed, how he could no longer farm, how Social Security and the local hospital managed to keep them out of the poorhouse and mostly well. One told how many times she had been married and how it wasn’t happening again.  She had outlived those husbands and wasn’t going for a third try. We got quite a tour of the local gossip and their lives, bless their souls.  They were kind-hearted and probably excited to have someone other than a local to tell their tales.

 

Not long after that a couple in their Mercedes pulled up, obviously out-of-towners as were we.  They sat at the opposite end of the bar stools from us at the third table for four. The two ladies working the kitchen and the tables took their time in the local fashion.  The menu, being limited, meant that there were little complications in producing the requested menu items. I had ordered one of the hamburgers on the menu with a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato basil which turned out to be heavenly.  I wished I had ordered a bowl instead of the hamburger which was just a diner burger.

 

Well, it certainly was a view of middle-America.  Looking out the window at all the derelict buildings and thinking I could spend a month here painting “Vanishing Rural American” in this town, I was happy to know that the big houses, shopping malls, and overspending ostentatious public had not found this place yet.  Though the locals had trouble meeting their hospital bills (which were forgiven by the hospital) and the town only had three of its original (out of dozens) storefronts active, I found an amount of peace here talking with folks who had grown up here, attending one room schools, raising wheat, and growing old in the local cafe with their friends.

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Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!