Saturday, September 20, 2014

Family, Freezes and Finding Strength

Photo by Dianne Millar
My family visited the farm recently, making the twin treks from Long Beach, California and Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I was beside myself with joy; there was at least one day where I could not stop saying, "I am SO happy!" which would have been ridiculous had it not been so sincerely felt.

Beyond the images and words I post online, it is wonderful to have real-life witnesses to my experience here in North Dakota, a state rarely visited. That my mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew came so far to revisit this magical place did my heart a lot of good. I think they enjoyed it too.

Naturally, we partied. I put on a Shed Shindig in their honor. We borrowed tables and chairs from the local fire department, swept the dead mice out of our corrugated tin shed and strung lights. (MaryAnn and Carol surprised me with their expert skills here.)

I put jazz on cassette in the old blacksmith shop and a bonfire was lit under a nearly-full moon - cigars came out, farm talk ensued and memory lane got walked. The pot luck dishes were amazing and some kids played dress-up with all my old San Francisco duds - boa feathers in every color still roll down the prairie.

We even had our own porta potty. I'm telling you it was as big as it gets 'round here. If the weather hadn't been so perfect we might have had more guests but alas, it was ideal for harvest.

After all the parties, 4-wheeling and open-fire cookouts, we moved our celebration to the nearest big city, Grand Forks, where we were honored by cousins with big meal gatherings and lush accommodations. (I slept in the bedazzled bedroom of the former Miss Teen North Dakota complete with Xmas lights around the bed and hot pink everything.)

OMG - heaven! So NOT my trailer....
Many photos were taken, hugs were exchanged and exclamations of "It's been too long!" were pronounced. Amusingly, both the Mississippians and the North Dakotans thought the other ones lived in the sticks. Fascinating to see citizens of the Deep South and the Deep North - from the two most misunderstood states in the nation - convene for a long-awaited blitz of food and fellowship.

Occasionally, my sweet nephew, Robbie, would pull me aside and whisper, "You need to come back next summer."


Brrrrr! Tomatoes covered.
On September 12th, Father Winter dropped his icy fingers down to zap crops both large and small. One farmer I know lost an entire field of beans (Brent lost a section of beans too) and I got hit as well. Thanks to Brent, who gamely helps me cover up every year, I managed to save nearly all my tomatoes and only lost those which I am done with anyway. Still, my watermelon, cantaloupe and popcorn may not get ripe before we get into full frost season. 

My Yellow zukes got zapped but they still work.
It all makes me feel a bit rushed. People keep asking me when I am leaving and I cover my ears, shut my eyes and shake my head. I know the day is looming but I can't stand to think about it as reality. How will I get the strength to leave this place? To turn and walk away from the land, the people, the freedoms and big open skies, not to mention one man in particular?

Where will that strength come from? I wonder. I guess Father Winter's icy hand will just push me out.


Meanwhile, in the present, yesterday was epic - routine for me here, but so special. Sleeping in until 9 or so, then heading to my favorite running spot and putting in a solid 5 miles, yelling "Thank you!", "I love you!" and "So beautiful!" along the tree-lined route. Then home to a delicious breakfast of fresh dill-and-tomato eggs with bacon and avocado. Work. Internet. Necessary computer time. ("The Internet is both my liberator and dictator," I often say.)

Then, off to the garden to pull everything for Market - Lemon cucumbers, Scallop squash, Rainbow cherry tomatoes, Champion tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, Freckles lettuce, dill, Green bell peppers, eggplant, sage, Red onions, cantaloupe, Yellow zucchini…and on it goes.

Yellow Zukes
Off to Cavalier, about 17 miles south, for the weekly Farmers' Market, corner of First and Main. Initially, I stop at the home of my love, a man 20 years my senior who owns my heart. His garage also houses my Market table and the two giant wooden signs we made to alert passing motorists to our presence: "FARMERS MARKET TODAY" with a giant red glitter arrow.

His neighbor's stepson is visiting from Hawaii or Washington, traveling around in a outfitted Vanagon and my love is gamely visiting with him. Soon, another neighbor wanders over and then beer happens. I hang out there for about a half-hour before making haste for the market. Selling begins promptly at 5 p.m. and not a second earlier.

Delicious toes!
There are just two other vendors there. A young girl is selling homemade doggie treats to raise money to do Jr. Iditorod in 2023. The other is my friend, Lillian, a young mother of three who also hails from California. Her stepfather sets up hay bails and dried corn stalks to showcase her colorful display of pumpkins and squash. In between brisk sales, she and I discuss life, God and our fondness for North Dakota and its men. It rains on us a bit but we pay no mind. I nibble on the toes of her baby boy, Nathan, whom I adore and together, again, we wonder  where I will get the strength to leave.

Before we both go our separate ways, I give her the bouquet of bright sunflowers that I'd picked as a table decoration; she'd just turned 28, exactly 20 years my junior. We exchange solid hugs and I head for home.

After changing clothes - out of the stiff jeans and into stretchy pants - I head to the shed for some much-needed yoga. I turn on all the stringed lights, dance a bit to an old Sheilia E. cassette, light some sage and candles and whip out the yoga mat. Damn, it feels good.

Then, my love texts me and we talk on the phone, planning our romantic getaway weekend in Fargo. He tells me details of a community meeting he'd attended and together, we laugh. I finish up my yoga, close up the shed and head to the trailer, where I pour myself a glass of red wine. I dine on rib eye, creamed cucumber dill salad, Sweet Meat squash (grown my yours truly), and tossed salad with fresh tomatoes (mine) and bleu cheese crumbles. I end up inhaling an entire bar of dark chocolate because I'm feeling victorious for some reason.

Harvest at sunset

I step outside in the pitch blackness for a smokey treat and wonder, again, how it is I'm going to leave.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Summer Blur

Despite what the calendar says, Autumn has arrived - the searing heat has gone, replaced by a crisp air and shortened days.

I hate it.

The click-over to the next season means that the eight gazillion green tomatoes I have in the garden may not fulfill their destiny of becoming a tomato-and-mayo sandwich or profitable produce for my wallet. It also means that winter is now on the horizon and my departure date draws near; this fills me with more dread than I can convey. When I think about leaving, my stomach aches. If there was a way to freeze a moment in time, I would engage.

At this moment, we sit on the cusp of the harvest frenzy. There has been too much off-and-on rain making fields dangerously muddy and thus, risky for tractors, combines and grain trucks. And come October 1, the sugar beet harvest will commence - no matter what else is going on - and things get kicked up several notches. In October, harvest goes 24/7 and those famously pitch-black North Dakota nights become salted with blazing lights in the fields - truly an incredible sight.

In my observation, a large part of farming is waiting - waiting for rain, waiting for no rain, waiting for temperatures to rise, waiting for temperatures to drop, waiting for wind (to dry fields), waiting for no wind, waiting for parts and waiting in line at the elevator and/or sugar beet piles. But make no mistake, just because farmers are good at waiting doesn't mean they do it without complaint, it's just not part of their nature.

Brent, waiting, and not happy about it
Meanwhile, golden oceans of ripe wheat surround me, making me long for wings. The even beauty of these fields temporarily overtake my concerns with chemicals and GMOs as I watch a graceful crop duster lower down on a field, spray and then swoop up into the wild blue yonder. Long stretches of smiling yellow sunflowers seem to be everywhere lifting their big, eager heads in the day and then, dropping their chins at dusk.

Driving down dirt roads, I'm always tuned to 98.3, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company), and inevitably, Julie Nesrellah or Tom Powers will dish up the perfect musical accompaniment - usually the perfect classical piece or an earthy folk tune. My heart soars and I thank God I am here in this magical place so rarely seen. What divine fortune!

My running church
I ran 5.11 miles this morning on my usual glorious path - a snowmobile route lined with a cathedral of cottonwoods - and felt exuberance in every cell of my being. Earlier this morning, I had made a customer delivery of basil and cucumbers to a delightful woman named Joy (of course!) and my gratitude was off the charts.

Tomorrow, my family visits from California and Mississippi and I am beyond excited. They have all been here before but my nephew, Robbie, last visited at age 3 - he is now almost 11. There is so much to show him and though he lives straight down the Central Time Zone on the bayou - literally from one border to the other - I hope he can see what I see - a unique remote magic come to life.