Thursday, June 30, 2011

miki and lulu and fukushima

Mikiko Arai, a small farmer (and former WWOOF host) in Japan, and 7-year old Lumia are here for a few weeks stay. Displaced by the Fukushima disaster, they are taking some time in California to ponder their future.

I search for appropriate words to connect our guests, our comfortable lives here, and the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy. Only one degree of separation from a black hole of grief. We enjoy Miki and Lulu, share good conversation, laughter and inter-lingual jokes; they enjoy Kingbird and California - a return for Miki, who graduated from UC Berkeley, a first visit for bouncy, joyous, energetic Lulu. Small particulars transcend - or at least temporarily mask - disastrous contexts, and the uncertainties that they've left behind and will have to return to. Lulu, trained to run from rain, had trouble appreciating that Tuesday's significant precipitation here did not carry the same kind of risk as in Japan.

Miki knows small farming and is a competent and vigorous worker. Lulu is a remarkably able assistant, and has learned via seed spacing the general difference between senchime-toru and inchi. Here they help with harvest of potatoes.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

summer apples

The cultural conditioning to think of apples as exclusively fruits of autumn runs deep, but the reality is that some excellent apple varieties ripen as early as mid-June in this area. Even after having consciously selected apple varieties that would continuously fruit from June through November, it's been hard for me to remember to seek out and enjoy the early fruit. These Gravensteins are just the right crisp balance of tart and sweet right now, and we're enjoying Dorsett Golden and Strawberry Parfait as well.

And that's no small consolation for a sorrowful peach and nectarine crop, the result of our wet spring and a lot of peach-leaf curl.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

life in the heat

A killdeer nest in the melon patch yielded one live chick a few hours ago, and the sibling in the nearer egg seems to be well along in the process.

Mom and Dad were sometimes nonchalant about the proximity of humans, often did the broken wing/diversion display, and occasionally would haze a worker and let loose with a piercing alarm call.

Killdeer are precocious; this guy and sibling(s) will very soon be scampering about.
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Monday, June 20, 2011


"Stretto," literally "straitened" or "confined" in Italian, is a nice musical term for the point in a musical composition (usually a fugue and usually near the climax), when dramatic effect is achieved by "piling up the subject, the answer, and their fractional particles in close succession, producing the effect of accelerated canonic imitation."* Ideas or phrases previously heard in succession begin to overlap; everything starts to happen at once.

Such is the intensity of feeling of the garden and orchard at this crossroads of spring and summer, with some of the "real" fruit of summer achieving ripeness (the peregrine peaches above, a tasty pluot, a couple of summer apple varieties, and - within days - a couple of varieties of figs), while we still enjoy the fruits of spring, such as strawberries and beautifully formed still tender heads of lettuce. As we see our first couple of 100-degree days, one can feel the tempo accelerate toward the abundance of July and August.

Life, for a short spell, seems to be imitating both nature and music, with a big birthday (the dreaded "six-oh") last week, a wedding anniversary tomorrow, and the son on the brink of being awarded his PhD ("machine learning," Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK - are we proud?!), also tomorrow. A bunch of overlapping feelings, memories, and reflections, all good.

And music, in turn, was my respite for the past week - 17 hours of opera (Wagner's incomparable Ring of the Nibelung) over six days, while enjoying refuge in the beautiful, intense city of San Francisco. A very nice immersion and a striking counterpoint to life as usual in the wilds west of Galt.

And it's good to be home, with the fruit, family, the heat, and the memories.

*Nicolas Slonimsky, Lectionary of Music

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Friday, June 17, 2011

young energy

We get a nice notice from Casey, whose blog/journal records an exploration of Lodi and environs, with an emphasis on things food- and farm-related. Contact resulted from Casey's chance conversation with the folks at Sacramento's Brew Ferment Distill, purveyor of Kingbird hops.

Casey is a beer-maker and cook whom we hope to see more of. But (sorry, Dad!) the better parts of his visit were Ava and Jackson, who charmed us old parents completely and were in turn suitably impressed by chickens, songbirds, nests, and farmscape. Soon barefoot, Ava, as in the fairy tale, left behind a footwear memento - in this case a pair of small socks. Although tempted, we did not follow the script and set off southward in search of the damsel who fit them. We used the reliable US Mail instead, but we do hope for another dance.
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

fava farewell

This weird weather (with temperatures 20 degrees below normal and 1/2" of rain in the past 36 hours) made for an attenuated fava bean harvest and required a fire for the early June comfort of fava-shellers Emily and Tyler, WWOOFers with a rich international background who are currently attending Sarah Lawrence and Penn State respectively.

Here they deal with the last of the harvest (excepting some that I'm letting dry on the stalk for next year's seed). Beginning in late April we've delivered 30-40 pounds of fava weekly to the Sonshine Food Closet. Last year, many of the food bank's clients did not know what fava beans were; this year they eagerly seek them out, and a few are asking for seeds to plant in the fall.

Fava beans (careful - don't get me started!) enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen, can be planted after the summer crops are done, require no irrigation, yield copious amounts of nutritious beans, and produce easily-saved seed for the following year. A true miracle crop.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

definitely more caltech than mit

The "extending the frontiers of engineering design" award for this year goes to the enterprising and imaginative pair of barn swallows who decided to anchor their mud nest on a couple of strands of rope hanging from a hook in the carport ceiling. (One can only imagine the back-story: "In an exclusive interview, Mr. B. Swallow acknowledged initial doubts about the soundness of the design but expressed satisfaction with the outcome. 'She said she wanted something different this year, not just the usual boring half-cup on a vertical wall like all of the neighors have. Well, by gum, I showed her, didn't I?'")

Efficient? - hard to tell. It seems to require more material and more labor. Does it confer some advantage? Perhaps. They embarked on construction just as the house swallows had commenced taking over swallow nests, and perhaps this was a response to that threat. It does seem to work. And it's still occupied by a swallow pair.

As to stowing the canoe in the carport any time soon? Sorry, Hal ...
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