Sunday, 30 June 2019

Strawberry Season

Went strawberry picking at Downey's Farm yesterday. It was beautiful sunny weather, and it felt so good to get out into the fields and countryside under the blue sky. The berries were big and red and mainly flawless, very juicy from all the rain we've been getting, though pleasantly tart and not overly sweet. In other words, perfect.

I'm always fascinated by the people who go berry picking. The majority are immigrants from eastern Europe or Asia, with few locals interspersed, and so many languages are spoken all around you as you work. I have observed that pickers tend to fall into one of four categories:

  • The yuppie couple from the city who bring their toddler into the fields for the "farm experience." They slather on the sunscreen and bug repellent and spend ten minutes singing Old McDonald Had a Farm, encouraging their child to pick berries into a purple wicker Easter basket (and the child will have none of it but insists loudly that it's time to go home). They finally leave with two cups of berries, feeling very content with their foray into being organic and close to the earth. They will go home, wash and eat the berries, and no doubt blog about their experience. (Ahem...) And then forget about picking fruit until next June, if then.
  • The tourist who arrives by bus with a hundred others, one-pint white container in hand and a camera around their neck. They pick one berry, move ten feet down the row, pick another berry, pause for a selfie, walk ten feet and eat a berry, and then all gather excitedly back at the end of the row to take photos of their friends holding strawberries. I had a conversation with one of these yesterday. He wasn't sure what the "wood chip things" were that he was walking on. I explained that it was straw, and that's why they call these strawberries. The straw keeps the weeds down, the moisture up, and the mud from splashing the berries when it rains. He was quite interested. And took a picture.
  • The flock of elderly women who arrive in a chattering group, cheerfully pick about seven quarts of berries, leave in a happy crowd, and go home to make jam for the church bazaar. These are women who have fond memories of working on farms as children, know the dying arts of home food preservation, and believe in the restorative value of a circle of friends. They're the ones who remember when the subdivision down the road was an apple orchard, know the farmer by name, can compare this year's crop with that of the last decade, and can probably drive the tractor themselves if given the chance. And they'd secretly love to have the chance.
  • The serious pickers. These arrive grimly, with buckets and buckets. When they get to their allotted row, they don't look around or glance at the beauty around them or speak to anyone else. They put their heads down and methodically pick, like machines grooming the plants, gathering pound after pound of fruit. They haul it all back to their cars, juice stains on their hands and knees, leaving nothing behind but the most unripe berries. You get the sense they are stocking up their nuclear fallout shelter, or else taking these berries to sell in the marketplace.
My husband and I fall somewhere between the latter two groups. We take the work seriously, knowing time is short and waste is prohibited. We're aware of the plants' needs and not just our own, so we are careful to clean off all suitable berries and leave only the ones that are too early or too late. We hauled 48 pounds of fruit out of the field in about an hour, destined for the freezer. But my husband took time to joke with fellow pickers and tease the teenage daughter of the farmer that her destiny was fixed. I'm sure she really wanted to be a commercial pilot or a lawyer, but no, her family owns the acreage and the mantle will fall on her shoulders to carry it on. And such a magnificent acreage it is, too. I'm less chatty, and I didn't look up much, but that was more due to the fact that if I straightened upright, I'd likely throw my back out and not be able to bend again. I'm not quite as limber as I used to be.

All around a beautiful day. Beautiful food, my house smells of strawberries, and I'm surrounded by abundance. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

So that happened...

It was one of those days yesterday. First a gas leak in the basement, so Son #3 and I spent a little while sitting in the driveway playing Crazy Eights and waiting for the gas company to come. Windows and doors open. Then the man who came to fix it noticed a few other problems with the way our tankless water heater was installed (like, ten years ago). So a second guy came and fixed that. ($1400). Then the hedge clippers died mid-trim (would be $200 to get another comparable one, so reverted to using the old falling-apart-and-not-very-safe ones). And then the outdoor extension cord that I use for everything vital decided to spit out its prongs and die. ($50.) Then my husband called to say the car had died and he was stranded...CAA...Alternator... ($700). It was a rough day! My husband finally finished the hedge about supper time and declared he was beat and we were going to order pizza. No way! That would be another $50! So I made pasta with bottled tomatoes and we curled up with Netflix to lick our wounds.

Whee! Isn't home ownership fun!

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

My World Comes to a Shrieking Halt -- There's a new Louise Penny book out!

I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The first time I read them, I got the books out of order. This time I'm being careful to get them in order, and they make more sense this time around. How can I describe them? They make me feel as if I'm coming home to a place I've never been but that I find achingly attractive.  I feel as if I could hop in the car and drive to the Eastern Townships and find Three Pines. I want to make friends with her characters, to poke around Olivier's antiques and watch Clara paint and sit on the bench on the green and eat a croissant. I find myself brushing up on my French in preparation to go.

Louise Penny has a brilliant talent for digging into people's motivations and understanding the chaos of emotions people experience but try not to own up to. She notices their wrinkles and warts and -- sometimes -- horns. But even while pointing out their flaws, she looks with love. Struggling, weak, conflicted humans are still quiet heroes, and even murderers are treated with compassion. In Gamache himself she juxtaposes gentleness and strength, joy and sorrow. It's because of their weaknesses that her people are endearing.

Don't be fooled. Her series isn't just an entertaining read. Immersing yourself in her world is like plunging into a warm, refreshing pool and paddling in the soothing water and soaking in the sunshine, and then stubbing your toe against something unidentified and prickly at the bottom. Not enough to chase you out of the pool, but enough to disturb you, make you pause and question and reflect. Charm and coziness to draw you in, and then a sharp stab of glittering insight like a shard of glass wakes you up from your comfortable lull, and you realize you're being taught something important under the veneer of fiction. You recognize truth and realize her writing isn't fiction at all.

And now -- frajus day! -- she has a new book coming out. Forget work, forget the laundry, forget to cook dinner, forget to eat at all. I have the promise of a delicious evening under a blanket, absorbing and pondering and glorying that I've found this stunning author.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

A Flock of Seagulls, Glass Tiger, and Corey Hart

Last night my husband and I went to a great concert at Ontario Place. We had seats right in the middle and just outside the roofline, so we got a little rain but not bad. We huddled in our sweatshirts under a spread-out rain cape and had a lovely time. A Flock of Seagulls opened, followed by Glass Tiger (which was fantastic), and then Corey Hart. It was a fun evening, surrounded by thousands of people all bobbing and dancing in unison and holding up their cell phone lights like lighters. Women in their sixties screaming giddily like teenagers when Corey Hart went into the audience to shake hands with fans. People going practically hysterical when he brought out surprise guest Jim Cuddy.  I find it interesting and endearing how humans all seem to head-bob the same way to a good beat. We think we're unique, but really we're all the same. A lot like the flock of little birds in the trees behind us who spent the evening dashing around after mosquitoes.

At one point the sound system died and Corey Hart was plunged into silence. And -- typical sweet Canadians -- the audience merely started singing (mostly "Go Raptors!") to fill in the gap for him until his microphone came back on a few minutes later. And Corey said simply, "Sorry about that" and went right back into his program. It takes a lot to upset a Canadian.

It reminded me of the time the singer doing the American anthem at a ball game lost the power to the microphone too, and the Canadian audience simply finished singing the anthem for them. Polite, kind, no fuss.