September 29, 2013

country fair

When I married my Farmer, I understood that going to the fair was part of the deal.  We had gone there on a date, eaten the freshly-made french fries and the sausage sandwich and the milkshake.

Now mind you, this wasn't a fair with rides, games, lights and music.  This was a farm fair.  My Farmer had walked me down the row of tractors, pointing out the model that his dad had had, growing up, explaining how this engine was different from that one.  He had led me down the aisles of produce, and I had marveled, like only the uninitiated can, at all the rows and rows of vegetable samples on paper plates, jars of canned fruit, and slices of baked goods, each awaiting their fate as decided by the fair judges.

Somehow, though, I never quite got it.

Maybe it was the crowded commercial tents and my Farmer's carried-over-from-childhood love of collecting brochures, or maybe it was running into person after person after person who knew my Farmer, and not me.  Maybe it was my complete ignorance of all things agricultural.  Maybe you had to be born to it.

But my Farmer loved it, so we went.  I learned to know the some of the people and the colors of some of the tractors.  We grew a garden and entered our vegetables.  We had children and took them to watch the tractor pull and eat milkshakes and french fries and funnel cakes.

It grew on me, kind of, but I still felt like an uncomprehending outsider much of the time.  Like the locals could just tell, looking at me, that I was a transplant, an imposter.

This year, though, we had a date night scheduled for during the fair, and for what felt like the first time in years, we went without the children.

I was feeling a little jaded going into it.  The fairgrounds seemed more crowded than ever, and I am not a fan of crowds.  The food lines seemed impossibly long, the vegetable displays impossibly tedious.  I tried, again, to see the fascination of the fair ... and failed.

And then the fire siren sounded.

The fairgrounds are located just behind the firehouse, and before the first wail had begun to fade, there were guys galloping past from all over the fair:  a short stocky guy sprinting for all he was worth came first, a golf cart dropped off another, and last was a lanky Amish man loping in from the parking lot where he had been helping to direct cars.  All of them responded instantly, volunteer firefighters running from the fun of the fair to take care of someone else's problem.

That's when I started to get it.  This is what the fair was about:  community, taking care of each other.  Even though it wasn't my fire, I felt protected, cared for, to see all those guys rushing to put out a fire they hadn't started, for which they bore no responsibility other than their desire to serve their community.

I looked around me with awakened senses.  Smelled the fresh paint on those restored tractors.  A small grey tractor of an unusual make had attracted my Farmer's eye.  He'd struck up a conversation with a weathered-looking man standing nearby.  Turns out the tractor belonged to an old friend of his who had been paralyzed.  He had put weeks' worth of painstaking work into restoring it for his friend, grinding, welding, painting.

The free tulip bulbs and door prizes, helium balloons (later seen floating overhead) and sample bags of chips, rulers and flyswatters, and jolly ranchers galore stood for more than the sum of their parts.  Sure, it was a chance for local businesses to advertise.  But it was also a chance for the community to gather together and just have fun, to celebrate what they have in common.

We joined the funnel cake line that stretched up the hill toward the fair office.  It looked like a long wait for our two orders of batter-fried Oreo cookies.  Just as we began to wonder if the wait was worthwhile, a worker from the stand came up through the line asking who wanted "road apples" (the affectionate misnomer for this country delicacy).  We were bumped to the front!  Rescued!

I may never raise a pig or a cow to take to the fair (and probably no one will ever mistake me for someone who could), but I can still enjoy the camaraderie evident in the cadres of farm kids who do, and admire their industrious care of their odiferous charges.

I may never fully understand the intricacies of the fair, but my children probably will.  They were born to it.

September 21, 2013

closing up camp

I'm inside now listening to the rain.  For the first time in our Family Week history, it held off till the end.  We got our fill, almost, of campfires and s'mores, tenting and outdoor living.

This afternoon Sugar, Spice, and Nice had their last Quiet Time in the tent, kitties curled up beside them in their sleeping bags (except for the ones who couldn't resist the smell of the sausages I was cooking over the fire for tonight's soup).  Then, in the wind from the approaching storm, they helped my Farmer pack up the tent.  I put away camp chairs.  Stacked the few remaining sticks of firewood against a tree.

The fire still burned - low -, a lone potato and a handful of chestnuts left on the grate.  We kept the fire going all week.  This morning's breakfast fire was the first time we needed matches since we started it last Saturday.  Even then, the ash was warm.

Every meal for a week, we ate around the fire.  Most days we cooked once or twice using the campfire:  hot dogs (of course), toast, chicken satay, grilled tomato & cheese sandwiches, hobo packets of potato and sausage, scrambled eggs, potatoes in foil, apples, onions, sausages, and more and more s'mores.  Meals took forever, somehow.  No one seemed to mind.

We didn't do anything flashy this week.  No grand experiments.  No pricey field trips.  Not even many photos.  We just lived.  Outside.

Nice found her own "poking stick" for the fire (I'm a little possessive when I've got a good one).  Spice made "pencils" to write on an old pallet, by holding sticks in the fire till their ends were blackened.  Sugar hauled firewood and cut brush for resurrecting a fire from the previous coals.

They played with corncob dolls with braided "hair".  Baked "bread" wrapped up in grape leaves in the fire, to feed the cats.  Went fishing.  Walked back in the woods to wade in a very small spring-fed "swimming hole".  We went to the tractor pull at a local fair, ate funnel cake and elephant ear.  One day we took bikes to a nearby park to ride the trails and spent the morning riding, walking, even running in the sunshine, and ended up getting pizza to eat in the pavilion.  For a very cold ten minutes on the warmest day, the children and my Farmer had the last swim of the season in our pool.

Last night after dark, we walked over the rise to catch the moon as it came up full over the cornfield.

And now the week is over.

Tonight Lil' Snip will get a much-needed bath.  We'll tuck them all into their inside beds, their pillows still smelling faintly of campfire smoke.  We'll leave the windows open a crack for the music of rain and cricketsong.

And then in the morning we'll eat breakfast sitting at the table, dressed in churchy clothes like civilized folks, and go sit in circulated air for two hours, listening to people sing and talk into microphones and surreptitiously thumb their smartphones ...

... and our week outside will fade into vapor like a dream ...

September 17, 2013

caged poet

This morning I sat by the fire we brought back to life from last night's coals, watching smoke spiral upward into the morning sunshine which streamed through the dancing leaves like so much gold dust poured down from heaven.  Oatmeal in a mug, with swirls of maple syrup, warmed my hands.  Sugar, Spice, & Nice dressed in the tent to an accompaniment of their own squeals of excitement.  Their favorite kitten had figured out how to unzip the tent flap, and dashed out with her booty: Spice's shirt.

After our oatmeal I speared some bread & cheese to experiment with toasting.  Spice & Nice happily shared my first batch, assuring me that it was a success.  I fed the second round to Sugar as she washed up dishes, and my Farmer and Lil' Snip (who slept late after a stuffy-nosed night) took turns with the last of it.

Next up for today:  digging worms and fishing for my Farmer and his progeny, while I enjoy the quiet solitude of laundry and more campfire cooking.

I love my family.  I am grateful for this week of interlude.   I can say, in all sincerity: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."  (Psalm 16:6)

And yet ... to have the heart of a poet, and to be trapped by the myriad mundanities of serving a family, is to live, though winged, in a cage.  If I ever finally learn lasting contentment, it will be the fruit of surrender.  

I am determined to find beauty in the bars that enclose me.  

And when I do, I think I will find that the bars do not enclose so small a space as I first thought.  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some tomatoes to transform into bisque for our campfire lunch.

family camp 2013

This marks year three? Four? Six? of our now-traditional "Family Week" (a.k.a. staycation), in which my Farmer takes a week of vacation and we camp out in the backyard.


I guess you could say it really started on Friday, this year.  My mother came to watch the children for my (almost-) monthly day off, and I roamed the Southern End in the minivan, from library to river overlook, at my leisure.  Saturday, my Farmer took the children (all four!) to work with him while I stayed home to read, nap, and take a nice long walk in the sun.

Sunday after church we attended a feast of locally-grown goodies at my Farmer's farm, a fund-raiser to which we were given complimentary tickets.  From the smoked potatoes and fried green tomatoes to the cheese trays and mini-burgers on freshly-baked buns to the peach cobbler and molasses ice cream, it was a palate-pleasing experience we will not soon forget.

After the respite of Sunday naps all around, we gathered up the firewood and started the first of what we hope are many campfires this week.  We roasted apples, fresh bread, and marshmallows.  And then ...

... we had a drop-in!!  Family from California, in for a funeral, stopped in to hug, chat, admire, and share dreams.  Acquaintances were refreshed, photos were snapped, farming methods were swapped, and walnuts were juggled.  As night fell, Lil' Snip - accustomed to daylight bedtimes still - came to me, enraptured with the sunset:  "the sky looks different, Mommy!"  We tucked him in and waved them off ...

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