I don't follow the calendar very well, and since there aren't any Lutheran churches in Anderson Valley I wasn't aware that last Tuesday was actually Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. All the same, as the temperature climbed up to 70° in the afternoon, with barely a trace of breeze, I couldn't help feeling that groping through cobwebs in an effort to resuscitate the ancient electrical system at the old Boont Berry barn was a job better saved for a rainy day. When a couple of friends showed up with their dogs, a vacuum-sealed pack of tennis balls, and an aluminum baseball bat, I gratefully descended the ladder and popped the cork on a bottle of cabernet, following them out to the pasture.
They wanted to exercise their dogs by hitting tennis balls, but it was no use because my blue heeler bitch snagged every fly ball for maybe an hour. I pitched to both the boyfriend or the girlfriend, you might call them, blaming my change-up every time they swung and missed. I have the best dog in the world. She played catcher, shortstop, and left field, sprinting at maybe 40mph to retrieve the long ball.
When we hominids had tired of swinging the aluminum bat, we sat on the lush clover pasture and passed the bottle of cabernet.
“It's like a day in the park,” said the woman.
The cows and chickens grazed the pasture and encourage legumes like clover and trefoil. As I furtively swigged the wine, I noticed a spotted cucumber beetle climbing over clover leaves like a buffalo grazing the high plains. The first of the season, maybe. “It's too nice to be working,” I rationalized.
The next morning my heart was pounding nails into my brains before the sun rose. It was Ash Wednesday. My second ex dropped the four-year-old off at the farm before I was done cleaning the milking apparatus. He was ready to go to work. We sifted soil. I don't buy potting soil for my spring starts. It is against my religion to purchase dirt. “Farmers should not purchase dirt,” I say. We should produce it. Most of our potting soil is old cow shit that is sort of aged or composted, mixed with ashes from our fireplace and clay.
“Don't use ashes,” they say, “Because you know all the paper is loaded with carcinogens.”
We don't use paper, though. You can get these little propane bottles at the hardware store, fit them with torch ends, and all you have to do is split up some redwood kindling, pile it in a pyramid of sorts, and fire the torch into it for several minutes. In the whole winter you might use half a gallon of propane, and the ashes are about the best soil amendment you could want in these parts, high in calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, plus trace minerals.
My four year-old pretty much cracked the whip, insisting on shoveling the soil over the sifter and rushing to beat me at the punch, encouraging me to have another sip of beer. He wanted me to drink beer so he could monopolize all the work. It was a deal I secretly agreed to, though I outwardly protested. We made perhaps a hundred gallons of potting soil over the course of the day, and the only fingers I lifted were popping the tab on another can. The whole day my spirits were lifted. I was grateful for the help from my youngest son. I have this terrible problem that is probably curable with some kind of pill from Ely Lilly, where I can't work very well alone. I have evidence to prove it. For some reason I ran Cross Country my senior year of high school. Actually the reasons I ran were mostly on the girls' team and the way their legs looked in the nylon shorts, but in the course of running I was stuck with trying to keep up with feet more fleet than mine. There were a few evenings in October where I ended up sentenced to detention, missing practice and showing up at 4:30 to run the rest of practice by myself, and no matter how I tried I could not run a mile alone in under six minutes, when normally with the rest of the pack I clocked in at 5:00 or 5:15 or so. I work so much better with a group.
These days I take whatever help I can get. Mardi Gras came on the heels of a get real encounter session with my latest woofer, Diana Winter. I guess she was a little pissed that I'd been writing about our conflicts in the newspaper. It was immature of me, she said. “When are you going to grow up?”
“Might not happen in this lifetime.”
But I don't think it was so much that. She met this dude from Redwood Valley who moonlights as a capoiera instructor. Now she's living in Redwood Valley. So much for the apprenticeship, I guess.