According to the people who think the moon has some effect on the best time to put in seeds or do transplants, this last week was probably supposed to be a choice window to tuck stuff like broccoli and onion starts into the soil – especially Friday and Saturday. If you were just following the weather forecasts, the big rains were on the way.
On Saturday the rain was already spitting showers on and off, and there was no way for me and my 13 year old son to get all the starts in by chore time, which is seven o'clock. We were moving pretty quickly, my son dropping the plants into furrows we'd left with the tractor, and me following and pulling dirt over them. But then he got a stomach ache and had to take a break. He eats about 15 bowls of cereal and milk every day. I try to tell him maybe he should lay off it for a few hours and let it digest, but you can't tell a teenager anything. Anyway, he'd helped for long enough, and he doesn't give a shit about cabbages, broccoli, or onions.
We had help, incidentally. Even though things had not worked out terribly well with the first woofer, Diana Winter, who'd attempted to apprentice at our farm, when another person had called, I said sure; come on up and check the place out.
She'd arrived at about seven on Thursday evening, with her mother as chauffeur. I guess they live down in San Luis Obispo. Ashley Summer, her name is. Her mother has red hair that is mixed with gray, but Ashley's hair is white as snow, and she was wearing dark sunglasses even with the sun setting. She's albino, as they say.
“I have to be honest. I only work at night,” she said. “I hope that's okay.”
That was why her mother had driven her up to the farm, I gathered.
Well, I thought, this might work out okay. For one thing we wouldn't have the awkwardness of trying to work together like a man and a woman on a farm, the inevitable pitfall that had immediately jinxed Diana Winter and I. This would be different. I mean I don't work at night. I like to read, watch movies, or just stare at the campfire and talk to myself when it's dark. So it was okay with me if Ashley wanted to work in the wee hours. It turned out perfect, also, because some folks further up Lambert Lane had this little cabin deep in the redwoods where Ashley could stay during the day, shaded from the blazing sun.
Saturday night I heard the dogs raising a ruckus, and then there was Ashley walking up just as I was filtering the milk and the sun was setting. Her black shirt and jeans were a stark contrast to her complexion, and she was cursed with the stunning symmetry that plagues the women who dine on health food and lead an active lifestyle.
I swore this time I would not blow it by developing a crush. Out in the garden, I showed the new apprentice how far apart the onion starts were supposed to be, maybe six inches in the row.
She seemed to catch on quickly. Once Ashley was rolling, she put headphones in her ears and cranked up the volume on the iPod or whatever you call it that was attached to her belt. It was Janice Joplin. In the still of the night I could hear the wailing until returning to the barn to relax for the evening.
The phone rang, and my most significant ex told me she was sending her current boyfriend to the farm to retrieve the top bar beehive that her father had made for her several years ago. The thing is a work of art, with the steel roof and all. It's a stylish bee hive.
“But I was going to grow watermelons,” I said. “I sure could use the bees for pollination. Anyway, the pears and cherries are blooming. The apples will be, soon. Why now?”
Well, he was going to be there in a few minutes, she said.
The beehive was in the garden which had once been my ex's. This had been one of the main reasons why things had not worked out easy for Diana Winter and I. There's no way another woman can walk around the very soil that had once been under the bare feet of someone who visits the farm six times a week to drop off or pick up the boys. They don't teach much in college about the voodoo that goes on in relationships. When somebody tends a garden or a kitchen or a workshop with some sense of aesthetics or style, they might as well be spray painting poetic graffiti all over the place. You can't just erase it.
“Tell him to bring some beer,” I told my ex.
She hung up.
A few minutes later my son and I were standing at the edge of the barn as a pair of headlights bounced across the rickety bridge and pulled into our parking lot, then made a crescent moon in reverse with red brake and tail lights. It was my ex's new beau. I had to admit to my son that the guy had some pluck to show up at our farm on such a mission, so late at night. This was the mother of all “honey-do's.” He was a man on a mission.
“I'm here to pick up the hive,” he said.
“Yeah. It's over there in the garden. Let me open the gate.”
I have this half-assed gate made of 20-foot lengths of four-inch aluminum irrigation pipes that I harvested from the place across the Navarro from Ray's Road in Philo, a ranch once called, “Shenoa.” It was a 20-foot gate with aluminum that probably looks formidable to the cows, but is light enough to wrestle with. I swung it open for my ex's boyfriend to back his truck up towards the old garden. Next, I swung the garden gate open for him. It was narrow, maybe seven feet. I'd constructed this one of felled redwoods for my ex's birthday, several years earlier, done sort of an artistic job there. I'd fenced myself out of the whole garden during our seven years of farming together, so she could have the space to do what she wanted without some obnoxious hick from Indiana telling her how to do it.
“The beehive is in there,” I said.
The guy had a headlamp. Its beam scanned the garden as we entered, and focused on the reflectively white hair and pale cheeks of my new woofer, Ashley, who was bobbing a little as she did the crab walk with the flat of onion starts. Her shirt and pants were all invisible except for the glowing buttons.
“What the fuck?” he said. “There's like this floating face out there.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Don't you see it?”
“The floating face.”
“Sounds like Janice fucking Joplin. Man, I'm getting out of here,” he said. “This place is too trippy.” And he took off for his truck, which fortunately he'd backed into place, because the rear tires spit gravel like a weedeater on the fringes of a parking lot as it spun out. We'd recently had loose gravel spread in the driveway, thinking maybe the winter rains were about done, which had turned out to be wrong, and now you've got the loose gravel aggravated by developing potholes.
I was ready to retire for the evening. When I woke up in the morning, the onions were planted in tidy rows, rain was pelting generously from the heavens, and I guess Ashley Summer was back in her shady quarters up Lambert Lane.