Last week my four year-old son and I harvested maybe six pounds of roma tomatoes. They came in earlier this year on account of the starts were blooming in early June when they finally found their way into the soil.
“I'll probably get a nice crop of early ones,” I thought when we set them. This turned out to be the case if you call six pounds a crop, though it also was the case that the plants making the early tomatoes didn't grow, fruiting on their meager limbs, so the field is this hodgepodge of green, bushing vines and stunted runts. Other local growers made the same mistake, they told me at the Saturday morning farmers' market in Boonville. This year was yet another for the record books as we were stoking wood stoves for weeks on end towards the end of May, highs in the low fifties, while the rest of the planet was smoldering, the hottest spring on record in the northern hemisphere, they tell me.
It took nearly a week to water the tomato crop because I'd abandoned my previous irrigation techniques which involved a well next to the creek, water I no longer was entitled to. The joke was I'd built a pond to catch winter rain and it was still pretty much half full, maybe a couple acre feet of water to flood the spring crops with, but there was no electricity out there and I didn't want to purchase a decent gas-powered pump for only a month of use, not knowing if I would need the contraption wherever it was I went next to farm. You start thinking differently about a farm when you know you're not going to be there next year, a factor that is still trying to penetrate my thick skull. Generally I try to farm in such a way as to be considering the next hundred years, so with only four months to go, my decision processes are basically retarded. I ended up borrowing an electric sump pump that was small enough to run off a little five horse generator, capable of flooding the heck out of a hundred foot row before it ran out of gas.
The plan was to soak the soil, cultivate, and cut the weeds out with a hoe. Help is what I needed.
On Tuesday I got a message from a couple of woofers [willing workers on organic farms] who were in the area. “Hi, this is Hanna — my girlfriend and I are interested in doing some woofing for about five days. We'll do anything you ask. We're like totally flexible on sleeping arrangements.”
Jeez, I thought, playing the message one more time. It was music to my ears, as they say. Totally flexible, she had said. The five dollar phone card was used up so I had to make a run to Pic-n-Pay to replenish phone minutes and beer.
“Yeah, this is Hanna.”
“Hi. I'm Spec from the farm in Boonville; you called about woofing. When are you coming out to these parts? Like we're in Boonville.”
“Yeah, would you have anything for us, maybe three or four days? We're pretty much up for anything you want. We don't have any sleeping gear, is all.”
“Well, all I have is sleeping bags. My mattress is actually in the middle of the garden on a bunch of hay bales.”
“That sounds cool.”
Jeez, I thought, as Hanna said she'd call me back in the morning. Two of them. It couldn't get more casual. I started cleaning up around the barn and my teenaged son had to wonder what the motivation was. I told him about the woofers.
“Just don't do that thing you always do where you press your hands together and squeeze them, and your eyes get big. That's even more disgusting than a booger hanging from your nose.”
“I do that?”
He demonstrated what I do.
“Shit, I don't just do that around hot women,” I said. I recognized this rare form of posturing. All the melon farmers in my home town did that compulsively. Some of us did it worse than others, but we all imitated each other. Our eyes got big and sometimes we invoked the “Great Watermelon God.” It was some kind of informal, yet precise, voodoo. It really didn't matter who we were talking to, as I realized several times later in the day when various people stopped by the farm to pick up cabbages and I caught my hands rubbing together like I was polishing a penny as I paced. I get goddam nervous standing around talking in the middle of the afternoon when there's so much work to be done every where you turn. I just can't stand it, talking to people about kids or ex lovers or issues relating to local food production, when we all should be out in the fields chopping weeds. Sometimes I pick up rocks and toss them like I'm trying to throw strikes.
The woofers never called again, never showed up to hoe weeds. When the phone finally rang at noon the next day it was my first ex. She was calling because our teenaged son is preparing for a trip to the midwest to see my parents and the old family farm, do a little recon. I've instructed him to write down beer prices at the grocery store nearest to the home place. We're torn between moving to Kansas or Indiana, and we'll see what the teenager thinks of the Great Plains before we consider the Ohio Valley. “I guess your parents said he needs nice clothes for church,” she said.
“Yeah, he'll be going to church for sure.”
“That'll be different for him.”
“Yeah, I guess. It shouldn't be a big deal. Lutherans aren't too serious about religion. All they really care about is softball, potlucks, and beer.”
“I went to church in Haiti.” My fist ex is a nurse who volunteered recently to spend a few weeks tenting it in a hospital in Haiti.
“Yeah, what are they mostly Catholics down there, them being colonized by France?”
“This was inter-denominational, the doctors and nurses. Actually the people I met who were from down there were mostly voodoo.. I think I met a real zombie. We had these tents to sleep in but it was too hot so I had kind of a private balcony and I was out there trying to sleep in my underwear one night when I woke up and there was a teenaged boy standing next to my bed yelling in jibberish to all the people out in the parking lot. I mean it wasn't French or any language I knew. He was throwing rocks from my balcony. I had to get dressed and go get security, and they told me the kid was probably a zombie. The voodoo priests do this. They give them the gall of a bladder fish and bury them alive as some kind of punishment for being delinquent or something. When they come back they're never the same, pretty much slaves for life with no will of their own.”
“Zombies?” I asked. The doors to the milking room creaked on their hinges in the breeze. The generator up at the big pond was no doubt out of gas again, but it seemed a million miles away, like Kansas. ¥¥