Jilly D.

Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

Learning from elders how marriage succeeds

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on July 31, 2014 at 1:21 am

557054-R1-19-20A_020In early July 1950 Charlie and Janet Warren were married. For their 50th wedding anniversary, Janet decided she would like to get married all over again.

To Chuck, of course.????????????

The Mecklenburg Methodist Church and the Grange building next door were reserved for the big event. Sam’s sister, Judy, made most of the arrangements for the big celebration. I helped decorate the Grange for the reception and arranged the flowers. Sam got his friend to lend him a limo so he could drive his parents to and from the big event in style. He even got a bottle of champagne and served them a celebratory drink on their way to the July 6, 2001 ceremony.

Four generations of family members and neighbors filled the pews of the church. The minister asked for the recipe to their success in matrimony.

“Patience,” Chuck said. “Honesty,” said Jan.  They were both right. But if Jan has said “patience” and Chuck had said “Honesty,” we’d all known they were liars.

At the big anniversary celebration I had the pleasure of meeting more Warren family members. Uncle Donald and Aunt Nori Warren lived about a mile and a half away in the hamlet of Mecklenburg. They’d sold the original Warren farm and moved into “town,” more than a dozen years ago.

Uncle Donald was Charlie’s eldest brother. Lyman Warren came in between the two. Lyman fought in the Bataan Death March and saw battles across the European theater, but he’s the quietest of the three brothers. I only know that about him from the rest of his relation. Donald farmed his father’s land; Grandpa Harry Warren passed the farm to the oldest son.

When Sam was growing up, Uncle Donald treated him like the son he never had. Then  Donald married a Finnish gal, Elnora, and adopted her two daughterss. Donald and Nori had Wendy, and then a son, Thomas. Even after Tommy was born, Uncle Donald still treated Sam like his son. Donald would ask Sam to drive tractor or plow or harrow or tend to the crops. Aunt Nori didn’t want her son to grow up to be something more than a farmer. She protected Tommy from Donald. If Uncle Donald wanted a field plowed and suggested Tom do it, why Aunt Nori would get up on the tractor herself and do it.

Tommy did learn one thing from his Pa. He learned how to whittle wood. Tom went into the military and served his country and came home to work as a wooden toymaker. Nori thinks now she may have made a mistake with Donald and Thomas. She let the both of them off too easy.

Aunt Nori gave me one piece of advice when I met Sam.

“Never learn how to drive the tractor,” Nori said. She had seen my photos of the tractors Sam had been restoring in the past couple years. She worried I glamorized this hard life too much.

I asked her why I shouldn’t learn to drive tractor.

“Honey, if you can drive tractor, there won’t be nothing he won’t expect you to do.”


Black and blue fruit: sweet as summer

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on July 29, 2014 at 1:11 am

sunflowerAs June is to strawberries, July is to raspberries and cherries, and August is to blackberries, blueberries, chokecherries and peaches, September is to elderberries, pears and apples. The fruit here grows wild and full of flavor.

In July the wild black raspberries ripen and attract the bears. Folks around here call them black caps. On more than one occasion I have waited for days for the berries to be perfect for the picking only to be beaten to the bounty by browsing bears. The grass is knocked down right in front of a thick bramble and every piece of ready to eat fruit has been removed. I have yet to encounter a bear on my berry picking expeditions here, but their prints and evidence of their foraging keeps me looking over my shoulder. I always bring the dogs along, just in case.

There is something so delicious about black raspberries that I will spend hours searching for them, wade through poison ivy and withstand scratches and prickers from their brambles for hours without complaint. Obviously I am not alone. I’ve learned where every single black raspberry plant is on this property. I won’t let Sam mow in some spots until the season has passed.

Black raspberries are an every-other-year phenomenon. Just like black cherries and black walnuts. In the good years, gather as much as you can. Jam, jelly, frozen whole for pies and muffins, baked into tortes and eaten fresh by the handful, wild black raspberries are sweet and tart.

While I walk the dogs during this season I forage for my own breakfast, lunch and snacks. I gather them on long hikes in the heat of the day because they grow in shade. Like tomatoes, they ripen from the bottom up; the warmth of the earth, not the sun, is required. When the berry is ripe for picking you recognize it by its black glow.

This is true of black cherries as well. When I’m up in the tree and the branches appear against the backdrop of the sky, I see the cherries and they look like black olives. Wild black cherries are small with big pits. It would take a gallon of cherries to make pie. Eaten fresh, they offer the most incredible burst of flavor imaginable. Sweet, musky, tart and fleshy, the fruit stains your hands, mouth and tongue.

I try to pick whatever black raspberries I can and eat to my heart’s content. The anti-oxidant levels are off the charts, I’m sure. But it’s the idea that the number of times I will be able to enjoy them is so severely restricted that I gobble them up as much as I can. In oatmeal, on top of ice cream, in a smoothie, like candy in a dish, pies, cobbler, jam, jelly and syrup. They are only available locally during a two week period every other year. In one’s lifespan that means I have to go without them more than I can have them. If I’m lucky, I will only have a dozen or more times to enjoy this rare and rapturous fresh fruit.

The Parable of Enough

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on July 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

A millionaire from Manhattan decided to splurge on a vacation and booked a remote Greek fishing village for a week in July with his loving wife. On their first morning, the millionaire woke late and looked out his cabana onto the beach to find a small fishing dinghy dragging full nets; just returning from an early voyage. He asked the captain whether he always caught so many fish.

The Greek fisherman told the millionaire he always caught the same amount of fish every morning. Some mornings he got back sooner. Some mornings he returned only shortly before noon. He always caught enough fish to eat that day; enough for himself, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, neighbors and a few to sell in the open market to the restaurants and tourist trade.

The millionaire enjoyed his conversation that first morning with the Greek captain.

The second morning the millionaire noticed the same man and pulled him aside when he docked with his daily catch. The millionaire suggested to this happy Greek that if he caught a few more fish when the sun was so early in the sky he would have more to sell and he could make more money. The fisherman laughed gently and said it was something to think about.

The Greek fisherman invited the millionaire to bring his wife to lunch on the beach for a traditional meal. They spent all afternoon on the beach. They drank wine, enjoyed fresh grilled fish, ate olives, fresh baked bread and other wonderful dishes. They sang and danced to the music the Greeks made.

The third morning the millionaire caught up to the Greek putting his nets in his boats. He thanked him for his hospitality. He asked him if he’d thought any more about catching more fish to sell.

The Greek asked him what he should do with all the extra money. The millionaire told him to save it so he could buy another boat. Then he could catch even more fish, sell them and make even more money. What, the Greek asked, would he do with all the money?

The millionaire explained he would soon have enough money to own an entire fleet of ships. What should the Greek do with a fleet of fishing vessels? The Greek knew the answer: I could sell that fleet of ships and with all that money I could afford to retire in a small fishing village where I could fish every morning, eat incredible meals, drink good wine, make love to my wife in the afternoon, take a nap, eat some more, make some music, dance, drink more good wine, sleep as late as I want and enjoy catching just enough fish so that tomorrow there will always be more than enough.


Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 111

Buffalo head butt

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on July 1, 2014 at 6:11 pm

september smilesI came in the house one afternoon. Sam looked like somebody had beaten him up badly. He was as white as a sheet and yet his eyes seemed dark. I thought somebody had punched him given the black and blue shadows around both eye sockets. His head sunk below his shoulders.

“What happened to you?” I asked. He said, “Nothing.”

More than a week passed before he spoke about it. He was sore. He could hardly move. Both hands seemed lifeless and still. He could hardly lift his coffee cup. His head hung low.

“Are you gonna tell me the truth about what happened?” I asked angrily one morning. The sudden change in his demeanor and mood scared me. All the spirit had been kicked out of him.

“I told you. I told you and everyone else. I fell over a rock,” Sam said.

I didn’t’ believe him.

“Why do you have to ask?” he demanded.

“Something is not right.” I knew there was more he wasn’t telling me.966591-R1-22-23A

“I got my hand in the wrong place while feeding that cow. Okay?” He stared into my eyes and I saw he was scared. “She pulled her head back and snapped my wrist. I pulled it back and she swung her head to and fro. Then she head-butted me and I did a backwards somersault and landed hard on that rock out there. I think I broke both my wrists. And my neck.”

His confession meant he had already made up his mind about what to do. Three years old now, these buffalo were too big to handle as domesticated pets any longer. He knew he would end up dead if he weren’t extremely careful. They were ready for to sell for breeding stock.

He didn’t want to do it. He had to do it. Within 10 days Sam had sold his black bull and three cows. Convincing them to get on the trailer was another matter entirely.

Sam spent days coaxing one animal at a time onto the trailer. When the buyer, George Reynolds, arrived with his trailer he brought six grown men and they brought black tarps. They tried to corral them with the tarps stretched between them, but George found himself squished between two cows and then suddenly dumped to the earth with four bison trampling him.

“Okay, Out of here. I’ll do it myself.” Sam responded to George’s fall.

Sweet grass and tender greens enticed the bull onto the trailer calmly at dusk. Sam swung the gate closed.  He phoned George and he came and drove the bull away. He returned with the trailer after dark.

The next day the three cows kept their distance from the trailer parked at the gate where the hay bales came through routinely. As the sun began to set, the smell of fresh cut Timothy hay induced the dominant cow onto the trailer. Sam had sat patiently for hours waiting for the moment. She started chewing the fresh cut grass and the gate swung shut.

Again George drove home to Glenwood Farms with his new buffalo and returned the empty trailer. Sam desperately wished both girls would get on and we could be done with this. No such luck. When Sam took a close look at the trailer in the morning light he discovered that cow had ripped the metal gate and broken it.

shaggy buffaloSam welded the trailer back together. He filled the front compartment with fresh cut hay and sprinkled a custom fitting ration of 16% protein on the floor. It got hot that afternoon. Those girls were not going to be fooled. They stayed away from the trailer.

Their paddock had no grass left; it was eaten down to the roots. There wasn’t much food available except inside the trailer. They didn’t trust it. Sam waited until long past dusk before he gave up. They chomped on the old round hay bale they had been using as bedding. They wallowed in the dirt and dust.

It wasn’t until it started to cool down with the sun setting the next day that one of the cows got hungry enough she walked onto the trailer for the sweet hay. Sam pulled the gate after waiting patiently for more than an hour. Premature. She bolted off.

Sam came in for supper. Just as darkness began to descend, he quietly went out again and waited. Slam shut. I heard it. The gate closed. With a phone call, George came to retrieve his trailer with yet another bison aboard.

The last cow was feeling her loneliness. She had tasted just enough green grass and experienced enough stress to give her a bad case of diarrhea. We had passed the fecal test, but I worried about her health. Too smart for her own good. She wasn’t going to get on that trailer. All the others had disappeared and she was the only one left.

Sam wouldn’t give her more hay or grain. She needed to be hungry to convince her, to coax her. There was plenty of water. Indeed it rained for two nights and the water trough flowed over. Sam got up into the trailer and called her. To no avail.

I took several beets and parsnips from last year’s harvest and threw a trail of treats from the middle of the paddock to the trailer. I knew within hours she would discover these treats and be on her way.

Cousin Tommy drove down the driveway in his pickup truck and distracted the cow from getting on the trailer. Sam had gotten so discouraged, he’d laid down to take a nap. The pain and exhaustion after struggling for days to accomplish this one very difficult task was getting to him. It was almost over. Sam told Tommy and I to sit still here at the table until he came back in.

Ten minutes Tommy and I talked about nothing. Waiting. Then I heard the gate slam shut. She was in. Sam walked through the door and went straight to the phone. Reynolds was on his way to pick up the last of Sam’s babies. When he drove away, Sam went in the house and went to bed without supper.

766018-R1-00-1AHe spent the next day fixing fence and creating a passage for the fallow deer to cross over the buffalo paddock and onto the high grass in the big pasture. When he opened it up, he sat down and waited for the buck to explore. All three hung back in their barren, shady pasture near the large round bale of hay.

Sam came in for supper and then went back out coax them over with some grain. All he has to do is pick up those buckets and their heads popped right up. Darkness set in but the deer weren’t moving when we could see them.

At dawn I let the dogs out and immediately noticed the fallow deer in the high grass near the gate staring at us. Since the two does were pregnant I was curious to see if they had their fawns overnight. I put the dogs back in the house and walked all along the fence line looking.

I didn’t see anything and the three deer were peacefully grazing. One doe was noticeably thinner. I walked the perimeter of their previous pasture. There hidden between some branches near a tree trunk lay a curled up fawn. It didn’t even lift its head. It just stared at me. Then blinked.

I quietly tiptoed back to bed and whispered my congratulations to the new papa. Sam got up and had coffee. Then he put his boots on and went out to check on the new baby. He walked the fences to make sure there were no holes or places where coyotes or foxes could get in to the paddocks and pasture.

The next day Sam was certain the fawn had disappeared. He suspected a fox who had killed a Whitetail fawn up along the lane. The fox had two babies this spring and they were hungry. He walked through the tall grass and looked everywhere inside the fencing.

It wasn’t until late the following afternoon that I spotted the fawn in the middle of the pasture. You can’t see the middle section unless you get far enough away and then it requires good distance vision.

920443-R1-19-20ATwo days later Sam spotted the fawn for himself. He fretted that the fawn wouldn’t make it. The truth is, he was sinking into sadness.

It rained. The grass kept growing fast and we waited for a second fawn well into July. The weather was unseasonably cool and rainy. Every time the rain drops started to fall I felt the silent sobs inside Sam’s heart.

When the clouds covered the sky, when the temperatures remained cool, when the sun didn’t shine, Sam slept. It rained. Sam slept. He went to bed earlier and earlier. He took a nap after several cups of coffee in the morning. I’d finding him napping in the middle of the afternoon. When it was time to get dinner on, Sam would lie down in bed and ask me to wake him when it was on the table. He’d eat and then go to bed for the night. He slept more than 12 hours a day when the daylight hours were at their longest.

Sam was practicing death. He wished he were dead. His neck hurt. Mowing on the tractor or the lawnmower required him to strain it further. The headaches made him irritable and uneasy. Everything he tried to do hurt his wrists. He stopped being stoic. He didn’t think he had any reason to get up in the morning anymore: his buffalo were gone. Sam knew they had broken him. I knew he had enough sense not to let them kill him.