Sunday, May 23, 2004

Daylilies, poke weed and Ramen Soup

June 12 was not the first time we’d been to the farm. On a whim, we’d visited it the previous August, without any sort of camping gear, trying to sleep in the car, (gad, was I ever small enough to think I could sleep in the front seat of a Mustang?) till the mosquitoes drove us away. BD also made a January reconnaissance trip, scouting out the territory, deciding where we’d set up our campsite, getting to know the neighbors. He hadn’t stayed the whole night, for he’d nigh on to frozen himself to death, but he had found the perfect place to set up headquarters. As comfort harbingers these two trips were pretty accurate. For once, I’m glad I have hindsight and not foresight.

The spot he’d chosen was just inside the property line, through a little copse of woods with a lovely stream that forms the farm’s southern boundary. This place was part of a larger estate, divided by BD’s grandfather at the turn of the century into 4 roughly equal farms. He bought our portion of it as a dowry farm for his new baby daughter. She rented it out, first to Hill Dillard, who owned one of the other quarter parts, then later to a cousin, Robert Lindsey Ellis, who owned another 4th and whose son had married Hill’s daughter. She hadn’t visited it since she’d lived here during W.W.II and I am sure the locals expected to buy it at some point and consolidate the entire parcel. In fact, they have since bought the last section and Rennolds Quarter is almost reunited.

It was late in the day when we turned onto the farm lane and crossed the little stream we call Jacob’s Gut. The dirt road turned a sharp 90 degree left just past the stream and skirted the big fields that comprise most of our farm. Woods nestled up to the right of the road and a grassy spot just at the junction of road, woods and field made a good place to park the car, beneath a willow oak so big it must have begun life back when this farm was a colonial land grant. A ditch separated the road from the trees as well, but it was just a little hop-over type of thing.

Stepping into that bit of woods was a little like stepping into fairy land. There were holly trees, little sassafras saplings, huge tall oaks. Evening birds sang. Little things scurried through last fall's brown loam carpet. The forest begins to widen immediately into a secret darkness of trees. The ground is fairly flat here, but the Camping Expert (not me, you can be sure) thought we ought to find a somewhat sloping spot to pitch the tent. “So water can run off, you know”. Now, mind, this part of the county is called The Flats - and for good reason. It’s the sort of place you read about in school history books when the author says: “The settlers built on the river flats where the rich soil assured good crops.” But BD found a little spot where the ground began to slope down towards Jacob’s Gut and we assembled our home, a linseed oil soaked canvas buddy tent, of the sort that buttons down the ridge. It holds two, along with a few personal effects. We also had a canvass ground cloth, some sort of padding, probably a sleeping bag unzipped, some sheets, blankets and pillows.

The next thing to do was to find a place to build a campfire - the nourishment hub of our new adventure. BD had all the expertise here as well, though I had done a bit of campfire cooking over the past few years. He quickly cleared a bit of ground, found two stout forked sticks and a cross stick thick enough to hold an iron pot, and built a little fire. It would transpire, over the next days, months, and even up till today, that I was the Fire Goddess, (Friday’s disaster notwithstanding) but that first night he did the honors while I pulled surprises out of the larder I’d brought. I’d spotted daylilies growing along the bank of Jacob’s Gut and I had my eyes peeled for young pokeberry plants, but I had also brought a great delicacy. Ramen Soup!

You may laugh, but back then, one had to go to an oriental grocery store to purchase Ramen Soup. It seems to me, in my memory, that the noodles were better then too - perhaps they were made with rice flour instead of wheat. Whatever the reason, they didn’t have that gummy taste that crept in once they became available in regular supermarkets. I won’t even eat the stuff now. But at the time, it was a tremendous treat. Water dipped up from the stream, the crackle of a wood fire, the sharp peppery taste of day lilies, and all the promise of living out a fantasy. It was an exciting first night for us.

In fact, it was so special, I believe the magic of that first thrilling evening, out under the leafy dark sky, was enough to carry us over all sorts of rocky ground, including the dreadful sloping tent site. Oh La, that was the worst sleeping we ever did. Our feet swelled, the ground was unimaginably hard, and of course, it was mosquito season, and this tent had no bug proofing. I can’t remember now if we got up before dawn to find a flatter tent site, or suffered through the whole night, but we had moved by the following night.

We also put up a little lean-to shed between 4 trees to keep our gear. Food was hung high or kept in tight shutting lard tins, purchased at the Champlain store. Clothing was pretty basic, some shorts, some shirts, I had one cotton knit dress - just in case. (That’s the Virgo in me. We really care about clothes.) It was all folded and stuffed inside the tent along with a battery powered am/fm radio and a flashlight. Carpentry tools went under the lean-to, as well as cooking utensils and very minimal dinnerware. Two log sections eventually became seats. And that was our happy home. Almost like the Laura Books.

One thing that drew me so strongly to the Laura Books was the fascination I have for the domestic arts; in particular, fiber and food. Those books are rife with exquisite detail about cooking, housekeeping, sewing, knitting, and managing a home on no money at all. Mind, now, I can get tired of cleaning a dirty house - or just not see that it’s gotten dirty, and I don’t like being broke, but I’m fascinated with the knowledge needed to do these things - always have been, and learned most of them early.

But the female skills weren’t enough to make this venture possible. The more manly skills of the woodsman, the carpenter, the hunter were also essential. I already knew BD could wield hammer and saw, and besides, all the Haile men are engineers, even the fey poet types who won’t admit they are math guys. And it was early enough in my marriage for me to believe there really wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. Take hammer and saw and build me a house? Well, of course he could.

But now I think about it, I am amazed at what I took for granted he could do. He not only built the yurt (“But a circle is the most floor space you can get using the least amount of materials” - I mean, is that an engineer talking or not?), but also the house we live in now. There are many other lovely things aroud this place that are his little blossoms - not the least of which were the poems he wrote and then clipped to trees and plants for my last two garden parties. And he continues to scatter these lovely things about.

Did I feel this about him when we first met? That he had these essential skills that would fulfill my secret most unspoken hidden dream? These matching gifts that would make it possible? Did little things he said on that first date clue my subconscious in on this key to fulfillment? Maybe.

Maybe I’ve just been one hell of a lucky girl.

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