contrasts

Friday, July 19:

      The wedding of the year is now a marriage for a lifetime.  We were only back home two days before some of us were called away to see a sick relative, with whom we stayed for a week.  The contingent left at home had an average age of twelve; their days consisted of necessary chores, stitched together by meals prepared by the little girls and studded here and there with judicious frivolity:  a hot afternoon spent tubing in a local stream and ending with ice cream; a long evening on a friend’s farm, toasting marshmallows and foregathering with visitors from the West coast.  The necessary work got done, even to catching a heifer in heat and getting her bred.  This life teaches self-sufficiency at a young age.

   In heat like this we soak two changes of clothes most days.  Going out in the morning to look for a missing  three-day old heifer calf, we spend an hour trudging over pasture waist-high in orchard grass, timothy and clover, tearing through high blackberry canes and pushing through spiderwebs strung from tree to tree in the surrounding woods, only to find her at last exactly where we all knew she ought to be, just yards from the dairy cows’ paddock in the tank pasture.  Knew she ought to be, but couldn’t find her, although we had looked just where she was lying.  Calves, like fawns, know to lie perfectly still when resting, and until she moved she looked just like the earth beneath her and the sun-browned grass all around her.  When she grew hungry she moved, and there she was.  A shout brought in the searchers, five in all, not counting the little boy on the pony, who had only come along with us to test a new pair of boots and spurs.

   An hour had soaked us all with sweat, so we detoured on our way home, climbing down the steep roadside behind the hermitage to an old spring house, falling into ruin now, but with the cool sound of tinkling water coming from somewhere inside and a clear stream flowing from under the foundation.  A pipe that once had delivered water into an old white clawfooted bathtub still extended from the brick wall, and from this flowed air deliciously cool.  We stood for a while waist-deep in raspberry cane and nettles with the sun glancing down through a high ceiling of leaves, considering the flow, debating its suitability for improvement with a water ram.  Dearly would we love continuously running water in the pastures above, water moving at a sufficient rate to defy all but the hardest frosts: even in this tropical heat we look forward to winter with a preparatory eye.  Eventually we left our speculation to return to the planned work of the day which had been set back by our calf-hunting, cooled by the break, the spring water, the forest shade.

   The experimental barley patch in the big monastery garden has so far taught us two things at least: one is to do our own research, as barley takes longer to reach maturity than our one source told us, and this patch which was supposed to be freed up in June is only just now ready for harvest; the other is that if you sow your grain thinly, weeds fill up the gaps.  Saturday we’ll get it mowed and shocked (we hope) and disk that land for fodder beets, young corn and pintos to garden feed our fall piglets.  Frost may come before the corn can make ears, but the plants themselves are valuable animal food – so say our sources, at any rate – and we are accustomed to learning by doing.  Failures, like manure, can be fertile things.

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