Thursday, June 18, 2015

One harvest ends, another about to start

About 85 or 90 pounds ago, maybe more, this green stuff started almost jumping out of the ground where the Connors or the Woods once had their dairy barn.  It's the plot where the late Hal Strickland  and his wife Frannie first planted asparagus about, I think 40 years ago. Maybe a little more.  They bought the farm for less than $200 an acre, and probably within a few years were growing prize-winning asparagus, at least in our minds.  Frannie hauled a bunch of it to Greensboro for years while it was coming up, and gave away, I'd guess, several thousand pounds of it over the years.  I know we carried a couple hundred pounds of it during its 8-10 week growing season during our working years.

But at a certain point you have to let the asparagus patch go.  After Hal died, we made the asparagus patch smaller and easier to maintain.  Or so we thought.  Still takes a lot of work to keep it weeded (we're behind) and whack back the encroaching foliage from the field (we're a bit ahead on that) and you still have to do everything else that goes with minding an asparagus patch, a sizeable blueberry patch and the vegetable garden down by the creek.  I don't see how the Stricklands managed to keep it all going in their advancing years, but one thing was obvious: they spent a lot of time and effort on it.  Just plain hard backbreaking work.

Last week, blessedly, we cut the last 14.8 ounces of asparagus and shared it with neighbors who were frying up some fresh-caught bream and bass from the pond.  Now it's in full fern, as you can see:

Over the winter, we dug up some blueberry bushes Hal had planted on an Eastern-facing slope years ago. They bore some berries, but not a lot, and Hal asked me to transplant them when I could.  But the time I got around to it, they were so large I needed an industrial-sized backhoe to dig 'em up.  So we pruned four of them to manageable size, dug up most of that, whacked them into smaller pieces and potted some for replanting (two will go to our niece in honor of her baby daughter, Fiona Grace) next year and put four or five into the big blueberry patch on a Western-facing slope.  To our utter astonishment, they all are still alive and  putting out foliage, and three of them have a few berries on them.

A couple days ago I noticed that one of the older, early bushes was blushing -- from green to pink and ruddy and running on toward that purplish sweetness that tells you in a couple more days there will be magic on the table again.  Here's a picture of the early berries, not far from being ready.  Well, okay, maybe a little longer than that. I'm an optimist when it comes to berries, and I'm looking forward to dressing up my morning Cheerios this summer, and my winter oatmeal come December, with a big pile of 'em. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Kenneth Grahame was on to something when he wrote these words in 1908: "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." Grahame was retired then, from the Bank of England, and writing down the stories he told his son about the River Thames. Some of them wound up in "The Wind in the Willows," and though it's a child's book, it still reflects the fascination some of us have with the watery side of the world.

I do most of my messing about in boats from a rocking chair these days, just like the ones that adorn the porches and decks and docks of hundreds of little places along the Intracoastal Waterway and the little bayside and creekside towns that dot the East Coast's tangle of rivers and sounds and ports and backwaters.

The view from the porch on Broad Creek, Deltaville VA

They most recently included a week with two other couples on a Deltaville porch deck looking over Broad
Creek in Virginia's Middlesex County. Morning coffee on the porch turned into afternoon drinks and daylong reading, all the time keeping an eye on the high-dollar sportsfishermen and the bright white workboats that rumbled and grumbled their way down the creek and out onto the wide Rappahannock, just a few miles above its junction with the Chesapeake Bay.  You can steam or sail anywhere in the aquatic world from Deltaville, of course, but we looked for the crabbers and the sloops and cutters and kayakers and boat-scopers who noodled and puttered back and forth every day on that quiet stretch of water.

Nearly six decades after Grahame wrote about boats,  Otis Redding and Steve Cropper captured the serenity of watching the water in "Sitting on the dock of the bay:"

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watchin' the tide roll away, 

I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time.

Well, not wasted in my book, anyway. The six of us plowed through I don't know now many books -- a dozen at least, while sitting on that porch, when we weren't off testing restaurants for crabcakes or oyster po'boy sandwiches or the next round of craft beers or small-batch bourbons.  And somehow we found time to mess about a couple of days in a fine, handsome Cape Dory 33 sloop our friends keep at a nearby marina, just a five-minute walk from our upstairs perch.

The wind was up in the high teens on one sail, which involved more hanging on and bracing for gusts into the 20's while thrashing up towards the iconic 1957 Robert Norris bridge over to Kilmarnock. A sail later in the week was calmer, jetting out into the Chesapeake on one long starboard tack and returning to the Broad Creek daymarkers on one long port tack on a rising wind.

In our sailing and motoring days we have seen the Intracoastal up close from Vero Beach to Oriental, and shorter stretches of the more northerly sections.  We have also spent a good deal of productive time sitting on docks in river towns like Beaufort and Beaufort -- distinctly different places that provide spectacular views of the riverine and inlet worlds -- and quiet places like Pecan Grove Marina just off Shop Gut near Oriental, where we recovered from a white squall on the lower Neuse, and the old River Forest Marina just off the waterway in Belhaven.  So we're adding Deltaville to our list of grand places to sit and watch 'em roll in, and watch 'em roll away again. Wasting time, you know, is easy, but knowing where to do it -- that's the key.