A Burst of Fruit Flies

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The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.

Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
 
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
 
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.
~Karina Borowicz  “September Tomatoes”
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I have an uncomfortable relationship with fruit flies this time of year. The compost bin erupts with a black cloud of fruit flies when I throw in the day’s cast offs. The fruit I bring in from the orchard and garden must be preserved before it rots, but hundreds of Drosophila melanogaster decide their breeding grounds are far more hospitable in a warm kitchen than in the chilly outdoors.  And breed they do, each female laying up to 100 eggs a day just like in biology lab at Stanford 40+ years ago where we traced recessive vs. dominant genetic traits of curly deformed wings, stubby bristles and colored eyes. I am not interested in such subtlety in my current crop of flies.  In fact I have no sympathy for them at all.
I have laid out killing fields everywhere on the cupboards — fruit fly traps (paper cones feeding into apple cider vinegar baths in water glasses), a cautionary tale to the daily burden of fresh fruit flies.

It feels so cruel.

As rot and degradation is their happy place, the flies will win until the fruit is harvested, preserved and put away for a winter day.  Then the kitchen becomes my happy place again, fly-free with no more killing fields.
Then I must face the cruel task of pulling up carefully tended garden plants to ready the beds for winter.  Perhaps if I remember to sing as I pull them out by the roots, they won’t see me weep.
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Making Hay and Raising Tomatoes

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it.

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Other than a few exceptional circumstances in my life, I have always played it safe: a down-home, don’t rock the boat, work hard and live-a-quiet-life kind of person. My grandparents lived that way, my parents lived that way so I feel like it is bound in the twists and turns of my DNA.

Even so, I do know a thing or two about sulking on the edge of rage, lost in a morass of seething bitterness about the state of the world.  Yet if I were honest about it, my discontent is all about me, always about me. I fail to measure up.

But then that is the rub: I can never deserve unmerited grace.  It is pure Gift, borne out of radical sacrifice.

And because of that Gift, I can live a life of radical gratitude, even if a little quietly.

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When “Eating Local” Means the Backyard

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Taking stock of what is  on the dinner table, I realize it almost all originated on our farm, from start to finish.  This surely doesn’t happen every night but when it does, it is cause to celebrate.  As good as farm raised food is, it is the antithesis of “fast” food; this is very very “slow” food when one considers the long process of getting it to the table.

Thanks to our family’s hard work over the years,  we have eaten home raised chicken and beef, potatoes from the potato patch, corn,  tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, salad greens and carrots from the garden, applesauce made from the windfalls of a Gravenstein tree, and sweet juicy plums for dessert.  Even the filbert nuts are drying and getting ready to eat for a night time snack along with the sweet dessert grapes from the arbor. The wild blackberries are hanging thick now and begging to be picked for cobbler tomorrow.   It can start sounding all Martha Stewart-y except the reality is far less glamorous and romantic than she portrays in her glossy magazines.  I’m not sure how many chickens she’s butchered and plucked at home.   She doesn’t look like someone who digs into manure piles for the most composted stuff to dress her artichoke plants.  I’ll bet she doesn’t milk her own goats either.   But I know she carves her own pumpkins and they are much more artistic than anything I could ever create from the monstrosities I have growing up the hill.

The “Eat Local” campaign happening all over the country is meant to decrease the distance food must travel to our tables, to prevent spending resources sometimes far greater than what the food took to grow to begin with.  Eating fresh grapes from Chile or apples from New Zealand in the middle of winter is amazing when you really think about it, but they don’t give us nearly the same satisfaction as the raisins and dried fruit we have made from our own arbor and orchard.  Hot house tomatoes from Holland just don’t measure up to the sun dried tomato slices we’ve preserved in the freezer. Our farm critters have not had to leave the farm; they were less stressed and so are we.

Not everyone has the space or climate to raise fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and milk for their own consumption, so I realize we are truly blessed to steward this patch of earth. Support for the local growers and farmers’ markets brings healthy affordable foods to the table.  Maybe there are a few more blemishes and a little less polish, but the flavor is exquisite and the source is known rather than mysterious.

Celebrate the “slow” food that good farmers are growing right around the corner, and perhaps, in your own backyard.  It is well worth the wait.