It is September and it is still hot, not as hot as August was but certainly warmer than it is comfortable being when you are out in the garden chugging away. It was powerful quiet – and lonesome – with no one but Kerry and I about so I decided to keep the both of us busy and productive so we wouldn’t have time to dwell on the hours until Dino would be home.
Chester’s sons had already pulled the plants from the garden that were done. The compost piles were right good sized and full of the left over bushes and vines from the last of the beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. I still had a few baskets of cherry tomatoes hanging on the porch but the only corn left in the field was the field and dent varieties that Dino was letting dry on the stalks.
Normally it was Chester’s boys that helped me harvest any fresh produce from the gardens in the mornings and then again in the afternoon before they went home with their daddy, but while the men had off I’d need to do it myself. I pulled beets, cabbages, carrots, greens, and winter squash before heading to the orchard to get the apples and pears that Kerry and I reach to without the worry of broken limbs – those in the tree and our own. It took several trips to move it all back to the house but Dino had rigged me up a four-wheeled dune buggy type wagon that was easier for me to pull than the wheelbarrow had been to push. I carried everything down to the root cellar where I told it to sit until I was ready to deal with it.
Now I know some might think it passing strange to hear me talking to inanimate objects but I had picked up the habit from my great grandmother. Some of it was just because it was funny and made Kerry laugh but some of it was because it makes a body feel more in control by ordering things about like you got some authority or other.
With no equipment running, and the grape shed shut and locked up tight against mischief, Kerry and I let the male dogs and the puppies out and they were right pleased too. Kerry’s dog – he called the flaming thing Stinky which wasn’t far off the mark – had lost most of the silliness he’d had but that was probably from being lessoned a few times by the boss dog when he forgot his place in the pack. A couple of the younger dogs had found something to roll in and tried to get the boss dog to come take a sniff but he refused to budge. He kept eyeing a piece of land that sits between the far garden where the carrots were and a bend in the rows of grapes. That little piece was bottom land and tended to be swampy for days after the smallest rain. It was also where the worst mosquitoes bred.
I asked Dino why he didn’t just clean it out and he told me it would only make it worse. “The trees, shrubs, and grass in there help to soak up the water. Without that foliage the water just sits on the clay pan underneath the little bit of topsoil and gets nasty. The foliage also helps prevent the topsoil from blowing away during the dry season.”
It bothered me the way that dog kept bringing his attention back to that spot and would sniff the air ever so often. He never barked though, none of them did though as the day wore on the other dogs picked up the boss dog’s preoccupation with that spot.
For dinner Kerry and I just foraged and I mean that just like I said it. He’d been such a good boy all morning that I decided we’d go on a little hike. We didn’t go far from the house but we did get out of sight of it for a bit. Up and down the fence rows we went hunting up wild greens and fruit. I found a mulberry tree that was just completely loaded and filled a couple of buckets with those and set them in the wagon. Also picked a bunch of wild rose hips from the roses that climbed along the fence near the chicken coop. But the wild strawberries we found never made it any place except into our mouths. I don’t know which of us made a juicier mess, me or the Squirt. We ran across some huckleberries and ground cherries but we just about had a belly ache at that point so I picked them and brought them home in old freezer containers.
I found someone’s old allium patch – it ran so perfect it had to have been cultivated at some point – and snipped chives with my garden scissors and dug up enough garlic and Egyptian walking onions to placate even my desire for them. I do love me some garlic and onions but right now they aren’t loving me back too much so I have to go sparing with them. Did the same thing to the wild leeks and wild ginger when I ran across a patch of them.
Daylilies and Cattails grew in abundance in their respective environments but I wasn’t interested in harvesting either one of them that day though I did make note of the best looking spots so I could come back for them. Could have had all the sassafras I wanted too but knew that the tea from it was not supposed to be good for you when you are pregnant. I was hoping to see Mrs. Chamblerlin next time I was in town and ask her if the same thing held true for sasparilla as I was craving that and Rootbeer for some reason and I figured if Dino could make wine out of my vegetable patch that I could make me some soda out of things in the forest.
Saw some good sized patches of Sumac – not the white poisonous kind – but the seed heads were nowhere near dry enough to harvest but when they are I’m going to snip the ones that the birds don’t get to first. I ran out of sumac and have missed the tart flavor that is so much like lemonade. Saw some amaranth seed heads in the same condition and I mean to get them too.
I dug up a few mints I found to replant in the herb garden to replace the ones that have gotten woody and leggy from where they hadn’t been taken care of for a couple of years.
Found a slew of mayapples in a little moist patch in the woods and gathered every ripe one I found but I told Kerry if I ever found him messing with these plants I’d toast his tail. He got the point. I don’t often go so strict on him like that but another name for a mayapple is the American mandrake and you have to know what you are doing because the leaves and stems are poisonous and the root ain’t very healthy for you either.
Out of the trees and along another piece of overgrown fence line I found some maypops. The vines were so long that they had started to grow out into the old firebreak road we were following and up into the overhanging cedar trees. There were still lots of flowers and I showed Kerry why it was called the passion flower due to all its symbology of the Crucifixion. I got nostalgic for a moment remember how my cousins used to have contests to see who could make the loudest pop, the longest pop, and just about everything else you could think of before they would then start popping the fruit on each other. I was a girl so I didn’t get to join in their fun but I still got a laugh out of it, especially when grandmother would get onto them for wasting good fruit with their tomfoolery.
After I’d dug a bag full of chicory roots I noticed that Kerry was winding down and that we were out longer than I had intended to be. Pulling our bounty back to the house wore me out more than I expected which is the only excuse I have for not noticing right away that the dogs were pacing a bit and seemed … well not disturbed exactly but more watchful and the three adult dogs seemed a little tense.
I told myself that it was because they sensed that Dino wasn’t around and that they were taking their job as guard dogs serious. But just to be on the safe side I made a show of taking my pistol out and checking it over and aiming it before I put it back in my holster. I know it was likely a silly thing to do but it made me feel better, like whistling in the dark makes some other people feel better.
When I went out to the garden two of the dogs insisted on coming with me. They didn’t get underfoot but they didn’t make my job any easier either. I picked the first ripe pumpkins and watermelons and took the loads back to the house. I also was going to take a pitchfork and dig up the first hill of sweet potatoes but a good sized clap of thunder startled me out of my plans. Sure enough there was a line of clouds that were pitch dark and heading our way.
I put the young dogs into the kennel and their Mommas were glad to see them and started counting noses but the three adult dogs wouldn’t go in even when I tried to push them; it was like trying to herd cats. I didn’t know what Dino would say when he got home and found I couldn’t manage three normally easy-going canines but in the end, as the first hard drops came down, they ran with me up onto the porch and there they stayed.
“Why couldn’t Stinky come?” Kerry complained.
“Because Stinky has that name for a reason, that’s why. If you’d give him a bath regular like we agreed to then he could come in the house more.”
Kerry sighed at the seeming unfairness of life but he was so tuckered from our morning of chores and long afternoon walk that he was soon curled up on the cushioned bench I’d pushed into the corner of the breakfast nook and had gone to sleep. That left me free to start on supper and I made it a quick one of cooked wild greens, burkdock root patties, wild rice pilaf, and some loukaniko sausages Aunt Adona had sent over a couple of days previously.
I woke Kerry up to eat just as the rain started to come down even harder. He didn’t say much as he ate and when he was finished he asked through a yawn, “When’s Daddy comin’ home?”
“He’s probably running later than he wanted to because of the rain. I hope he is holed up some place nice and dry don’t you?”
Kerry was falling asleep in the middle of his nod so I got him up and put him to bed fully clothed except for his shoes. I figured it wouldn’t hurt for him to nap until Dino got home and went back downstairs and went to work since my day off was pretty much at an end.
It didn’t take long at all to get two pressure canners going with the vegetable produce and while they cooked, since I had to fire up the stove anyway, I fixed a few loaves of carrot bread. I also made two batches of carrot jam, one spicy one not and then sat down with a sigh. It was getting on toward evening and I knew the cow would need to be milked. I don’t mind milking at all but the milk cow Dino keeps is cranky and only likes one or two people to milk her and since neither of those two were me she was going to fuss.
It was still raining but rain don’t make any difference to a cow that wants to be milked. She was complaining something awful by the time I got to her and I apologized the whole while which didn’t mollify her any at all. She whacked me in the face twice with her nasty tail but the third time she tried it I tied her tail to the milking stand which pretty much hurt her feelings. I had her tail untied and was walking away with the milk pail when she took aim. I just missed getting kicked and it scared me enough that I just about cussed her. She only gave me them big ol’ cow eyes like she was just as sweet as can be and I knew I was being stupid; she was only a cow after all. That didn’t stop my heart from racing at the idea of the near mishap but at least it put it in perspective.
I hauled the milk back to the house and then down to the basement and when I came back up I was out of breath and hurting through my shoulders and behind my knees. I knew I needed to stop and put my feet up but the canning had to come off the stove, the bread out of the oven, I still hadn’t done anything with either the watermelons or the pumpkins, yet it was growing dark early and Dino still wasn’t home.
After I took the last jar out of the canners and had them on the counter and wrapped against any stray breeze until they could seal and cool I really did have to sit down. I had an awful stitch in my side. I know it is just where my muscles are getting stretched all out of whack by the mini-mule I’m carrying around inside me (or at least he kicks like one) but at the time it just added to my feelings that something wasn’t right.
I was tired and not feeling good. The rain had stopped but there was a lightning storm going on all around us in the distance. The resulting early dark was gloomy. And the way the dogs had taken to padding back and forth on the porch was just plain creepy. But Lord help me I was just so tired that no matter how hard I tried when I sat down at the table and laid my head down I just fell asleep.
Snarling and snapping out in the yard jerked me upright from sleep so fast I nearly had an accident when the baby stomped my bladder. I heard the awful squeal that I knew could only have come from one of the smaller hogs and I immediately thought another bear had come calling.
That thought didn’t hang around too long because for a fact bears don’t cuss … or at least not so’s a human can understand it and something out in the yard was cussing so hard I was surprised brimstone wasn’t falling.
I had already been halfway to Dino’s big caliber rifle … my little .22 wouldn’t do nothing but tick a bear off … but then changed to grabbing for the 12-guage and praying that the hog shot that the shotgun was loaded with would go at what I aimed it at and not at the dogs who sounded in a real fight with something.
I was moving faster than I’m writing this down for sure and in all the noise I got out the door without being noticed. Two of the dogs were tearing into a man and the boss dog was whooping up on a mangy looking dog twice his size but only half as fast and a quarter as smart. Boss dog had him by the snout and was shaking him so much it looked like he was wagging the tail of the larger dog. The hog noise was coming from a female hog I could just recognized from the heart shaped patch on her shoulder. A second man was trying to hold her down and I realized with horror he was trying to cut her without killing her first.
The first man finally got away from the dogs by shedding the jacket he had on and started running but not before he yelled to his partner to hurry up, they had company. That man jerked around and then came at me with his bloody knife.
I don’t know … I just don’t know what he planned to do. I don’t know if he knew what he planned to do. But God forgive me I pulled the trigger of the shotgun and whatever he had planned, knowing or not, would never happen. He fair flew backwards off the steps and squealed as bad as the hog still did for a moment from being gut shot before shock carried him off and silent.
The strangers’ dog stood no chance against three dogs and they mauled him pretty bad before taking off after the one that got away. I was shaking like a leaf when I come down off that porch. The hog was still gasping and grunting. The man had been hacking away at her one of her hams. It was horrible. She was bleeding out and would soon be dead but I couldn’t just let the poor thing lay there and in pain so I pulled out my .22 pistol and stuck it in her ear and pulled the trigger. She jumped and then with only a shiver was mercifully still.
The dog though badly mauled was getting up and I could see the bloodlust was still on him. My first shot only knocked him down but my next one gave him the mercy killing he would not have given me.
I jerked again when I heard one faint scream off in the distance and knew the dogs had found their prey. I was in a little bit of shock myself and when I heard the screen door squeak I jumped.
“Riss?” said a scared little boy.
“Go back inside Honey … right now. Do what I say.” I hurried up the steps as much as I could and then made sure his view of the yard was blocked. Turns out my big belly is good for something after all.
“Is Daddy home? I heard yelling and the dogs and …” He was shaking as much as I was and his little voice was an octave higher than it should have been.
“Come on Squirt. Nothing for you to worry about.”
Before I had to lie he asked, “Was it a aminal after the pigs again?”
I’d managed to break him of most his baby talk knowing that if he still had it when he went to school next year the other children would make his life of misery but when he was scared or very tired it still slipped out and right then he was both. “That’s it sweety. There was an animal.”
I tried to turn him back to the stairs but he stopped and looked at me and asked, “Can I sleep in your room til Daddy comes home?”
Oh those big dark eyes and long, dark eyelashes; he’s gonna drive the school girls squirrely. “All right but you have to go straight back to sleep.”
A huge, jaw popping yawn that nearly caused me one of my own and then he said, “Yes’m.” He was as good as his word. I’d no sooner got him undressed and pulled the sheet up over him than he was back to sleep.
But I still had miles to go before I could find that same release.