Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things We Count On

It's spring, and the signs are everywhere. A single crow has taken up honking lessons and is sitting at the tippy top of a fir, where he practices from ten in the morning until dusk. Gaannngkh. Gaannngkh. Gaannngkh. It's one beep every ten seconds, give or take, and will go on for about a month. Dave is occupying himself outdoors on some sort of project for us or for a neighbor, and in another hour he will suddenly drop his tools and go stand under the fir and yell hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Or sooner, if the project is not going well. The entire local biosphere is responding predictably to the rhythm of the ages. Down on Alberta Street, Gimme A Quarter Guy will have set up between the Mexican restaurants for the afternoon. GQ is an immense man with a menacing expression who tends to unsettle newcomers. He stands on the sidewalk and whenever anyone passes by he growls gimme a quarter, going off like a proximity car alarm. You can usually count on him being right there but once when we were driving we saw him several blocks away outside a Walgreen's. We saw his mouth drop open when a small elderly gentleman walked by and the old man spooked like a horse in a thunderstorm and emptied all his pockets before hurrying on down the sidewalk. Even from inside the car we knew what GQ had said, and he never says thank you. Someone has tried to sweeten him up of late and now when he says gimme a quarter and we reply, sorry, I don't have a quarter, he says oh, sorry. He'll get a buck next time.

Birds are coming back, the ones that wintered somewhere else. Many critters move around, the same way people summer in the Hamptons and winter in Florida. That's the usual seasonal cadence, but here we have ants that are probably nearby all year, but spring in our kitchen. They just want to get out from under all the wet, and our kitchen is a favored resort. We see their little brochures on the countertops, and the tours of the sugar drawer are always booked up. Natives are known for finding tourists irritating, and we're no exception, but the ants are not put off. They keep coming and coming, thick as Germans on the Riviera.

Tax day has come and gone and that means that the newer gardeners are going to be coming home with big tomato plants any time now. We're officially past our last-freeze date, although some winters, like this one, it never really even got that low. So they'll be unloading plants out of their hatchbacks and fluffing up the soil and tucking them in, and for the next month and a half we'll see them going out and bending over them, fists on their hips, and walking back inside, increasingly morose. By Memorial Day, when we will be planting our own tomatoes, our neighbors' tomatoes will be exactly the same size they are now, only a little more dejected-looking. Ours will take right off with a bit of warmer weather, and we will have our annual bump of smugness for a week or so, but every one of us will tend those vines until October, when we'll be Googling green tomato recipes. It's a sweet exercise in optimism and speaks well of us here. We're like little horticultural Cubs fans.

We cherish these hallmarks of every season and anchor our lives to them. They help us to imagine that things will always be the same and our own time will never end. Very soon we will be getting into election season and someone will produce a sign with a red, white, and blue motif suggestive of a flag, and the sign will have someone's name on it and the words "THE TIME IS NOW." Which will be true, and may be the last thing we can agree on.

42 comments:

  1. Election season can make me wish time would end and I live thousands of miles away!

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    1. I am ashamed to say I'm not sure if I missed our local election while I was out birding in WV, or if it's next week. In either case, I don't know who I'm voting for. But because this is Portland and not [insert any other location here], it's because they're all good.

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    2. If you do get a chance, please vote for the library levy, dear! It's not too late.

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    3. Done. Got a mayoral candidate you recommend?

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  2. I'm even farther north than you are and I see the same optimism with tomatoes every year. And they just find better ways to use the green tomatoes. Happens every fall, but you know maybe this year, since it's the Last One... :-)

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  3. And here, in England, the locals look skyward and ask each other when the sun will shine...and mutter that this is the worst,wettest,coldest April they can remember.
    Me? I'm revelling in blackbirds, robins, squirrels.

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    1. Why did I think you were in Australia? Your accent?

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  4. It snowed in Calgary on Saturday. It will undoubtedly snow at least once more, probably on or just after the May long weekend (this is tradition). But we still harbour tomato hopes. We also harbour a small greenhouse in our back yard with two 1500-watt heaters in it. We're nuts, but we're not stupid. Nothing, NOTHING, kills the tomato dream. :-)

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    1. Not even reality can kill the tomato dream!

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  5. I live in the south, so spring is long gone here. We're into summer, even though a lot of winter felt like summer this year....
    The ants have been back though....the cat is fascinated by them since he is an indoor cat and doesn't have anything else live to hunt.

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    1. That is a very good cat. Ours also has phantoms to hunt.

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  6. Our neighborhood is alive with growth and color, but I wouldn't dare tempt fate by planting something.

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    1. Plant one foot in front of the other and go enjoy your growth and color.

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  7. Another sign of spring is young women agreeing on a new area of flesh to expose, and young men getting stiff necks from snapping their heads around to observe. This year, kidneys are out, short shorts with 6 inch platform heels are in.

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    1. I always loved that look. I've been noticing the super-cutoff jeans lately. Makes me nostalgic for the early '70s. I wonder if this means the layering of Ts that draw a line around the largest circumference of the butt is out. I once had some five-inch heels but it was never a good idea for a tippable person.

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  8. You and I have the same tomato strategy. I refuse to be tempted by all the starts at the market right now.

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    1. Memorial Day. That's the earliest.

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    2. Here in Louisville the rule is: in by Derby, tomatoes by Fourth of July. But we had such a warm winter that we broke all rules & planted 'em mid-April. I gotta say, they're looking pretty healthy so far...so we shall see. Course, it's a LOT hotter & more humid here than in lovely mild Portland.

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    3. Yurggh. I guess I'll settle for iffy tomatoes. Hi honey!

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  9. Hee! "Like little horticultural Cubs fans!"

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    1. I was going to say "Red Sox fans" because that's my team, but they've had some recent successes that contaminated the purity of our despair.

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  10. It's been more like summer weather conditions over here, but I'm not complaining. My mother is a big gardener, and I just love her Jersey Tomatoes!

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    1. How big is your mother? And her tomatoes?

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  11. Murr, if you are watching Dave out in the yard, I I assume you actually made it home from West Virginie and are no longer living in the hotel's airport shuttle. Did Linda make it in time for her next-day flight?

    I love reading your blog and seeing your real live face in my mind's eye!

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    1. Oh, I loaded all this up well before I left, thank goodness. Is this Sharon? Linda BARELY made it home Monday, and I got home Tuesday. Glad I didn't have to put in a blog post.

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    2. Yep, Sharon here. Yikes, Tuesday! I got home Monday but just before midnight - we landed just before the SJC airport curfew would have made us divert to SFO. Tired, and tired of airplanes & airports doesn't begin to cover it.
      I told that nice young shuttle driver how to find your blog, saying it was over-the-top funny. He replied that you were over-the-top funny in person so he was definitely going to find you on line.

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    3. At this point I think the shuttle drivers and ticket agents and I are on a kidney-donating basis.

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  12. Our season is upside down at the moment. We should be well into Autumn (fall) and every so often for a day the temperatures drop and a lazy wind pierces people foolish enough to go outside. And then we get days like today. Positively balmy. And worse. There are snowdrops and jonquils out in the garden when I haven't finished planting their relatives for next springs display. I am confused.
    I would however much rather rely on unpredictable weather than on election promises.

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    1. Of course you're confused. You're upside down.

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  13. South central Ontario reporting in: May 24th Victoria Day weekend for tomato planting. Lots of green tomato relish recipes up this way. My backup plan is the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. Gosh knows where they get the red ones from but they don't taste like red golf balls, so it's somewhere with sun.

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    1. I know. The only thing you buy tomatoes for in the winter is salad color, and it's cheaper to substitute pieces of construction paper.

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  14. We have at least 150 tomato plants out in the garden which Tanya has to water every second day because we have no rain. The Colorado Potato Beetles ate many of the first bunch she set out but sprayer in hand she is fighting back and set out a bunch more. They do not yield here like they do in Saskatchewan hence so many plants which I don't understand.

    The tomatoes I ogle are more flesh toned. I love warm weather here as necklines and hemlines keep threatening to meet in the middle. If only I could remember why I look.

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  15. It doesn't seem right that you should have beetles all the way from Colorado way over there. And they must not yield well because when things are hot three plants will deliver more tomatoes than I can handle. Not that other kind of tomato.

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  16. Last freeze date here is June 11, but our greenhouse is putting out some salad already. The warblers and hummingbirds are just starting to come back and there's no snow in the forecast!

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    1. I think our last freeze date was last night. Ruh-roh.

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  17. I had pretty much the same strategy but now after 45 years of weeding a veggie garden I've retired. We intend to stimulate the national economy this summer by patronizing the local farmers markets. You can beat locally grown...:)

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  18. I feel better about the economy already.

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  19. Well, pooh. No wonder the leaves on my potatoes are all curled and black. It must've nipped them last night. I turn around for a second and here comes the snotty weather or the (&^%$##% deer. I'm still waiting for summer.

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    1. At least the deer are more attractive, in some ways, than the nematodes.

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  20. No tomatoes here. Too much shade, not enough sun, snow in June not impossible.
    But I put in lettuce. Three lots of it. The first sprouted, and the birds ate them. The second lot sprouted and the birds were gone, so the slugs ate them. The third lot is sprouting, and I've murdered the slugs, so we'll see.

    Do squirrels eat lettuce?

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    1. Squirrels garnish their electrical-wiring meals with lettuce, yes.

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