Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still here!

Our youngest son, Eli, recently turned ten.
Greetings and salutations to everyone here in the pantry! I just wanted to chime in, briefly, during a very busy season to say that I'm still here but not so much on the computer these days. Our daughter visited for two lovely weeks this month, between resort seasons, and we've been doing our first cut of hay on many acres (and our first time doing our own hay). I've realized it is not only a busy and complicated process, especially around the weather, but I'm often getting a hearty noon meal for a hungry group of men––and supper, too. And the laundry: don't get me started! [But it is so worth it just to see both of our boys driving around farm equipment and moving large round bales across our fields like seasoned farmers! What better way to spend their long summer vacation which started in mid-May?] As for our house, well, let's just say it needs a major fix of something. [And the power head on our vacuum is broken...truly, it is!]

Picnics on the west porch at Ida's
are de rigueur this summer.
Fortunately, I've been able to cater farm meals out of the kitchen in the house that we've decided to fix up to live in––across the road from us at Ida's farm. This has been a blessing to me this summer: the more commodious kitchen, the wide west porch outfitted with our old and sturdy picnic table (from my great-grandmother's picnics of long ago––in fact, it had not even been used since Ohio barbecue days in the backyard). We will retrofit the house this fall and winter to my hatching plans: simple but workable.

Our daugher Addie with her Momma.
While our daughter was staying there, and as we used it to cater our second "frolic" (for a hay shed-raising), it has provided me with a major architectural epiphany. There is also a great feeling to the place and that aura––as well as the cooling breezes even on the hottest days (the house actually stays quite cool on its own)––is important to me and to all of us. I also like to be at the center of things at the farm rather than cooped up in this bread box of a doublewide in the woods across the street. I know Ida would approve of this plan.

Local Kentucky strawberries are so worth waiting for each spring.
Henry, 12 1/2, has become an expert tractor driver and young man-about-the-farm.

My husband Temple–out standing in his field.
I've also been rethinking blog life in general. I do want to continue "In the Pantry," and will, but I'm also developing another blog at this time that will be more current with my life now––even though pantries and food and family and home are always a part of this great life. Stay tuned for more on this and an official launch date sometime this summer. In the meantime, I am writing and working on some new projects and I do find that blogging and writing for publication can not always intermingle effectively at the same time.

I owe all of you a glimpse into pantry essay winner Carolyn MacDonald's pantry, and will post her photographs very soon.

In the meantime, have a great Memorial Day weekend and enjoy the official start of summer ~

My very best always,


PS I also have a lot of new chickens, too. Will share photos soon of the new brood...and "the frolic" and oh so many things.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"The quality of mercy is not strained..."

South Fork Creek Road on Monday morning, after the historic flood of May 2nd.
When we saw the road on Sunday evening, at almost peak, it was impassable
and the water had risen to the top of the signs at right.

In my freshman year of high school, one of my best teachers along the way, Anne Sirois Pelletier had us memorize Portia's courtroom speech in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

It begins:
"The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest–
It blesseth him that gives
and him that takes."
I thought of this passage over the weekend as we got record-breaking rain in many parts of the South. I'd been praying for some rain for weeks–selfishly because of the awful tree pollen this year but also for all farmers and gardeners who rely on the rain to make things lush or to fill water tables. The irony is, of course, that in Shakespearean English "strained" actually means forced–so mercy, according to Portia, should not be so. It should be gentle and for all, no matter whom. However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The good rain, like the bad preacher, does not know when to leave off." [Yet Mark Twain also noted, "Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt any body."]

We were blessed to get the rain we needed on our ridge and that it didn't destroy anything, except to carve a few unwanted channels in newly seeded areas. [And I did discover, just today because I happened to be listening to a local radio station, that the roads on our ridge are on a boil order–no idea why and it would have been nice if they'd called us!] Other parts of the region were not so fortunate. The Highway 127 bypass around Liberty was flooded from Green River (it is located on a flood plain but no one has seen this kind of flooding in years) and many businesses were affected. Historic Penn's Store, which I have often visited and blogged about, located in northern Casey County, has also announced that due to flooding, they will be closed indefinitely. There were only a few flood-related deaths in the state but many homes and bridges were damaged or destroyed in low-lying areas.

On Sunday night we drove down to our creek farm. It is only a mile away but the passage from our home on this ridge can be treacherous even in good weather. So we went the nine or so miles around over to the next ridge and down, with occasional moments along the way of crossing water on the roads, even on high ground. I have never seen our creek so fast and furious. We could barely speak over the rushing water and the entire creek bed was full of it, some twenty five feet across and easily five feet high in places, with still higher rapids. Where the branch ran into the larger creek–and where we can normally cross the ford in drier weather and lower water–there was another rush of broiling, angry murk. Filled with sticks and logs and other debris, it was not safe to near it and yet, as at the side of Niagara Falls where it goes "over the drink," as my father used to say, there is this strange pull towards its sheer force and powerful beauty.

Not long after we arrived, with my husband and sons further down the bank, I watched as a good-sized black walnut tree dislodged itself from the banking. It was as if a giant had just pushed it out, as we humans might pull a willing weed. It was soon heading downstream and I hollered at them to watch out. By the time it rounded the bend at the ford and joined the larger creek, it had been stripped of all of its limbs. It all seemed to happen slowly and deliberately, as if in a dream.

Next we headed back up the ridge and over to South Fork Creek–or what we like to call the Mennonite valley–to see what was happening there and to check on some friends. We entered the back way on higher ground and soon realized as we came down into the creek area, near several stores like Sunny Valley, that we would not be able to pass. The water had flooded the banks into the fields and over the roads in many places, some two or three feet. When we came down a hill towards another state road we looked out towards Highway 127, about seven miles south of Liberty. All of the pastures in the Green River valley were an ocean of brown water with small islands of trees here and there. I'd never seen anything like this before except in a disaster movie.

We met people we knew on the road and many friends, out looking like we were, and learned that school would be canceled in the county the next day. We were certain that the boys' school would be, also, as there would be few, if any, ways to reach it on the ridge where it is located above South Fork Creek. We also learned that the Highway 127 bypass near downtown Liberty, the Casey County seat, had been closed because of excessive flooding of the businesses and residences along the way. As it began to get dark, and with fewer options home, we headed back over high ground to our farm on the other side of the Casey County line.

Two empty oil tanks floated up from beneath the pavement on Hwy 127.
We frequent many businesses in this section of town and 80% were affected.
The volleyball nets in Gateway Park in Liberty captured river debris as it passed–but the force of water was not strong enough to move the Army tank.

For some reason, I forgot to bring my camera the night of the flooding. I'm realizing it is OK to experience life without one sometimes, but this would have been one of those occasions, and unfortunate historic events, where it might have been a good idea. The next morning we did go out again, to a glorious sunny day, and saw that the flood had receded but the damage was done. Maybe this is what Noah and the people and animals on his ark may have felt after the flood as they watched the blue skies and white clouds and perhaps felt the sorrow of an Earth changed but cleansed.

One of our sons asked, "Where did all that water go?" Where, indeed. It is my understanding that the area's rich and abundant bottom lands and quiet hollers were once the bottom of an ocean. The salt water receded and fresh water from the eventual glacier melts carved the long-fingered ridges that form our knob region. It was not hard to see on Sunday night how water carved these hills and creeks and ridges and occasional palisades that form south-central Kentucky's beautiful and rugged landscape. By Monday morning, less than twelve hours after their height, the waters had receded again back into the Earth.

Our creek in quieter times–note the Great Blue Heron on the little island.

There is a passage in the novel A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean that describes the interconnectedness that we share with water. We humans are mostly water, of course, and we need it to function and to live, like all life forms. But there are times that we need its mercy, too.
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

I have a new respect for the power of water and how it can be a mere drop, or a gentle rain or a raging torrent from the heavens. It is an element, like all of the others, that must be respected. And I now better understand an oft said Appalachian expression, "The good Lord willing, and the creek don't rise."
+   +   +

Last Friday we attended the local Mennonite community's first Haitian Relief Auction. It was a pleasure to buy a locally-made picnic table and benches, a much-needed garden cart, some new baking dishes, as well as delicious barbecued chicken dinners, fruits, vegetables, pie and other baked goods and to know that 100% of our money will go to Haiti through Christian Aid Ministries. I was disappointed that more in the local community did not attend beyond the local Mennonites and Amish, who also came from other states to be there and bid on items they could easily have made themselves (many fine quilts, for example). But it was the first such auction held by the local Mennonite community, it was held on a Friday and next year will be on Saturday, April 30th. I'm sure there will be more people attending next year.

Sometimes misfortune hits closer to home, too, as in a flood of this kind of proportion and devastation. In the coming months there will no doubt be more relief efforts for local families and businesses in need. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered from the devastation of the flood waters. Many of those affected live below the poverty line and have no insurance. If you would like to help those in Casey County who have been hard hit–both residents and businesses alike–you can give through a fund set up through the Liberty-Casey County Chamber of Commerce. For more news and photos on the flooding and its aftermath, you can follow coverage at The Casey County News.
Also, If you buy a copy of The Pantry this month, I will happily sell it to you for a reduced rate of $12, including postage, and donate $5 from every book sold to the Liberty and Casey County Disaster Relief. Email me at and I will bill you directly via PayPal or you may send me a check. If you've already ordered a copy of The Pantry since May 1st, I will also donate $5 from each copy sold. 
Please spread the word! I will sign and send your book to you or your mother, a teacher, sister, friend, or anyone who loves pantries and old kitchens and the security and comfort that they provide.
Thank you ~