Archive for March, 2010

Spring Garden

A soft spring day here on the Mendocino Coast, a perfect day for planting my vegetable garden. Every year this exercise is a triumph of hope against the reality of cutworms, earwigs, slugs,  snails, and the voles that have figured out how to scramble up the sides of my raised beds and lay waste to the crops.

As I hoe and rake weeds and sticks from the rough compost I spread several weeks ago, pictures come into my mind. My mother raking off hoed weeks with the same light touch I am using now. My father filling a deep trench with lawn clippings to make a hot bed for his asparagus. My grandmother bending to pick a harvest of chard. It pleases me to see myself in a line of people who grow their own vegetables.

The snow peas I planted earlier in the season are taking off, but there are gaps in the row where a bird–a robin, I suspect–nipped off the suculent new shoots. I pull out the seed packet and push more seeds into the spaces.

In another bed, garlic is about six inches tall. Nearby is a potato sprouted from one missed last year. I might as well add a few more from the pantry to keep it company: organic Russian Fingerlings, already nicely sprouted. I expect my grandchildren will have fun digging through the earth for the harvest this summer.

Another favorite harvest for kids is carrots. I like to grow a half-long variety. Next to them a row of shallots, since I read somewhere that carrots and onions like to grow together. Kale: I’m trying a mild elephant kale this year. A lettuce mix, of course, and chard, a colorful variety called Neon Lights that does well in this climate. A few fava beans left over from last year.  Against the wall of the potting shed, some pole beans, a French variety. It’s a more sheltered spot than where I tried them before, unsuccessfully. But I’m willing to gamble: if mildew doesn’t get them, the voles probably will. And if neither of these things happen, we’ll have elegant beans.

I’ve left a fallow corner in one of the beds. Maybe I’ll buy a tomato start and plant it there. Maybe not. Tomatoes are problematic here; the summers are too cool and foggy. I’ll decide another day. Meanwhile, a hot shower and that pleasant tiredness of a day well spent.

In Memoriam: Hillary the Cat

Our good tabby-cat Hillary died this week, at the ripe old age of twenty. The house feels strangely empty. We miss his quiet, gentlemanly presence. He was a devoted friend, especially to my husband Tony. Evenings he would lie in Tony’s arms, paw stretched out to touch his chest, like a baby.

When he was younger, the two of them would sometimes take a walk together around our meadow. Hillary would bounce back, tail fluffed, excited at having ventured into this scary place so close to the forest.

The two of them also had a daily ritual. Until he was too frail to go outdoors, Hillary would walk to the mailbox with Tony every morning to collect the newspaper. I loved to stand at the window and watch. Tail aloft like a slender questionmark, he would stroll at Tony’s side  to a point about halfway down the drive, where he would wait, invisible to any passing dog. On their way back to the house his pace quickened; once inside he knew he would receive a kitty treat.

From the moment he curled into the palm of my hand as a tiny kitten, I knew he was a mellow cat. Mellow he remained, right up to the end. We buried him in the orchard, where the white petals of plum blossom will fall on his grave.