Sunday, March 22, 2015

Apple pie for breakfast

This morning I had apple pie for breakfast. In bed. With coffee. Somewhere around 11.

I made the pie using apples from a tree I'd found on the side of a backroad. It's drooping with fruit, so I took a shopping bag's worth, and made some shortcrust and custard, and there we were.

On my way through the forest to pick the apples, I discovered an entirely new view that I've never seen before. Nearly eight years in this place, and I'm still stumbling across new surprises.

The bottom line here—of this post, of this blog?

Enjoy your life. Make sure you do.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Of the earth

My refrigerator smells of the earth.

Despite what happens in our lives, the seasons roll on, and now's potato time. I spent today digging potatoes and baby Jerusalem artichokes in between trying to catch up on the things I'm endlessly putting off to make trips to the hospital.

I hadn't planted any potatoes or artichokes in the vegetable garden. They came up of their own accord. A gift from the soil itself.

A gift now graded for size and stacked in plastic bags in my fridge. Which smells exactly like a nighttime garden bed, opening its pores to the dew the darkness brings.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Strange country

When abroad
and in strange country
I wonder:

What of the men here?

I am from the hills—
know only mountain men—
and so I wonder:
What of a man whose gaze
stretches to a dim horizon
across grey paddocks
scar-cut by creeks?
Whose crop is sparse
beneath skies
calamitous with cloud?
Whose soil is dust
and whose nearest tree
is yet so very far?
He must squint,
the plainsman,
And grit his teeth
and curse the rains
—as thin as they must be.
For isn't it the black soil
that gives the mountain man
his smile?
The green clearings
that keep him
fed and strong?
The fuzzy forests, thick and damp,
that save him from winds,
and from worry?

If it is place that makes a man
then what of the men
in this strange country?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dear diary

Two journal entries, three days apart.

"[Name] and [Name] lost [their son] yesterday. I can’t write about that."

"[Name] in the hospital after ordeal. I can’t write about it. I can’t write it."

I mentioned earlier that I need to make sense to write. There's not enough sense to tell you about anything just yet.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How the weather works

This weekend I was invited to stay with some friends on the coast for a two-night birthday party.

But this is fire season, and when the invitation was extended I had no idea how dry it would be. So I committed to stay for the Saturday night only.

It's turned out to be a wet summer, though, and there were storms on Friday night. On Saturday I left the goats on gorse in the forest (without shelter, since it's too hard to get the house to the spot they're in), chickens and ducks in their runs, and two ducklings of different ages in the living room with heat, water, and food.

On Sunday we'd planned a birthday lunch at a cafe, but on Saturday night someone had mentioned it was supposed to get to 37 degrees in Melbourne. I quizzed the others, but I began to feel uncomfortable about all my weird questions, which, understandably, no one knew the answers to. We were on the coast! If it got hot, we'd get in the sea! Who cared about the change? It wouldn't get that hot down here anyway...

So on Sunday morning I borrowed the phone of a lucky soul who had mobile coverage and checked the Bureau of Meteorology. The forecast was for 34 degrees in my area, but 25 tomorrow. When would the change come through? Would it be wet or dry? Windy? Stormy? I tapped around until I found the right page. The change wouldn't come till late in the day. I could guarantee the goats would have kicked their water over already, and the newest duckling was under heat in the living room.

I left the beach house just before 11am, and got home to goats and a duckling without water, and another duckling melting in its brooder. No fires, though. And the car didn't overheat on the trip home, which was a bonus.

When you have livestock or a fire threat, the weather ceases to be a frivolity. It becomes a real, live entity that affects what you do—or don't. Peak temperatures matter, but so do wind speeds, humidity, and change conditions.

This is how the weather works.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting good

This week, I realised I'm actually objectively good at something: bread making.

I decided to try to make an orange brioche by adapting the recipe I have, which is excellent. The end product wasn't as orangey as I'd hoped, but it was good. The friends I shared it with loved it. And it was mine.

Often, it feels like everything I do out here is new, something I need to learn from scratch. I don't expect to be good at anything; I just need to solve problems from a functional perspective. Maybe in time I'll get better—I have with the chainsaw, the brushcutter, the drill, and so on. But basically nothing's ever perfect; usually it's barely passable.

So to have a loaf of bread transform before my eyes from "competently made" to "great" was a revelation. It made me wonder: what else am I good at, but haven't realised yet?

One thing I'd like to be good at is wine making. Not long ago I shared some of last year's rhubarb wine with friends who pointed out that it tasted like rhubarb (and like wine!) and looked exactly as the recipe book described. And today it dawned on me that perhaps I'm okay with the wine making. Maybe I am.

I hope so, because with the fruit situation being what it is this season, I started two wines on the weekend: apple on the right, and blackberry and elderberry on the left. The blackberries were last season's, and frozen. I'm sure that'll affect the flavour, but I thought I'd give it a go all the same.

I made another batch of rhubarb wine in December, so this time next year I should have three fruit wines to choose from.

I hope they're good ones.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Windows of opportunity

Yesterday, I walked over to a neighbour's place to borrow mustard seed to make chutney. My apple tree is in fruit, so each day I'm drying, bottling, freezing, or cooking up apples for things like condiments and desserts. This week, I plan to make apple wine.

I rounded the corner to see her own little orchard shrouded in nets. Ruby plums glowed beneath the leaves on this tree; that one had apples as big as softballs. Behind them, the spindly branches of a late nectarine were lined with fast-ripening fruit.

My first thought was, how will she preserve her haul?

Apples bottled with elderberry, apple chutney,
and dried apples from this season
Time has taught me that trees have rich years and lean years. In my area, this season has been great for pome and stone fruit, as well as berries. But my apple trees have been bare for the last two years: I haven't picked a single thing.

In the world of fruit growing, when it rains, it pours, and if you don't make ice, it all just goes down the drain.

As I went in the gate, she came out the front door. "Look at your trees!" I said as a kind of greeting. "What are you going to do with it all?"

She gazed at the orchard adoringly. "Haven't really thought about it," she replied, apparently dazed by the bounty. Until now, her preserving efforts have focused on vegetables. But the realisation that she hadn't planned anything for the fruit filled me with horror.

Good fruit seasons are a race against birds and rot. You want perfect fruits, perfectly ripe, which means the window of opportunity for preserving is very short, and involves a lot of work. I reflexively offered her my dehydrator, but she looked sort of vague and said "that could be good" in a noncommittal way. A wave of panic rose up in me as I realised she has no dehydrator, no bottling kit, no nothing! What would happen to all her fruit?! What was she thinking?!

This is what's become of me after seven and a half years in the country.