Wednesday, August 2, 2017

LATE SUMMER ON THE MOUNTAIN

SOYBEAN FIELD AND MOUNTAINS FROM COWAN, TN

A beetle resembling a roach upended, his feet in the heavy air, lies near part of a speckled moth wing — porch tokens, beside withering flowers. Driftwood fencing the herb garden has become drier. Crickets protest 80-degree temps, singing the same chorus. Empty yard chairs face the bleached fence slats. We’re all looking for invisible streams, a flowing landscape. Gulls fly over, bringing news of the coast where thunder rolls in, promising afternoon rain. Equable tempers ride the wind, the heavens busy making water for a disinherited earth. I look up and see a calendar written on the moon’s face; fall unfolding in a sky dark and drained of heat.

I wrote this a few days ago in the middle of a hot day, and then rain obliged us, bringing in a spell of cool air. The heavens also showered corn patches along the road to Cowan, Tennessee, and even flooded our struggling herb garden at the back door, which perked up the mint, rosemary, thyme, chives… Like amateur farmers, we seem to watch the weather more often than we did in Louisiana. I suppose it’s because we find so many fresh vegetables and fruit at markets on The Mountain and have eaten them aplenty this summer, especially corn and peaches, huge home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers. Many days we drive into the Valley just to look at and buy a few ears of corn and a carton of peaches at the vegetable and fruit market on the highway leading to Winchester. 

I sometimes long for the city so I can get a shot of “culture,” but I think more about the pastoral aspects of life on The Mountain than I did ten years ago. We pass a sign advertising a chicken farm for sale and tell friends we’re going to buy it, but the notion soon passes. Pulling weeds in the small herb garden by the back door is about as much farm activity as we can muster. And we’re sorta’ turned off when we read about the nine billion chickens that are killed each year in the U.S. The unfortunate poultry are raised in warehouses with 20,000 other chickens, and half of them are fed feed with arsenic in it because this concoction is reputed to foster growth. Some of us remember the spacious chicken yards of our grandparents where chickens roamed freely and weren’t fed anything to promote abnormal growth. Anyway, chicken farms? No way!

I do read and think about agriculture a lot; thus the interest in weather, I reread my favorite essayist, E.B. White, who divided his year between bustling New York City and a getaway place in Maine. His description of late summer is worth a few “words worth:” 

“Summer, languishing but not really sick, receives her visitors with a certain deliberateness -a pretty girl who knows she doesn’t need to stay in bed. The yellow squash illuminates the aging vine…and zinnias stand as firm and quiet as old valorous deeds…the farmer picks up the first pullet egg, a brown and perfect jewel in the grass; …[This is] the day a car stops and a man gets out and tacks up a poster advertising the county fair…” (from The New Yorker, September 3, 1949, p. 17.)

Last night we attended a dinner featuring “radical hospitality” in the cottage of summer interns at St.Mary’s Convent We met guests from different locales in the South, including Louisiana, a fund development director from Boston, and a physical therapist from Chicago, and during dinner, the thought occurred to me that we sometimes had no need to search out a shot of culture in nearby cities as it was right there at the table among congenial young people who had migrated to The Mountain and liked the good life here. 

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan

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