With recent heat waves, our lemon tree is dropping fruit faster than I’m ready for it. I’ve given some away, and I’ve found use for the rest, but some days the bounty is overwhelming. That said, it’s so satisfying to know that you’ve provided the tree what it needs: good organic fertilizer, water and an environment to encourage bees and pollination. In return, you get “free food.”
While not entirely free, I love growing edibles because you walk outside and occasionally there’s a surprise. Without going to the grocery store or the farmer’s market, there is food hanging there for the taking or lying beneath the soil for your eating pleasure. While some people say that it tastes better than the stuff you buy at the store, I think the satisfaction in knowing that your own trees and plants produced it enhances the flavor.
If you haven’t grown your own food, you don’t know the unexpected thrill of rounding a corner and seeing a ripened morsel to be picked. In the case of our lemons, they drop and roll to a stop in some unlikely places. I find them behind plants, in empty planters, or resting with the newly transplanted tomatoes. It makes me wish I had chickens so that I could discover eggs in unlikely places.
My grandparents had a farm until I was ten, and when I first started visiting on my own, I joined them for morning and evening chores. I remember so vividly walking around the place with Granny hunting for eggs.
While there was a large henhouse, the occasional independent-minded bird would build a nest in the open garage, the old milk house or wherever there was an appealing piece of real estate away from the flock.
There was a rooster, which meant the occasional fertilized eggs and resulting chicks. Granny knew which eggs to gather and which ones to leave. While she provided the birds with feed, they roamed freely all day every day until they were secured from predators at night. Out of her view, we loved chasing those chickens, but if they raised a fuss, she’d poke her head out the door and tell us to stop. When I stayed with them on my own, I didn’t chase chickens lest she realize I was one of the main chasers.
While the main henhouse was cleaned regularly, it was still a henhouse and full of everything one would imagine to be left behind by chickens that can’t clean up after themselves. On my first weeklong visit alone, I was spared most of the rural realities, only to return the next summer with my sister and two cousins and discover certain truths.
Karen and I went to stay while our parents were off celebrating their wedding anniversary, and Brant and Jill had been staying with Granny and Pappy because theirs weren’t.
I was excited to jump back into the routine of those amazing breakfasts, followed by activities like making butter, baking bread or doing something outside where it was believed kids should be. After our 5:00 dessert supper, we helped with evening chores, and as a veteran egg gatherer, I was delighted to show off my skills.
We were provided an enameled bucket, and my sister chaperoned us on our quest. I eagerly climbed over the doorway perch into the henhouse and began searching like it was an Easter egg hunt. I quickly found two and placed them in the bucket. Karen was searching the higher nests, and Brant and Jill gathered eggs from the lower nests situated against another wall. On my previous visit, Granny must’ve wiped the eggs clean before storing them because I never noticed them looking any different from the ones Mother got at the grocery store.
When I reached in and pulled out an egg covered in chicken poop, I screamed and tossed it against the wall like a professional baseball player. I managed to throw a second one before Karen excitedly told me to stop! There’s nothing wrong with those eggs, she explained. Well, I, the kid who had always been scrubbed clean and never allowed to encounter filth, could not be convinced, so they took the bucket away from me, and my egg-gathering career came to an abrupt end.
Springtime was that magical part of the year when the plants came alive, baby livestock was born and baby chicks were hatched. If you happened to drop by, Granny might have a little plastic bucket lined with towels housing the chicks to keep them warm until she returned them to their mothers. The farm was like a petting zoo only you didn’t have to rent strollers for the kids and figure out where the nearest McDonald’s was at the end of the day.
Several of us cousins were around the same age, and if we were at Granny’s at the same time and there were baby chicks, we were excited about nature’s miracles as we reached in and handled the chirping little birds with great care. However, as mature chickens poop, so do baby birds as I found out while holding one.
My reputation as a thrower of tarnished eggs was widespread, so two adults and my sister made a mad dash toward me to rescue the bird before I could react. While I was not a bit happy to have my tiny hand overflowing with an unwanted substance, I would not have hurled a baby chick against the wall. I might have dropped it in the bucket without considering the consequences, but I would never have thrown it.
You have to appreciate these agrarian lessons if only to realize that nature is not always pretty. Even the lemons have blemishes and dirt on them, but I wouldn’t trade them any day for supermarket produce.
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”