Pam’s Perambulations

General musings not necessarily related to the vineyard.

Why Did the Rooster Cross the Road?

Chanticleer framed

The Perfect Bird

Yes, I admit it. I chose him. He was hiding in plain site in the food section of Home Goods. (Odd place I thought.) We had already picked out three end tables for the patio, and I told Jed I wanted to do a quick check of the food department to look for a candy thermometer. ( I didn’t know you needed a candy thermometer to make jelly, but that’s another story, and recipe.) Anyway, no candy thermometer. But a big rooster, and when Jed showed up I draped my arms around the big recycled metal guy and said “We need him.”

A big guy with tattoos (who we had been maneuvering our carts around through the narrow aisles) says to Jed “I got your back.” Jed thought he said “I brought it back”, and asked him why. Confusion reigns for a moment and then Tattoo Guy says (thinking he will help Jed talk me out of a ridiculous purchase.) “The only reason to buy something like this would be if you lived on a farm and had a barn that you could put it by.” I immediately respond with “Exactly! We live on a farm and we have a big barn!” at which point Tattoo Guy turns to Jed and says “Sorry, bro. I gotta go with your wife on this one. You got a farm. You got a barn. You gotta get this rooster.”

So then the conversation turns to how we’re going to get the big rooster home.

Tattoo guy: “If you live on a farm you drive a truck, so no problem.”
Jed: “Yes, we have a truck, but we didn’t drive it here.”
Woman from the food department: “We’d be happy to hold the rooster for you once you’ve paid for it. Then you could go home and get the truck.”
Jed: “I think I can get this in our car.”

Chanticleer's head

A few nicks and dents.

I take that to mean we’re going to buy said rooster, henceforth known as Chanticleer. Joy joy. Except I’m not so sure about getting three side tables of varying shape plus a 5 foot rooster into our car.

First however, we need to get Chanticleer up to the cash register. I go in search of a cart while the guys discuss how much of a discount they could talk the store out of because of the dings and nicks in the metal feathers. I return with the cart and remind them that it’s recycled metal. The Woman from Food says “Oh I can give you a 10% discount for nicks.” as she rolls up with a giant rolling cart that will fit the rooster plus all three end tables.

Jed heads off to get the car while I stand in line to check out. Everyone gawks at the rooster on the cart at the end of the checkout line, and the cashier just nodded and smiled when I said “I’m the one with the rooster on the cart.” Transaction completed, Woman from Food helps me maneuver the cart with Chanticleer and three side tables outside where Jed was parked. He’d put all the seats down in the back, and was ready to load.

He looked at the cart full of rooster, frowned and said “Maybe it won’t all fit inside.  If you can get some cardboard I’ll  tie him to the roof.”  Jed always travels with bungee cords.  I never traveled with bungee cords before I met him, and I’m always amazed at how many things we end up tying to the roof of the car. I picture the drive home: beige SUV with five foot red, yellow, green, and blue rooster on the roof.) Woman from Food disappears to get cardboard.

Jed studies the trunk for a moment, “Let’s see if we can fit everything in the trunk.”
In goes Chanticleer. He fits!
In goes the first end table. It’s just a little iron thing with a wood top. No problem.
In goes the second end table. Big and round, hammered copper. It seems to fill what’s left of the trunk.
The third end table is big and round too with acqua metal strips. Jed holds it one way and then another way. He repositions the copper table, and moves Chanticleers legs to the side. He gently lifts the last table on top of the legs. It’s in.
Chanticleers beak is now pecking the door handle, but everything is in the trunk. We clap. Hoorah Jed!

We take off for home. In silence. Twenty miles of silence. with the exception of Chanticleer’s beak squeaking against the door. Uh oh, maybe this was a bad idea. Finally we pull down our road and up to our garage where Jed unloads the three end tables, and then Chanticleer. I start moving the end tables to the patio. Jed hollers “Put them wherever  you want” as he heads to the barn. The next thing I see is Chanticleer where we used to have a big pile of vine cuttings out near the vineyard. Then Chanticleer has moved up to the top of the septic mound.  Jed and I sit down on the side door steps. We agree that he looks good up there. Surprisingly he takes on the characteristics of a true sculpture up on the hill. We’d have to find a new place for the cement bench also sits on the mound. It’s already moved around the property a few times despite being heavy. I sense Jed might be warming up to the colorful object on our little hill.

Chanticleer gets a tour

Chanticleer gets a tour

I leave to water plants on the back patio. Next I hear the sound of “Little John”, our riding mower. Jed’s hooked up a wagon in the back and plopped Chanticleer in it. He’s headed across the meadow in back of the house. Suddenly he stops. He’s gotten pecked and has to add some rocks to the bottom of Chanticleer’s feet. I’m giggling at the sight, and Jed smirks and says ” I’m just giving him a tour of the property.” I do what people with iPhones do.

Finally Jed and Chanticleer arrive in the front yard in a very green spot. “What do you think about here?” hollers Jed. I nod and say “That could work.” After a moment, Jed grins back at me and asks “Why did the chicken cross the road?” He turns away and starts up Little John to move Chanticleer yet again. Soon they are both down near a curve in our road. I walk down to investigate, and it’s immediately clear that this big rooster is eyeing the road. Jed and I both start laughing and nodding. “Yep, this is where he belongs.”

Chanticleer and the Road

A Road for the Rooster

Later that evening, after a glass of wine on the front porch, Jed nods toward Chanticleer and says “I like that rooster.” I smile and add “Me too.”

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2013 in review – Yikes!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for Raccoon Creek.  Who knew people were reading this stuff?  OK, so my New Year’s resolution needs to be to get back to writing, err, finishing the blog posts I’ve started and never published.  Happy New Year everyone!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Naming Jed

Most people born to American parents are given a first name, a middle name, and a family surname.  My husband is Jed Horovitz, no middle name.  His birth certificate doesn’t even say Jedidiah, (although that’s what I call him anyway if I’m really ticked off).

Even with only two names, and one of just three letters, Jed still gets a fair amount of mail with mistakes in the spelling.  The most common is to substitute a ‘w’ for the ‘v’ in Horovitz.  Jed is not related to either Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys or to classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz. (He is, however, distantly related to Curly from The Three Stooges whose real name was Jerome Horwitz.)  Sometimes Jed gets mail addressed to Jeb or even Jedidiah.  Some mailing list even has him as came the”Rev. Jed Horovitz”.   Since Jed is an atheist, that one gets a good yuk, or at least a “You should call him Rabbi guys”.

Jed didn’t really have a nick name as a kid.  So we’ve been making up for it.

Remember when the term “stud muffin” came on the scene a number of years back?  Jed was the Stud Muffin of Truman Ave.  More specifically I guess he was the Stud Muffin of 75 Trueman Ave since we were newly married, and I don’t think the name ever made it outside the house.

Being a stud muffin of course often leads to being a dad.  After daughter Rebecca was born, Jed was the expert at coaxing a burp out of her after feedings.  Thus it wasn’t long before he was dubbed the Burpmeister of Haddonfield, a name I think he much preferred to stud muffin.

One year when Becca was in middle school we agreed to host a foreign exchange student.  A young man named Marcelo from Bolivia came to stay with us.  The orientation materials that you get before your student arrives tell you how important it is to discuss what your student will call you early on in the stay.  Some kids will want someone to call Mama or Papa; or Mama Pam, etc.  So the first night at dinner I asked Marcelo what he wanted to call me, and suggested he just call me ‘Pam”.  He smiled and said that was fine.  Then he asked what he should call Jed, and Jed responded “Emperor of the North”.  We all laughed and I told Marcelo he should just use “Jed”, but it was too late.  “Emperor of the North” had been proclaimed, and from then on that’s what Marcelo called Jed.  Not ‘Emperor”, or “Emperor Jed’, it was always the full “Emperor of the North’. And I now have another name to toss at Jed when I think his ego needs a check.

Commander of the MDL with his latest tactic for scaring deer.

Commander of the MDL with his latest tactic for scaring deer.

Many of you who are reading this may be wondering what this has to do with grapes. If so, you may remember that our summer was occupied with wars against the deer and the Japanese beetles that were eating our vines.  One morning we were out looking to see what the damage was from the prior night.

I called across the field to Jed,  “The beetle bags look pretty full,”

“I don’t see any beetles on any vines though, at least so far.”

“What are you seeing for deer damage?”

“Nothing over here.  What about where you are.?”

“I don’t see any damage, but I see two deer tracks.”

” Dang it.  Let me come and look at them……I think those might be old ones.”

We peer more closely at the small indentations in the soil.

“Yeah, I think those are old tracks.”

“They should be because we have three rows of stinky tape, three rows of electrical wire, and three bars of Irish Spring.  No deer shall cross this vineyard!”

” Yeah.  This vineyard is defended by the MDL!”

“Yeah!  This vineyard is, um wait.  What’s the MDL?”

“The Merlot Defense League”

I started laughing, and said ” We should get MDL hats made.”  Jed will have what the military calls ‘scrambled eggs’ on his hat, because he is clearly the Commander of the Merlot Defense League.

That may be his best name ever, which means we are done naming Jed…. at least for now.

PS  We adopted a cat named Stubby from a local animal shelter, and he too rather quickly assumed a list of additional names which are as follows:  Sir Stubbalicious Underfoot of Trippington Manor, commonly known to his friends as Butthead, the $5000 Cat With A Rubber Fetish.

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Jed’s War on Christmas…Hanukkah…Valentine’s Day…Mother’s Day….Father’s Day

For several years now Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News gang have been proclaiming that there is a ‘war on Christmas’.  Bill is offended by stores that, in an effort to be more ecumenical, wish their patrons a “Happy Holiday” instead of a “Merry Christmas”.

A war on Christmas has been going on in our household for years.  With a name like Horovitz, one might assume that we celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas.  But there’s been a war on Hanukkah too, as well as a war on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day.   All are waged by my darling husband Jed.

Jed’s ‘bah humbug’ attitude toward Christmas has nothing to do with Jed being an atheist, though he is.  To start with, Jed dislikes all the fuss and bother of the holidays.  He’s annoyed by all the Christmas decorations in the house. He grumbles about having to help put up the Christmas tree.   Christmas cards, of course, are my responsibility, even the ones to his relatives and friends. He doesn’t mind all the cookies and eggnog, or the traditional Yulekake on Christmas morning,  but he mutters about all the calories. Unless there’s a neighbor kid in a pageant, or a friend singing in a choir performance, don’t expect to see Jed in church.

Merlot boy, his glass, and his tree.

Merlot boy, his glass, and his tree.

Most of all Jed hates that he’s expected to buy people gifts for Christmas.  Exchange gifts for eight days straight at Hannukah?  Forget it!  It’s not that Jed is terrible at buying gifts.  He’s actually quite good at it.  But he detests the notion of giving because you “have to”.  For Jed, unless you are giving something because you want to, the gift is meaningless.  So Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are just events cooked up by Hallmark to sell more cards. Valentine’s Day?  A ploy by jewelers, florists, and candy shops to sell diamonds, flowers, and chocolates.  Graduations get a pass from Jed because he does’t mind rewarding achievement.  But birthdays?  Let’s just say that he announced a few years back that he only wanted to celebrate birthdays that were prime numbers.

Jed’s attitude toward all these traditional gift giving occasions was tough for me to swallow when we were first married.  I love Christmas,  and all the baking and shopping and partying that went with it.  It’s obvious that Jed enjoys spending time with friends and relatives over the holidays, but for him Thanksgiving is a much more pleasant holiday because it’s about food and family.

On our first Valentine’s Day we had gone out for dinner.  While he happily joined me, and expressed gratitude for my gift, it was clear that he was uncomfortable all evening.  Finally,  he told me about his antipathy toward what he termed manufactured events.  He told me that he much preferred to express his love in small ways every day of the year rather than on one manufactured holiday with a gift.

After over 20 years of marriage, Jed has been true to his beliefs.  He thanks me for doing his laundry or cleaning up the kitchen.  He is complimentary about a well cooked meal, or a completed task in the vineyard.  He lets me know that he cares about me in some small way on a daily basis.  I have come to value those real expressions of love from him and the manufactured holidays have come to mean less.

We still celebrate Christmas, with our mini ‘war’ about decorations and a tree.  I still shop and bake and send cards, though less than before.  Now that we’re out on the farm I can decorate the fireplace mantle with fresh juniper branches which we both like. This year Jed even put up the tree, and decorated it himself with a handful of red balls and white snowflakes.  It looks simple and elegant, and I though I treasure the hundreds of decorations that are still in their boxes, I don’t miss them on the tree this year.

Jed's Christmas lighting

Jed’s Christmas lighting

Christmas lights are the source of our other annual ‘war’.  Jed’s OK with having Christmas lights up when I agree to let him do something that is tacky or offbeat.  So some years our house has been tastefully decorated with white candles in the windows, and white lights around the front door.  Other years there have been colored lights strung haphazardly over bushes and around columns.  This year we have some very tasteful swags over the coach lights complemented by a riot of colored lights climbing up the utility pole, over the solar box and the electric fence switches, and up to the security cameras.  It is most certainly festive.

Tonight we will exchange a few gifts, just our family.  Some will be handmade, some will be very utilitarian, and some will be downright silly.  We will have a fire with wood from our farm, and we will play some sort of game together.  We will drink some port, and crack some nuts, and just enjoy some quiet time.  There will be music playing, probably an assortment of weird Christmas songs collected each year by an old music biz friend of mine.  The cats will each get a treat, and a piece of string which has proved to be much better entertainment than any cat toy we have ever bought. There will be no war on Christmas in our house tonight.

But Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

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My Father’s Shovel

CRAAACK!  The wooden handle on the old shovel was no match for the big chunk of granite hiding in the field .  We had stopped counting how many rocks and boulders had been hauled from the dirt, and this one was right where a grapevine was goingto be planted.  Jed had stopped drilling with the augur and was toiling away with a shovel to get the rascal removed.

The K E N shovel

“Oh noooooo!  You wrecked my dad’s shovel!”

No concern for whether or not Jed was ok on my part.  My reaction to a broken shovel surprised me.   I mean, it’s not like this was the first thing to be broken on the farm.  We both inspected the broken tool: the perfectly fine metal shovel head now separated by spikey wooden fingers from its handle.

“Oh good!  I don’t care about breaking this one. That’s not my dad’s shovel! That’s a different one.”

“What are you talking about?”  Jed wanted to know.

When my parents sold their house in Florida my dad gave me some of his tools, including this cool shovel that he got it when he worked at Bachmann’s, a landscaping company in Minneapolis.  He has owned this shovel for probably 40 years.  It’s plain, with a very long wooden handle that has been worn smooth and mellowed to the color of dark honey.  Three capital letters, K, E, N, were stamped into the handle near the shovel end.  They are a bit crooked and just a tiny bit too far apart from each other.  But they spell out a recognizable “Ken” which is all that would have mattered because everyone at Bachmann’s knew my dad.   If they saw these letters on a shovel they would know who it belonged to. He worked at Bachmann’s for over 30 years, sometimes in the nursery or in the greenhouse, and later on in the store.  When my mother and I would stop by to see him (and yeah buy something using his employee discount) we could ask anyone if they knew where Ken was, and even the newest and youngest employee always knew who we meant.  “Anyone seen Kenny?” they would holler, and before long my dad would emerge from some back lot, often with this shovel in his hand.  My dad has never been a big talker, in fact some people might call him shy.  But he is friendly , and he has always been a very very hard worker.   It was always a bit of a surprise to see how many people knew, and liked, my dad at work .  It was a reminder about this whole other life my dad had, with people who often spent more time with him than we kids did.  It was good to know how much they liked him.

When Dad moved to Florida the shovel went with him – with Bachmann’s blessings.  It made a lot of sense because when Dad had landscaping projects at home he always used this shovel.  I can picture him now digging a hole for the maple tree that he planted in our front yard, or digging out beds for the shrubs by the front door. Once I had homes and yards of my own, visits from Mom and Dad often turned into projects, painting a room, or trimming a hedge.  Dad knew the names of hundreds of plants, and how to grow them, and how to prune them.  I would follow him around watching and making notes.  Those yard projects were some of the most companionable times I’ve spent with my dad.

My parents have moved back to Minnesota from Florida, and they no longer have a yard of their own.  Even in retirement, Dad still helped out from time to time with pruning, or weeding, or spraying, but he no longer needs his shovel.  He’s going to be 89 soon – it’s about time for a break! So now the shovel is mine and I understand why he liked it.  The handle feels smooth in your hands, especially without gloves on.  The long handle is in perfect balance with the metal shovel head.  The head is solid and heavy.  You learn quickly that gravity eases the work when you use the shovel correctly!  My relationship with this shovel is pretty new.  Even though I’ve owned it for three years now, it wasn’t until we moved to the farm that it started getting used regularly.  So when the big CRAACK! sounded, and I thought Dad’s shovel had broken it was like losing a new best friend.

Poor nameless other shovel! No respect, no mourning, and not even a proper funeral.  It’s metal shovel head got used for shoveling peat moss during the planting of the vineyard, but now it sits forgotten in the pole barn with no likelihood of being fixed any time soon.  Meanwhile, the world has been warned (or at least Jed) that under no circumstances is my Dad’s shovel to be used in any way that might endanger its existence.  It no longer hangs in the barn with the other tools, but has been brought into the garage with Dad’s dirt rake, and gravel shovel, to be used only by me.  When I use these tools I sometimes look down and see the same motions I remember seeing when these tools were in my Dad’s hands.  It’s very spooky, and very comforting at the same time.

I know that this shovel won’t last forever.  In fact, the leather holster for my dad’s Felco clippers finally wore out this summer.  I promptly bought a new one, which is boring and ugly and doesn’t have the nice patina or softness of my dad’s holster.  I might try sewing the broken piece, but I’m not confident it will hold.  The handles on the Felco clipper have started to develop big cracks in the plastic – possibly because they’ve been getting used almost every day out here.  But I can’t bring myself to dip them in liquid replacement because the new dip is yellow, and everyone knows that a classic Felco clipper – only the best clipper ever in the whole world – has a red handle.  So dipping the handle is like ruining its pedigree.  People know when you whip out a Felco that you know what you are doing, and now that I really do know what I am doing (thank’s Dad) I think it will just feel wrong to use a genuine Felco clipper with a stupid yellow handle.  Let me think about this some more.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thanks for the wonderful shovel, the Felco, and the time you spent with me showing me what to do with them.

Ken and Sally Benson

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Friends in All the Vine Places

One of the great things about getting older (yes you read that correctly) is that by the time you hit your sixties you have accumulated a long list of friends and acquaintances.  You can tell the difference.  I’m OK with the fact that not everyone  I’ve met over the years has become a friend.  But, I’ve also come to really value friendship at this stage of my life.

Some of my friends go back all the way to high school.  Some are friends from various jobs I’ve held over the years.  Some are friends because of common interests, like raising kids, or liking music, travel, food, or wine.  Some friends I’ve met because of where I’ve lived.

Planting Party Friends

Jed and I had joked about the idea of roping our friends into helping us plant grapevines almost from the moment that we bought our farm.  As the time to plant got closer, we developed some trepidation about the wisdom of a planting party.  How would our various friends respond to an invite to do hard work like planting grapevines?  Various people had already visited the farm, and even driven the tractor, or helped us haul rocks from the field. Many, when we would mention the idea that we planned to have a planting party, replied ‘Great idea!  Count me in!”  We found ourselves wondering if they really meant it.  This kind of work would really be a test of friendship. We didn’t want people to feel pressure to say yes. Finally we agreed that the only way to find out was to send out an invite.

When over 30 people said they were willing to help us with a planting party we were astounded – and we counted our lucky stars to have so many cool folk in our circle of friends.  Not only did everyone agree to come, but many brought food or wine to celebrate the day.  Some friends volunteered to handle all the kitchen prep and clean up – no small task with a group of 30+ to feed.  The day was a lot of fun as well as productive, and we were humbled and grateful to all these people who are truly friends when it was over.

We knew we wouldn’t plant the whole vineyard that day.  We tried to get a bit of a jump start with hired help before people came.  We wanted everyone to see what planted vines in the field were supposed to look like.  But we knew we’d have to finish the planting job by ourselves.  After all, the vineyard was our idea (well actually mine as Jed is fond of reminding me on occasion) and so the planting was our responsibility.

Walking Buddies, Now Planting Buddies

The week after the party  my friend Karen texted to ask if we were still planting and did we want help?  My first reaction was that she was surely kidding.  After all, she had not only showed up herself, but had roped both her daughters, Emily and Beth, her friend Mark, and a visiting friend of Beth’s into planting.   That’s a lot of help!  Amazingly she was serious.

Karen falls into multiple categories of friend for me:  she is a former neighbor with four kids.  She seems to know everyone in Haddonfield, probably because she has had half the kids in town go through one of her pre-school classes at the Presbyterian Church.  She’s friendly, always upbeat, and easy to talk to.  Karen’s hand touched most of our neighborhood events, from summer block parties to Christmas luminaria.  Her house hosted dozens of get-togethers: people moving into the neighborhood; people moving away; gatherings before weddings, and after funerals.  We’ve  shared food after raking leaves and after shoveling snow, and sometimes just because we were around and starting to BBQ at the same time.  Sometimes kids were there, and sometimes only adults, but there was always good cheer and a no fuss sensibility about last minute arrangements.  Karen is the glue that helped hold our neighborhood together.

But besides being a great neighbor, Karen has been my morning walking buddy for over three years.  Every weekday (alright, not every) we would meet in my driveway promptly at 7AM and walk for almost an hour through the streets of Haddonfield.  We’d head up the hill to Tavistock Country Club, and down the hill toward Crows Woods, then past the softball fields and up the hill toward the middle school, and down Washington Avenue back towards our neighborhood.  We walked in hot humid weather and in winter snow – only rain kept us indoors.

One year we followed the walk with an exercise class in town.  Another year we enrolled in Weight Watchers.  Our goal was to lose weight, get fit, and be healthy.  Our morning conversation frequently included comments about our weight, or more accurately our frustration about not losing more weight.  We talked about other exercises we were trying, or healthy recipes, or what we had eaten that we shouldn’t have .  We talked about clothes that didn’t fit, muscles that ached, things we saw along the way, books we were reading, movies we saw, and of course our families.

We shared our worries and our joys.  We offered advice with no expectation that it should be taken.  We marveled about being lonely when kids grow up and move out while at the same time enjoying the freedom.  We shared whatever was stressing us out, from the insignificant to the life-altering. I have several friends who have walked with the same people for years, and initially I wondered how they could possibly keep it up.  But now I get it.  This time is about mental health and not just physical health.  It’s the time in which friendships become golden, and irreplaceable.

Then we moved away from Haddonfield.  It wasn’t unexpected, after all Karen had spent many hours with me pouring over the plans for the new house, offering suggestions and considering options for patio stones, stuccos, paint colors.  Plus the neighborhood was clearly changing.  Older neighbors had died, or moved to assisted living. Younger neighbors sought out other young parents for play dates and baby sitters.  Many of us ‘old-timers’ talked about how high the taxes had gotten, and where we might move once we retired.

Karen, my walking buddy, with Mark, planting buddies

The day came when I was part of the group that “used to live in Haddonfield”.  I was excited about the country, but I missed my old neighborhood and my friends there. I know I was surprised by the enormity of the hole that was left by not having the companionship of a daily morning walk.  Phone calls aren’t really the same; they seem to need a purpose.  The beauty of the conversation in a morning walk is that it doesn’t have a purpose; it is just there, comfortable, and friendly.

Karen and I spent still got together regularly for lunch after I moved, and then we realized we’d be smarter to substitute a walk for that glass of wine.  We can no longer manage walks on most mornings, but we do manage most weeks.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised that my friend and walking buddy would go the extra mile to help make sure that my dream of a vineyard would really happen.  She and Mark not only put in another five hours of planting but they brought along lunch.  It was a nasty row we tackled that day:  full of rocks, some as big as the shovel Mark used to dig them out.  Some holes had so much clay that we needed shovelful after shovelful of peat moss to bring them into balance. Because it was so muddy raking the planted vine bed took extra effort and extra time.  Each hole took three times as long as in other parts of the vineyard, but we still got to the end of the row, including the blue grow tubes.  Of course we had fun, teasing each other about who was going too fast or too slow, and having the same conversations we would have had if we had been on a morning walk.  It was great.

Maybe I should buy more acres and more vines so we can do it again.  Just kidding Karen!  See you on the next walk.  Thanks to you and Mark for a wonderful day.  Thanks to all our friends who are affirming their friendship simply by driving all the way out to the country now to see us, and sometimes to plant vines.

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As my friend and former neighbor Karen can confirm, Jed and I had a love/hate relationship with the bamboo hedge in the backyard of our Haddonfield house.  On the plus side, it made for a lovely green fence that grew to nearly 20 feet tall and made for great privacy while still letting the breeze through.  The bamboo in our driveway was the backdrop for countless photos, and was home to any number of birds, bunnies, and even the occasional preying mantis.  We cut the canes and used them as stakes for the tomato plants, and as trellises for the pole beans.  We realized that when bamboo reaches a certain size it makes for the perfect fishing rod, with a sturdiness at one end that is balanced by a nice whippiness at the other. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves was soothing when we sat outside, and one winter bamboo leaves formed the hair on one of Becca’s more creative snowmen.

Becca in front of bamboo, 2007

But, on the minus side, well let’s just say that it became known as the ‘evil bamboo’ in our household.

Horticulturists characterize bamboo as ‘invasive’, but until you’ve had to dig up bamboo roots you don’t really get what that implies. Our bamboo had been planted over 40 years ago, so it was well established, and had clearly resisted efforts to be confined to a narrow band around the back yard.  We spent most weekends the first summer after we bought the house  trying to restore the bamboo border to just a border.  We soon found that small clippers were no match for the stalks, and that there was to be no simple pulling up of the roots.  We went through multiple kinds of clippers,shears hacksaws, axes, and scythes. It was hard work that left us dirty and exhausted, but at that point we still liked the bamboo. We laughed about the three trash bins full of beer cans that were the ‘bonus’ find in the hedge.  Later we learned that we had moved into what had been known as a ‘party’ house, and that many teenagers in the neighborhood had discovered the valuable properties of bamboo for hiding illicit beer. But never mind that now, we were proud of our big back yard and it’s big green fence that was back where it belonged.

That was the first year.

By the end of the next summer we came to realize that our big back yard was actually a battlefield, and a bloody one at that. Bamboo leaves are sharp; they cut your skin whenever you come in contact with an edge, which is whenever you’re working around it.  Your arms and legs are left with a patchwork of thin cuts that are quite painful.  (The cuts are pretty weird looking prompting  timid questions of the sort that leave you wondering if the questioner thinks you are into S&M. Well, owning bamboo is sort of masochistic. ) Bamboo can grow many inches in a single day.  It’s surreptitious, creeping along under ground until suddenly a new shoot appears many feet away from where it’s supposed to be.  It has the feel of an invading army, with coordinated attacks in multiple places at the same time, all waiting to see if you have the courage to take it on.  Cut a cane down to the ground and it doesn’t die, a new shoot grows from  just below the cut .  We tried spraying it with RoundUp – no effect. We were too afraid to try Agent Orange.  So, we were back to digging it up by the roots with a (very) sturdy shovel, and the occasional pick ax.

The next year we were ready to get rid of the bamboo altogether.  We hired a landscaper to work up a new design with a place for a deck, and a vegetable garden, and a play area, but no place for bamboo.  We learned that because it was not possible to get a bulldozer (!) into our backyard, the bamboo would have to be dug out by hand, which basically meant that we could either have a deck, and a vegetable garden, and a play area or we could have a bare back yard with no bamboo.  But our landscaper said not to worry!  Bamboo can be contained just by putting metal sheathing into the ground to keep it in its place.  Ah!  That’s the step we didn’t do.  Ok, the bamboo can stay.

Stay it did, laughing at the notion that a mere metal sheath would keep it in its place.  I AM BAMBOO!  I can leap mere sheathing in a single bound!   Actually the sheathing did slow it down, but not until years later did we realize that we needed to replace the flimsy metal the landscaper used with sturdier stuff that was bigger and dug in 18 inch sheets with some left sticking above ground for the intrepid shoots that wanted to climb skyward.   We finally reached a truce in the bamboo wars.  But it was an uneasy truce that still required twice a year trimming (in a long sleeved shirt and long pants) and by then we were just tired of the effort.

Happily, we moved to the country to a property with no bamboo.

And then the grape vines arrived….along with their grow tubes…….and 1200 bamboo stakes.   I think they’re dead though.  They look dead.  I don’t see any green on them, and no roots. I hope they’re dead. But I sometimes dream that instead of a vineyard we end up with a field of BamBoo!      ARGHHHHH!

Categories: Pam's Perambulations | 2 Comments

Jed has a new paperweight

Planting 1200 vines is a big job, and every vine needs a hole drilled in the soil.  Wine grapes like to grow in rocky soil, and we have (very) rocky soil.  The first 20 or so practice holes we drilled out in the field were a breeze – fast, easy, fun.  The next 20 holes we drilled to plant a forsythia and juniper hedge also went fast.

Then we started drilling the holes for the vineyard.  Now things got a little trickier.  First, there’s this business of staying in a straight line, and aiming for the yellow mark in the soil.  After a while your neck starts to ache from looking over your shoulder at the augur.  But still, we were clipping along at about three minutes per hole.  After about 500 holes we started to notice that it just seemed to be taking a lot longer to drill a hole.  Was the soil getting rockier?  Maybe we need new drill bits?  Off Jed goes to the local farmer’s supply store to get a new set of ‘teeth’ for the edge of the augur.  That seemed to help.

But still the holes were taking longer and longer to drill.  Finally, it took two people, one to hold the augur in place, and the second to drive it from the tractor.  Was it was because the rain was making things muddy?  Finally, Jed realized that you could change the tip of the augur.  When he came home with the new one we put them side by side.

Yep, we have some pretty rocky soil.  And Jed has a new paperweight.  But we’re back to three minutes a hole, and have 1025 vines planted.

Old augur tip and new augur tip

Categories: Pam's Perambulations | 1 Comment

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