Friday, June 19, 2009

Thinking Thistle

It's dandelion season. I live in the midst of a dandelion forest. In fact, there are places in the "lawn" that look like they were deliberately sown to dandelion, because there's nary a blade of grass. Not even quack grass. That's quite an accomplishment. Maybe later in the year I'll go out and dig roots and make a batch of wine. At the very least I know it's "organic".

This place has been so neglected for such a long time, and often when I'm gazing, stupefied, at some clump of desolation, I think about the word "organic" and wonder what its applications are. My dandelions are organic, but that kind of organic doesn't look very fruitful by human terms.

Organic Thistle. I've been punching through the thistle patch with my shovel, breaking off the tops so they don't go to flower. I gave up on trying to dig them up by the root. Hah! They go on forevah.

Chickens, doing chickenly things. Pooping, eating, flapping, shrieking. Growing. Astonishingly. We were planning on putting them out on grass this weekend, but the forecast is for rain and thunderstorms, so perhaps we'll bide our time a bit longer.

One-Eyed Jack, the preening one. I thought he died a few days ago, but it must have been another runt, because here he is in Cyclopean glory. When everyone else in the coop had pneumonia, Jack's eyelids on the one side swelled up and stuck together, and that along with his runtiness made him easy to spot. The sickness has passed, but his eye is still mostly shut. And he's still a runt. Or she. Maybe it's One-Eyed Jill.

I'm astonished every day when I go to check in the morning, and this bird is still wandering around tipsily under the legs of its giant siblings. If it makes it through to the bitter end, it won't be so much a chicken dinner as a chicken nugget.

When I'm working on our farm, I'm hard. Hard like weathered, not hard like brittle. Like a "bottle in the smoke", a drinking skin.

I do what needs to be done, but that's not what I think needs to be done from inside the house. I haul big food-sacks, and behead thistles, and carry five-gallon pails of water. The place looks bad. There are days when I'm out there, and I look around at the ugliness, and the loneliness, and there are tears running down my face because I can't see the beauty, and my heart is cracking with all kinds of grief, and all I want is to get the hell out. But I do it anyway. The chickens get fed, the garden has a chance to breathe because it isn't choked by weeds. When it's time to butcher, I'll do that too, and maybe the tears will splash on the meat. And I'll do it, and carry on with it, because I'm tough. Something inside me is hard, and hardening.

I need this. I need the other things too, the study and the companionship and the therapy work, but I need this too, to keep me on the right side of real.

I was thinking this afternoon, about real, about really real. There was a time in my life when I used to worry about whether it was right or wrong to wear jeans to church. In a world where food comes from the ground, that's not a real question. It has nothing to do with morality. All the lists of do's and don't's from church that I used to fret about, or the lists that accrued inside my head, the ones of my own making, they're so far away now. Now it's about whether or not the chicks and the garden have water, and that's about it.

That's who I am today. Could be different tomorrow.


arcolaura said...

A friend of mine had turkeys, and a sewer pump-out mound covered with sow-thistles, and he said the turkeys loved those sow-thistles. Maybe the dandelions will be great chicken feed.

I have been getting back to the garden lately - late-ly, according to the calendar, but perhaps fortuitously late considering all the cold weather we've had - and it is very good to be absorbed in something real again. If I do end up back in school, I hope I can find some real stuff that needs doing there.

Madcap said...

Hi Laura,

I'm sure hoping those chickens deign to eat my dandelions!

Our season here was so late too, and I think we put seed in too early. Nothing's coming up at all - if I don't see some evidence of my planting very soon I'm going to re-sow.

I'm sure you'll find lots of opportunity for real. Anytime there's sincere human contact, something grows.

e4 said...

We have dense thistle forests where our goat shelters used to be. I guess they liked that fertile compost that was left behind.

I remember reading somewhere that dense dandelion population is an indication of a particular soil pH level, and that slight adjustments would bring their population back in line. But I don't recall the specifics, because I didn't really mind our dandelion jungles.

And I don't know if I'll ever get used to how fast baby chicks grow up...

It sounds as if you are hardening and softening at the same time....


I enjoy your posts and delightful descriptions, MCM.

Madcap said...

Hi e-4,

I was reading not long ago about some sort of fungus that's being used to kill dandelions, and it's been certified for "organic" use. I tell ya, at this point I'm interested.

C - Likewise!