Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

I Can Take It

Pont du Gard near Avignon
My Dad passed away recently and it has really knocked the air out of me. He suffered from cancer so his escape from all that pain was a gift - but he fought it hard. Fought, fought, fought and lived almost three years longer than the Doctors told him. He never accepted his fate, and although he was a realist, there was always the little thought that he would beat it. What was my Dad made of to charge into it so bravely? Or was it just fear that kept him going?

Earlier this year I traveled to Europe and spent quite a bit of time in Italy and the south of France. We began our trip in Rome, made our way up Italy and then back down to cross into France at Menton, staying for a few days in Avignon and Arles (among other places.) As an avid history buff, it became apparent to me that we were following the Romans and their conquest of Gaul.

And not just the Romans, all kinds of castles and battlements dotted the landscape during our entire journey. It was breathtaking.

And then something slammed into me in Arles.

Arles was a Roman fortified city. What is very interesting is that the Romans just lifted and copied a basic blueprint to every place they settled. Always a forum, a colosseum, a theater, and a huge wall. Unlike the city of Rome, Arles' colosseum is completely intact and still functions as an entertainment venue.

The architecture is impressive, and, as our guide pointed out, the technology behind it no longer exists. Modern engineers, concerned with public safety, have tried to "fix" areas that are sagging. Others are busy restoring ruins back to their broken, but original, state. Attempts to replicate the Roman engineering have failed and they have had to fall back on modern iron clamping systems.

The locals didn't love the Romans, but when Rome fell and they started to pull out of the provenances in the 5th century, what came after was much worse. The populace of Arles moved their homes into the colosseum, fortified the walls and built four towers to fire on the marauders. The village remained there until the late 18th century. By that time the buildings built on top of buildings completely obscured everything but the outer wall. It was this pile of humans that ultimately preserved the site by building on top of, instead of dismantling, this structure with the lovely square blocks.

I stood outside of that wall with my heart pounding. Can you imagine what it was like for those people who grouped inside for protection? What kind of world was it where everything completely fell apart and evil rampaged through the countryside? The Romans were the height of civilization yet what came after was worse than what the Romans were at the beginning of their empire building. Why would people do that? Why wouldn't they be glad to be rid of the soldiers, band together, and keep going? Arles was a very important cultural center, why did the people destroy that?

I only have to look at our recent Presidential election to know the answer. Humans destroy what they can't have and go on the rampage against anyone they think has a better life. It's much easier to vent and rage instead of discuss and build. The villagers of Arles knew this and protected themselves for almost two thousand years.

Two thousand years! What does that do to a community? To each descendent? To live in that kind of fear all that time. How do you move forward, hope for your children, build any kind of life when all around you the world has gone to hell?

I became so overwhelmed and completely humbled by their struggle.

All my life I have had a sense of place, an anchor, that defines who I am. I grew up on the family homestead - people who came across a sea of grass, over a mountain, and through a desert to start from nothing except their own ingenuity. My grandmother was a second generation French immigrant whose grandfather boarded a ship to travel into the unknown, hoping for a better life. She and my grandfather's family lived just like the characters in "The Grapes of Wrath" when they had to abandon their farm in Arkansas and head to California to be migrant workers during the depression. I am so proud of all of them.

In Arles, the realization crept over my skin like thousands of prickling needles and the breath left my body. Yes, my immediate family were tough, but they were descended from people like the citizens from Arles.


They are the reason the subsequent generations fought, and scrabbled, and refused to give up.

They kept their homes, their families, their culture alive believing that things would get better and took whatever baby steps were needed in that direction. They kept at it, no matter how long, or how many wars, or how many other evil empires were to be endured.

My dad. My grandfather. Both fought against the ultimate enemy - cancer. Never, ever, giving up. Always thinking about their family and even at the very end, trying to protect us from ugliness.

He-who-can-not-be-named Trump, your buddy Putin, middle eastern radicals, American-born gun-toting terrorists, KKK, neo-nazi's, Kim Jong despots, Texas Patrick-loving-Republicans and anyone else who tries to stamp out others for their own gain.

You have no idea who you are dealing with.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

In a bit of a squeeze

I can't believe that it's been seven years since I moved from Oregon to Austin, Texas. The time has vanished, and as I look out over my yard it feels like I just got started. Of course I haven't. The front and back lawn with just a few yuccas are gone. In their place is native plants, fruit and vegetables.

What an adventure that was to make the decision to move, pack everything up, then start over fresh in a state and climate that was totally foreign. I immediately dove into the nurseries, web sites, and local blogs that could teach me what to do. I was so excited that I could grow citrus in the ground, maybe avocados, miles of sweet potatoes, okra, black eyed peas, and a favorite flower - winecup, that hated the cool Oregon summers.

In this yard, I was determined more than ever to dedicate a larger percent of space to food production. Austin, I discovered, does not have much agriculture surrounding it. Most things at the grocer are trucked from California, Florida, or the Rio Grande valley. And the farmers market?  Tiny! The first time I went I thought I went to the wrong place.  Where was the two-block market that I was used to? Back in Oregon apparently.

But I have survived, thrived even, in this bit of earth being scorched by the death star. My friends here are some of the closest I've ever had, and I've had jobs and bosses that I absolutely love - all which have let me run full tilt into any challenge I wish.

However. I've had to give up some things (besides being able to sleep with the window open in the summer.) The hardest has been apples.

The combination of low chill hours and my stinginess with water has rendered the apples and pear completely barren. They won't even flower. I've cut two of them down and will probably take out the remaining two this winter. It's a shame because I've spent a lot of time training and pruning them, but I don't need ornamental trees, I want fruit! Most disappointing of all is that I don't have a crop of apples to make cider from.

A month before I lost my job in Oregon, I purchased a Correll cider press. They are absolutely top of the line and beautifully made by a gentlemen very near where I lived. My trees were poised to produce enough apples for me to press, plus there were a few abandoned trees in the fields near my home where I could glean even more. Undaunted, I packed that press and put it on the truck for Texas.  I knew it would take 5 to 7 years before I produced my own apples again, but I could wait.

And then my apples didn't grow.

The press has been living on the deck and then later in the house ever since. It really is gorgeous and a conversation starter for people who've never seen one.  However, it was never going to see an apple here in Austin. Reluctantly I put it on Craig's list.

Funny enough, no one here in the south is looking for a cider press. The apples are at least a thousand miles away and they'd be withered and juiceless by the time they arrived in Austin. I got only one inquiry and that was someone from Washington state.

Okay. Now what? Due to the mild winter, I've had a huge crop of fruit this year. Apples? Nope. Oranges and pomegranates. Wait for it - I can use my cider press!

So that's what I did. I hauled the press back onto the deck and on a warm afternoon I made orange juice. It was perfect. Unlike apples I had to peel the oranges. They are so fresh that the orange oil drips off them. I didn't want all that oil in the juice so took the time to relieve them of their rinds. For good measure I also threw in the pomegranates that were also ready.

And it worked!  I got almost a gallon of juice and was able to marvel at how well the press worked. It's slanted perfectly, the press fits into the basket easily, and with not much effort the crank lowers the press onto the fruit. Beautiful juice streamed out of the basket and into the waiting receptacle. The remaining pulp was devoid of juice and went into the compost. Finally!

What's that saying? When life gives you lemons...??

I am happy to report that the press is back in the living room in it's place of honor, cleaned up and smelling slightly of oranges. The listing on craigslist has expired and I don't intend to repost. Now I'm scheming about juicing loquats and figs - with the resulting pulp being used in some sort of chutney or quick bread.

Hey!  Keep your hands off my press! Get your own!