Every Thursdays from 6-9, throughout the summer and into the early fall, a park down the street from us features what they call “Pick’ in in the Park”. This park runs along a curve in the Ocoee river and has park benches, picnic tables, a playground, and roofed pavilions. Most impressive is the rolling river and graveled walkway beside the water. It is a quiet, simple place with striking beauty, more remarkable because you never see more than a few people (if that) at the park. Except Thursdays, of course.
“Thursday Pick’ in in the Park” is simply a night area musicians are invited to come play. No group is formally scheduled as entertainment for the community. No one puts out jars to take donations or advertises a CD or upcoming performance either. Yet many musicians come, just because they love music and camaraderie and the informal audience. They show up with banjos and fiddles and guitars and what have you (the occasional mouth harp and washboard show up too) gather wherever they land and jam. Sometimes, the musicians all gather in one area around the pavilion for one big makeshift band. Other times, they form various clumps around the park, so you can walk from one end to the other and hear different groups or even a solo folk guitar. People gather around any area where music is being made. A couple hundred people show up with lawn chairs and blankets. Kids run in the grass playing, dogs chase balls into the river as they play fetch; people spread picnics on the grass. It is very casual. You could swear you’ve just been dropped into Pleasantville.
When we go, I always pack a picnic dinner. Last night, we spread out blankets and I set out the food. Neva was playing with neighbor kids in the river, catching crawdads. Denver and her boyfriend had not yet arrived. Mark and I were sipping coffee and enjoying the music. I couldn’t help notice people kept staring at our “station”. I wondered what was up with that, because lots of people picnic here. Yet we kept getting the “double take” look. Finally, it was made clear when one fellow walked by with his dog and chuckled and said, “That is one pretty presentation!”
I looked at our picnic and saw what others were seeing. I had made saucy chicken wings and tortellini and a big ring of deviled eggs with fresh cherries heaped in the middle. We had peaches and cheese. The food was so colorful, glistening in the early evening sun that it looked like an article out of Southern Living Magazine. It happened to be a very pretty picnic set up. Yes, we have landed in Pleasantville, everybody.
We ate and our pretty display was soon nothing but empty Tupperware. Then, my neighbor walked by. She told me that last night a bear was on her porch. She just wanted to let me (and my chickens) know. Heck with the chickens. It’s my angoras I will worry about –Last summer a bear tore open my bunny hutch and ate all my rabbits. It was a devastating carnal explosion, with wood and wire ripped not at the seams, but broken apart like a tornado had come through, only it was massive bear hands doing the damage. There was blood and bunny fur everywhere. Pissed me off.
Yesterday, I moved the peacock and his chicken buddy down near the chicken house, as a transitional move while I build a formal, permanent pen. I thought the chickens free ranging might go up to the cage and say hello so Early can begin making friends. Now, I have visions of Early becoming bear fast-food. Do I need to mention how this will set off a war between me and Yogi?
The worst part is that I like bears and I think seeing one on my own porch would be about the coolest thing on earth. So I have mixed feelings about it all. I just don’t relish the idea of any creature thinking my animals are an all you can eat buffet. A bear also stole my horse mineral block. Twice. Those blocks weigh about thirty pounds and I can barely lift them, but the bears pick them up and walk away with them like they are Twinkies I set out for dessert. Damn bears.
Then, there is the issue of my bees. My beehive is set up only two hundred feet from my neighbor’s porch. Bears happen to be the number one enemy of bees because they tear apart the hives and eat every spec of honey inside. (This is why they tell you not to wear black when working with bees, because the insects automatically sting anything black as an instinctual move against bears.) It would take me another year to get a beehive started due to the seasonal nature of this project. As it is I have to wait a full year until I can harvest any honey because it takes a full season for them to build stores and create a home of honeycomb for themselves. I have a second hive ready to set up, but until I build up my bee population to divide them or order new bees in January before the suppliers are all sold out, growth in this project is on hold. If a bear comes along and wipes out my bee playground, I’ll not take it lightly.
As such, I am on bear alert now. I will have to have a discussion with my rabbits today and tell them to lay low and get ready to run if need be. I’ll tell my bees to keep quiet and stop buzzing so much and to get their stingers ready. I will tell my dog, Maxine (who happens to be a plot hound, a breed bred to chase and fight bears) to stop snoring on the porch and to start paroling the grounds. She will ignore me, or course, but still, I can try.
All I know is that we have plenty of succulent blackberries around. A polite bear could do fine with those. I’ll hope this is a polite bear.
When we got home from Pick’ in in the Park yesterday, it was still light out (love those long summer days) and Mark suggested we stop the car to check out the garden and how it was doing. I had spent the morning out there feeding the plants, weeding. I’d brought in a few squash, but that was all that was out there. I told him there wasn’t much to see. Nevertheless, he goes out with the kids.
He is out there about two seconds when he says, “Um….. why didn’t you pick the beans?”
“What beans? We don’t have any beans.”
He bent down and came up with a handful of wax and green beans. “Do you even know what a bean looks like on a plant?”
With squeals of excitement, Kent and Neva started helping Mark pick beans. I joined in feeling rather like the bumbling garden idiot. We were all oohing and ahhing about how cool it is to pick beans right off a bush. Everyone was making fun of the fact that I would have ignored them until the wildlife ate them all or they shriveled up and died on the plant with my savvy gardening instinct. Yeah, well I didn’t see you out here this morning gently tending these plants, so give me a break. Besides which, I think they just “appeared” magically in the last few hours while we were out. I’m quite certain these beans were not here this morning.
In other words, who you calling a garden idiot?
I rest my point!
While we were expressing our excitement and picking furiously, Denver drove up (to retrieve some laundry she had left yesterday for the Mommy Laundry Fairy). We shouted for her to come out and see! We wanted her to share the fun. We said, “Come pick some beans! This is so cool!”
Her boyfriend blinked drolly and said, “I’ve picked beans before. Who hasn’t? What is wrong with your family? I think their enthusiasm is just a way of making fun of country people.”
Denver said, “No, they respect and admire country people. Tbhey are not making fun of anyone. They are genuinely thrilled with picking beans. You know how I know that? Because I want to pick some too!” And she ran out and we all picked beans together marveling at how bean plants produce, looking with furrowed brows at the beetle holes on leaves, checking out the other plants.
Her boyfriend stood by sighing, bored, thinking we city folk are too queer for words. Denver picked a squash with as much excitement and tentative concern as she displayed the first time she drove a car. We walked over to see the pumpkin vine all in bloom and talked about how exciting it will be if we can carve a jack-o-lantern from our very own garden pumpkin this year. My mind was swimming with pumpkin recipes (I happen to be the queen of pumpkin cooking – no joke.)
The laughter and excitement the family was sharing was truly refreshing. I thought of how only two years ago, living in a different environment, my kids were “too cool” for just about everything. Then, designer clothes and electronic devices ruled their existence. Now, they have fun in unabashed, down to earth ways and they care little about what is “cool”. (Well, we are not in school at this moment which, let’s face it, might make a difference.) Nevertheless, they see the wonder in life basics and suddenly have respect for the earth, our food sources, and family time. How I appreciate the opportunity to stand right beside them when they discover new things and react with unaffected delight. Between you and me, I was really more focused on that then the beans.
We came in and Kent took a picture of last night’s harvest to add to our other fine family memories, like vacation photos. (I included the berries we picked on a short four wheel drive too, just for the color contrast). At eleven last night (inspired by the bean discovery) I made two batches (19 jars) of blackberry jam. (Now, Chuck can rest assured he will have jam with his pickles when next I go to Florida, Patti.) I’m on top of the jam thing, so I’m going back to seeking ways to preserve beans – pickling, canning, freezing … hummmm what exciting things can I lean to do with beans other than cook them now – ‘cause at the rate they’re coming, no normal human consumption could keep up. I am going to buy a food dehydrator this week. I want to try drying bananas and apples to make my own health mixes. Speaking of which, when WILL those dang tomatoes start turning red?
I keep wondering if I should try a batch of fried green tomatoes. Made a pretty cool movie, but I can’t imagine eating them. My lifestyle may be “country” but my palate is still “city”. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Growth begins with keeping an open mind and not making judgments on things you do not have first hand experience with.
Anyway, that is the Hendry country update. Bears and beans. Boo-ya!