Letter from Birdland: A good idea has started to percolate ...
In Birdland, it's unseasonably warm, but I still call it winter when I step out of work into a dark street. The time change gets me up earlier in the morning and pulls me to bed earlier at night.
I'm still processing fruit, but we are reaching the end of the season. Pears are yellowing high in the tree behind the little pond. These pears are small and round and mild and crunchy — but prone to lumps and bugs. If they stay long enough on the tree, they will turn a little yellow but never reach the juicy stage, like the golden pears at Pam and David's country house. Still, they make a good snack when you're driving to town and don't want to worry about juice dripping off your chin.
They also make good pear butter, and I am still at it, quartering the pears to parboil, grinding the handle on my strainer, simmering the juice down in the crockpot. I'm making butter almost as fast as my family can eat it.
But even these pears will not last forever, and next I will turn to the walnuts. Our walnut tree was also in survival mode this year, producing a bumper crop of the delicious nuts.
Unfortunately, before they're delicious, they're a lot of work. First, I have to gather them, which is important since they rain down like Mr. Moose's pingpong balls on the walk to the kitchen door and then get covered in leaves making a hazardous path to and from the house. I put them in buckets to let the hulls soften and rot a little.
After a week or so, they mostly turn to mush and it's an easy task to pull the shells from the dark brown flesh.
Next, I let them dry a little, and then shell them with my fancy walnut cracker. I bought it a few years back, and it looks like a medieval torture device with big, toothy gears and steel springs. A long lever lets you apply pressure to the nut in a controlled way, and with practice, I can pick the nut meats out in large pieces, sometimes even halves. I paid about $70, and after a few years a bolt broke, but I easily replaced it for a dollar or two.
As I rake up the nuts from the yard, however, I am also raking up leaves.
At first I thought I'd build myself a new mulching station with wooden pallets behind the barn, but as Michael and I were discussing options to winterize the chicken coop, my husband came up with an idea that I thought had possibilities with a little modification.
He wanted to create a winter yard for the chickens using bales of straw. I pointed out that we have neither bales of straw on hand nor a truck to bring them home if we buy them.
Being the cheapskate I am, I never want to pay money for something I could easily grow myself. Nevermind that I didn't have the foresight to plant oats or wheat, and even if I had, we don't have the equipment to cut and bale the straw. I still didn't want to spend money, even if I kind of liked the idea of a fence made of bricks of straw bales, like a giant Lego fence.
Next, my sister and I were helping our mom winterize her yard, cutting back the roses, raking up leaves and putting them in giant, mulchable yard waste bags.
Now, I have never bought these bags. I've never felt much need to rake up the leaves in my yard until they started hiding the hazard of walnuts.
The wind will blow any leaves across the field to catch in the piney woods or the Benson timber and enrich the soil there. But as we bagged cuttings from my mother's roses and butterfly bushes with the fallen leaves, I noticed that the full bags were the size, shape and color of a bale of straw, and an idea began to take form.
I'll let these images and ideas percolate in my brain for a while and let you know what happens.
Steep in beauty; percolate peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath, where she always has one harebrained scheme or another up her sleeve. Her latest book, "Breakfast for the Bee," is available at http://www.etsy.com/au/shop/BirdlandBookArts. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.