Because September

      Here we are at the time of year when, if you like to put up food for the winter, you really start to feel overwhelmed. For some reason every single tomato on every vine in the county has to get ripe at the same time. Whose nutty idea was that? It’s all or nothing, a kind of polarized thinking that humans have been training themselves out of for decades. But are the vegetables listening? They are not. They don’t care about us and our busy lives. It’s very sad.
       And it’s not just tomatoes. Everything else is bursting and ready to pick too: melons and cucumbers, 42 kinds of summer squashes, plums, peaches, mild and hot peppers, corn, more corn, green beans, onions, garlic, kale, potatoes… oh, my Lord, the basil! The urgency of it all is both thrilling and terrifying, especially if you’re hoping to save some of this plenty to eat during the winter. You have about ten days before all of it begins to soften and fall to the ground or, in the case of zucchini, secretly grow to the size of a birch bark canoe while you’re not looking.
       Having a vegetable garden seems both morally right and straightforward: you plant in the spring, you weed and do a little watering in the summer, you harvest in fall and end up with satisfying rows of jars on your kitchen shelves. Sometimes you get to wear a cute floppy hat. The backyard smells glorious. Nobody mentions those disgusting tomato cut-worms that are the size of your cell-phone, or the fact that every single thing you plant is going to need your attention at exactly the same moment. Talk about pressure! It’s insane.
       There’s a joke that says in September people all over the Midwest lock their car doors, while the rest of the time they don’t bother. As my brain tries to make sense of this, thinking: “Do they Christmas shop that early, and don’t want the presents stolen?” the punchline unspools from my memory banks. Oh, yeah. It’s not about theft, it’s about generosity. The doors are locked so your neighbors don’t sneak in and leave you bags of enormous unsightly zucchini.
       I once ended up at a County Fair on Salt Spring Island, in Washington State, where someone had built a wonderful ski-jump-like contraption on which to race vegetables. I laughed till tears ran down my cheeks to see four little plastic wheels stabbed into the underside of a two-foot-long zucchini and its handy win over a glossy Asian eggplant. This seemed like an excellent use for extra vegetables: entertainment for island-bound people facing another winter.
       But back to the tomatoes. To paraphrase Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of September: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Canning. Even though it’s 102 in the shade, my hot water bath is steaming. The jars are clean, the lids are sterile, the tomatoes have been skinned and chopped. Are you ready? Good luck! On your mark, get set…. GO!!!

By | September 23rd, 2014|Radio Commentary|0 Comments

Who gets the pearl earrings?!?

My third guest post for Women’s Voices for Change is about growing up and doing one of those responsible things. Have you made a will yet? Is it time?

By | September 4th, 2014|Guest Posts, Radio Commentary|0 Comments

And furthermore…

This is my second guest blog post for Women’s Voices for Change. A new one comes out tomorrow. I’ll be featured two Saturdays a month.

By | August 23rd, 2014|Guest Posts, Radio Commentary|0 Comments

Blackberry Picking

nancyburnsberries       The other day I went to a local farm to pick blackberries. I have plenty of my own blackberries here at The Poem Farm, but they aren’t ripe yet, and they’re usually the size of a green pea, borne on arching stems that are so prickery you really should wear long sleeves to pick them. My friends run what used to be called a “truck” farm. They provide produce and fruit to local restaurants, the Saturday farmer’s market, and many families in the area.

       As I’ve reported before now, I’m a bad bet to have even a half share of a weekly produce box. I’ll make a few salads and maybe a big veggie omelet but the rest of the stuff ends up in my compost pile, which is so wasteful I can hardly bear to admit it. So I buy at the farmer’s market, and try to spend my dollars equally between all my farmer friends. (more…)

By | August 19th, 2014|Radio Commentary|0 Comments

89 Chairs

      I’m not sure what’s happening, but some natural, organic process — maybe aging? maybe just living — is insisting that I simplify my life. A little voice in my head wants the same food for breakfast every day. My eyes feel tired of looking at all the stuff in my house: my great-grandmother’s tea cups, seashells I found in Key West displayed on a little wooden shelf bracket from Norway. The big drawer of loose photographs I never seem to deal with. Cast iron, mixing bowls, too many t-shirts.

       I’m not a true hoarder, because I purge things every couple of years, and you can always walk unimpeded through my house. But there’s a lot of accumulation around me right now, and it’s driving me “bat guano crazy.” How many soup bowls does one woman need? I do not have house parties where luncheon for 12 is on the schedule. (more…)

By | August 2nd, 2014|Guest Posts, Radio Commentary|0 Comments