Tag Archives: summer

Dog Days 2020

Oh, this heat. The Dog Days are upon us, the most oppressive period of summer, between July 3rd and August 11th. Why are these days called “Dog Days?” The Farmer’s Almanac tells us it is because, during this time, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, and this is why Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star. (It is also the likely reason why Sirius Black of the Harry Potter books can turn into a dog named Padfoot.)

Canis Major as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set
of constellation cards published in London c.1825.
The bright star, Siris, marks the dog’s nose.

I discovered during this heat how much ducks need water—and of course, after one being bitten by a turtle, my ducks just flat refused to enter the lake out back. After refilling a kiddie pool twice a day for a week or more, I decided to find the ducks a new home. Of course, I still have my four young hens, who are nowhere near as messy or demanding. This heat is also hard on the garden. We have taken to watering at night with soaker hoses to keep the tomato plants from dying. I forgot about a lovely hanging basket on my front porch, and by the time I remembered to water the basket, it was far too late.

I worked from home for ten years. Maintaining ducks, flowers, chickens, and the garden was much easier when I could address their needs as they arose. But animals and plants do not care if you have to go to work all day. When plants need water, they need water. When fences need mending, delay can cost you the whole garden. And when animals have a crisis or problem, a lack of immediate attention can cause injury or lost lives.

I think about the farms and gardens when West Virginia’s “outmigration” began in the 1950s when fathers, brothers, sons, families began leaving the state to find work elsewhere. “Outmigration” means leaving a region or community, to move or settle into a different place than one’s home territory. Outmigration is a significant problem in West Virginia. What started in the 1950s has continued since.

A statistical brief from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center said more than half the Mountain State’s overall loss from outmigration during a 50-year period (1950-2000), occurred from 1950-1960. When the major 1950s outmigration started, over 40% of the nation’s produce was grown and harvested from family gardens and farms, and I imagine the percentage was higher in West Virginia. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat at the store was almost always sourced from a location less than 50 miles away.

Imagine the West Virginia farms and homestead in 1950 — especially after President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged every American to fight food shortages of World War II with a home garden. In 1943, twenty million “Victory Gardens” existed in the United States. But then the war ended, the demand for coal bottomed out, and the outmigration of people essentially drained a whole generation from West Virginia. Victory Gardens were neglected or abandoned, and workers here were forced out of the state to make a living. Gardens, hayfields, and meadows and hills were left in the care of those who stayed behind – or were simply left untended.

Singer Steve Earle wrote a song titled “Hillbilly Highway,” recorded on his 1986 album Guitar Town. The Hillbilly Highway refers to the emigration of Appalachians to industrial cities, primarily in the years following World War II. While most often used in this metaphoric sense, the term is sometimes used to refer to specific stretches of roadway.

Why? Because, during long weekends, holidays, and lay-offs, workers who left along the Hillbilly Highways returned home. More than any other migrant industrial workers in America, Appalachians traveled home. During layoffs in Flint, Michigan, as many as 35% of the Appalachians left for the hills. I often think they came to help put up hay, harvest the garden, and mend fences — literally and metaphorically. They returned to the homestead, but many came home to unkempt and unchecked environments.

Since then, family gardens in Appalachia have declined, at first in tandem with the levels of outmigration, and then (as land and knowledge were passed less often to the next generation) nearly disappeared. While industrialization and commercialism made our lives busier and “easier,” Americans handed nearly all our food production concerns to a few massive corporations. Who has time to grow and weed a garden? Who has time to water ducks when the ducks are less than 50 feet from a lake?

This heat reminds me: we don’t control nature. Nature controls us. If you have a garden, you must constantly respond to the garden’s demands. If you have livestock or pets, you must diligently provide for their health and safety. I know what a neglected garden can look like after being abandoned for three weeks. Imagine the Appalachian migrants who left these hills for months or years and what they found when they returned home. How much changed in their absence? How much was lost?

Happy Dog Days. While you are staying safer at home for COVID, remember to stay safe in this heat. Avoid strenuous activities and take frequent breaks. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing, and avoid direct sun. Drink plenty of hydrating fluids–alcohol, coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks can hurt more than help. And of course, NEVER leave people or pets in a closed car. Come mid-August, it is likely we will experience fewer days at peak heat and humidity and Dog Days will be behind us. We can only hope it’s the same for the virus.

Lying Fallow: June 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This is my 2017 installment of “Two Lane for Life” from the June issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can view the entire issue as a digital flipbook via twolanelivin.com.)

As we grow near to Two-Lane Livin’s 10th birthday, I have been looking back through our early archives. And though I am old enough to reflect on nearly five decades of life, only the last ten years have been recorded in a monthly publication I can look back upon.

When we launched the magazine, I was so excited about gardening and canning, learning how to be healthier and more self-reliant. I was thrilled to welcome chickens and bees to our family, was stockpiling seeds and lamp oil and teaching myself to sew and crochet.

Somehow, I thought this “back to the land” mindset was going to simplify my life. I look back at all that now and laugh.

When it comes to farming and gardening, I have found that it is quite easy to over do it. I have learned, truly, moderation is key. But baby chicks can be purchased in bulk, in fact, when ordering, you must purchase at least a dozen.  One more tray of spring plants can produce another thirty or more pounds of tomatoes. One more row or seed packet of beans can double or triple the bushels of beans that need strung in the fall.

A ten year old oregano patch can spread to cover more than eight square feet. Mature perennials need divided. Fences eventually need mending, spades sharpened, hives and pens need maintained.

All the projects I was so excited about ten years ago, I now know, are work. Work, and time. And though I knew back then and was not afraid of the work, I sorely underestimated the amount of time truly required.

Gardens, bees, chickens, fields, these things do not wait. They do not wait until you have time, do not wait until you are ready. Weeds need pulled, beans need picked, hay needs cut. Bees swarm. Eggs, water, and feed need dealt with more than once a day.

There was a time when we had more than 30 chickens, and planted more than 100 tomato plants and six rows of beans.

For two people? Insanity is what that is.

These days, my sewing machine is packed away, as are my crochet needles, my pressure canner. And though June is upon us, we have not planted a garden this year. The pantry is still filled with jars from previous years, and we still get near a dozen eggs a day from our small flock of aging hens. We have four bee hives, but three of them are swarms we caught this spring.

We can certainly take a break from gardening this year, but it feels shameful to not have a garden. I feel shame, and I feel a loss. A loss of a chance to fill more jars, a loss of the mornings pulling weeds and smashing stink bugs. A loss not to wander out again in the evenings sweating in the late day sun and swatting at deer flies. In many ways, gardeners are slaves to their gardens–you weed and water when it’s needed, pick and harvest when it’s ready. But at the same time, a garden is nourishing, not just to the body, but to the soul.

In some ways, I feel like we’re taking the summer off. Like we’re cheating, or being lazy.

Of course, we still have asparagus, garlic, horseradish, mushrooms in the perennial beds, and thyme, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and chives in the herb garden.

Won’t we miss fresh produce? I don’t think so. I have learned that someone will inevitably grow too many cucumbers and squash, and will bring some to the library or the local mom and pop store. Heirloom tomatoes will find their way to the local farmer’s markets.

What will I do with the extra  summer days that for the last ten years have been spent tilling and canning? I hope I don’t waste it on facebook. I hope to work on other things, like moderation and maintenance. My approach to simple living ten years ago wasn’t simple at all. I was so excited about getting started, I didn’t really think about the upkeep. But you have to think about upkeep, or you won’t be able to keep up. Over the past ten years, we have fallen behind.

Where to store empty canning jars, or tomato stakes not in use? Do we really need all those plant trays? I’m going to sharpen my hoe before I ever use it again, and I’m going to spend more time in the back porch swing, watching the grass grow.

So this summer, our garden will be lying fallow, a term used to describe land tilled and plowed but left unseeded. Some farmers do this to raise the fertility in the soil. I wonder what lying fallow will do for us, the humans that tend the garden, what fertility might rise in our lives and souls–if any. Perhaps I will find a way to combine simple living and self-reliance. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing.  For details on her workshops and speaking availability, visit Lhayesminney.net.

Finally, Rain.

In my opinion, it took Fay a long time to get here. All that water she dumped on Florida? Boy, we sure needed it here.

Leaves on the trees were beginning to turn, and flowers began to take on that “yellow” look. Plants in pots that I forgot to water? They’re nearly dead, if not dead already.

The rain came in about 3 a.m. this morning. I know, because I was having one of those nights when I don’t sleep. Not an “I’m not tired yet and not ready to go to bed” nights, but one of those “I’ve been in bed twice and just can’t fall asleep” nights.

The first time I got up, I sat and read the Avon reference guide, which I thought might lull my mind. But, it didn’t. The second time I got up, I just started working on editing and layout of the October issue — before the September issue is even all distributed.

I’ve been known to paint or hyper-clean an entire room on these nights, but last night, I wanted to really just stay near the bed, just in case my brain decided to switch off.

The minute the rain started, I was dog tired and ready to sleep.

This morning, the rain still falls, and I have chosen today as the delivery week day I stay home by myself while Frank makes a delivery run. This is the day I clean off my desk, run the sweeper, do some laundry and do the month’s backed up book keeping.

But this morning, I’m going to start the day with coffee, on the back porch, overlooking the lake, watching it rain.