South Jersey pastoral.

The weather at my dad’s has been crummy all week: torrential rain alternating with overcast days so humid I felt as though I were swimming instead of walking. Today the sun came out and the breeze picked up and I had the chance to do something I rarely get to do:

Hang laundry outside to dry.

I washed sheets, towels and a few pieces of clothing. It was a real pleasure to put these items on the line, where they instantly puffed out in the breeze. I remembered a line from “Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

We laughed to see the sails conceive

And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind.

The sheets were total sluts. The heavy terrycloth towels were much more modest.

It was lovely to feel warm sun on my bare legs – I rarely wear shorts in Seattle – and to breathe air that wasn’t as damp as the laundry I’d just pinned up. The weather was so nice, in fact, that I picked up a bunch of storm-thrown branches and twigs and piled them for kindling.

Next week I’ll help mow around several fields of Christmas trees and tear down the dregs of this year’s vegetable garden. I like to do these things. Heck, I didn’t even mind hoeing weeds.

But that’s probably because I don’t have to do it all the time. If I did, I wouldn’t wax rhapsodic about it.

Not a photo opp

Don’t get me wrong: If I had a little piece of land or even a house with a yard I’d be gardening and preserving and hanging out laundry. But I’d go into it with my eyes open. Real life is not a Martha Stewart magazine layout.

When you pull weeds or pick vegetables in a South Jersey summer you’re one long, sweaty ache. Canning tomatoes is, despite air conditioning, a hot and stinky job. Blanching, paring and slicing a basket of fruit for processing leaves your hands sore and shriveled.

In short, it’s work. Hard work. The photo may show Martha holding up a jar of perfect peach preserves, but did she:

  • Pick the fruit, drop it into boiling water, dip it back out and toss it into cold water?
  • Peel each peach, cut it in half, pry out the pit and throw the halves into a bowl of water laced with Fruit Fresh (or, if you’re frugal, crushed Vitamin C tablets)?
  • Slice the halves into pint jars, pour in scalding-hot syrup and use a skinny spatula to remove air bubbles?
  • Wipe the threads, pluck lids from a pan of simmering water and screw them onto the hot jars?
  • Lower the jars into a canner, bring it to a boil and set a timer?
  • Carry the peelings out to the edge of the woods and dump them?

My guess is that she has a staff for that sort of thing – or, at least, that she gets to pick which chores she does and doesn’t do.

That’s why they call it ‘work’

City or suburban dwellers may daydream about country life: growing vegetables, making jam, watching their kids play on the lawn, raising chickens. The reality is considerably earthier, as it were.

It’s mowing twice a week during summer’s heat and rain. It’s fighting to keep deer, slugs, moles, weeds – and those chickens – away from your veggies, and getting your arms slashed picking blackberries. It’s taking diseased produce or captured insects to Cooperative Extension and saying “WTF?”

Oh, and that laundry you hung out? Plan on rewashing some of it. Birds, you know.

Is it worth it? Sure. It just takes effort. As my dad says, “That’s why they call it ‘work.’ If it were fun, they’d call it ‘fun’.”

For now, and maybe forever, I’m a city girl. But I have a few daydreams of my own. Everbearing strawberries and dwarf fruit trees. A dozen shades and textures of lettuce. Snap peas so sweet and tender they don’t need cooking.

Potatoes in red, blue and purple. Tomato plants sagging under the weight of scarlet fruit. Enough produce to eat all summer long, to share with neighbors and the food bank, and, yes, to can and freeze.

Perhaps I’ll dream such things tonight. Nestled in sheets dried in the wind and sun, how could I help it?


19 Comments

  1. What a sweet article! Add to your list of vermin for the garden…STINK BUGS….they are ruining local produce….especially squash and tomatoes.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jestjack: That stinks, all right…but feel pity for the folks in Alaska, who have to chase MOOSE out of their gardens. That’s hard to do. Moose will leave when they’re full.

  2. How bout this: I have gullwing racks to air dry clothes. You don’t need a yard. I can fit a whole load of laundry on one rack, if I plan well.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Carol: I dry all my laundry on racks in my Seattle apartment. I just miss having it hang in the sun and the wind.

  3. I really enjoyed this. I just got back from the landfill and recycling center and am getting ready to go mow my grass. Then the afternoon is working in the garden and planting lots of stuff I split last weekend. I think of getting a smaller place w/o these kind of responsibilities but it does give a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day :-)
    I was wondering….what took you to Seattle and what keeps you there? I hear its mega cool (on my travel list for 2013).

    • Donna Freedman

      @Suzanne: I went to Seattle after leaving my marriage because my daughter and sister lived there. At the time I thought I’d head back up to Anchorage, but circumstances kept me in Seattle. I’m not sorry. It’s an interesting place to live, even though I haven’t been there much for the past year and a half.
      Let me know when you’re visiting and if I’m still there we can meet for a soda.

  4. We dried all of our laundry outside while we were on vacation. House rules, so we don’t waste electricity using the dryer. The clothes smelled amazing! Although last year a bumblebee made its way all the way home in my bathingsuit fresh from the line and flew out of my suitcase when I opened it!

  5. Gardening, chickens, and hanging laundry are not that much work in a small city backyard. :-) I’m on a canning mission this weekend, though. Lots of cukes from the garden to pickle and put up. I love to can, though. As one of my friends says “Canning is my yoga.”

  6. Sounds like a wonderful and tiring dream. I would take it!

  7. You describe the humidity here is S. Jersey perfectly!

  8. I have a small yard but have had an abundance of cukes, beans, tomatoes, and PARSLEY! Canned some tomatoes and pickled some cukes, and probably will need to do it again before the weather changes. I also have a varmint chowing on some of the tomatoes, I’m guessing a chipmunk or squirrel. So I’ve been picking tomatoes a little early and letting them ripen in the house. I have thought of raising chickens but winters get pretty rough around here, might get rough for the chickens, too. Plus, I don’t think I can stew up a hen past it’s egg laying prime as many how to books suggest! Sounds like you are having some fun at your dad’s house! TTYL!

  9. You’re so right in that most people only envision what living in the country is like and they’re usually the ones who complain about the train whistles that sing at night, the mooing of the cows they say keep them awake and on and on. But, that tired feeling you get from the work is such a different and fulfilling tired. Love your posts!

  10. Follow you on Facebook…..can’t get enough of your postings!

  11. Get your posts through email!

  12. I love all that stuff as a hobby but I wouldn’t love to be a slave to it or suffer the heartache of a bad crop. My mom’s garden is a mess this year because of all the rain. She’s gotten hardly any eatable tomatoes this year. It’s fun when it’s a hobby, but not fun when you rely on it for your livelihood.

    I can one thing, current jelly and now I freeze the berries and wait til fall before canning anything. It’s just too hot to do it when you’re supposed to, although with a big garden you don’t have the luxury to postpone tasks with everything.

    Reminds me of the song, “nothing but flowers” by the talking heads. Great song.

  13. I’m definitively a country girl. Grew up on a farm and I have to say that I miss it a lot. I love camping as well. There is something to not being in front of a computer screen or television screen all day and that fresh air is more than sitting on your balcony.

  14. I live in the city with a postage stamped size yard. However I did find this great outdoor umbrella clothesline that folds up and is easily removed. Then I also got a nice indoor drying rack. Then I got rid of my dryer. I now save money, my clothes last longer and I feel that I am doing the right thing for the environment.

    The other thing I do is grow tomatoes and peppers in pots and herbs in the window. Just because we live in the city doesn’t mean we can’t supplement our food.

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