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?