Posts Tagged With: chokecherries

Summer Soundtracks

What does summer sound like to you? Think of the sounds that take you back to childhood, when one long summer day blended into the next and the idea of school starting again next fall was too far into the future to even think about.

Does your particular summer soundtrack include the hum of skates or bicycle tires on the pavement? The shrieks and splashing of hordes of little kids at the swimming pool? Or maybe the crack of baseball bats?

None of those sounds evoke childhood summers for me. I didn’t have a bicycle or skates. They wouldn’t have been very usable for kids who lived 15 miles from town at the end of rutted gravel and dirt roads.

I do have a few memories of the swimming pool; they just aren’t happy ones. My introduction to swimming involved chilly June mornings, a gaggle of little kids I didn’t know, and an inexperienced teenaged lifeguard whose theory of discipline was to threaten to dunk anyone who acted up. None of that helped me get past my fear of putting my nose under the water. Most of the time my teeth were chattering as much from terror as temperature, and I was always greatly relieved when it was deemed too cold for us to actually get into the water.

Baseball? It’s not a game you learn when the entire student body of your elementary school consists of five kids. I know that my father sometimes was the umpire for neighborhood baseball games, but that was when I was too little to remember much about the games. My only real baseball-related memory is of driving home from a game once after a heavy rain. The lane between the road and our farm was so muddy that half the time the Jeep was driving sideways, and I was very impressed.

Here are some of the sounds that say “summer” to me:

The strongest one is the clear, melodic trill of a meadowlark. That sound takes me back instantly to being in a car, traveling along a gravel road on a prairie summer day, and the sudden sweetness of the meadowlark song caught through the open window.

Another part of my personal summer soundtrack is the crisp rustling and tearing noises of ears of sweet corn being twisted off the stalks and stripped of their husks. Freezing corn was an all-day project, starting with picking half a pickup load of corn first thing in the morning, then husking it, then blanching the ears, cooling them, and cutting the kernels off the cobs. Which brings back another sound—my grandmother’s knife, the blade worn thin from years of sharpening, scraping along the cob to get every bit of the milky half-cooked kernels.

A summer sound that I heard myself just this morning is the plop-plop-plop of chokecherries hitting the bottom of an ice cream bucket. It took me back decades to chokecherry-picking expeditions with my mother, grandmother, and sisters. I reminisced as I stripped all the berries I could reach off of the tree that stands right outside my own front door. Two ice cream buckets full—Grandma would have been proud. Well, until she saw how many leaves and stems ended up in my buckets along with the fruit.

I greatly enjoyed myself, too, in spite of (or maybe because of) missing two sounds that were definitely part of my childhood chokecherry picking experiences. I didn’t once hear the whine of a mosquito buzzing past my ears. And I didn’t once hear the whine of my hot, bored, little-girl self asking, “Haven’t we picked enough yet?”

Categories: Remembering When | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Breakfast in the Driveway

There’s nothing to bring you fully awake early on a winter morning like going outside to experience nature while you walk up the driveway to get the newspaper. The brilliance of the stars in the still-dark sky to the west contrasts with the brightening of dawn in the east. The crispness of snow under your slippered feet and the freshness of the frigid air are invigorating. What really brings you to full alertness, though, is the tingling sensation on the back of your neck that suggests a mountain lion might be watching.

I’ve written about this before, but in the past couple of years I haven’t worried too much about mountain lions. This is probably due to several factors: the city’s effort to thin the urban deer population, a lion hunting season that has reduced the number of big cats in the Black Hills, the idea that familiarity breeds contempt (or at least nonchalance), and the fact that our newspaper subscription now includes full access to the online version.

Then, a few weeks ago, my partner learned something disturbing while he and our next-door neighbor were enjoying some male bonding over a problem with our shared water well. The neighbor said that twice in the past couple of years, he had found the half-eaten carcasses of deer—clearly killed by mountain lions—in the shallow gully between our houses.

The gully right next to our woodpile. The gully where I pick chokecherries. The gully where the neighbors’ kids had a clubhouse when they were younger. The gully that parallels the driveway we walk every morning when we get the newspaper.

I’m so glad I haven’t wasted any energy worrying about mountain lions.

Not that I’m really worried even now. Honest. I have protective strategies. First, I always put up the hood of my winter coat. I know it wouldn’t really protect the back of my neck from a lion’s teeth, but it might affect his aim.

Second, when I get the paper out of the box, I always roll it up into a tight cylinder. As a defensive weapon, it’s pretty flimsy, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays when there are hardly any advertising flyers. But still, surely no cat would appreciate the humiliation of being whacked across the nose with a newspaper.

But the most important strategy is to always take my shower first thing in the morning. That way, when I go up to get the paper, I smell like soap, shampoo, and body lotion. My idea is that any lion who catches a whiff will not associate my scent with food. The reaction I’m hoping for is, “Eeew—what’s that awful smell? Can you imagine getting a mouthful of that stuff? Yuck!” Ideally, any discerning predator will sneeze, gag, and take its sensitive nose and sharp teeth somewhere else.

Of course, there is an alternative possibility. A lion might pick up my soap/shampoo/lotion aura, take a deep breath, and think, “Yum—breakfast! And somebody already washed it.”

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Flat Green Tomatoes

Despite the belief of my sister's neighbor, who is "kind of different," the United States government does not control the weather. All those jet trails that crisscross South Dakota's expansive skies really are not part of an elaborate weather-manipulating grid that is managed from a secret bunker hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

I find it reassuring that we haven't yet managed to control the weather. It's a reminder that, no matter how high-tech and sophisticated we humans may be, we and the planet we inhabit are still subject to powers greater than ourselves.

Somehow, though, this philosophical point of view wasn't much comfort on Wednesday afternoon as we stood in the doorway watching a hailstorm pulverize our garden. It poured rain (I'm sure I saw a couple of Chihuahuas and a Siamese in there somewhere) for almost half an hour, and it hailed steadily for ten to fifteen minutes.

We could have gone kayaking down our driveway or in the fast-moving miniature river that flowed around the corner of our neighbor's house and filled the gully that separates the two properties. By the time the storm was over, our yard was covered with an inch of hail. Much of the grass was still white the next morning, and on Friday morning one shady spot still held a drift of hail several inches deep.

Of course, half a dozen destroyed tomato plants and a few stripped chokecherry bushes doesn't exactly count as a major life event. We weren't watching the destruction of crops we depended on for our livelihood or even a garden we were counting on to feed a family. The minor pang of a lost garden isn't anywhere close to the heartsick discouragement of a farmer who sees hail or wind pound a year's potential income into oblivion.

Still, the storm made me wish, for just a moment, that my sister's neighbor was right. Then I had a truly terrifying thought.

Maybe he is.

Maybe the government really is controlling the weather. You have to admit it's a bit odd that just around the curve, not 100 yards north of our house, there was hardly any hail at all. A paranoid person might find the apparent targeting of our property more than a little suspicious.

Do you suppose somebody in that secret weather-control bunker knows I voted Libertarian in the last election?

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Forbidden Fruit

It was chokecherry-picking heaven. The bush stood by itself, only a few steps away from the road, surrounded by nice hospitable grass with no thistles or tall, scratchy weeds. It was loaded with clusters of fat, ripe berries within easy reach. It was a perfect spot for filling our bags.

Except for the minor detail that it was on our neighbor's property.

It wasn't as if we didn't have enough chokecherries of our own. The bushes near our house were loaded as well. We had already picked most of the berries we could easily reach. Even though our chokecherries were protected by prickly plum bushes and overgrown thistles (never mind whose fault that was), we could have gotten more with a little bit of effort. Or we could—theoretically at least—have stopped with the four gallons we already had in the freezer.

But I walked and drove past the neighbor's bush every day. I had watched its abundance of berries turn red and then grow darker and darker until they ripened into deep black perfection. I knew he wasn't going to pick them. In all the time I've lived here, he never had. I knew that, because in all the time I've lived here, I've been casting covetous looks at his chokecherries.

Those berries were so perfect. So ripe. So plentiful. So tempting. Every time I walked by, I could practically hear them calling, "Come pick us before the turkeys get us! Pleeeease! We're too good to waste!"

Finally, one morning this week, I allowed myself to be led eagerly into temptation. An accomplice in crime and I, carrying bright red grocery bags (nothing like being conspicuous about your thievery), walked up the road and trespassed. We stripped handful after ripe, juicy handful, filling our bags with satisfying speed.

We didn't even flinch when cars went by, though it did cross my mind that we might have been wiser to do our chokecherry-filching after dark. I had never noticed before how many of the neighbors drive down the road first thing in the morning. Fortunately, the owner of the berries that we were so busily helping ourselves to wasn't among them. Not (or so we told ourselves) that he would have really minded, anyway.

Eventually, my henchman managed to drag me away, leaving plenty of ripe berries on the bushes for the birds. We made it safely home with our heavy bags of stolen fruit.

I now have six gallons of chokecherries in the freezer. That ought to be enough for plenty of jelly—even after I soothe my conscience and acknowledge our neighbor's unsuspecting generosity by taking him several jars. It would be the right thing to do. While I'm there, I might even ask permission to pick his chokecherries next year.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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