Friday, July 31, 2009 in Wasps

Who knew wasps are carnivorous in August? Even hungry enough to locate a mole carcass, left outside the front door by the cat, and from thence scooped up by farmer Greg and dropped into the rolling trash bin? A mole carcass that entered the bin on Thursday afternoon, with expected pick-up the next morning?

Thursday had been a good day as Annie and I finished our evening chores of corralling and feeding animals. Our guests had not yet arrived, but I expected them soon. I stuffed a pile of old feed bags into the trash can, after saving them for months, because it was obvious I wasn't going to have time to use them for weed control so late in the summer. Time to give up on the idea. I reached for the handle of the trash container without looking, grabbed hold and immediately withdrew from a sting. It only took a nanosecond to connect the sting with the swirl of wasps rising up in the air. Dammit and dammit again. I felt a second sting on my neck before I even started running.

As I swatted at a trailing wasps, I felt for the sting and I felt for the location of my jugular. The spots seemed pretty close. I remembered the reaction I had had last summer to a wasp attack. My hand had stayed swollen for over a week. How could I have not noticed the wasps flying around the bin. Oh, yeah, I wasn't really thinking of the trash can as a wasp zone or paying that close of attention to anything other than dragging the garbage can out to the road.

With a stinging hand that was already starting to swell, I hurried into the house and popped two Benadryl, then went back out to re-look at the garbage bin. Had I been too careless to notice a nest? There were, maybe, five mad wasps flying about and the hornet spray can was near empty. Someone else could take out the trash, I decided.

On entering the cool house, I noticed my skin was starting to feel prickly. Did I remember where I had put the EpiPen from last year? I hoped it was in with all the other medicines. Funny, but I had just spoken with my health care provider about this pen. Had I had to use it? Did I know they expire? Did I know I should use an expired pen anyway if it was all I had. I looked on the yellow box sitting in the medicine basket. The pen was still good. Except now my vision was going wobbly and things were starting to blur.

Greg suggested I sit down and relax. No need to panic. Just sit back and stay calm. Now I was really starting to feel bad in a bad kind of way. All over. I closed my eyes. We needed to use the pen. Annie broke open the box and started to read the directions. I loosened my pants since the shot goes in the thigh.

Next thing I knew I was lying on the floor with my head on a pillow and Greg was putting a towel full of ice on my forehead. Annie was on the phone to 911. The paramedics were coming through the door. Could I respond? Yeah, I don't feel good but I can talk. My neighbor, part of Alsea's volunteer fire department was at my head speaking. He was being told by radio to start an IV with some more Benadryl.

More people. The dogs kept pushing open the door and getting under foot. The cat was alarmed and attentive. The Corvallis paramedics showed up, adding more people to a very small room. I was still on my back. They checked my signs. They canceled the helicopter. They loaded me into the back of the ambulance and as we drove down the dirt road from our farm passed our guests coming the other way. Annie told me they waved. The rest of the ride was rather surreal since I was facing backwards through the curves to the local hospital. I was informed people often don't do well riding backwards in ambulances. Add a mountain pass and the effect doubles.

I didn't actually start throwing up until an hour into my hospital stay. Everyone kept speaking about a second reaction that often takes place, but I don't think they mean throwing up. That would be the Epinephrine. Thankfully, I exhibited no other signs of anaphylactic shock. The hives that had turned my body red went away; my air passages were clear. I think we got home somewhere around midnight and fell into bed, although I remember Annie saying something about taking the trash can out to the road...uneventfully. The wasps were sleeping, or dead. Had she said something about spraying wasp killer on them?

The next day we greeted our guests with a short explanation. I found out a note had been left for them. Something about a family emergency. I think they had put two and two together with the ambulance and all. I heard a recount of the previous evening. Seems after the shot I had passed out for about five minutes but everything Greg and Annie did had been correct. The EpiPen had saved my life. Next time we were told don't sit around and think about using it, just use it right away. No time to waste.

Next time. Now there's a thought. There really can't be a next time, she says, as the honey bees and bumble bees buzz through the gardens. And how about the yellow jacket nests in the soil? Like the one our guest family found several days later when one of the boys stepped on it and was stung several times?! Worse still, this was a place I had walked by a million times.

We now have a new can of wasp killer spray and have located several hives and taken them out. I have three EpiPens I was sent home with: one for my purse and two in the medicine basket, although the nurse says we should put them in separate places and make sure everyone knows where they are. I may speak with the doctor about doing something to desensitize my body so I don't have such a life-and-death reaction in the event I am again stung. Sounds like a good idea.

Life and death. Now there's a funny thing. I never saw a light. I never flashed back over my life. It could have all just been over and I wouldn't have known. Dammit again. While I don't think it was that close, I never realized I could die and not know it. Too many loose ends. Too many pieces of knowledge that only I have that would make things difficult for those I left behind. Starting with passwords! Too much information to be explained, clarified, written down, detailed. And all this recognition just from being stung by a wasp on a warm summer's day when the trash needed to be taken out.

Photo: Henry and me on my birthday, three days before the wasp "attack". Couldn't resist showing a photo of the baby!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Mmm, Stawberries mean Summer

This is the first year we have successfully grown strawberries and there is nothing better than eating your own red, ripe strawberries. Especially when they are grown in Oregon. Sweet, delicious, plentiful ... and they last for maybe two days in the fridge before you must finish them over ice cream or make jam.

I think the photos do justice to our strawberries, as well as the creeping roses cut from our wild hedgerow that every winter demands a pruner with an artistic bent to curl the new stalks in and out of the fence it holds up. Okay, the vase isn't half bad either. It's one of my treasures picked up on holiday in the Andalucian area of Spain, a place I always wanted to see after reading Driving Over Lemons, the first story to reveal a common thread of happenings on farms where animals, water, and nature challenge the human psyche from time to time.

This was not our first strawberry patch, but it was our first successful strawberry patch because this time we designed it with moles in mind. Farmer Greg took the tractor and dug out a hole a foot deep, by about 10 x 30 feet. We stretched hard cloth across the entire bottom and sides, one of the more difficult things I have done since hard cloth is actually wire mesh. Once the barrier was down, we filled our bed with a combination of sand, compost and fill and then planted our strawberry plants, some garlic, celery, and asparagus. That was two years ago.

Finally, this year the strawberries started to produce and every day I went out there were more, bigger, better fruits. We challenged our collection method by not putting in rows, but I can have pretty good balance when I have to creep into the depths of a strawberry patch for the most perfect, juiciest, red, ripe strawberries.

With such a haul and not enough time to eat it all fresh, we came up with a variety of iterations for its use. Annie made strawberry ice cream and strawberry yogurt in our fancy new machine given as a Christmas present by my mother several years ago. I think she figured if you live in the country, you should have an easy way to make ice cream. Well, here was our excuse, because other than the first summer we lived on the farm when Annie made fresh ice cream most days and I gained about 10 pounds, we had left the thing in the box for another time.

I also made some strawberry jam which is one of my favorites, right up there with raspberry jam. When it came down to skimming off the froth that forms while cooking down the fruit and pectin, I couldn't face losing any of the product, so canned the jam in a less than perfect way...except it tastes just fine!

What a harbinger of summer. Sure, you can get strawberries at other times of the year from other places on the planet, but if you want to put any energy into eating what grows seasonally and locally, then you will be eating strawberries from Oregon near the beginning of July...only.

And, if you find yourself eating these strawberries with a young child by your side, pull out one of my favorite childrens' books, The Little Mouse, the Red, Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear. It will give you a new appreciation for the fruit and how we imagine it.

Photos: (top) strawberries in a basket; (bottom) rose hedgerow near the chicken yard

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Falling Over Tree

Century-old apple trees are a thing to behold and taste, and our apple orchard is a testament to the old timers who settled this valley. The other day, we lost one of the biggest and prettiest Kings on the property. It smashed through the aged cedar rail fence that keeps the sheep off the lawn, its wide canopy laden with small, unripened fruit scattered in the grass. Certainly the spread of branches from ground level was impressive. And sad.

It's a mystery why the tree fell over, but I suspect gravity and time (of which I am becoming more and more familiar) had a fair hand at it. The day was clear. The wind blew in from the ocean, mild and gusty, but nothing to cause alarm or even worth attention. Working in my office, I thought I heard something slide and fall. Was it off the roof? Since our shake roof is slowly disintegrating, it seemed likely, but there didn't appear to be anything on the ground when I got up to look. I decided some papers on the bed near the window must have blown to the ground. Who would know? The office is piled in stacks, one as wind-swept as the next. I was late for an appointment and took off for town without wondering further about what I had heard, or maybe imagined.

Our daughters greeted me at the door on my return. Had I heard anything funny while I was home in the morning, they asked? I shook my head. No, nothing unusual, except for a sound like papers falling off a bed. Why? Caitlin asked me to follow her. Did I notice anything? With all the greenery of spring and summer, the area around our house is lush to the point of suffocation. I stood my ground and looked harder. My eyes settled on a mass of leaves crushed into the edge of a flower bed. Or, at least, what has been a flower bed.

I looked at the fence, walked around to check the torn roots of the tree, walked into the middle of the canopy spread gracefully across the lawn, and finally wondered whether any of the sheep had taken the opportunity to escape. No, the tree was too intimidating lying on its side for any free-for-all dash to the grass.

And, that was it. There was nothing to do about it. The tree was way too large to set upright again, at least with any of our equipment. It had only taken out a rhododendron in the flower bed and a fence that could be repaired. We had lost another King a year prior that had managed to take the top off an adjacent tree as it fell to the ground, making a huge mess and reducing our apple harvest by half.

That evening, I showed farmer-woodsman Greg the tree when he came home from work. Soon enough he tackled the behemoth with his chain saw and within a weekend the tree was cut up and gone to the wood pile and the burn pile. Of course we are in our no-burn season so the burn pile is the current eye-sore. We won't be able to see past it until mid-November, at least, when the rains start again in earnest, and the fire department relaxes about folks setting the mountains alight.

This tree produced a lot of apples over its lifetime and also a lot of shade in the summer. With two large trees and the top of a third gone in two years, I wonder what our orchard will look like in years to come. It is probably time to be the next old timers referred to years hence. We need to plant some new trees of our own.

Which gets me to thinking: the people who live here come and go faster than the trees they plant. I always point out the multi-trunked cedar planted by the old timers when they were little boys - which would make the tree over 100 years old. There is the Monkey Puzzle tree Gisela put in maybe thirty years ago, and the kiwi she trellised to climb up to her son's bedroom window (I'm darned if I can remember why).

Soon, there will be trees we have chosen - to propagate, to harvest, to hold the stories of who we are and what we eat. And surely someday we will be referred to as the old-timers who lived and worked this farm and who, one day, maybe for no reason other than age and gravity, fell over to make room for the next generation. (While I hope this is many years hence, it's not a bad metaphor for the passing of time and the celebration of yet another birthday!)

Photos: I took these shots of our apple tree to show how big it was because, once cut up and gone, it's hard to remember.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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