Monday, March 28, 2011

It's an Early Spring on the Farm

What an early spring we’re having.

Here at 2 Pond Farm, our maple syrup-making was shorter than usual because the maple trees started budding. It’s during that interim period between winter and spring, when the nights are still cold and the days get warm, that the sap flows. Some years, this weather has lasted for up to five weeks, but this year it lasted only two weeks.

Still, we did get a few gallons of syrup and now, spring is here.

Through the stand of still-bare trees, a patch of daffodils is blooming in the woods. The forsythia outside my kitchen window is aflame with yellow. Onion grass (delicious chopped into mashed potatoes) grows in tufts around the yard. The budding lilacs are waiting their turn.

The husband has plowed the fields. When it stops raining for a few days, he can finish tilling the large plots. However he did plant some peas. Lots of other early-planting seeds have yet to go in. Next week, we’ll put 200 strawberry plants in the ground, as well as some new berry vines.

Last weekend I planted some Tennessee orchid ferns, given to me by some friends. In the early spring they are supposed to pop from the ground as fiddleheads, a delicacy in some states similar to the way we enjoy morel mushrooms here.
Then there’s the chore of cleaning the yard: raking up leaves, pine needles and small sticks; clearing the dead growth in the flower beds; pulling out honeysuckle before it goes rampant.

The nights are warm enough now to keep the bedroom window open a crack. The breeze carries with it the all-night broadcast of Virginia peepers (thanks to the “front pond” the husband created years ago).

I found a few eloquent quotes about this annual event online in people’s blogs:

“And there is now a grand chorus of Virginia peepers in all the ponds and creeks around us!”

“As I drove in our nearly half-mile long driveway, the sound of the Virginia peepers overpowered my radio, even with my truck windows rolled-up. What a beautiful sound.”

I wanted to see a spring peeper but they are hard to spot, so I looked them up in our book, “Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia,” published by the UNC Press Chapel Hill in 1980. We bought this book when we lived in the hollow, where the spring peepers were loud enough to keep you awake at night. That is, until you got used to the sound. At first I thought they were insects.

The scientific name for these little guys is hyla crucifer, so named because of the prominent dark X marking on their backs. They can be tan, brown or gray. They also have large toepads to help them get a grip as they climb.

The beautiful sound is a mating call. It is the male peeper calling for a female, all night long. The females come to the male, mate, and then lay eggs on underwater sticks and plants. In 12 days, the baby peepers are born. The tadpoles eat algae and tiny organisms in the water.

In three to four months, the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis and become adults. Then they take up residence in the woods, where they come out at night to look for food: beetles, ants, flies and spiders. In the winter, they hibernate under logs or loose bark on trees. For their size, they are quite sturdy: They can survive having most of their body frozen.

Getting a bit off subject here, the list of the peepers’ prey I found on a website contains some fascinating names. Like daring jumping spider, rabid wolf spider, horned fungus beetle, six-spotted tiger beetle and Asian tiger mosquito.

So much for Virginia peepers.

On the farm, the next thing we’ll harvest (I think) is asparagus. The husband has always remembered that it comes up around the time of his father’s birthday in late April. In years past, we’ve had asparagus through July, enough for ourselves and to share with other family members. However, the husband has been expanding the patch, so it will be exciting to see what comes up this year. The roots take three years to get established, so it takes patience.

We also have wild asparagus growing along the fencerows on the property. These are especially delicious. One plant by the “back pond” grows very thick and tall stalks, but tender as butter. Go figure.

Ah, Spring! All around us and in our hearts!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Society Must Support Mothers, Too

A world in which a mother feels she must be rid of her unborn child in order to live well is not a fair world for women.

As usual, I did not know about International Women’s Day until it was halfway over. The reminder, again, came from my sister in Ireland.

Never mind that it’s been observed around the world since 1911. On March 19, more than one million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to campaign for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained and hold public office.

But it was the fire a few days later that really got people’s attention. On March 25, 146 garment workers—mostly women—died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City because the exit doors were locked.

People paid more attention to working conditions and labor legislation after the Triangle Fire, and New York legislators quickly made changes to the labor laws. IWD subsequently focused on these issues in the United States.

IWD was first observed on March 8 in 1913, when, on the eve of World War I, Russian women campaigned for peace. In 1914, women across Europe followed suit, protesting the war together.

“When the men kill, it is up to us women to fight for the preservation of life,” said Clara Zetkin, a German socialist who first had the idea for an IWD.

In 1917, Russian women hit the streets once again, striking for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers. Political leaders opposed the strike, but four days later—March 8—the Czar was forced to resign and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.

The United Nations in 1977 adopted a resolution setting March 8 as United Nations Day for Women’s Rights, to be observed in its member states. In this year’s statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon writes, “Only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.”

Today, in many countries—such as Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Mongolia, Russia and Vietnam—IWD is a legal holiday. In the U.S., we’ve designated March as Womens’ History Month, when events and observances are held.

Thanks to the courageous women before us, today we have the right to vote, to work in any profession we want, to run marathons, to be paid a fair wage. And the work continues. In Washington, D.C., IWD events included panel discussions of policies concerning immigrant women, lobbying for education and economic support, and a photo exhibit of international women.

We’ve come a long way. But in many ways, it’s still a man’s world. One issue in particular still needs much more attention. Because mothers are women, too.

“There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as [abortion],” wrote Elizabeth Cady Stanton in The Revolution. “But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?”

In another The Revolution article, Martha Gage wrote, “This subject lies deeper down in women’s wrongs than any other. … I hesitate not to assert that most of [the responsibility for] this crime lies at the door of the male sex.”

Women should have all the same civil rights as men, but women should not live as men. Women should live well as women.

As a society, we must offer support to mothers as mothers so they do not have to choose between the life of their unborn child and their own lives. It is distressful for a woman to be forced into making that decision.

“Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women,” says Serrin Foster, founder and president of Feminists for Life.

Unfortunately, many women ignore International Women’s Day because they equate a passion for women’s rights with the “pro-choice” agenda.

“The myth that to be a feminist is to be pro-choice has forced many women to resign from the name of feminism, to settle back bruised into the silence of the margins,” says the President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

I, for one, refuse to choose.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Find the North Star for Your Life

Going back to school. Again.

Longtime readers will remember when I attended Blue Ridge Community College. My classes there were a joy, even the ones I’d hated (namely biology) as a teenager in high school.

As an adult, I’ve always been able to get the jobs I wanted without a college degree.

We are all born with natural talents, proclivities for being able to do certain things well. One friend, as a child, took apart car engines and put them back together. He continued to work on cars as a teenager, displaying a gift for diagnosing problems. Thus, as an adult, he was able to move into a career as an auto mechanic.

Lots of people succeed without going to college.

Bill Gates, a college dropout, has been named the richest person in the world by Forbes magazine 27 times. Gates was 10 points away from a perfect score on the SAT, enrolled at Harvard College in 1973, then two years later took a leave of absence to form a partnership with classmate Paul Allen. The partnership became known as Microsoft.

Steven Spielberg, the movie director and producer, was denied acceptance to film school and dropped out of California State University in Long Beach. He co-founded DreamWorks, a major film studio that’s produced several of the highest grossing movie hits and Academy award-winning films.

Julie Andrews, the Oscar-winning actress and singer, dropped out of high school.

Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, dropped out of high school.

I’m not saying you should not go to college, just that you don’t have to go to college to succeed. It’s certainly not for everyone, as a recent study showed. The world has need of carpenters, hair stylists, plumbers, housekeepers, mechanics, waitresses and electricians.
The long list I found of successful people who did not attend college included mostly people in the fields of entertainment or business. Of course, many professions are impossible to enter without college study, like law, medicine and teaching.

I’d always been a writer, since the first time I put pencil to paper. I spent my young adult life raising my children, so when they were in high school, I applied for a job at the Daily News-Record. I got a job there based on the results of my writing test. But believe me, though I knew how to write, I still had much to learn about reporting news.

What with working at the paper, babysitting grandkids and otherwise living my life, it took five years to earn an associate’s degree at BRCC. When the e-mail came early this week that I’d been accepted at JMU, I was thrilled.

When you feel that good about something, you should follow it, says Martha Beck. In her book, “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live,” she advises readers to follow what gives them joy, energy, health.

Me? I love reading, listening, studying, writing papers, lively discussion … of almost anything. But writing is my first love.

So what will I study? Should I get a degree in a field that will make me more money?

Listen, I’m in my mid-50s. It’s going to take a few years to get a bachelor’s degree, so I’ll be close to 60 when that happens. Life is getting shorter as each day passes.

My hope is that I can study what I love and that it will be enough.

“The North Star—Stella Polaris—is a fixed point that can always be used to figure out which way you’re headed,” writes Beck. “Explorers and mariners can depend on Polaris when there are no other landmarks in sight. The same relationship exists between you and your right life, the ultimate realization of your potential for happiness. I believe that a knowledge of that perfect life sits inside you just as the North Star sits in its unaltering spot. You may think you're utterly lost, but brush away the leaves, wait for the clouds to clear, and you’ll see your destiny shining as brightly as ever; the fixed point in the constantly changing constellations of your life.”

It’s worked so far, so I’ll just keep following.