Saturday, October 6, 2012

squash huts

The Saturday market in Santa Fe gets us out of bed at 4 A.M. and returns us to Dixon with heavy eyelids around 2:00 P.M.  Then we immediately crash into naps and return to semi, human-like states around 3:30, after which we do little more than make a simple dinner and veg out for the remainder of the day.  This is the normal routine, but today was not normal.  Stan took a short nap and knocked on my bedroom door to see if I was ready to drag some squash vines around.  I wasn't ready, but roused myself anyway and joined him in the field.  

The wind has been blowing pretty intensely all afternoon.  A cold front is pushing in and with that cold front is the possibility of a killing frost.  A possibility is what brought us out of our stupors.  Winter squash are pretty tough, but a hard frost could kill off all the vines and leave a fair number damaged squash in the field, i.e. squash unfit for market, i.e. money down the rat hole.  

The principle is pretty simple and commonplace across all life forms that wish to keep warm: huddle together.  A friend of mine just returned from Italy, and for that reason alone I will make this digression.  Years ago I was cold and wet and stranded for a morning in Milan.  I had nowhere to go and my shoes were wet through to my socks.  It was miserable.  I was in central Milan.  It was drizzling.  It was March.  I had luggage.  I noticed a huddle of wet pigeons in the center of the square, pigeons that on a nice day would be pecking around cafe tables, looking for scraps and bothering tourists.  I went over to the huddle.  I went into the center of the huddle.  Warm air from beneath the square was blowing up through a massive grate.  I stood there among the huddle of one hundred and some damp pigeons and got warm for a moment.  Then I went to the tobacconist and bought some cigarettes.  But this is not about cigarettes.  It's about dragging squash vines across a field to make a cozy hut.  The squash and the vines were warm when we dragged them into piles.  The ground beneath them was also relatively warm.  That pile of vines will trap heat.  

I have been calling everything squash, but the truth is that we also also made piles of pumpkin vines and pumpkins.  This is a picture I took when I was en route from the field to the drive.  We harvested most of the winter squashes last week, and most of them are piled in huge boxes under the willow tree on the drive.  Those winter squashes would also need to be covered.  Frost is a thing that drops down from above.  It does not arise from the ground below.  To shield something on the ground from a frost from above, often all you need is a blanket.  Just think of sleeping outside in cold weather.  You use a sleeping bag to block yourself from the elements.

This week we decided to pile a bunch of pumpkins around the trunk of the maple tree, which is also on the drive.  The maple tree and the willow tree provide us some shade when we are preparing produce for the market: washing it, rubbing it with towels, sorting through it, boxing it up.  We joked all week that the ring of pumpkins around the trunk of the maple would make a great Hallmark card.  The joke got a lot funnier today when we threw this ratty blanket over them.  Some kid somewhere is gonna buy one of these pumpkins—rather, some kid's mom is gonna buy one of these pumpkins at the market in Santa Fe, and neither of them will have the slightest clue that their jack-o-lantern, or even better, their pumpkin pie spent a night underneath a blanket that had been shoved into a corner of the shed and then, one Saturday afternoon, pulled out of the shed by a tired farmer and thrown over the pumpkin to keep it from getting frost bitten.  

There is a lot more that one could say about dragging squash vines across a field—the main thing is that squash vines are covered in little prickles and handling them can do a number on your bare forearms and calves—in the field Stan said, We're gonna itch tonight—but I think I'll just leave it there.  Underneath those tarps are hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of butternut squash, and there are more boxes that are not pictured.  Fortunately, most of the squash are already curing in the greenhouse, and so we did not need to deal with them or cover them today.  Instead, we went back inside and ate frozen pot pies and butternut squash.  We all agreed, the squash was undercooked. 


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