Monday, September 28, 2015

Berries! CRANBERRIES, I say!

Three giant pools, Olympic-size...
Hydropower pouring over and through each pool...

Is this a new training facility for athletes of any given sport?

No.  It is the very start of one of many receiving facilities for one of America's famous holiday fruit: the cranberry.

Right now, just this week, and in some parts, just this morning, marks the start of "cranberry season".  Along with corn harvest, soybeans, and soon to be sugar beet harvest, this week also means cranberry season for farmers in the north, from Massachusetts to Washington state, up to British Columbia and beyond.

Think: fresh cranberries, cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, cranberry muffins, Craisins, and more!  This very brief window of cranberry time, this last week of September to the last week or so of October, marks cranberry season!

That Spouse o' Mine and I happened to be in Wisconsin this week.  We made a few calls, met with a few people, and enjoyed a full day of cranberries today!  In some places, I could take photos.  In some places, uhm...not allowed.  But I can give a fun recollection and description of the cranberry harvest we enjoyed today.

Shall we start at the beginning, the marsh...or bog...or cranberry bed?  Each place we visited, I asked which was the operative noun.  Each answer was politely different, and no one offered an argument.  Each replied, "Well, I just call it a cranberry ..."  And then followed with a twinkle of a smile.

Bogs, as I will call them, are years old.  Some, maybe decades old.  Maybe even older.  But the tending of such is certainly not willy-nilly.  A cranberry farmer we met today explained to us part of his "downtime" - that is to say, his winter.  Every three years, he explained, his farm lays a very precise amount of sand onto the cranberry vines in the bog/bed/marsh, in order to maintain the proper mix of boggy soil required for proper cranberry farming.  "Not to much, not too little...JUST RIGHT..."  Several (being ~ three) times each winter, his farm floods each "bed" with water, enough to flood the plants, for ~ ten days.  This is to keep the vines and the roots from freezing.  And then they must drain the beds, and keep records of the temperatures to maintain proper vine and root health in Wisconsin winter.  It must be pretty bitter there in 0* Wisconsin, gauging the cranberry beds.

This particular farmer had many, many beds.  Bogs.  Marshes.  (He called his , "beds".)  I asked permission, and he allowed me to take the following photos of his team, out on their first day of their "season".
A cranberry vine with one of our favorite holiday fruits:
 A bog/marsh/"bed", before it is flooded for harvesting:
 One source of the water for flooding the bogs, and the sand piles in the background:
I love this!  This is where our cranberries come from!  The dry bog, flooded, and then harvested:
 More berries:
 This bog/bed/marsh was flooded, and this machine went through to raise the vines, sort of "trouble" them, and that makes the cranberries rise to the top of the water.  From there, a boom, (a net) swings around wide and gathers all our cranberries.  From the boom to the truck, and then to the receiving station, usually a co-op of farms.    
 A cranberry farmer.  And he is not even in a commercial!
From the cranberry farm, we can follow the semis, full of cranberries, to the receiving docks.  HUGE trucks.  The trucks drive up to a platform which locks them into place, tilts them backwards to about a 45* angle, and then the back doors open. SWOOSH!!  (That should be in GIANT font.)   There is a man hanging on the side who opens the back doors and rushes back from the stream of cranberries.  I asked about this: apparently this is a dangerous job - one must make sure one does not lose balance and end up in the cranberry/water flood below.  That would be very bad.

From the three pools mentioned above, these cranberries go into indoor housing by means of water ladders.  Up above our heads, workers who were dressed like the Morton Fisherman have huge hoses, not unlike firemen's, and their job, in shiftwork, is to spray down the cranberries as they come in from the initial water bath.

Once again, the cranberries are moved by water ladder up to the next level.  All-in-all, the cranberries are cleansed three times at this facility.  I do not know how many times more they will be washed.  From this upper-level, they are "poured" into awaiting giant crates, and from here, by forklift and then into awaiting semis, they go to some packing and/or processing facilities, somewhere.

That Spouse o' Mine and I enjoyed visiting a couple of receiving facilities today.  I have written about this before, when we went to Chile and worked with Chilean cherry growers.  This morning we were required to don hairnets.  Paul and some other men were required "beard nets".  We had hard hats, safety glasses, and ear plugs.  And Neon Yellow vests.  Later, we two remarked that our sensory deprivation really did play a part in our clumsiness, both physically and conversationally.  The funny part?  I was not allowed to photograph.  Picture that sweet Spouse o' Mine.  Now, with a hard hat.  And, underneath that, a hairnet.  And, a beard net.  Couple that with giant safety glasses.  But then - WAIT!  I looked across the way at some point - he and I were working at two different computers, and I see him, all of the above, and he has raised the giant safety glasses to his high forehead, and has put on his reading glasses.  Oh, a sight to behold and to photograph!  And yet, I was not allowed.

Tonight, we drove back "home" to our now-Wisconsin daughter's home in Madison.  We enjoyed hors d'oeuvres of many Wisconsin cheeses, Amish cranberry summer sausage, and cranberry relish with our pulled-pork and pumpkin dinner.

So there you have it!  Cranberry harvest.

"If you tickle the earth with a hoe, she laughs with a harvest."  ~ Douglas Jerrold

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday (Isn't there a song?)

I thought there was a song called Saturday.  Is there not?  I went to Youtube, and I could not find anything I recognized.  But then...I realized that maybe my mind's text said Saturday, but my mind's tune said "Gloria" in whomever sang that song during Hurricane Gloria back in  1986?  87?  I need to give up on this mental thread...

What a terrific day today was.  Cool morning, so I took a 20-mile bike ride down the road.  That Spouse o' Mine went the first four miles with me, and then he circled back to meet his regular Saturday morning posse, who all ride way too fast for my enjoyment AND capabilities.  (You know: that Testosterone Posse?)  I rode the rest of the way by my lonesome, which seems to be a common occurrence anymore.  I did the same thing last weekend, in a group of about 600 cyclists. Yes, in a group that large, I managed to ride the lion's share of 32 miles all by myself.  The last, say, seven miles, I met up with three different riders who were very interesting, and nice.  I am not a fast rider at all, but somehow I managed to drop those cyclists and once again, I was by my lonesome.

After my bike ride this morning, I went about enjoying the cool morning (saints be praised) and spent the time outdoors, painting what will soon (I hope) be an installed wooden picket fence to my cutting garden.  I drained the dog's swimming pool.  I cleaned out the bike barn.  I spread hay and clay down by the creek where the soil is eroding.

I went to church this evening and sat with two couples with whom we share age, kids of same age, and life interests. That Spouse o' Mine opted out of evening church, even though it was HIS suggestion early this morning that we attend tonight.  This means he will go in the morning, I suppose.  Now he is out at the grill, cooking croutons and vegetables and salmon.

All-in-all, a terrific Saturday.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Psssssssssst, Louise!
(whispered) "Enjoy your day!"

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Rural Charm

I am leap-frogging from happy, green, Ithaca, New York, early August, to rural Kansas (ughhhh) in late August.

I know, I know.  I live my life in dribbles and droves.  Ithaca was terrific. And I shall revisit my very enjoyable-yet- meager time there at some point.

However, I must report on rural Kansas as it is now, before the whole thing is wind-swept into the dusty, windy Kansas archives.

I think Rural Anywhere has a charm to it that may not appear in the realms of other places.  Last Spring, a local couple were both diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other.  He works at a farm store nearby, and she is a public school music teacher.  How difficult to do a balancing act when one partner is ill, but to double the time and energy and finances and scheduling...!  Too difficult to want to try imagine.

Here is where that rural community charm comes into play, with empathy and compassion.  Some locals planned a fundraiser for the couple, who are not spring chickens.  Easy enough.  Lots of communities do this.  But this one seemed pretty special.  It was an evening filled with music, a silent auction, and a live auction later in the evening.  Both husband and wife were there, he looking gaunt and she, sporting a new colorful headscarf, post-chemo.  There were more than 300 attendees - and this is a dinky town!  Farmers and ranchers from miles around were there.  (Here's an interesting aside from the non-rancher, me: One can spy the men who wear cowboy hats most of their work day - there is a crease to their hairline on the back of their heads when they come into town on a Saturday night!)

The live music ranged from jazz and bluegrass, to concert piano, and so sweetly, two young vocal soloists who were students of the music teacher/cancer patient.  She (the teacher) accompanied both on the piano, and when that little kid (was she 9? 10?) sang Amazing Grace with sweet vibrato, the entire Columbian Theater was hushed.  So sweet.

Here I must segue to describe the Columbian Theater in Wamego, Kansas.  It was built in the late 1800s.  Back then, a Wamego banker bought some paintings from the World's Fair in Chicago.  Six of the paintings are 11' x 16'.  They are huge.  And they are really nice paintings.  And they are in rural Kansas.

Inbetween musical numbers, the live auction would auction off 3-4 items.  This was so fun and funny, and exactly where that rural Kansas charm comes into play.  The auctioneer and his cohorts must have known nearly everyone in the Columbian Theater that night.  This made the auction terribly fun.  A gas grill up for bid:  He points into the huge audience and states, "June, I KNOW this will be great on your sun porch!"  KU-K-State paraphernalia up for bid: he knew exactly which audience member had graduated from KU, and which from K-State, and he played that ying-yang well!  A very good time had by all.

All totaled, $21,000.00 was raised for this local family.

We do not know the family well.  We greet each other once a year down at the Shamrock Farm's/ Crenshaw's annual Halloween Doughnut gathering, where 80-something Mrs. Crenshaw fries up doughnuts all evening for friends and neighbors.
Here was my donation to the fundraising cause:
The "barn quilt", not the dog or cat.  Barn quilts are something that rural folks like to put on their barns as a celebration of quilts and life in rural America.  This particular "barn quilt" is 4' x 4', and the block is an old 1800s block called Carpenter's Wheel.

Happily, our rancher neighbor Joe Carpenter purchased this at the auction for his barn, to the tune of $500.00.  

And so it goes, life in rural Kansas...

Friday, August 07, 2015

It's August Already?

Well, that's a happy thought:  August 7th and three weeks to go, we'll be in September.  Hooray!

I am not in rural Kansas.  This week I am in upstate New York.  Ithaca.  Cornell University.  Home of waterfalls, cool weather, and lots of giant hills.

That Spouse o' Mine has been working with some Cornell counterparts this year, and it has necessitated a couple of trips to the "land of gorges".  I was so excited a few months ago when he planned his first trip.  I intended to accompany him.  And he was aware of this.  The trouble was that the instrument that he has developed for the folks up there (Agr. Breeding and Genetics) was so large that he had to drive a USDA big van to transport it to Ithaca.  In that USDA is federal, government, and all the rules and regulations that it entails, I, as a "civilian", am not allowed to travel in the van.  So, Pooh!  I missed my golden opportunity to expand my horizons to upstate New York.  (Ok, ok...I have been to upstate New York, and I love it.  I am always looking for an excuse to haul out my perpetually-packed suitcase and throw it underneath the airline seat in front of me.)

Well!  An opportunity arose just two weeks ago, that he was beckoned to Cornell to help those lab folks with said instrument.  He was to fly out, along with his lab technician, for five days.  I saw my glimmer of chance!  I asked that Spouse o' Mine to send me his travel itinerary.  He did.  I went to Expedia and purchased my own tickets for the same flights.  Plus, I made sure I was seated next to him on all flights.  Hahaha!  How funny is that? Well, this is where the surprise ended.  I would have loved to have surprised him by waltzing on board the plane and plopping down beside him.  But, in that we live about two hours from the nearest airport, one must make travel preparations, and so that evening I told him what I did.  Not much of a surprise, I don't think.

But here I am in Ithaca!  Hooray!

More to come...waterfalls, botanical gardens (is anyone surprised?), facets of life in China, and more...        
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