“I am now too dirty for felted soap” I thought as the multi colored wool my mother so carefully attached to the soap in my hand turned brown. I scrub at my legs and the soap turns muddy and stops foaming. Maybe these finer things were meant for people not so thoroughly caked in mud. I keep scrubbing with the soap and hold it to the water’s origin only slightly above my eye level. This shower was built for a short person but that is a battle for another day. When we finally get our own land, and can build our own home, piece by piece, I will make the showers extra tall. And the counters, and the composting toilet, and the cabinets, and everything. For now we make do with the standard construction.
Standing in the shower at 6:30 pm after a day in the field, I watch the cold water come from the shower head, clear and purposeful. The very faint sulfur smell of the well water hasn’t bothered me in months, but with so many visitors throughout the house I somehow notice it once again. Just another way to dig your hands and heels deeper into this land, I guess. The cold clear water rolls down my forehead and wipes the mixture of sweat and dirt and SPF 50 from my face and neck. It slicks down the frazzled mess of my short cropped hair, newly free from the half ponytail and sun hat I use to protect my face and back of my neck during the long July afternoons. Without this compromised hair style, my hat won’t stay on straight when I bend to pull onions, or pluck bush beans, or harvest our somehow dwarf sweet corn. At least the strawberries and their promise of at least an hour on your knees have waned in the mid summer heat. The summer is only half over but it already feels like we are nearing the end of the season. We are almost done planting in the green house, just a few more rounds of the ubiquitous salad mix and multi colored beets for the next round. Each time I smear more sunscreen across my face, or tighten the chin strap of my Columbia paddling hat (now thoroughly rededicated to farm life) against the wind I am reminded that the days are indeed getting shorter and this season is on its way out. This is the time in the season when the fun crops come on and the customers get excited about food, and the farmers do the best they can.
The water travels down to my forearms and wrists and over the scrapes and cuts of the “spineless” zucchini plants. Who knew, such a glorious plant that gives squash unceasing in green and yellow could also take back in the form of the hairline scratches lining my inner forearms. It looks as though I have had a disagreement with several fairly reserved but firm cats. They cannot be swayed and neither can a squash. The bruises are more of a mystery. Some of them come from the love of my boy Rubeus. Now weighing in at just over 100 pounds, his love is becoming a battle field. At 6:00 every morning we are greeted by a soft catlike pounce and then some much less delicate stomps, squishing any limb or body part unlucky enough to be in between him and the window over the bed on the East side of the cabin. some form perfect paw pad ovals and some are larger smears of blue and purple, but all come with the love of the biggest nugget in the West and he has gotten so good at cuddling lately. Laying in between Joey and I in our bed, Ru stretches out and pushes us back, then rolls onto his back with pretty paws in the air ready for belly rubs and melting into the blankets. The burst of love every morning that says at once “you are my people, I do what I want in my house,” and “please don’t leave me today, I love you so.” And so I scrub at all of them until I can tell what is earth and what is earned.
The rash on my wrist has healed. After a recent fight with a whole gang of tomatoes, I was feeling a little itchy. Having never encountered tomatoes en masse before in my life I had not realistically prepared for the concept of tomato resin. This is the yellow sap that secretes from the plants stems. Layered on laboring hands it goes from yellow to an irridescent black-green. It fills all the cracks and doing so widens them, making your hands almost chapped after scrubbing it off with Dr. Bronner’s in the farmstand sink. As you wash the suds turns a sickly yellow color, you can see the bile color in the water on the sink and underneath where the drain pipe ends and the water spills onto the ground. Sensitive skin can have a bad reaction to contact with the mighty tomato resin and as a delicate flower in my own right, my left wrist flared red just at the edge of my glove. Pruning allows an up close and personal relationship with the plants. I have touched every plant and every tomato by the time they go home with their willing consumers. But that requires time and contact and that glove just would not stay down and my wrist paid the piper. For a week I tried and failed not to scratch, but after the second it faded away. The slow healing process has taught me a lesson in respect and now my deference to the plants (and long sleeves) keep me in line and unscathed.
I wash my torso and stomach. Swirling water and rough wool over the skin until I find the crescent shaped bruises on my hips that make me right the course. The thin lines have color according to the sunflower harvests of the past two weeks. Those from this week’s haul still shine blue and black while the battle scars of the previous fade to the healing space between green and brown. On days when I fell the giants I take 8 inch harvest knife sharp and in hand. A diagonal slice of the stem, sometimes over an inch in diameter, then ripping the leaves from the stalk to let the flower shine brighter. I fill humble, white, industrial buckets until I cannot shove a stalk between the maze in place. Once I’ve filled 2 buckets, I call for the aid of my glorious comrades and lift one bucket on each hip up and march out of the field. Once safely in the wash station, sometimes after a quick breather at the farm stand on the way in, I half fill the buckets with water from the newly improved (by Brandon) sink. Here they stay until we drag them to the farm stand or the markets on Thursday and Saturday. Sunflowers: $1 each or 6 for $5.
The soap drips down over my dirtied knees but does not budge the stains. My legs require a purposeful scrubbing with no shyness for the crack and crevices that farm work without pant legs brings. I question if I should stick it out in my work pants, but as the mercury rises past that fateful 80 degree tick mark I know I just won’t make it. I use and abuse my goodwill shorts, making them the crutch of my farm wardrobe and knowing I will probably need new ones next year. This life has a way of killing material things in the name of growing something from nothing. The seeds so small and meaningless in their package then grow to be more important and precious than the cloth covering bodies, the shoes covering feet, the things that seemed so important and sturdy the moment before. We all sacrifice for our god and maybe that means I am beginning to find my deity. But as the water runs brown around my feet again through the scrubbing, I know that when it runs clean I’ll have a night to wax rhapsodical so more before I tithe with my time tomorrow once again.