Monday, August 11, 2008

Nature - friend and foe

Remarkably, we are once again off-island.  Back on Highway 20, we venture further east with each ferry ride over.  This time, we crested the spine that divides eastern Washington from its more verdant, populous half, soaring down the backside of the North Cascade 'til we landed in the Mazama Country Inn (

Though we've traveled this scene many times on Highway 2 or the Interstate, the suddenness of the landscape transformation still surprises.  Here, lush temperate forest disappears at the great towering rock outcrops on the top of the world and is replaced just a couple miles later with bushy Ponderosa Pine.

West of the pass, you cannot see the forest floor as you stare from the car - it's all a wall of deep green, varied mostly by the successful birch or aspen here and there.  On the lee side of the mountains, the prehistoric Ponderosa lays claim to its real estate pretty much unchallenged.

We are caught in the surreal sleep-deprived space of having arrived at our destination and feeling home and yet not home.  Up at 6, out of the house just past 7:30, we have mentally tracked three days of life for 31 animals and countless plants, pulling out of the driveway feeling satisfied at their chances.  A ferry ride, an oil change, and nearly four hours of driving later, we are sprawled across various bed and couches.  It may seem an extravagant amount of trouble to go to for a nap, but there it is.

It is August on the farm, and everywhere else, and my mind is already filled with Autumn thoughts.  The basic foundation of the landscaping nearly laid, I am finally ready to focus more fully on Mark's priority of a 12-month production vegetable garden.  Til now, I have been overwhelmed with all there is and also somehow not connecting with our plans in that arena.  Two years of reading and thinking and imagining, plus some admission of earlier delusions of grandeur, have brought me, at last, to the place of garden readiness.  

Odd timing, perhaps, as another August melts by with little food to show for it, but in August is the exactly right time to build the beds, lay the cloth, stretch th fence, and even sow the winter and overwinter veggies that are made of stouter, more forgiving stuff than the spring peas and bolty lettuce.

To be perfectly honest, I'd begun to resent these three days approaching on the calendar, as the time required to prep our soil and buy and lay our sod for our smallish lawn and cover our newly-reduced food production space in commercial-grade weed barrier and deer fencing seems to be growing tight.

There is no small trick in training a desert rat to garden in the womb-like environs of Puget Sound.  While it is true that almost anything will grow here, it is also true that almost anything will grow here.

I grew up understanding that enough water and sufficient protection from the elements (ie, sun) were the primary requirements for a happy plant.  Not that I ever planted anything, but the evidence was stark and ubiquitous.  

That truth is turned squarely on its head here.  And, while the eyes may have been taking in that fact for nearly two decades, the mind still sleeps in the desert.

So, perhaps it should come really as no real surprise that an army of weeds has marched resolutely across and set up camp on my well-tilled and beautiful compost - not once, but, alas, three times now.  An invasion of such full-scale proportions, its success each time could well have been predicted.  Instead, each time I have sown my babies faithfully and properly, by the calendar and the book, nurtured tiny sprouts, only to somehow along the way watch helplessly as the blades and leaves and thorns of the invaders swoop in and take another year off my well-laid plans.

Which brings us to the 250 feet of essentially felt, or as I like to call it, "carpet," rolled up in my potting shed.  I needed little convincing after seeing it in action last summer at a friend's.  Inspired, I ordered a roll and got to work, finally turning the front yard into something more than a dirt patch punctuated with equal parts weeds and intentional shrubs.  I sculpted beds around the existing plants I'd put in the first year, dressed them in nurturing soil, then bought colorful pebbles for a rainbow backdrop to the greenery and blooms.  

But, the key, the single most important element of the whole show lies silent, out of view.  Underneath every square inch of gravel or dirt - placed closely around plants already here, cut carefully into Xs when new plants arrive, is my hero, professional landscape cloth, AKA outdoor subterranean carpet.

So, now in my state of veggie readiness, another roll lies waiting to save our fourth and hopefully final attempt at establishing something resembling food production.  We are covering it all - everything.  I don't care what the books say.  We must smother so that our dinner may live.