Baffled

Eight years ago I bought three five-inch-tall end-of-the-season baby grapevines for $1.29 each and planted them in pots on the deck, hoping to train them onto the arbor. Nothing much happened for several years, although one grew tall enough to peek over Bea’s shoulder in the photo below.

So I transplanted them into the ground beneath the arbor surrounding our patio.  They liked it there, and began to make themselves at home.

Time went by, and over the last few years we’ve had a few sour grapes, but didn’t mind because the leaves were so beautiful.  They might’ve been more productive if I’d pruned, but we loved the shady greenery.

This summer Seattle was unseasonably hot, and we had bunches and bunches of grapes.  All summer we anticipated the harvest. Thom brought in the first bunch to test for ripeness.  Almost ready

We harvested ripe juicy pears.

A few apples.

 

Tomatoes.

 

And wild blackberries…

…by the handful.

Then came the raccoons.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  We let them eat their fill of Italian plums, just to keep them occupied and away from the grapes.  But in the wee hours one night, they got into the arbor.  I chased them off with the jet hose and stood guard. They growled. They snarled. They organized.  It was intense.  They adapted to the water, so I rattled a deck chair to scare them off.  Once they became immune to the rattle of the chair, I had to bang on the chimes with a stick, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate.  While I was occupied by one, another approached from the other side.  Finally, at first light, before disappearing into the trees, the biggest one curled its lip and said, “I’ll be back.”

We had to draw a line, and it was right in front of our first decent crop of grapes ever. Thom designed a “raccoon baffle” from metal sheeting to keep them from accessing the grapes from the south side arbor. He installed a little electric fence below to prevent their climbing up the base of the arbor.  It worked for a couple nights. But the night before harvest day, we heard loud rustling just outside our bedroom window.

The dam! dam! dam! broke.  Thom and I hurried out with bowls, flashlights, and scissors to power harvest everything within reach.  I don’t know how, but they found their way past all the barriers to those grapes. Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world; so smart, expert at teamwork, and they adapt.  While we snipped grapes, they kept creeping up from all directions. They look cute, but are wild and can be dangerous.  It was illogical to take a stand there, when I could buy Safeway grapes for two bucks a pound, but I can’t deny it: I’m very territorial when it comes to my garden.  Ask any slug.

We processed the grapes like we grew them–haphazardly, making it up as we went along.  My sister Constance helped boil them into a thick syrup.

The crock-pot works well for this too, and you don’t have to stir constantly.

When the mixture turns purple and thickens, throw in a bunch of sugar.  Please don’t ask for proportions.  A bunch of grapes and a bunch of sugar.  Strain it a couple times with cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a clean dishtowel (we used them all), and pour it into a container.

Heat the syrup in the microwave, mix it with a little brandy.

 

Or Vernor’s ginger ale. Here too I must draw the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Vernor’s will do.

 And don’t forget the cocktail umbrella.

What you end up with is grape-flavored liquid Sweet Tart, best savored one sip at a time.

After we harvested enough grapes to call it a day (or a desperate last stand of a night), we surrendered the remainders to the raccoons, squirrels, and one particularly noisy possum.  They are smarter than we are, and we figure they earned it.  Now sometimes at night we hear them munching, run for flashlights, and watch them feast at eye level from our cozy raccoon blind.  That’s not sour grapes talking.  In fact, I’d call it a win-win situation.

All words and images copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries.

The Weekly Travel Theme: Intense.

If you want to learn more about raccoons, watch this PBS program on urban raccoons titled Raccoon Nation. It will shock and amaze you!

Editing Monet’s Garden

Last May, while traveling in France, my sister and I went to Giverny to visit Monet’s Garden.  The line to enter was horrendous, and once we got past the ticket booth, we became part of the swarm of tourists overrunning his house and garden.  We must have heard a dozen different languages spoken, people from all over the globe had come to see for themselves the inspiration for Monet’s most famous paintings.

It was eye candy, a stunning profusion of color!   But instead of the rare and exotic flora I expected, all the flowers were, well, your regular garden variety.  Irises, roses, tulips, pansies, alyssum, forget-me-nots…nothing I don’t grow in my own garden.  Yet they were artfully arranged by height, texture, and color to maximize the effect.  And after all, they were in Monet’s Garden.

I wanted to capture at least the illusion of solitude and serenity, and to photograph the garden as I thought it must have been back in Monet’s day.  I waited for lulls in tourist traffic to get my shots.  But while waiting, I watched hoards of humanity shuffling by, and I caught glimpses of peoples’ lives that I found as moving as anything I saw in those historic gardens. Mothers and children, old couples holding hands, a little boy with eyes only for the baby chicks, an awkward teenaged boy who had eyes only for the teenaged chicks, and a family with four generations of women all sharing a park bench.

While we writers strive to capture a mood or feeling or effect, we should also observe the stories happening all around us.

The first  is like a very pretty still life, or a posed portrait of Mother Nature.  The other is a vibrant, sometimes messy picture of the world, brimming with humanity, and all the joy and heartbreak that life and love have to offer.

There is beauty in it all.

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All images and words © NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Plants.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

Berry Picking, Blogging, and a Piece of the Pie

Do I have to?  I don’t want to put on my shoes, and it’s freakin’ cold outside, and now even doing last night’s dishes is starting to look good.  But if I don’t get my butt out into my garden every other day or so, especially now that it’s wet and cold, those ripe red raspberries will grow moldy and drop off the vine into the dirt.  And because I am the daughter of a Depression Baby who ate tuna salad that was green and fuzzy rather than let it go to waste, those fallen berries haunt me like fuzzy green ghostlets.  Waning daylight pokes at me like a sharp stick before I finally get my fanny out the door.

Once I get going, I always wonder what took me so long.   Sure, a spider might drop down in my face, but I try not to scream—it scares the neighbors–and toss the whole bowl of berries into the air like juicy fireworks—all those perfectly good berries hitting the dirt would send my poor mother spinning.

But I can’t hear the robins singing from my armchair, and I enjoy listening to the neighbors calling their kids in for supper.  And while my hands are busy, my thoughts carry me to unexpected places.  This evening I spent a little while with my Grandpa Gus, remembering how he would turn us loose in his garden to fill our bellies with sun-warmed berries.  For the grownup me, the icing on the Forced March Out to the Garden Cake was a colander brimming with raspberries, which turned out to be the filling for the pie.

In the garden I had a quiet moment to reflect upon the writing life.  If you’ve been a writer for more than fifteen minutes, you’ve already heard that if you want a piece of the pie, you need to establish a social media platform.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, other ones of which I’ve never heard so I can’t even spell them, and a blog.  Kristen Lamb, the social media expert for writers tells us to blog at least once a week, ARGH!  But three posts would be better.  TRIPLE ARRRGGGHHH!

I was born an old dog, and new tricks don’t come easy.  My long suffering husband had to drag me to the computer (what is that thing and why are you making me touch it?), tie me to a chair, and force me to learn how to use it.  This happened only about a hundred times before I was willing to trade in my quill for a Mac.  Now writing equals cut and paste, and I use my quill for dusting the keyboard.  Then came e-mail.  (Why bother with that when I can’t keep up with snail mail, and it probably won’t catch on anyway!? )  But you can’t hold back the tide with a teaspoon.  E-mail and the internet were keepers, too; without them I couldn’t run a business, network professionally, or find nearly so many fascinating ways to procrastinate.

I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with the raspberry harvest this year.  If I can do that, I reckon I can learn one more new trick, and keep up with the blogging.  So here I go.

Copyright 2011 Naomi Baltuck