One Day

Certain days in the late fall in northern Minnesota drift hourly, indecisively, between the seasons, and Sunday was one of them. Afternoon brought some seasonal duck-plucking in the bright fall sun, but the morning began much gloomier. When I woke up and stepped outside, it looked like this:

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My fuchsia. I’m sorry, you were a lovely companion but now you’re done.

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Aaron had rented the tiller from town the day before, so snow or no snow, he was going to till the manure and compost into the garden beds. He plans to throw a big plastic cloche over one of the beds, the one with carrots still in it, to shield it from future impending snow. That bed will also heat up the quickest in the spring and will be the one we plant with early lettuce.

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I took these cabbages in and they were still fine—frost-nipped enough to add sweetness, but by no means frozen through.

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And dug some more beets (chiogga and golden) and gilfeather turnips, otherwise known as rutabagas, their gem-tone skins glowing even brighter against the drop cloth of snow.

By the time we were sipping our celebratory first-snow hot chocolate (with cinnamon and an indulgent dribble of cream), the sun was beginning to shine and melt the snow, and we drove over to our neighbor’s house to pick up some of the chickens they had raised this summer and—I was hoping—one of their barnyard ducks. I was relieved to see that the ducks weren’t still quacking, but they weren’t quite yet in the bag, either. Hank ran off to play with TJ and Esther’s boys and we stood at the clothesline and helped them pluck.

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(Loose thought about feathers: does anyone know how to clean these to use for pillow stuffing?)

None of us had ever cleaned ducks, including TJ and Esther, but once we started tugging it seemed pretty obvious. As TJ says, he’s “an internet farmer,” and has been learning how to raise his two cows, two pigs, and flock of chickens via a combination of googling and good old-fashioned trial-and-error. (Now if only some kind company would run the fiber optic cable past both of our houses, he could be a proper high-speed internet farmer.)

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TJ and his friend Joe had a hot pot of paraffin waiting and we each dunked our ducks, one at a time, into the wax, and then after waiting a minute for them to set, into a clean bucket of cold water. If we did it right, peeling back the wax did remove most of the feathers. The stubborn pin feathers required finer tools, though. Esther ran for her eyebrow tweezers (which I can work like nobody’s business, due to practice) and some needle-nose pliers.

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I worked so long on this baby, they gave him to me.

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We invited them back to our house for dinner where a pork roast was baking, but they had the very same meal in process in their house. (Two pigs in the freezer; of course they did.) Walking in our front door was like entering a humid cloud of 6-hour-pork roast potpurri—a deep-reaching, addictive, memory-tugging aroma for me. To be honest, it’s the only kind of perfume I like.

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