I love living in the country. I love the peace, the quiet, the turn of the seasons (gently in Virginia), the crisp fresh air, the sound of peepers and crickets. I love going outside to feed the chickens in whatever I have on, or don’t. I love eating straight from the garden. Tonight I feasted on snow peas like Sal in Blueberries for Sal, who ate more than she ka-plinked into her little tin pail.
I went to a party recently with a garden salad. In it, from the garden, were lettuce, spinach, snow peas, finely chopped chives and strawberries. The lettuce is soft as butter right now and the spinach a deep, serious green. I picked the first of the snow peas that night but the last of the strawberries. I put my normal maple syrup dressing on it, which is about one part olive oil, half part cider vinegar, half part syrup, S&P. My dear friend Kim gave me something she calls “cooking syrup,” the dregs of the maple sugar run I take it, the stuff at the very end of the season that’s thick and strong and oh so delicious in salad dressing. I use that most of the time, though regular (real) maple syrup works just beautifully too.
Is there anything under the sun like a salad straight out of your own garden with a dressing you love? Yesterday I baked some salmon and had it first alongside, then with an equally delicious garden salad, this time with a lemon dressing: about one part olive oil, one part sour cream, one part lemon juice, a teaspoon of sugar, S&P. I wish I had thought sooner to just put the fresh hot salmon right on the cool, lemony salad.
There is so much good about living in the country, but as we see and experience every day, nothing is perfect. Sooner or later — no matter where we are — we are disturbed by something we would rather not encounter. The first summer I lived here, I was in my bathroom minding my own business, when I turned around to look out the window and noticed a wolf spider nearly the size of my fist that was thank God on the outside of the screen. She was surely minding her own business too, but for me it was terrifying to the Nth degree, practically a near-death experience the way my heart jumped. (No, I do not have a photo of this creature — how could I possibly have thought of that?!)
I screamed for help. Who can blame me? At that time there were several valiant males on site, at least one of whom came and “took care of it.” I cannot know what was really happening on the ground below my window, though as a general rule it is not wise to question white knights who mean well. In my world, there is a certain protocol, a natural order, when it comes to creepy things: The people who are not as creeped out by any given creepy thing take care of it for those who simply cannot deal. It’s a you-scratch-my-back-I scratch-yours arrangement. We all have our fears. And how easy it is to chuckle or scoff at someone else’s.
Not that I believed he really did take care of it! But on this eventful morning there was nothing else to do except recover as best as humanly possible, get ready for work, try to be a big girl and hope that the trauma of being abruptly disrupted from her siesta on my window screen was enough to send that old girl to a new resting place far, far away, never to return. I recognize the delusion here. I do. But as we have our fears, we also have our delusions, and I will hold fast to mine.
At work, I sought comfort with a friend who also lives in the country. I told her of my fright in the most honest way I could, interspersing my vivid and emotional description with intonations of fear and relief and disbelief. Cheryl is a wonderful human being in so many ways, but on this occasion she completely failed me. I got absolutely no sympathy whatsoever. I mean zero.”You’re living in their home,” she said. I beg your pardon! Dying of fright here! A little sympathy please! Nope.
I consoled myself (all by myself, thank you, Cheryl) gradually. I would hardly be human if something didn’t creep me out. I don’t know what it is about spiders, especially hairy ones. I can deal with mice all day, and even snakes are somewhat fascinating — as long as they are the black kind that I know are the good kind, like this fellow who sunned himself one day on the driveway just outside the cottage. (The fact that there is a photo tells you how not-creeped-out I was.) The good ones keep the bad ones away, that’s what they tell me. In five years this was the second time I have seen one of these for myself, for anyone who is worrying, and I don’t just visit here, I live here.
Beth, who for some reason has to tell me such things, tells me I “don’t want to know” what she has seen. While my right brain occasionally sends my heart rate soaring with conjured-up scenarios of close, awful encounters with various creepies (dear God, let there always be someone else to go under the crawl space of the house if and when that is necessary), my left brain tells me that all of these creatures, and the many more I see and don’t see, are part of a vast, important ecosystem of which I am a part. I am proud and happy to be a thinking part, even if I cannot hide in a tree hole or fly to the next tree branch. Which reminds me, there are at least two owls that we hear on a regular basis this spring. Owls! These we have seen and heard too! How many people have ever seen an owl?
Thus another Golden Hill lesson, one that has echoed a million times over: You take the good with the bad, or the bad with the good, however you want to think of it. No place is perfect. On a trip to Lancaster County many years ago, a woman in one of the quilt shops told us that when the Amish women make a quilt, they make sure to leave something distinctly wrong, some line of stitches not quite straight, some place where the points of the star do not meet quite as they should. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but I liked her punchline and I like the analogy she presented. They do this, she said, because only God is perfect. This may well be true, but the garden salad comes pretty close.