Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Week Alone

It started with the nettles, with which I have developed a love-hate relationship. I love them, because they make delicious pies, soups, quiches, pestos, sautees and even nettle beer, which I will be trying out this spring. But I hate them because they hurt and sting and cover the little meadow that came with the country house, blocking passage and keeping anyone from even thinking about doing anything out there but carefully avoiding them.

Winter took the field of rough stalks and cut them down to size, though. the land became something we could walk across, a carpet of crunchy dry yellow twigs, last years old nettles, pushed flat to the ground by snow. It melted, the song birds came out just about the time the old dead nettles dried up. Tufts of new grass began to appear outside of nettle town. A patch of snow drops sprouted under the cherry tree. Sun warmed the earth. I began to imagine the possibilities, stand and take in the slope of the land, look back at the house.

With the sun's warmth, new nettles had also begun to emerge. Little hopeful green baby nettles peeking their cute little furry noses up through the old dead twigs from last year's enormous plants. They are cute, but they won't be for long, I know this. I have spent many evenings rubbing swollen spots where the nettles have gotten up my pant legs and pricked their needles into bare calves or pricked stray hands, hurting for hours like bee stings afterward. No summer walks along that country path in a skirt and espadrilles, that's for sure. But a thought of the baby clinched it. Do I want the child to be able to play outside at the country house? How will it be possible for a kid not have a rope swing on this ancient cherry tree? We don't know if this baby is going to be a boy or a girl. But one thing is clear: We have got to get the nettles under control.

They have formed a thick root network. A little hand spade, just a toy, really. I have taken to kneeling on the ground and loosening them, then standing up, wrapping my fingers about the roots, and heaving my weight into the labor of getting them out, artery and vein alike. They don't want to come. I begin stabbing, learning their ways, where to find the junctions, the twisted knots. If you get the nettle highways, the small roots follow more easily. A nettle city, a network, a planet. I am eradicating a whole nettle world complete with multiple levels of underground resistance networks. In 4 hours, I have just begun to chip away at a small square. At the end of my hard labor, a pitiful patch of turned rich earth, from which I had pulled only nettles from the ground. Their thick roots were piled in a heap in the sun. The soil is dark and fertile. Aside from one small tuft of wild chives, these nettles have choked everything else out.

At the end of the day, Bernadette's clicks and humming fire form a choir with an evening lark. The kitchen door is open. The feeder is illuminated and crowded with many species of birds. Loic is puttering around in the attic.

I ran my hands in icy cold mountain water from the tap for as long as I could stand it. I quickly pinched cold butter into flour with my numbed clean cold hands. We were to have a neighbor over for dinner, a man from the village who had come to cut the storm's fallen branches into neat logs that we stacked on the porch to use as firewood maybe next year.

My hands and forearms were near exhaustion just trying to make a crust. It's a good kind of fatigue, I thought to myself. From the pulling. Wouldn't it be nice to get these nettles taken care of this week. The weather is going to be nice. There is a clear circle of sunny meadow, between the apple and cherry trees that gets good all day sun. It is where the nettles thrive. I could probably turn it into a field of flowers if I had some time.

We've been waiting on this baby to arrive, and for that purpose, I have found myself easing big engagements off the calendar. Last week was the first week since January that I didn't have people coming in. 'This could be my only chance', I thought. The nettles seem compelling in the Sunday evening quiet before bed. We were lying there under the quilt, each with a book, and instead of readying my thoughts for a return to the rhythms of the city, I found myself veering in the opposite direction.

- And what if I stayed?
- You won't have a car.
- That's ok, I won't need it.
- Will you have enough to eat?
- I will.

A quick mental inventory. I had three eggs, a bit of bacon, 6 potatoes, some cabbage, a basket of good apples, some cheese, things in the larder like dried fruits and mushrooms, flour, rice, plus of course the Alpine butter, garlic in a braid from my trip to Sicily. The tuft of chives out there in the dirt patch. Then there were all those young nettles waiting for their fate. I even had some stock and frozen peas and beans in the freezer should the need really arise, and two big lumps of yeast for bread. We know the goat farm is within walking distance where I can get yogurt, cheeses, milk, everything I need in the end.

- You won't get bored?
- I might.

I smiled. It was settled. I made a few calls and sent a few messages. I shuffled chunks of time off the agenda. I was staying. We cuddled in the night, cherishing our sudden togetherness before a separation as my thoughts ventured in this new direction. Not an abyss, but a free fall kind of dive into a very different kind of week indeed.

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Blogger Tracey said...

How nice for you to have a week by yourself to get things done, uninterrupted. I hope your hands survive, though, after pulling up all those nettles! Your child will be very grateful when he/she is old enough to enjoy playing outdoors.

1:38 PM, March 25, 2009  
Blogger Nicole said...

Oh it is my first news of the upcoming event. I have been remiss in reading often enough to have known. What a wonderful exciting time! 3 years ago today I sat in the hospital with my 1 day old baby. He was/is my second. There is nothing like a newborn. Nothing like a child... Beautiful post. So very very poetic.

5:45 AM, March 26, 2009  
Blogger christine said...

Hmm I wondered where you were. I bet had a wonderful week and it was probably good for clearing your head ;)

9:02 AM, March 26, 2009  
Blogger Jann said...

We all need weeks alone occassionall~you needed some recovery time with the workout with the nettles!

1:47 AM, March 27, 2009  
Anonymous Dillon said...

I found a nettle seedling in a bunch of radishes from our markets.
I potted and nurtured it back to life,and,had plans of putting it down by the creek. It died last winter. Phew! I really didn't need a "nettle world" amongst the blackberry jungle.

Hope you had some nice music.

11:03 PM, March 27, 2009  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for stopping by! Dillon, actually I ran out of music on the second day, not having the thing for the ipod. I was listening to Chopin piano music until it ran out. I have a radio in the kitchen that only picks up one station (France Music) which had some strange programming but was nice, really. Just a little bit of news too.

I think the week alone went very well in that I was writing a ton. I was thinking it would be nice to try and schedule one of these in from time to time in the future. I don't know if I'll be able to do it, though.

8:55 AM, March 28, 2009  
Anonymous Mimi said...

I'm a great fan of nettles, but these sound dangerous! Are they the great, tall, purplish ones with hollow stems? Those things could kill a hippo.

Do you dry some of the tender young ones for tea? Nettles tea brings the hemoglobin right up - very good, with some dried raspberry leaf, for pregnant ladies. Also for after birth. Raspberry leaf has to be dried, though, not fresh. I'm meandering on about this b/c I've worked as a doulah for many years;this tea is a favorite recommendation for my ladies.

6:44 AM, March 29, 2009  
Blogger Judith Klinger said...

I HATE nettles! I am a nettle magnet. I swear to god, they smell me coming and the plants just gather up and send me venom!!
Our orto (vegetable garden) was a nettle patch for years and we just started to try and plant a garden last summer. One of our neighbors came in with a week wacker (!!) and wacked them down, sending nettle venom everywhere. The nettles are now twice as strong.... I just can't bring myself to eat them.

8:17 PM, April 06, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my GOD.. What I wouldn't do for a week alone right now. My husband and his kids usually go on a vacation from 10-14 days and I get that precious time alone. But they aren't going this year and I swear, I am going to burst a blood vessel. I am totally jealous of your week alone. It sounds like HEAVEN§

10:33 AM, July 18, 2009  

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