Saturday, April 07, 2007

Winds of change

I don't want to talk about the vile, horrific weather. It may look sunny enough when we glance out the window, but we are currently in the middle of a four-night stint of shocking record-low temperatures. The wind howls nonstop, and my sinuses are bleeding. I was forced to unplant several rows of garden vegetables, troweling them into Dixie cups so they could spend the night in safety indoors. Other tender plants are wearing protective sheets or mini greenhouses made of Mason jars. So far it all seems to be working.

In the midst of all this, I took several boxes of vegetables, herbs, hot cross buns, etc., to the Oconee Farmers' Market this morning. It was 31 degrees, and despite my parka, mittens, neckwarmer, hat, New Zealand opossum socks, and four layers of clothing, my Raynaud's still kicked in with a vengeance. I never managed to put up my chalkboard sign because my hands were too stiff and blue to grasp a writing implement! Business was slow, but the most of the regulars trickled in one by one. I eventually sold enough to make it worth my while.

The cold did me an unexpected favor: It helped me get to know some of my fellow vendors. Part of the morning I spent huddled next to a gas-powered smoker, eating little sample bites of delicious brisket courtesy of the Clarke-Oconee Cattlemen's Association. And when the cold became too much to bear, I took off for the restroom, which the market manager had revealed was heated. I found it full of Asian women--a family of flower and vegetable vendors who, like me, had been slowly freezing to death.

The women turned out to be Hmong and, further, turned out to be fellow ex-residents of St. Paul, Minnesota. There's a large Hmong community there, and I'd known several during my college days up north.

We started sharing reminiscences. Then the talk turned to our current situations, which are remarkably similar. They have a small greenhouse; we have a small greenhouse. They have 30 chickens and aspire to have about 100; we have 30 chickens and aspire to have 75. We have ducks and turkeys and (soon) a few geese; they have ducks and geese and a few guinea fowl. We both succession-plant--in the case of the Hmong family, all through the winter. ("Mom starts the carrots way early, under buckets. She's crazy.")

When we finally left the restroom, I visited their table and bought this story cloth.

It takes four 10-hour days of patient needlework to create a record-album sized piece like this one. It depicts, they explained, "the way things used to be before everything changed."

Maybe it's romantic of me, but I feel drawn to this story cloth. I feel connected to the tiny embroidered people who are feeding chickens, hulling rice, picking squash, and carrying baskets to the market.

I don't want to live in a stone-age culture--who does, who has an opportunity to live in a society with flush toilets and the internet? But at the same time, I am glad there are still people who remember that kind of life and are trying to hold onto what's good about it.