Garden Rain, Late Harvest

October 13, 2013

BURGER TO GO

By T.W. Burger

I sat down on the remains of an old school desk in my garden and watched the rain assault the burn pile, and listened as it drummed on the hood of my slicker.

The pile has been growing for a couple of years; garden waste, scrap lumber, brush and small trees, a couple of tree stumps. I figured it would not do to allow the pile to get any larger, so it was time.

At the end of a long drought, and with the pile only about 10 feet from a whole field of drying soybeans, I needed a rainy day.

I got my wish. The forecast called for two or three days of steady rain. I figured that would do.

It did.

Getting ready to do physical work takes longer than it used to: A brace for the bad ankle, one for each knee, another one for the back, and the aforementioned bright yellow slicker.

The fire crept slyly around the wet pile at first, but eventually its hunger won out and flames reached up eight feet or more. While I kept an eye on it, I began the work of getting the garden ready for winter.

I stripped the few remaining tomatoes, most of them a bright green, and then pulled up the vines.

Thick smoke danced from the fire as it burned down. I stopped my work and hauled half a dozen wheelbarrow loads of trimmings and broken branches from a couple of other spots in the yard and heaped them onto the fire, which roared back into life.

The heat felt good, so I sat on the old desk for a bit, enjoying the warmth, soaked through everywhere the slicker did not cover and under the slicker I was soaked with sweat.

The tomato patch reduced to a rectangle of mud, I moved over to the peppers.

Orange habañeros and long red chilis glowed bright as sparks against the dark compost. I fumbled among the slender stems, careful to leave the still ripening fruit undamaged. I rinsed the dirt off the colorful harvest and laid them in a bucket, and then moved to the former broccoli patch. The groundhogs got to the broccoli before we did, but a kind of strange, hybrid gourd they left alone.

I suspect it was the result of a liaison between a zucchini or winter squash and a pumpkin. The fruits are bright yellow and knobby, but baked and mixed with butter and cinnamon, there is nothing better.

Late Harvest 10-11-2013 6-34-49 PM 2448x3264.49

The garden is almost at an end. A few peppers and squash remain, and if the frost holds off for another week or so, we may get more.

The fire had died back to a sullen glow. I took a manure fork, flipped some unburned material over onto the coals, and piled the new debris on top. The flames found new enthusiasm.

I sat again, swirled about by aromatic smoke, pummeled by rain, sore, but content, my breath condensing in the cool air.

For the most part, the garden is a corpse, to be torn apart and composted or burned, piled with manure, and put into hibernation. There is still much to do.

But not today. I am done. My knees stiff, my back bent like Quasimodo’s, I hoisted my two buckets of color and lurched through the gray and brown garden to the warm house, a hot bath, some aspirin, and a touch of scotch.

As I started the house, the rain started to fall harder, coming down in sheets. I gave one more glance at the fire. It had become a few dark, smoking heaps, no flames visible. I began to think that I should have saved the wood for an ark.

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© 2013 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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Ghosts in the River

January 1, 2012

Ghosts on the River

Three days before the year’s end, and the weather had turned suddenly colder.

Scattered fat snowflakes darted through the scrub oaks clinging to the steep banks of the Shenango River in western Pennsylvania, a 100-mile long tributary of the Beaver that eventually flows into the Mississippi River.

Shenango means “pretty one.”

My brother, David, and I joked that if we believed in ghosts, our mother’s would be down there on the marshes along of the Shenango, gigging frogs with her dad, a rough, hard-drinking steelworker.

At our feet, on the heights above the river, were the headstones of our mother and father. Dad was buried there in 1981, Mom just a little more than a year ago.

Neither of their lives or deaths was particularly easy. But all that’s done, now.

Water, flowing water, has always held me fascinated. I grew up in northeast Georgia, along the Oconee, whose name is a corruption of the Creek word meaning “born from water.”

The Oconee’s waters tumble down over the fall line to join the Ocmulgee to become the Altamaha and finally the Atlantic.

I now live in southern Pennsylvania along Marsh Creek, which joins with Rock Creek to become the Monacacy, which flows into the Potomac. The heights between Marsh and Rock creeks were the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Bullets and other martial debris show up in the farm field behind our house.

The thing about rivers and creeks is that they seem from moment to moment to be fixtures, but in truth they are never the same. Blink and you missed something, something that will find its way to the eternal time-sink of the sea. So they are at once symbols of opportunities lost and of hope. That’s how I think of it, anyway.

David still lives a short walk from Born from Water.

We don’t get here often. It’s a long haul for me, and a longer one for him. Visits to our mother’s sister bring us back, and we always make the trek to Riverside Cemetery. I don’t know how often we would get back if not for her.

This is our first trip back since Mom’s ashes were interred over Dad’s grave.

I will not speak for David, but I usually spend an hour or so sitting on Grandpa George’s headstone, gazing over the tops of my parents’ stones, down toward the river.

I am not there for them. There’s nothing beneath the assorted Burger and Miller stones but ash and the odd discarded mechanical parts, the odd bone or set of dentures.

I go there to address memories, good, bad, indifferent, sometimes surprising, things I had forgotten. I speak, sometimes out loud, about this or that. Long ago, there was not a little anger, as I worked through things as I aged.

I’m in my sixties now. The anger is gone, dispersed by understanding, nubbed by weariness, and sometimes by no longer giving a damn. There were ordinary people, flawed, beat down and badgered by their own past. Who am I to be angry?

I leaned against the big oak above the graves. The wind was picking up, the flakes coming more heavily.

In a few weeks The Pretty One will be frozen over. In the old days, there were spots where you could drive a car over it. In recent decades, the winters have been thinner, meaner, somehow.

David and I climbed back into the car and wove our way through the steel-town blackened gothic stones and back into the end-of-the-year bustle of town, leaving The Pretty One counting down the moments to winter.

Lost

January 4, 2011

My brother left his home in Georgia the day after Christmas, planning to make the 600-plus-mile trip to our aunt’s house in western Pennsylvania for a belated family Christmas.

It was our first family gathering since our mother’s funeral in September.

There are not a lot of us left. Me, David, our Aunt Shirley, a few cousins scattered around. It used to be that a holiday dinner would fill Shirley’s downstairs with people.

This year, all of us who could show up fit around a regular dining room table.

Sue and I left Baltimore, figuring we would get to Shirley’s roughly the same time David did.

We got there at 9:30 p.m., ate, drank some coffee, and waited for David.

And waited.

I sat for a couple of hours in a chair where I could see the street. Finally, at 1 a.m., we all turned in. Which is not to say any of us slept well. Shirley slept hardly at all. Sue and I awoke, I think, at every passing car, or sudden noise.

We were not especially close as children, David and I. We were not estranged. That word implies a rending. For whatever reason, we never got particularly close.

Until our mother’s final illness, that is.

First, I have to say that he was always sort of a hero to me. He always did things his way, even if doing so made his life harder.

He took care of Mom for years, though sometimes you would think they hated one another, as much as they fought. As she sank into dementia and physical disabilities, he had a lot to deal with. It was hard on all of us, but him most of all. Dealt with it, god knows how.

We talked more during that time, I think, than we had in the previous several decades.

Back at Shirley’s the phone rang at 6 a.m. on Monday.

In a stupor, I tried to get the call on my cell, though it was coming in on Shirley’s land-line. By the time I figured that out, the message had gone to the machine.

“I’ve had some trouble. I should be there in a couple of hours,” David said. That was it.

More than “a couple of hours” later, close to lunchtime, I got on the phone. I looked up the phone number David had called from – he refuses to carry a cell phone – and discovered it to be in a little town in the middle of nowhere in the Pennsylvania mountains, far from any major roads.

Did some quick estimating. He really should have arrived some hours before.

I did some quick checking on the computer and called the several state police barracks between Shirley’s home and David’s last position. No wrecks reported involving any cars of the kind David drives.

That was a relief, but 25 years working as a newspaper reporter gave me plenty of mental images to fuel my worry. Out of gas on some back road, or some other car trouble. Off in a ditch or ravine in some remote area. And on and on.

I laid on the floor for awhile and tried to think about anything else but what might be wrong. Sue had been looking out of the window as often I had been.

I could hear Shirley praying quietly as she busied herself in the kitchen.

I fell asleep, but my dreams were dark.

In the early afternoon, I awoke to find my oldest cousin and his wife walking into the house. I’m afraid my welcome was a little distracted.

Maybe half an hour later, David pulled up in the driveway. He walked into the kitchen, looking a little chagrined. Just in time for our post-Christmas feast.

I didn’t know whether to hug him or hit him.

I went for the hug. Life is too short, and we’re both on the shady side of it.

But I confess that I’m a little frustrated that he won’t say what happened. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing. I can imagine all SORTS of adventures for him.

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© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Just Deal With It

December 12, 2010

Well, here we go again.

Where I live, in south-central Pennsylvania, we’ve had our first dusting of snow for the season. It was perhaps an inch and all the grocery stores took hits in the bread, milk, egg and toilet paper departments.

The snow came as a punctuation to about a week of temps hereabouts that stayed on the shady side of freezing, with daily highs averaging about 10 degrees below normal, which put a couple of inches of ice across the top of the creek, and an inch of snow across that.

You do what you have to do.

I spent the afternoon cleaning out the garage, by which I mean re-stacking junk from one place to another – I can’t remember the last time I could actually get my car in there – and moving the lawnmowers into the back of the storage shed and making a space for the snowblower. I got the machine fueled and ran it for awhile to make sure everything was kosher, then parked it in its new space, ready to carve its way out to clear things up when we get our first real snow.

A friend in Fairhope, Alabama reported on Facebook just a couple of days ago that they were having snow, which did give me pause. Snow on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is a notable event. Farmers in Florida are taking emergency steps to protect their fruit crops, and the wire services are full of photos showing fountains frozen in Atlanta and dazed Georgians staggering around in what must feel like everything they own, trying to keep warm.

You know, what we here would call our fall wardrobe.

There will be some making wisecracks like “So, where’s your Global Warming now?” and similar remarks. I wish the folks who named the phenomenon had called it Climate Change, which is what it really is. In any case, a cold spell in December is not proof that the climate is or is not changing. The fact that the polar ice caps have retreated further than they have since they formed a kabillion years ago, is.

But, despite snow on the Alabama beaches and fountains frozen in the Peach state, it is, as a climatologist said on CNN recently, only winter, meaning that we should just all get over it and deal.

So, OK, this cold snap might mean nothing, or it might mean we’re in for the worst winter since, well, whenever the last bad one you can remember was.

Button up your house; drag out the sweaters and long underwear, and stop acting like it never happened before. Give some money and clothes to your local shelters so the unlucky don’t freeze to death, and maybe have a little more to eat this winter.

As for me, I’m going to hunker down and wait for the first real sign of spring….the arrival of the seed catalogs sometime in February.
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© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

I’ve seen a few houses fall down in my time. Demolition, fire, that sort of thing.

Never been in one while it was happening, though. Not until that night.

It was the last night of vacation for the year. It had started out calmly enough. It had rained heavily for the previous 24 hours, so we were ahead of the game. Instead of doing a lot of running around, we had sat in The Osprey, the little cabin on the Maine coast where we have vacationed on and off for the past 14 years, and had packed up most of our belongings.

I won’t say exactly where it is, because the people in that little community have so far escaped the worst of the thronging Maine tourist trade, and want to keep it that way. It’s on a working harbor, where almost all the boats moored there belong to lobstermen, and it’s common to awaken briefly in the pre-dawn hours to hear diesel engines muttering out toward the open water.

Not a bad way to start the day. At least for us. I’m guessing lobsterpersons feel the same way about their jobs as the rest of us do about ours: Some days, it’s fine. Most days, it’s just what you do to get by.

I’ll call the owner of the place Leo. He’s a retired school teacher on the shady side of 90, but still active. He and the live-in manager at the cottages, all of which are named after sea- or shore-birds, have been clearing several acres of woods for the past few years. It’s starting to look like a park.

I have a photo of Leo building The Osprey in the spring of 1950, a month after my first birthday. It was the first of a double handful of cottages that he would build over the next decade or so, perched on a long slope from the farmhouse where he was born and still lives, down to the saltwater.

People come to Leo’s cabins like they come to family reunions. Some have been coming for decades. Some who bring their children have been coming since they themselves were kids. Every cabin has a composition book sitting on one of the plain pine shelves, and just about everybody who stays keeps a journal in them about their time at the harbor. Sometimes the entries are about things to do, where to eat, tips about this and that. But over the years, some of the entries become more personal.

The writers are from New York, Maryland, Florida, England, New Mexico, and Texas. The entries were as varied as the people who wrote them, in penmanship neat and tidy or fat and loopy. Kathy A. and her dog Simon spent a month at The Tern every year from 1981 until June of 1987, when Simon, she noted, turned 12 years old. Then she disappeared from the record.

A family from Hartford, Ct., bring their cats Signe and Moussey, and spend their vacation time seeking landmarks familiar to their ancestors: “Traveled to Acadia – 3 hrs. – and got seats on the mail boat from Northeast Harbor out to Baker island….to visit the lighthouse that was manned in the 1800s by our great grandfather. It was a thrill to be the first relatives in all that time to return to the remote island.”

In September of 1987, a New Jersey woman named Nora stayed four days at The Tern with her 14-month-old son: “We are here because we have just suffered an intense personal loss and I, at least, am seeking restoration in Maine. My son is oblivious to the unfairness of life.”

So, coming to The Osprey every year is a respite, but something that is a part of other lives, indirectly, yes, but a dance, of sorts, a shared ballet with strangers and the ragged coast of Maine. I once researched the address and phone number for several families who stayed in The Osprey and, before that, The Tern. But I never contacted any of them. It would be out of step, a break in the dance.

So, there we sat, the last Friday night of the trip. Everything but what we would need for the trip home was packed, zipped, tied, rubber-banded or otherwise tucked away. I would have already loaded the car, but the night was very dark and the grass slippery from the rain. I thought to wait until first thing in the morning.

The stereo was packed, so there was no music but the soughing of the wind ‘round the corners of the cabin, and the faint slap of waves on the rocks below. Just about every light was on, because the night somehow wanted brightness.

In a bit, I thought, I would light a fire, read a bit before taking a shower, and then go to bed.

About 15 minutes later, the front door popped open. I started to get up to close it, and the house fell down.

No, really.

The Osprey dropped about three feet on the harbor side and started sliding. I sat down – hard – in my chair, and clutched my bowl of ice cream tightly to my chest and waited, wondering if we would hit the water. All the furniture and luggage in the room slid toward us. Sue sat in her chair, eyes the size of saucers. Lamps fell, flared, and went dark. Vases leapt from shelves, books and touristy gee-gaws followed. Then, everything was still except for Sue’s alarmed “Eek!”

I finished my ice cream, waiting to see if The Osprey was done fidgeting. I got up, and said: “Damn.”

The power was still on, though we could hear that a water pipe somewhere had broken. I was very happy that I had decided not to build a fire in the Franklin stove after all

I stepped to the front door. The porch lay at a crazy angle, and had come to rest several feet from the steps.

“Damn,” I said again, figuring if I couldn’t be useful, I would at least be consistent.

I climbed over the porch, and looked around.

The rain had so soaked the ground that the front piers had slipped out from under the cabin. The Osprey had dropped, and then slid toward the harbor bank about three feet. This was a matter of great interest to me, because the edge of the bank was only about five feet away to begin with. It was quite a ride.

It took a couple of hours to get us set up in another cabin for the night, and about as long the next morning to get the rest of our things out over the tilted, linoleum floor and busted porch.

Melinda, Leo’s daughter, told us the next day that the family was considering their options for what to do. The Osprey was actually in good shape….not even a window broken or a wall awry. But it was old, and at the bottom of a steep slope. One of the options, she said, was simply to do away with it.

That hit me later, halfway home, when I realized I still had the key to The Osprey. I emailed Melinda and told her I’d get it back to her. But inside, I knew there might not be any real reason to do that.

Whatever they do, I hope they remember the little stack of composition books somewhere on the floor of the old cabin. It would be a real shame to lose all those stories, all those steps in the long dance.

(Note: This column first appeared in late Oct. of 2007. I am happy to report that the Osprey is settled sturdily on a fresh concrete foundation, and in a few weeks I will be back in it for two weeks.)

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© 2010 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Over dinner with friends tonight, I was asked to post this. So, here it is.

Well, this Thursday is the big day. Turkey day. I used to have the figures handy that told how many turkeys die to make Thanksgiving possible, but I’ve lost them.

It’s a lot.

Not so long ago, things were a lot simpler. A lot of the people I knew forswore their store-bought birds and got a live bird from a farmer.

Trouble is, too many of the folks who gave this “old-fashioned” method a try were young people from the ‘burbs. Their experience with “nature” was getting draft­ ed by their parents to help fight the war on crabgrass.

My neighbors at a little mobile home park in Georgia are a case in point.

The couple, let’s call them Tom and Tif­ fany, were both raised in one of those towns squeezed like putty at the seams where New York and New Jersey are glued together.

They grew up in some development named after the trees that had been cut down to build it.

Tom was a sleepy, even lethargic sort of guy. It was hard to tell if he was awake or sleepwalking.

Tiffany was, well, perky, given to hare­ brained ideas and sudden enthusiasms.

Tom was at the university, studying to be a biologist. Tiffany worked somewhere as a secretary.

The way it was told to me, one Thanks­ giving, Tiffany decided she would surprise Tom with a turkey.

She purchased a big hen from a farmer who swore on a stack of Greenpeace pam­ phlets that he had raised the thing from a poult and had never fed it anything he could not pronounce.

Back at home, Tiffany, raised on painless supermarket turkeys, could not bring her­ self to apply the firewood axe to the bird’s neck. The brief stay of execution ended, however, when Tiffany found Tom’s supply of chloroform.

She put the turkey to sleep.

Triumphant and little nauseated, Tiffany got the big hen plucked after a fashion, but the idea of trimming off the head and feet was beyond her sensibilities, not to men­ tion the idea of moving all the turkey’s in­ side stuff to the outside.

So, into the fridge went the nude bird, awaiting the arrival of Tom. Remember, the turkey was to be a surprise for Tom.

Tiffany’s unflappable husband came home in the late afternoon, tired, burdened by thick books and reeking of formalde­ hyde. Tiffany told him she had a surprise for him in the refrigerator.

Tom opened the door.

The little light came on.

The turkey woke up.

Naked. In pain.

And really, really ticked off.

With a hellish gobble, she exploded out from among the beansprouts and leftover chili, straight at Tom. The now-streamlined and furious bird dug its claws into Tom’s sweater and began pecking and biting him on the face and arms.

Tom, as intended, was surprised. And more lively than usual.

Still screaming, the turkey dropped Tom and charged into Tiffany, knocking her backward, breaking the glass front of her china cabinet.

The bird bashed the portable TV off its stand, knocked a life-size poster of Elvis the King from the walls before it flapped through the still-open trailer door. A strange, pale apparition in the fading light, the turkey fled gobbling fiercely into the depths of the trailer park.

The next day, Thanksgiving, I dined on a properly quiet and immobile turkey with my mother and brother. Tom and Tiffany went out for dinner at a local restaurant that featured a large and placid salad bar.

The attack turkey, I found out later, met its fate at the hands of a little old lady down the street who had never heard of “Mother Earth News,” but who knew a dinner on the run when she saw one.

It was September in Key West, well past midnight and quite warm.

The pier on which we sat stretched out pale and luminescent under a clear sky and a full moon, far out into pale jade water. The lounge chairs creaked now and then as one or the other of us shifted our weight.

We rarely spoke, there at the southernmost tip of our country, while hell raked Cuba, 90 miles away.

The sky glittered cloudless overhead. The southern horizon, however, glowered an inky, impenetrable black, laced throughout with lightning. From east to west, as far as vision could follow, a constant curtain of lightning, a steady growl of thunder filled the air, a continuo under the quiet lapping of the water and sighing of the wind. We sat, transfixed, for hours.

I never hear thunder that I don’t think of that storm, and the eerie, jeweled spot from which I watched it.

This week has been one of storms where I live now. Some pretty good ones, too; lots of wind and rain, lightning and thunder. A little flooding here and there, branches and wires down.

Not the biggest we’ll get, mind you. Those will come mid-summer, real Old Testament howlers that come down from the Appalachians and stomp around like God in a royal snit.

I love storms. I don’t like the damage they do, but that sort of comes with the territory. I’ve been lucky over the years and avoided being injured or having a lot of property damage. Well, there was the time when parts of a mobile home I was living in wandered away during a big winter gale about 25 years ago. To tell you the truth, the morning after that storm, I was a little bit surprised when I looked outside that my home hadn’t changed ZIP codes.

As I said, I love storms. As a kid I used to climb a pine tree in our back yard and ride the wind-bursts. Obviously, my parents knew nothing about this. Just as obviously, the tree wasn’t in a place that attracted lightning, or this column would be a lot shorter.

I think I like being reminded that humans are really not as in charge as we’d like to think we are. Few things do that as well as extravagant weather. Simple-minded evangelicals like to use bad weather as proof of our iniquity, that God is punishing us for our sins. But they miss the point entirely. So much preaching comes down to ego, when you come down to it. The universe, in that world view, was created as a stage for us to conduct our little morality plays. It’s all about us.

We really need to get rid of that whole idea. Storms are random. Nature itself has its own purpose, its own dance to perform. And we’re caught up in it, an integral part, to be sure, but only a part. I am an atheist, but I sometimes like to imagine God up there, rolling storms down off the east slope of South Mountain like so many atmospheric bowling balls, just to see what happens.

© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

The Bear

January 10, 2010

Inside this old farmhouse, the wood-burning stove roared like a jet, the heavy glass window casting a warm orange glow into the room. Monty the Springer spaniel laid in a snoring crescent not too far from the fire.

Good smells wafted from the kitchen.

It was Sunday night, the end of a visit to the farm from Sue’s kids who hail from, variously, Baltimore and Brussels.

The old house, well over two centuries old, rollicked with laughter, good food, good times. The kids and Monty explored the outdoors, skated, with assorted success, on the pond, and generally kept the rabbits and the family of red foxes on edge.

A couple of days ago, Sue’s youngest son discovered a bear track on the far side of the pond. He captured an image of it on his digital camera.

Last night I walked Monty along the lane gawking at the blazing stars, and kept telling myself that if the bear were nearby, the dog would surely bring it to my attention.

Monty was noncommittal.

Despite the cracking low temps, I kept Monty out for awhile after his errand was finished, just taking it all in.

It was cold, the coldest winter, so far, in a number of years. Hence the farm pond that will hold the weight of several rambunctious teens and a rollicking dog. And no, I didn’t try, though on last night’s walk, Monty was ready for another scramble on the ice.

Back inside, sexy Caribbean music rocked the old stones, and the smells from the kitchen intensified. It was almost time for supper, and leave-taking.

In the starry dark outside, I thought of the bear, an older citizen of these woods by far than this old farm, pacing the fields, the re-frozen snow crunching underfoot.
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© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Pumpkins, Ahoy!

October 18, 2009

I suppose it was inevitable, in a way.

Look. For one thing, coastal Maine was once famous for its tradition of shipbuilding. In fact, it’s only a short drive to one of the nation’s most famous shipyards in Bath.

For another thing, for all the brevity of the growing season, folks in Maine are crazy for gardening. And, as good modern Americans, they are not immune to the outlook that a thing is made better if it gets made bigger.

Given all that, I suppose growing pumpkins the size of compact cars and turning them into boats makes all the sense in the world.

The Damariscotta Pumpkin Regatta has been held on or about Columbus Day for every one of the past five years, though this is only the second year it has been officially blessed by the town’s government.

It all began with Buzz Pinkham, who owns a nursery, Pinkham’s Plantation.

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

Buzz, shown here in his latest creation, was trying to think of something to do with a 700-pound pumpkin he had grown to show at a state fair. As he told a local reporter, he decided to try hollowing the pumpkin out, attaching a small outboard, and, putting his trust in gourd, finding out how it would do on the Damariscotta River, which flows into the harbor at Damariscotta.

He wasn’t trying to draw a crowd, he said, “but it’s kind of hard to sneak through town with a 700-pound pumpkin.”

So, a small crowd stood around on the banks of the river while Pinkham noodled around on the river, having a good time.

The next year, a couple of buddies joined Buzz with their own pumpkins, and drew an even bigger crowd.

By the third year, the businesses in town were starting to realize that the informal event was bringing people and those people usually brought their wallets with them, etc., etc.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about ordinary pumpkins. This lot is a breed apart, hybrid monsters that have been been around, though not so grandly, since the early 1800s. Back then, somebody or some chance intermingled the DNA of a variety of Hubbard squash and a Kabocha pumpkin.

So, for a long time, Cucurbita maxima, to use the monster’s scientific name, were simply an unusually large variety of pumpkin weighing of a couple hundred pounds.

And then came Howard Dill. (A major chord would be appropriate here, if this was a movie.)

Before 1981, the world record for the largest pumpkin stood at an anorexic 460 pounds. Then, Dill, of Nova Scotia, set the world, or the portion of the world that cared, on its collective ear by submitting a pumpkin of almost 500 pounds.

Dill patented his seeds as Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and that breed is credited as the progenitor of the giant pumpkins of today, augmented by an orgy of crossing and re-crossing his variety with other types of pumpkins.

Dill died in May of 2008, at the age of 73.

The result of all this mad cross-breeding has been what must be a peculiarly North American phenomenon, even if they are grown now in other countries. Heck, people in other countries drive Hummers, but it was our idea, for better or worse.

This year’s world record holder is Christy Harp’s 1725-pound Atlantic giant pumpkin, which won the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers annual weigh-off just this month. Photos of Ms. Harp, like this one that I swiped off the Internet, show her standing behind what appears to be an orange asteroid.

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

Put that in perspective. That’s about the weight of two Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide motorcycles.

It must be pointed out that these exaggerated pumpkins are, how shall I say it? Unattractive? Butt ugly? I’d love to see one that had been raised in zero gravity. Perhaps it would be, oh, pumpkin-shaped. The really big ones bear an unfortunate resemblance a gargantuan loaf of bread that failed to rise correctly.

My vacation was over couple of days before the actual regatta.

I did manage to hang out for an hour or so at Pinkham’s Plantation while some of the guys were building and carving their squash navy. Buzz wasn’t around, but Bill, Tom Lishness, and one other fellow whose name I did not catch were busily measuring, eyeballing, sawing and scooping.

It is a little alarming how much goop lives inside a 700 pound pumpkin. We’re talking at least a wheelbarrow load or more for each one.

Bill said the little pumpkin he was rigging up for the race weighed in at 860 pounds. He stated, matter-of-factly, that he had actually grown one that weighed more than the 1275-pound state record holder, which loomed a mere 30 feet away, but Bill’s gourd split from its own weight. In the photo, Tom, Bill, and Mr. X, ponder mounting onto an 800-pound-plus pumpkin the transom that will hold the motor.

Pondering the "How-to's"

Pondering the "How-to's"

Lishness, a compact fellow with bright blue eyes and a beard reminiscent of the one on the Travelocity Gnome (one of which was attached to the front of his pumpkin yacht a year or two ago, along with a miniature cannon,) said that in the early days of giant pumpkin contests gourds the size of his and Bill’s would have taken big prizes. Today, if your punkin is smaller than a thousand pounds, nobody remembers your name.

The details of pumpkin nautical architecture would seem simple, on the surface, so to speak. But distinct challenges present themselves.

First, one cannot help but notice that the pumpkin, whatever its dimensions, has not evolved a shape that lends itself to a graceful passage through water. Their roundness makes them prone to a certain vertical indecision, so that any overly enthusiastic motion from the pumpkin operator can result in his immediate demotion to keel.

Tom said the first outboards used on the pumpkins were two- to three-horsepower trolling motors. But, this is America and we all know that means there is no such thing as too much horsepower. From the photo I picked up online, Buzz Pinkham’s pumpkin this year boasted a 25-horsepower Nissan rig.

If I understood Tom correctly, some outfit that sells and repairs snowmobiles and jet-skis is working to develop a pumpkin/jet-ski hybrid. Heady stuff. I hope nobody from Morton-Thiokol, who builds the solid-rocket boosters for the space shuttle, ever gets wind of the regatta.

Of course, there’s no easy way to attach an outboard motor to a pumpkin. The guys figured their way past that by attaching a plywood platform to the top of the pumpkin that gives the motor a little platform, or transom, to hang onto. There’s also a little frame to hold a block of polystyrene for floatation, to counter the weight of the motor. Without it, the pumpkin seems, briefly, to be headed for the sky, and then sinks out of sight.

They sometimes sink out of sight anyway. Tom’s pumpkin betrayed him this year, according to some published accounts.

Better luck next year.
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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
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•    I am grateful for the bench.

•    After a year of pavement and office floors, heavily wooded hillsides and mossy paths have been a rude shock.

•    Protests abound. My feet and ankles wave placards and rude signs. My knees brandish pitchforks.

•    I leaned the cane against the bench and take the camera strap from around my neck.

•    The cane is a concession to the knees, etc.

•    The camera is in aid of a fantasy that I might one day take decent photographs.

•    Huckleberry Cove sits, still and dark before me.

•     The tide is almost fully out, exposing the limp strands of greenish bladderwrack on the stony shore. A few gulls and ducks mill about on the far shore.

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

•    The gulls mutter like old men, and no and then one will rise into the air for no apparent reason, and come down only a few feet away. One flies to my side of the cove, plops into the water, swims around eyeing me. Then he flies back to the other side. Just nosy.

•    For the most part I ignore the camera. The moment is too perfect to be snapping away like the tourist that I am. Instead, I listen.

•    Back home, I forget what “quiet” means.

•    I remember it here.

•    Quiet is being able to hear a gull mumbling a few hundred feet away, orhearing the breeze sighing through the spruce and fir along the banks. Or the sound the small red squirrels make peeling pine cones to get at the seeds tucked down inside. Winter is coming, and the squirrels are busy with their hoardings.

•    The kitchen gardens uphill from me are full of pumpkins and gourds. The other tourists wear khakis and dark sweaters and talk too much. But down here, away from the graded, mulched paths, few of them come. There are logs to step over, a stream to cross, twice, on flat stones.

•    The trees sway. The gulls arc into the air then dip back into the still, black water. A red squirrel carrying a nut scampers only a few feet away, weaving through the tree trunks and into a jumble of granite boulders and is gone with no more than a faint rustle of leaves. The moment is full of a kind of grace.

•    I retrieve the cane and camera and lunge to my feet. I like to think that at the least I provide a nice contrast to the grace of the setting.

•     My left knee pops, then settles into place and wobble up the slope and the signs that will point me back smoother path, the one with the signs that will keep me from losing my way.