After months of trying to strike a truce with the weather, summer shows up like a long-lost friend, ready to gab, share a few belly laughs, and guzzle sangria.
I think to myself, “aha, winter! I was right. It’s not me, it’s you.”
But why dwell on it, when there’s so much to do?
There are weeds to pull, and berries to pick, and endless brown bag lunches to pack for the fellas, who take their meals in their tractors, out in the fields, while haying.
There are hundreds of tiny greenhouse babies, ready to graduate to freshly fluffed flower beds.
There are holes to dig, rocks to move, and plenty of piles to rake.
It’s work that doesn’t feel like it.
My knees and nails are filthy. My mind is calm. My clothes fit better because I’m getting things done, not just sweating for the sake of it. The pulleys and conveyor belts and move-in-place devices at the gym suddenly strike me as sort of laughable.
This same body that fights with the alarm clock all winter long bounds out of bed of its own accord, when light fills the bedroom at dawn.
Hours fly by, under sunny blue skies, as I happily plod along, hoe in hand. (Look out earth worms, I’m not slowing down for anybody.)
In the evenings, sticky and soiled, we jump in the pick-up and head to the lake. There’s a bar of soap on the dock to help wash the dirt off.
Not that I mind it.
This time of year, I am lighter in every way.
Every autumn, as I watch my gardens, technicolor and elastic in summer, stiffen and brown, I ask myself the same question. Winter in Vermont: how do we do it?
Then, muscle-memory kicks in. I find myself standing over the stove, experimenting with soups and sauces, listening to my favorite public radio programs on the old Panasonic. I find myself digging in storage spaces, bagging up cast-offs for Goodwill. I find myself at potlucks, and skating parties, or curled up on the couch, watching Downton Abbey, with fingers crossed. (We do not have cable...so I need the luck...will the tinfoil attached to the curtain-rod hold the signal so I can find out what happens to Mary?)
I am scalier, plumper, and generally chapped. I am cursing under my breath, as I chip ice off the locks on the chicken coop. I am peeling splinters out of my gloves, after trips to the woodshed to fill the stove. It's very dark, but the night sky is often brilliant and clear.
When we are lucky, it stays cold and predictable. Brief bursts of warmth do little to cheer us, but do quickly melt the blanket of snow covering the vast farms fields. These snow covered fields are where my senses wake back up. I strap on my skis, and skate across the white expanse, racing against myself. Cold air fills my lungs, and the tips of my ponytail freeze. I feel smooth and slippery against the unyeilding everyday.
Some nights, after dinner, I go for a ski. Lighted by my headlamp, I tread across the open fields. Poles, skis. Poles, skis. 1, 2. 1, 2. Faster and faster, until my wool layers feel too warm. My headlamp makes a tunnel of light in front of me. The beam stretches out for about fifteen feet, then drops off in the blackness. My eye focus on the small, bright patch of snow in front of me.
What is beyond that? I'll know when I get there. Faster and faster. 1, 2. 1, 2...wind whipping my cheeks, breathing deeply, into the unknown.
So much has changed in the world of social media since I started this blog four years ago. The point back then was to keep up with friends and family from afar. But the technology tides have turned, and the blog has been mostly back-burnered in favor of newer, more accessible platforms. I still check in here from time to time, but for more regular updates, out-takes, and scenes from the farm, follow me on Instagram @alisonkosakowski or twitter @vtfarmgirl (I picked that twitter handle several years ago, when "girl" felt more appropos. Alas, I've already aged out of my handle...) Thanks to all who've supported me during my "rural transition." It continues to be a surprising journey! See you on the Internet. -Alison
Friends, I interrupt this blogging hiatus to share a very important public service announcement.
BEWARE OF POISON PARSNIP!
Over the weekend, during a leisurely evening walk, I absent-mindedly picked a bouquet of a yellow field flower that was vaguely familiar.
"How pretty!" I thought to myself. "What are these called again?" I wondered aloud.
As I think back on the moment, it all went down in slow-mo.
"POOOOOOOYZZZZZON PAAAAAARSNIIIIIIIIP!" my husband bellowed, as I dropped the flowers in horror. How could I forget?
If I were a superhero, cursed with an ironic, but potentially career-ending vulnerability, this might have been the end of the line for me: a gardening crusader, brought to her knees by seemingly innocent, irresistible wild flowers. Poison parsnip could be my kryptonite. I've had incidental exposure to the plant before and experienced blisters and subsequent scarring. In this case, I'd been exposed massively.
What next ensued was a frantic rush to mitigate the impact, which involved a mostly fruitless Google search for:
"poison parsnip exposure"
"what to do if you pick poison parsnip"
"stopping poison parsnip blisters before they start"
"omg I am such an idiot there goes my summer what do I do now?" AND "poison parsnip"
Thirty-six hours later, I am still blister free, thanks to some smart advice from a friend who also happens to be a botanist. Here's what worked for me:
(I am not medically trained - use your own judgement and seek expert medical advice!)
What to do if you are exposed to poison parsnip
1) Wash exposed areas immediately. Don't waste time. Get indoors, and wash thoroughly.
2) Get out of the sun. Poison parsnip causes phytophotodermatitis, a big word for "a condition wherein your skin's chemistry is temporarily altered, due to exposure to certain plants, rendering it more vulnerable to UV rays." The plant itself does not cause the blisters, but instead makes you more susceptible to the sun. The burns and blisters that accompany poison parsnip exposure are actually acute sunburn on the compromised skin that came in contact with the plant.
3) Stay out of the sun. Channel your inner vampire, and stay out of the sun for at least 24 hours. Even minimal sun exposure can cause serious harm. Draw the curtains, cover all impacted areas (I wore gloves), and stay inside. Read a book, watch a movie, but whatever you do, avoid the sun, especially in cases of extreme exposure.
4) Consult a doctor. If you begin to react, call your doctor.
5) Moisturize. If you are lucky enough to avoid blisters or a rash, be sure to moisturize. Your skin will be stiff and dry in the impacted areas.
6) Treat the burns. If you do experience burns and blisters, cold compresses and aloe can help. Consult your doctor.
By following the steps above, I came through this situation blister-free. Summer is saved, and I can get back to the business of tending to the kinder, gentler flowers in my garden.