Last week I went to Tennessee. I was disappointed when I started passing a bunch of cornfields and the region started to look like Nebraska.
Seriously though it was a great break from my usual criss-crossing through Midwest power lines and family restaurants to go through quaint southern junk yards and vine overgrowth. Okay, seriously, the region of the Missouri bootheel/western Tennessee and Kentucky has a lot of nice homes, logging mills (never seen one of those before) and stretches of road that mostly go straight. And even though they don’t get snow and have six Pentecostal churches per town of 1,500, it feels just as familiar as any other part of the country I go to.
Get that number
This time, Cairo, Illinois seemed even more rundown than the other two times I’ve been through there. It’s the only town under 5,000 I’ve ever been to that I’ve feared for my safety. My grower told me virtually the entire town is on welfare, words that rang through my head as I drove through town, expecting someone to jump out of an abandoned building with a gun. Of the five people I saw on the street, I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them used drugs. As many hurting towns as I’ve seen, this is one is as sad as I’ve ever seen.
Trees along the Ohio River
It’s been a good year in the fields. Some of my fields have been average, but I haven’t had a field that flopped or massively underachieved. I was overjoyed to be counting the pods on the plants and sending yield estimates to my father. Harvest may still be six weeks away, but the majority of my miles are behind me. Get your 2015 orders in.
The first bad decision was made the night before. Around 9:20, I was in the kitchen slicing cucumbers to pickle. In the morning, I was supposed to get up and go to take a promo picture with our grower who lives in Page, Nebraska. I looked up at the clock, and feeling energetic, I thought, I can probably can these pickles in half an hour, right? Why wait until Thursday to do it?
Long story short, I fell asleep after midnight and woke up at 5:40, knowing it was going to be a long day, even if it was a trip I’d been looking forward to.
I have a two ideas about where I’d move if I’d ever left Seward. One, hit a large city and assimilate and try everything. The other, head west into the great beyond of western Nebraska, Wyoming, or other somewhere else on the high plains. Last Wednesday, I ventured out into the that Western sky that has been calling my name all summer. My eastward travel this year has made me apathetic toward taking a short trip westward, until a real reason came about.
I got up and grabbed my energy drink of choice (Starbucks Refresh-it doesn’t dehydrate a person) and pressed west through all the communities whose names I heard growing up on Sports Overtime. York. Stromsburg. Albion. All out on these high plains. Corn and soybean country gradually turning into ranching country, a town of 3,000 being a mid-sized city instead of a small town.
Rural Iowa and rural Nebraska are very different. The further you get away from population centers of over 100,000, the more the area changes. For one, you see a lot more signs for high school teams than anywhere else in the country. At most, these people make to a couple of Husker games a year, if that. The high school team is your major college or NFL team. It’s surprising how many new homes and new medical buildings line the streets of small towns. More money is making its way out of the city.
You look out over these plains, and there is so much independence. Or at the least, the illusion of independence in the bright summer sun shimmering down on the faded grass. There are no more lands left to pioneer, but these lands are not bad for the occasional adventure.
Starting this month, August has identified itself to me as my favorite month. This surprised me, because other than college football teams, I don’t have a lot of favorite anythings. I don’t have a favorite food, even though I love to eat. There’s just good and the best flavors ever.
Maybe it’s because it’s the time of year when our production in the field is “out of the woods” so to speak, or it’s the blend of colors in the evening sky. The calm before the storm of football season broods in the air. We see too much gray the rest of the year, and August gives us the best colors of the years. Kids are going back to school, and you reflect on what they’ll become. Who knows. All I know is I like August.
I have a lot of sauerkraut in my fridge. Two large jars, one small jar, and another small Tupperware. Today, I continued my obsessive-compulsive desire to can, and before I knew it, I had two batches of pickles in jars in the fridge.
I really don’t know what to do with all this vegetables. I can and freeze stuff, and yet I still have tons of stuff to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fresh veggies, and they’ve been better for me than my usual round of chips-and-stuff, but I keep wondering how I’m going to eat all this stuff. I haven’t even harvested the pumpkins.
It’s weird eating sauerkraut with every meal, but not as weird as it will be when I’m eating sauerkraut and pickles with every meal. I shouldn’t complain because this is what I live for-to eat the same thing over and over again. Now, all I have to worry about is bread and meat, and I’m eating less bread than I have at times.
My sauerkraut literally has no taste. The fermentation takes away the acid that accompanies the fresh cabbage and makes the leaves limp and simple. I plan on using it in the crock pot. Pretty soon, I’ll just start eating sauerkraut for breakfast, since I’m already eating it on my eggs. A bowl of sauerkraut would likely taste no different than a bowl of oatmeal or Cheerios.
All those nutrients packed in tight…
One thing I learned the hard way was how much work it was to make squash seed edible for consumption. When I went to freeze some squash, I thought to myself how disappointing it was that I wouldn’t be able to use the seeds. So, I decided to roast them in the oven. The end product was fine, but it took hours to ply all of the seeds away from the innards of eight or ten squash. All that for a small Tupperware of seeds.