It’s 7:45pm and very dusky and the Bearded One went for a walk an hour ago, seems like. We work later and later these spring days, but he’s usually in by now.
Our dinner, fish and rice, is out of the oven and I just put a kefir cheesecake in fifteen minutes ago. The house is beginning to smell sweet and custardy. I fed Ruby a couple of hours ago. She hardly goes on the evening walk with him anymore, staying put and pretending to sleep. She’s 12.
I’m not a worrier, really. The Bearded One is very careful. He has survived in the Alaska bush. We have safety protocols for our toothbrushes. He can imagine the most outlandish possible catastrophes as only an experienced lawyer can. So I’m not really worried, more just curious what has delayed him.
I step out onto the deck. It takes a minute for my newly-bifocaled eyes to adjust to the dark as well as to the distance in the backyard. It’s extra dark because of the new moon this week. Venus is out, and I can’t read the temperature in the hoophouse any more. I whistle. Our standard “Where are you?” whistle.
It is immediately returned, and I turn to locate the Bearded One clear in the back corner of the yard by the apple tree. His hands have been in his pockets, and he’s been looking up, studying, but now he steps back and waves.
“Comin’!” he shouts, shoves his hands back into his pockets and starts the trek in. Past all the tender young vulnerable baby plants in the gardens.
Past the new no-dig potato garden — layers of newspaper, compost, minerals and straw — we put together late last week, and I’m hoping is free of last year’s scab.
Past the onion and garlic garden I planted just this afternoon, all just watered. The ink is barely dry on the stakes identifying their date of birth.
When I was planting the little round onion sets, the Bearded One worked on the lower pasture goat toy, and we both listened from our side of the forest to the sheer intensity of the distant neighbor children — 5 years, 7 years, or 9 years of concentrated life — and their visiting friends whoop and scream. An indignant 5-year-old voice, clearly reporting to an adult, rang out, “HE TRIED TO CUT OFF MY HEAD!” The Bearded One and I looked at each other and both laughed. We lost our heads years ago.
Now the Bearded One opens the hoophouse, which is full of inch-tall, cool weather seedlings — radishes, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, kale and fava beans. Every day and evening he patrols for slugs. This morning he removed one trailblazing slug on the inside, halfway up the plastic. I lined the beds with Diatomaceous Earth, the fossil flour that theoretically they can’t cross without dying later on.
There’s a dark truth to spring, I think. Young things everywhere are in jeopardy. We try to protect them, but slugs get in. And so do chickens.
The sweet pea teepee is still surrounded by a chicken wire fence initially installed to keep a temporary backyard chicken out of the slender, infant peas. We adopted the young Amerucana Sweet Tart and for a month, while she healed from a dog wound, she roosted at one end of the hoophouse and had the run of the backyard. It was quite idyllic.
Until she got through the hoophouse partition — I left it ajar — and scratched around in the seed beds, wiping out a section of turnips and broccoli.
That night we put her up in the coop with the nine other hens and she has integrated beautifully.
Now the sweet pea teepee chicken wire keeps Garfield out.
The Bearded One closes the hoophouse door and crosses the small lawn, which needs mowing again, but it rained all weekend. It’s full-fledged dark when I open the deck gate and meet him.
“The apple tree,” I say, and smile.
“Every branch is in a different stage,” he says, serious and enchanted as a toddler. “Some just barely budding, others goin’ gangbusters, leafin’ out.”
“Yep.” I hug him, and hustle him safely inside.