Win a set of five of our favorite gardening & rural prose books from HarperCollins. Contest details at bottom of post.
Many people have asked me how someone with such a “colorful” urban history wound up living on a goat farm in rural Sharon Springs. I usually answer: “I took the long road…back home.”
I haven’t written much about my early years, but it just so happens that I was born only about 45 minutes from The Beekman, and spent my early years with my family living in the Catskill foothills at the end of a long gravel road. (We were in a developed part of the region. We had gravel, not just dirt.)
The forests, ravines, and meadows around our house were basically dessert waiting to happen. On Father’s Day we would collect tiny, sweet, wild strawberries from the fields and make strawberry ice cream in our hand-cranked ice cream bucket. Near my mother’s birthday, in late august, we collected elderberries from the swales at the bottom of of our hill. And in mid-summer, we would brave the thorny brambles to collect wild blackcaps to adorn a custard pie that we would drive into town to give to my “Uncle Bud.” (As proprietor of Bud Kearney’s Ford Motors, Bud was called “uncle” by most everyone.)
Nearly everyone in those days had a garden, and everyone also had their special crop. My great grandfather, Poppy, was known for peas that grew right up to the roof of his fastidious 1950’s pink and black mobile home. They were so sweet that I literally thought peas were a type of candy that grew from the earth. Another grandfather, Poopa, tended his tomato patch late into the summer evenings with the Yankees game playing on the portable television connected to an extension cord stretched across the backyard. In the summertime, grocery shopping was limited to meat and paper products, as everyone shared their various harvests with everyone else.
My earliest memory of harvesting food was after a blackcap foraging expedition with my mother. We had a large bowl of the berries, and as we walked my mother explained that at one time Native Americans used berries and other natural dyes to paint their faces for different ceremonies and fighting. When we reached home again, my mother went into the house to begin preparing to make Uncle Bud’s pie, leaving me with the bowl of black caps on the the front yard. Sure enough, when she was ready for the berries, she emerged to find me in full war paint – my face completely smeared with blackcap juice and seeds.
So maybe my road from our hill in upstate New York, to my New York City nights as a drag queen, and then back to our farm at The Beekman wasn’t all that winding after all.
At least I’ve always tried to put on my best face.
Share your early gardening memories in the comment section below. They don’t have to be long, just heartfelt. On July 1st, we’ll pick our favorite, and the winner will receive five of our favorite books of rural & gardening prose, courtesy of our friends at HarperCollins:
Animal Vegetable Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Anne Dillard; Cultivating Delight, by Diane Ackerman; Population 485, by Michael Perry; & High Tide in Tuscon, by Barbara Kingsolver. Winner announced on June 15th.