A Prescription for End-of-Summer Blues

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Note: This prescription is preventive, and must be initiated several months prior to the end of summer.

Rx:  Tomato plants, any highly productive variety.

Quantity: 72 plants (or any larger number of plants).

Refill: Once annually, as needed.

At the end of May, apply 72 (or more) plants at once to fertile soil every three feet. Replace any plants singed by a late frost. Stake and tie plants for maximum tomato yield. Grow plants with a commitment to eating all tomatoes produced, immediately and year round.

2015-08-29 05.24.15Harvest tomatoes constantly. Preserve tomatoes with a complete set of canning
equipment, quart jars, and, ideally, a food dehydrator. Stare repeatedly at the full mason jars, hoping they have been properly sealed.



If fulfilled and administered as directed, this prescription will heighten relief at summer’s end, delay autumn melancholy, and curb feelings of dread that winter is pending.

Possible prescription interactions increasing these effects may include:2015-09-07 17.12.04

  • Having a day job (Or a night and weekend job. Any other job, really).
  • Raising livestock.
  • Parenting (See previous).
  • Growing ridiculous quantities of other vegetables.
  • Fulfilling weekly shares for a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise.
  • Parenting.

A willingness to allow tomatoes to rot, however, will weaken the effects of this prescription.

Side effects may include:

  • Sweating profusely in the garden.
  • Dark tomato plant staining of fingers, resembling heavy tobacco use.
  • Heartburn from overdose on fresh tomatoes.
  • Sweating profusely in the kitchen.
  • Abnormal gait while sliding in tomato juice all over the kitchen floor.
  • Insomnia due to finishing the last canner load at midnight.
  • Hypersalivation from olfactory stimulation.
  • Deep sense of satisfaction.

2015-08-24 22.16.12Caution: While using this prescription, Do Not perform the simple arithmetic of dividing the grocery store price of canned tomatoes by the number of hours spent planting, weeding, picking, and preserving your tomatoes. Such calculations might impair your perceptions of value and could result in injury to your gratification.

Consult your physician, therapist, spouse, neighbors, employer, and local garden guru before beginning any rigorous garden program. If you have a past history of excessive gardening or aversion to eating ripe tomatoes right off the vine, or if you lack a support network to receive boxfuls of ripe tomatoes in early September, this prescription may not be right for you.

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May This Night Rise

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When the time comes for remembering this season—the end of our first summer on the farm—may this night rise to my mind’s surface. May these twelve hours of sky—lit by peach-colored sunset, carpeted by stars, then skirted by morning fog below us—play again for me, as if I still sat on our hill.

May the campfire deliver me a crisp-edged hot dog topped with my sweet-hot pickle relish, accompanied by an unapologetically hoppy beer, as my butt falls asleep on the cedar-log bench that teetered atop the wheelbarrow full of camping gear as Andrew pushed it up the hill. May I also deserve that hot dog after my own several, laden trips upslope.

May our dessert be apples—some mouth-pleasing, some mouth-curdling—fallen in the gone-feral orchard, where the game camera, which sometimes captures deer, crows, and coyotes, photographs us in silly poses. May we hike there through the woods in late dusk, when my eyesight turns two-dimensional, and I worry about stumbling with Stella piggyback.

May we emerge from woods to barnyard, for locking up ducks and chickens, then stop by the house once more, having forgotten our flashlights. After the puppy inhales her food, may I lift Stella for the day’s last climb, which Sam powers on his own two enthusiastic feet, through the hay field to our orange dome tent, where the kids will giggle and shadow-puppet their hands while Andrew and I savor the campfire.

May I crawl back out of the tent, alone, after reading my family to sleep—even the puppy—and stamp the tall grass on my way back to the fire. May the Milky Way smudge the night as my eyes shift between flames close to my feet and the pinpoint lights reaching me from years ago. May I feel exhausted and stunned by the quiet and filled with poignant thoughts about the past and future.

Later, while the stars are still bright beyond the tent’s screened dome, may the puppy, delighted to find us all here together, wake me by wriggling on my head, then threaten to wake everyone similarly, thus inspiring me to scratch her ears and tug her stuffed toy for long minutes until she returns to her blissful sleep. May I wake, full-bladdered in daylight, to realize that we’ve all slept as late as seven.

May I hear the upward buzz of the tent zipper as Andrew steps into the morning. May he call to me, knowing I will want to stand in the dew-soaked grass to see the clouds filling all the crevices, our farmstead below us, drenched in fog. May the rising sun burn into our minds these moments, which could fade behind the stress of school mornings, endless lecture planning, fear that the 200-year-old barn will collapse before we can fix it, tough veterinary cases, infinite kitchen mess from preserving the garden, and unfinished projects in the cellar.

May we remember how we stayed on the hill one night at the end of this summer, all together, and watched the Earth turn under the sky.

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Why I’ll Always Keep Chickens

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Sam takes his job seriously. He is our flockster, in charge of chickens. The chickens provide affection, drama, intrigue, and comic relief. Sam has conditioned them to enjoy petting and holding and, in the case of the Silkies, to tolerate being stuffed up his shirt to peek out at under his chin.

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Two small chicken eggs. Two large, white duck eggs.

Feeding and watering them is a team effort, but Sam spearheads the latest task: egg collection. Our hens have been earning their keep this summer by providing hours of entertainment for our kids. Now, they’ve added to their job description. Blue-green and light brown eggs have begun to appear in our freshly hay-bedded nesting boxes. Mostly no longer than my pinky, these are eggs from teenagers, just practicing for adulthood.

The chickens roam within an electro-net fence during the day, scratching and rolling upside-down for dust baths. They siesta in the shade of two trees in their enclosure. At dusk, they meander into their moveable chicken tractor, roosting safely for the night.

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Silver-laced Wyandottes

Ever since we ate the last roosters for supper, life has been peaceful among our young hens. It was my fault that any roosters remained beyond chicken butchering day. I let romantic notions override my general rule: No intact, non-human male animals on the property. The roosters were beginning to crow, which added to the farm ambiance. They were becoming handsome, especially the largest one.

We could just keep one of the five roosters, I thought. One rooster would surely settle into his role and act sensibly. He might even help to protect the hens. Out loud, I accidentally said, “We could name that big guy Fezzik.”

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The late Fezzik

There. When butchering day came, we had to carefully avoid Fezzik, named for the endearing giant in The Princess Bride, and therefore special. Within a few weeks, though, Fezzik was plucking our hens’ back feathers and dragging them around by the neck. This behavior took the shine right off him. I cannot abide a bully.

Neither can Sam. He spent hours stalking around after Fezzik, chasing him away from the hens, sometimes shaking his fist. One day, after hearing a hen yell, but not seeing which one had been attacked, Sam rushed me over to examine each hen, searching for the victim. He brought them to me, one by one, until I found a broken, bleeding neck feather. More fist shaking and angry reprimands ensued.

Then we switched tactics. We thanked Fezzik for growing so large, then excused him from the flock. We invited the neighbors that day and grilled the freshest, best-tasting chicken we’d ever had. The next day, we relished new, contented sounds from the chicken yard—croons and clucks, without the terrified squawking.

Few delights compare with a flock of cared-for animals making happy noises while running towards you. For a sensitive, five-year-old boy—squatting to receive his flock in open arms—this moment signals acceptance. It affirms his much-practiced gentle touch and soft voice. These skittish creatures have learned to trust him. He feels the strength that comes in tenderness, the power to draw an animal towards you because you are kind.

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Ameraucana, a blue-green egg layer