Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Eau de Vie

It's raining today in northeast Missouri. In fact, it's been raining for days and there is a non-trivial probability of rain every day for the next five (beyond which predicting the weather has as much chance accuracy as reading chicken entrails). In short, it's May in the Midwest.

While the weather complicates all manner of things that we'd like to be doing on a farm in spring—we're right on the cusp of our frost-free date, when it's safe to put things in the ground that cannot tolerate temperatures below freezing—we're short on subsoil moisture and we need the water right now more than we need sunshine. In the hot, dry days of August we'll be plenty thankful for the rain of May.

Rain brings an unexpected holiday to Sandhill. Poised to do all manner of garden work, that won't be possible today. Instead, there is game playing, guitar strumming, story telling, reading, coffee drinking (and blogging). Yesterday, between showers, I was able to harvest about 15 pounds of shiitakes from the collection of inoculated oak logs we have clumped in a maple grove about 100 yards from the house (fungi love the rain). 

While a period of soaking rain will render the garden soil too wet to work, it can be just right for eradicating deep-rooted vegetation that's growing where you don't want it, such as elm sprouts and all manner of weeds. If there's a break in clouds today, I intend to put on boots and gloves and tackle some invasives encroaching on the front door of the FIC Office trailer.

The rhythm of farming is learning how to synchronize one's work with what the weather is good for. The uncertainties of it make farming challenging enough without trying to force the issue in unfavorable conditions. While patience can wear thin when you're itching to get crops in the ground and the soil is too wet, fretting about things you cannot control (or worse, cursing a rainy sky when you want sunshine) will not dry things one minute quicker.
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It was by going with the flow (so to speak) that it occurred to me to focus today's blog on the rain. Dwelling on what rain represents, I contemplating the life-giving necessity of water, and how it's recognized as a primary spiritual element in all earth-based religions. This led me—through the process of free association, and my natural joy in word play—to the connection between water and spirits…  

Eau de vie is a term used to refer to clear, colorless spirits that are distilled from fruit brandy. Interestingly, some version of this is produced wherever alcohol is part of the culture—which is tantamount to wherever people live. In Scandavia it's called aquavit; in Slovakia it's slivovitz; in Bulgaria it's rakia; in Germany it's schnapps; in Italy it's grappa; in Sri Lanka it's arrack. Even the roots of the words vodka and whiskey derive from variants of "water." We're talking ubiquitous.

Traditionally, eau de vie is double distilled to produce a high octane potable that can make you go blind in small quantities. The name comes from the French, literally meaning "the water of life." I reckon it got that moniker by having the appearance of water (being clear) and because it has long been valued for its ability to relieve the tedium and brutishness of agrarian workloads—thereby giving life more "life."

As old as this alcoholic tradition is though, the real eau de vie is actually water itself. While life without adult beverages may be less spirited, try living without water. I say, let it rain.

1 comment:

dan said...

Laird, how do you go about innoculating oak logs for shiitake mushrooms? Sounds like something I'd like to try at Freis Farm...