Squeezing the Figs

by ericavanhorn

10 August Thursday

Rain has been falling on and off every day and every night. We can no longer remember the weather being any other way. The sun comes out and the day is suddenly hot. Everyone relaxes. Hunched shoulders drop and people stand taller. Then it rains again and people crunch their bodies again in attempts to make themselves small while scurrying to get under cover.

11 August Friday

Rolls of Silage Tape have appeared on the counter at the shop.  It is a reminder to those farmers who need it to remember to buy it.  The silage is being cut and baled in between cloudbursts.  The men in tractors and large cutting machinery race from field to field during even the briefest of dry spells.

12 August Saturday

I am Squeezing the Figs. I run up the stone steps to get close to the higher branches where I can reach the largest figs. I make the trip to squeeze four or five times a day. There are not many figs this year and if one of them is going to soften, I want to be sure to get it before the birds do. They will rip open the thin skins and eat away at the fruit inside. I want to find each fig first.

13 August Sunday

These wet days are warm, so windows are open. Open windows become an invitation to slugs. I never really know if they enter the bathroom through a window or if they ooze up through the plug hole in the bathtub, or the sink. They just appear. At night. And always in a surprising place. I am never happy to find a slug in the bathroom. I thought that by now I had been startled by a slug in every imaginable and disturbing location. Tonight I grabbed the tube of toothpaste and found my hand squeezing a large slug that was stretched the length of the tube. Lucky for me, I did not squeeze hard enough to kill it nor for its body to ooze through my fingers. I scraped the slug off the tube on the edge of the open window and got on with the job of cleaning my teeth.

15 August Tuesday

So far the birds have had one fig. I have had three. There are a lot of small fruits that will never grow large enough to ripen. It is not going to be a large crop this year so I am keeping count.

16 August Wednesday

We thought the thrush in the garden was one thrush singing non-stop. Now we recognize that there are several voices. They sing and sing and sing all day. There is not a moment of quiet.

18 August Friday

A storm is coming. It promises to be a big one. It has been named: Storm Betty. One woman said she tried to go to Dunnes’ Stores but the car park was full because everyone is rushing to get their food shopping in before the threatened rain and winds and floods descend. There are discussions about whether to bring in the lawn furniture, or maybe just the cushions? Since we have barely sat outdoors all summer some people have already put their lawn chairs away. Some people never brought them out of the shed. What about small plants in plastic pots: will they blow away? And Hanging Baskets are another worry. Preparations are frantic. People are feeling uncertain because they might well be trapped by floods or they fear that their electricity might be cut off. They want to be ready for every possibility, so everyone is rushing about so that they are not the ones to be caught out by Betty. The storm has quickly gone from Storm Betty to just Betty. Everyone feels familiar and on a first name basis with her.

19 August Saturday

In this part of the country, we escaped the Betty’s battering without much damage. Some branches are down but no roads are blocked. Other areas lost electricity and there was some terrible flooding. Betty is already fading as a topic of discussion.

20 August Sunday

Mickey Nugent died this week. He died in hospital but he was brought home to be laid out. A neighbour asked Tommie if he would like to go to the wake, so he was driven up to the house on Friday evening. He said he felt like The Pope for the welcome he received. The warm greetings and the friends he saw made him even sadder to know that Mickey was gone. He told me that Mickey was the kind of friend who would Fill His Car before he drove off to any event.  He never headed off for a match nor a funeral with Empty Seats. Tommie was never unhappy to be taken on an journey with Mickey as he himself rarely felt confident about locating any place that he did not know already. Mickey was never bothered with such worries. He was Without Fear. Tommie said that Mickey was both a Generous Man and a Gentleman. He said that several times. I think he enjoyed the sound of the words together. Tommie had decided to stay at home on Saturday because his knee was so painful, but after he heard about all the musicians who arrived carrying their instruments into the church, he regretted that he had not attended the Funeral Mass. He was sorry to have missed the musical farewell for his friend.

21 August Monday

I have a note to remind myself to keep checking the figs, but really, I do not need a note. I am obsessed with the figs. I bring them into the house when there is just the smallest amount of softness, a mere suggestion of squeezability. The figs then ripen in the house slowly over a few days or a week. There is no hurry. Once they are inside the birds cannot destroy them. Once they are inside I am happy to wait.

22 August Tuesday

The compost bucket is an ongoing problem in this dreadful endless rain. We all commiserate about the weather. It is important to take the compost out when the weather is dry. It is not pleasant to carry it out in lashing rain and to open my compost heap especially with its sliding heavy cover that no longer slides with ease. Emptying the bucket before it is full is becoming even more of an issue since the handle broke. It is now necessary for me to clutch the bucket to my chest with both arms as I walk. If I wait until the bucket is full up, it is heavy and if it is raining too, I must perform a staggery kind of a run to complete the task.

23 August Wednesday

Lads is a collective noun. People are described as Lads. Not Mates. Not You All. Not Guys. The Lads might be a clatter of small children, or it might be a rugby team made up of grown men. The Lads might be out on a Stag Night or The Lads might be out on a Hen Party. The word Lads does not seem to be restricted to one sex or the other. It is just a word for a grouping of people where names are not the issue. I might be mistaken, but it seems that Lads is always plural. Not Lad, but Lads. As soon as I decide this, I find an exception.

24 August Thursday

This endless wet means that there is always mud and there are always puddles. As a result, whatever trousers I am wearing, I always have a smudge or a clump of mud on the calf of my right leg. This is where the back of my leg rubs as I step out of the car. The muck splashes up onto the bottom of the car as I drive through the farmyard. If it is a warm day, the smudge is on the back of my bare leg. If the smudge is a green-ish color, it is not mud, but manure. It is green because the cows are feasting on nothing but grass in their fields.

25 August Friday

I watched as a man opened the back of his vehicle to load up a new gas bottle. Another man carried the bottle out to him and then he sat down on the back of the car. The two men talked quietly for a while and then they loaded in the gas bottle. One man drove away. The other one walked to wherever he was going.

26 August Saturday

Breda and I consulted the weather and we picked a time. I walked out and waited for her at the end of the boreen and we drove up to the Boulders in her car. We figured we had two, maybe two and a half hours, before the next cloudburst. We tied lightweight rain jackets around our waists and set off with long strides on our walking poles. We walked 40 minutes uphill to the cairn, with the sheep scattering and rushing away from us. We dropped down towards the river, just as the sky opened and the rain bucketed down hard. We were unable to get our jackets on before we were soaked to the skin. We hoped it might be a short downpour but the rain kept lashing down. It was hard and it was heavy. There was nothing for it but to head back to the Boulders and the car. There was not one tree nor shelter of any kind. We could not run because there was so much mud. We lurched and slipped along as quickly as we were able. The rain never let up for one minute. It felt like hail. By the time I got home I stripped off every bit of wet clothing and jumped into a hot shower. When I came out, I saw Simon’s shirt and trousers hanging off the rail. He was not interested in my report of heavy rain. He had his own report. He had been sitting out in the sunshine where he fell asleep in his chair. He was woken up by the rain pouring down upon him. He got completely drenched in the short run back to the house.

28 August Monday

I could not pass the farm because the gate was across the road. I shouted around the gate to the man at the cattle crush and he shouted to Joe and Joe came and opened the gates to let the car through. He told me that they were testing the cows to see which ones were in calf. When I returned two hours later, I had to shout up the yard again and Joe came down again and let me drive across. I asked how many calves he was expecting and he muttered that he feared they would never be finished with the testing because he had to keep letting men or machines or me in and out of the yard or up or down the road.

30 August

We ate caramelized figs on a pancake. Now I am slowly collecting more. The indoor ripening system is working well. The birds are deprived and we are winning. I have picked buckets full of apples from the meadow, both off the trees and the windfalls off the ground. The freezer is not going to be able to accommodate all the fruit I am gathering. And now the raspberries are ripening fast. I need to go out and pick them every afternoon. Overripe wild damsons are falling off the branches in the boreen. The branches are too high for me to reach. Four years ago I parked the car on the corner under the tree and I used a ladder to climb up and pick the plums while standing up on the curved roof of the car. I no longer feel safe using this method.

1 September Friday

The man stood outside the station and he pointed to a tree. Everyone who walked by followed his finger and looked up at the tree. There were not a lot of people around. Some were waiting to board a bus and others had just gotten down off a bus. Some were just off the train. We all followed the man’s directive. We all looked up at the tree. I heard a cat miaowing. Every person responded to the sounds of the crying cat. Each person stopped and looked and looked for the cat in the tree. After some minutes, the man laughed and said, “It’s ME! I am the cat. The cat is me. Can you give me some money for lunch?” Most people gave him some money. They were impressed with his act of throwing his voice into the tree. They were appreciative of his talent of imitating a cat in distress and they were relieved that there was not a real cat in trouble. Not everyone gave him money. Some people rushed away, embarrassed to have been caught up in his trick.

2 September Saturday

We would not have bought the strawberries. They were pale and sickly looking. And we have too much fruit to eat at home. The girl at the market assured us that they were the sweetest of berries and they were only pale because there has been so little sun. She explained that we are all suffering from a lack of sun. She said they were delicious and that we needed to eat them all today or they would disintegrate into a mush. We began to eat them right after lunch and we did not stop until they were gone. The girl was right. They were the best strawberries we have ever eaten.

4 September Monday

I am picking raspberries every day. Some get taken to friends. Some go into the freezer. Most of them we just eat.  I am seeing the blackberries ripening all up the boreen and I am now feeling the pressure to start picking them too.