Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wrap it up, clearing out.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I wake up to pouring rain. Ugh. I stayed up too late packing and cleaning. I've made a long list of things to do before I vacate the Dairy. First order of business, strip the bed and start the laundry. Then I start the Sunday Morning Routine in the Dairy. I unlock the door and get right down to business. This is my third time doing it. I've got it down, now. I get it all done in 2 ½ hours and lock up. Again, I'm sad. There is a sense of finality to everything I do. But I can't think about that right now. I've got to vacuum, change the bed, toss groceries, and throw my bags in the van. I cross each task off of my list and in an hour I'm ready to go. OK.

Fall is in the air. The rain has subsided and I can see a few patches of blue sky peeking through the clouds. I'm noticing the trees more this weekend. They're really starting to turn colors, now. Lots of yellow is seeping into the leaves. The equinox is in a couple of days. When I arrived it was light after 8pm. Now it's dark around 7:15. It is nice to feel the changing of the seasons. San Francisco is isolated from large seasonal changes. I feel more connected to the pulse of the land here. I've been watching the farmer tend to his field across the way. When I arrived it was golden brown with straw awaiting the harvest. The tractor moved in and cut it down. Later he gathered the straw into jelly roll shaped bales. These bales were encased in grey plastic and loaded onto a wagon. The wagon was towed away, leaving the field filled with stubble. Then came the spreading of manure onto the stubble. The tractor returned and tilled the field, revealing the bare, red soil to the sky and eager seagulls. The cycle will continue. I don't know what happens to the field next. How does the story end?

I call Nick. He invited me to spend the afternoon in Stoke Fleming with the family. He's not doing a thing except sitting around in the garden digging up his veggie patch. I lock up the apartment and jump in the van. The road to Stoke Fleming is pretty good. Not too many narrow bits. I show up at his yellow house and knock. Harriet, his nine year old daughter opened the door. Sally walks up and says hello and leads me into the garden. There's Nick, drinking a beer. The morning rain has messed up his plans for the day. Oh well.

We hang out in his well stocked kitchen. I notice these things at the moment. He pulled out a large earthenware crock with a chipped lid. "This is my sloe gin," he said proudly. He took the lid off, and shows me this liquid filled with lots of berries and almonds. "By Christmas this stuff will be great. I'll filter it and it will be ready to go!" I don't like gin, but this stuff looked pretty good. "Come on. I'll show you where the sloe berries grow."

We walked out of the house and up the hill. We walk past the large, red sandstone church. Outside of the churchyard, we ran into a young couple pushing their toddler in a stroller. "Why hello, Jado!" Nick says. The young boy, looks up Nick and pouts. Apparently Nick was supposed to do something earlier in the day and didn't. Now Jado is grumpy with him. His parents laugh and tell him to say hello. The kid is having none of it. He keeps avoiding eye contact with Nick. Nick gets down in front of the stroller and apologized to Jado. He did not mean to hurt his feelings. Jado was eventually won over and we all continued in our separate directions. There is peace in the kingdom again. We walked down a small lane, past some conker trees. Nick told me how to have a conker fight with the large seed pods that drop in the fall. They look like big mulberry seed balls. Somehow people string these spiky seed pods and have some sort of slap fight with them. At least that's how I interpreted Nick's explanation. I have no idea what this tree is really called. It is known as a conker.

We walk past pastures and around a bend. The view opened up into a panoramic vista of cliffs and sea. We climbed over a gate and walked across an empty field to a low hedge topped by shrubs. As we get closer I see that the shrubs are loaded with berries. Sloe berries. They look like blueberries, but they aren't sweet. Nick hands me one. "Try it." I pop it in my mouth and chew. "Ugh! It's just tart and full of pectin." I can feel my mouth puckering. He starts laughing at me. "I'm sorry! I had to do that." That's OK, we forgot to bring bags. No berries for us. It's a bumper crop this year. You are supposed to gather them after the first frost. It softens the skin. Instead, Nick harvests them and sticks them in the freezer. Whatever works.

We walk back to Nick's house. His place was built in the 1700's. Many of the homes in Stoke Fleming are from Tudor times. It was on the cattle road. People would move their cattle through the town from pasture to market in Dartmouth. Nick lives in the heart of the village. The Green Dragon pub is just up the block. The main road snakes through town squeezed between high, narrow stone walls. It is just wide enough for a bus. It is a single lane through a lot of town. Again, it is a matter of cars taking turns moving in opposite directions through the lane. Stoke Fleming is a village trying to cling to its identity. The once thriving community is now divided between holiday homes and year round residents. Once there were four pubs. Now there is only one. Most of the stores have closed. Nick and Sally owned the village bakery. It's now a holiday home. There is still a strong sense of community. People drive past and wave at Nick. He waves back. No one locks their door. Neighbors are constantly coming and going. They knock and let themselves in. Sally and Nick do the same.

We paid a visit to Nick's friend Malley. Malley has no first name it seems. He's a submariner with the Royal Navy from Glasgow. Beautiful Scottish lilt. We knock and let ourselves into his house. It's a stone house from the 1600's. Malley's put a lot of time in remodeling and restoring it. It looks great. Another great kitchen. Malley gave me a partial history of the house. In Victorian times it was a tea room catering to students at the Britannia Royal Navy College. Malley escorted us out back. He led us to what looked like a stone potting shed. "Look at that," he said. "That's a royal potty!" He was quite proud. In the back of the shed was a blue porcelain bowl set in a wooden bench. It had a large insignia on it. It was surrounded by rusty shovels, rakes, and flower pots. He went on to explain that he had documents verifying that Queen Mary and several royals had been to this tea room, now his house. Even Prince Edward, the one who abdicated the thrown for Mrs. Simpson had spent time in his house. Malley plans on restoring the royal crapper to it's former glory sometime soon. His garden was also worthy of admiration. It joined several other gardens, so you looked out onto several gardens full of flowers and fruit trees. I love how passionate the gardeners are around here. Every garden that I've seen has been immaculate. The house might be falling down, but the lawn is tidy!

Malley has converted his dining room into a practice space. Nick and Malley get together with other friends and have jam sessions periodically. Their kids use it too. Piano, guitars, bass, drums. The only drawback is that no one can sing, according to Nick. These guys have a pretty nice life.

I left around 4pm and drove back to Totnes. While driving I got a text message from Sarie. They're home. I checked into the Dart Villa Bed and Breakfast and called Ticklemore. Robin answered. We chatted briefly and I drove back up the hill to return the van. Sarie came out and greeted me. They were very happy to be home. Both thanked me for cleaning it so well.

Sarie took me back to the B & B. I walked into town and had a mediocre meal at the Royal Seven Stars. I hate the fact that everything is closed on Sundays. My options are quite limited. Walking back to the B & B is a pain, I have to navigate up a steep hill, clinging to the side of a stone wall (more medieval masonry.) There is no sidewalk and traffic drives way too fast for the narrow road. I walk quickly, noting where the driveways and gates are in case I need to seek refuge from a speeding car. I get back to my room and find nothing on TV again.

Tomorrow is my last day. I'm so sad it's over. I know I've got to move on, but I've really grown fond of Ticklemore and the guys who work there. I really felt like I fit in well with them.

It has been a long day.

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