Friday, June 01, 2007

Alberta Reports - Number Seven

August 10, 1998

Listen, let’s have some hot talk, just between the two of us, okay? This is just for you – sizzling, steamy, sweaty talk meant for your ears only, and by the time I’m done, your ears will be burning.

Wednesday the 5th, and the heat wave continues. Last night, I finally had to break out the fan I brought from home. I put it on the night table beside my bed and aimed it at my head. It worked, and cooled me down enough so that I could sleep. The little house is usually pretty cool, or at least the bedroom is. The kitchen area can get very hot, but a series of precautions has kept the bedroom cool. First, there’s a fan in the attic that vents the hot air outside. Second, the furnace fan blows cool basement air up into the bedroom. (These fans have been going non-stop since I arrived in mid-June.) I’ve separated the bedroom from the kitchen by a curtain in the doorway, so the hot air in the kitchen doesn’t get into the bedroom. I’ve also kept the bedroom windows closed to prevent hot outside air getting in, and letting the furnace and the fan provide circulation. They’ve all done a fine job up until now.

We head back into the fields today and no one is looking forward to it at all. The oppressive heat has lasted close to a week and shows no sign of breaking. It is hot. Today’s forecast calls for highs of 34c, and only an idiot would be out picking in a field on a day like today. I guess that’s why I’m here.
We start at 7:30, and it’s not too bad for a few hours, but by 11:00, it’s scorching out. The pace is slow on days like this, and it slows dramatically as the day progresses. Worse yet, Paula has discovered that the second planting of shelling peas is a washout; they look brown, feel squishy, and taste horrible. Paula believes this is a seed problem, much like the time Frank planted 20,000 broccoli and ended up with 20,000 kohlrabi.
Now we won’t have shelling peas for much longer as the first planting is just about done, and the third planting of sugar snaps didn’t produce as much as hoped. The purple beans are just about done, too, and the yellow beans and green beans, which we’ve just started, aren’t of high quality. The good news is I may not have to pick for much longer; the bad news is I may not have to pick for much longer. This only adds to the drudgery of picking vegetables in the world’s largest outdoor sauna.
We break for lunch just after noon. As we slowly nibble at food we’re really too sunstroked to be eating, I watch the gauge on the outdoor thermometer rise sluggishly but undeniably. In the forty-five minutes we take for lunch, the temperature climbed nearly three degrees and was just under 29c (in the shade) when we headed back out for more punishment. By the time we were finished picking for the day, it was 34c in the shade. I don’t want to know how hot it was in the sun.

At market, we put up the portable canopies so that at least now we’re working under some shade. And make no mistake, on a hot day like this, finding a little shade somewhere or having a stray cloud block the sun for a moment is a cherished, if brief, respite. But after an hour of working at market, I felt cooked. Even though the canopy was sheltering us, it was still bloody hot. I looked at Paula as the sudden realization of our predicament dawned. “Paula, it’s the hottest day of the year, we’ve just spent seven hours out in the fields, and now we’re gonna stand for four hours on a concrete parking lot! Are we nuts?!?” Paula, normally fairly quick with a comeback, just looked at me with the far away gaze of a person whose brain has melted from the heat and turned to pistachio ice cream.

Still, there are some advantages to working in this heat. Paula was noting that I was keeping track of the many seasonably-attired, scantily clad ladies perusing the market.
“See? The heat’s not so bad, after all,” she said. “It’s sort of like a smorgasbord buffet, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I said dreamily, “but too bad it’s not all you can eat….”

I added a new wrinkle to our juggle routine: virtual juggling. I put on my baseball cap backwards, put on Bernie’s welding-style sunglasses, and wear a glove on my right hand. Then I mime that I’m hooked up to a VR simulator. Not everyone gets it.

The weather finally breaks in the evening as a big storm front finally moves in. The wind picks up and again there’s plenty of lightning up to the north. But the wind is a hot, dry wind, and it’s not the big break we were hoping for. In fact, it’s bad news all around as the lightning causes nearly a hundred forest fires in Alberta. By the weekend, they’re all still burning. The good news is, the full moon rising on Saturday night was exquisite. And hopefully Bernie and I have the pictures to prove it.

Livestock update:
The turkeys continue to evolve from the goofy, wacky little gray birds they looked like when I arrived, and into actual turkey-like fowl. Sometimes I feed them some of the overripe veggies that we’ve picked. I toss them over the fence and watch the turkeys run like crazy to scoop up this manna from turkey heaven. And as I watch them run – necks craning, heads weaving, bodies bouncing from one leg to the other – the idea that birds and dinosaurs are related seems so intuitively obvious. Look at them – they’re miniature T-Rexes! Or velociraptors. It’s so obvious, how could we have missed the connection for so many years? Then again, we’re not exactly a species noted for seeing the obvious.

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