Friday, October 16, 2009

Bears, pork chops, and crisp

Do you ever have days that start and end completely differently? As if the day could be easily divided, making two separate entities, and you could be convinced they were actually different days instead of the connecting stream of hours they really were? Well, that’s what the other day was like for me, and it was very interesting how it came to fall under this category.

That morning I woke up with two dogs bookending me in the bed, making any extra blankets completely unnecessary even in the chilly morning air. Actually, it was just us on the orchard for the time being (plus Miko, another dog, who sleeps outside) since Elane and Paul were both out of town and were returning later on that day. So with me, the dogs, and the guinea hens, we held down the fort as we carried out our morning activities. The air was cold and crisp as we headed out for our morning walk. There was a definite sense of fall in the air, and I could feel it both in the chill of my cheeks and in the vision of the colorful changing leaves that bordered our walking route.

I continued with some other tasks throughout the morning, including making some granola to test out how my ‘Peachy Keen Sauce’ would go with it once it’s mixed with yogurt (one word: YUM). Things were peaceful and quiet – no engines rearing to run along the ditch, no noises from Nick from the stable, no bustling of boxes in the packing shed – just us, the trees, and the occasional gust of wind. As the morning slowly crept away, the always reliable afternoon sun came out and cut through any lingering chill. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to fit another walk in for the dogs. We walked up the slight hill to the back of the orchard when all three dogs started barking and sprinting towards the fence. I was curious at first, and then saw a neighboring dog running along the fence as well. They had their greeting barks and mad dashes back and forth along the path and that was pretty much that. We continued on and my mind started wandering to other aimless thoughts.

I’m not really sure how to describe the next moment, since it came up so…casually, I guess, in terms of how one would think of this type of interaction would happen. All I can honestly say is that in one moment I was nonchalantly walking down the path next to the cherry trees and in the next moment I realized that I was 10 feet away from a very large black bear on the other side of the fence. A live black bear, just to my left! I froze and watched the dogs cautiously survey the scene and start to take a right towards the house. Huh, so I’m thinkin’ this may have been the real cause of the barks. It took me a few seconds to really realize that that large dark brown/black furry mass staring back at me was a real, live, intimidating, large bear, that appeared to be forcing its way through fence. I stood there dumbfounded as the bear kind of did the same, not moving an inch. Once I finally registered all of this, I think I said a few choice four letter words and finally came to what I should have done immediately; I slowly backed away off the path and started down one of the rows of trees. I patted the pouch of my sweatshirt – oh wow! I do have my camera! I took a few quick snapshots as I back-peddled – I have to be able to prove this really happened somehow! - and proceeded to turn around and walk briskly, with the dogs close by, back to the house patio. If you couldn’t already tell, this is when the day took its turn.

So there I was, on a 120 acre orchard, with three dogs staring at me, in the wake of just seeing a black bear that seemed to be trying to gnaw and claw its way through the fence….all by myself. Well this is interesting! I thought. Shortly thereafter Paul arrived with his friend Rusty and the new intern Emily. I jogged down to the gate. “Paul, you’ll never guess what just happened!” After my rushed and excited story, we all walked together to the fence, only to see the bear still there! It was in a lying down position and leaped up when it finally heard us, which made us leap back too. Then we realized what the situation was really about. The bear had caught itself in a snare on the bottom of the fence that was initially installed to catch the foxes that had been eating the guinea hens in the beginning of the summer. It all made more sense then, since I was so surprised to see a bear out during that time in the afternoon (the time they usually snack on the apples in the orchard is late at night or very early in the morning). So this bear probably had gotten caught during that time the day before, and had been stuck there since. After a few quick phone calls, Gary, the man who usually takes care of the creatures caught in the traps on the farm, was on his way over to take care of the bear.

At that point, my adrenaline was still high enough that an afternoon run seemed perfectly fitting (no bear in a fence to worry about now) and Sizzle and Xoey (the dogs) and I took advantage of the still warm sunrays and did a quick tour of some of the trails close by. But the excitement of the afternoon wasn’t over! I was only to come back to the house to find Rusty and Emily already started on dinner – dessert actually – as they diced away at pears and peaches, and mixed butter and oats into flour at the kitchen counter. A Peach-Pear Crisp! And once I heard that pork chops were hitting the grill shortly, I accelerated my pace to the shower.

We all sat down at the table enjoying some delicious Colorado beer alongside our tasty dinner. The best part about it was, though, that we were finally able to try some of the jarred recipes we had been creating for the farmer’s markets on an actual meal. The two contenders were the Peachy Green Chili and the Zesty Pear Chutney, and I must say they both passed with flying colors. The pear chutney was especially delicious on top of the pork (as we had predicted) since the slight fruitiness as well as the marriage of ginger and allspice and cayenne melded with the meat beautifully. And the hit of apple cider vinegar really highlighted all of the above. Success! We sat around the table and had a nice conversation, going back and forth from the bear incident to what was on our plate and otherwise.

And if the main meal wasn’t enough, dessert was still on its way. Rusty’s delicious smelling crisp had cooled on the counter just enough and we sat ready with our spoons and bowls. We cut through the satisfying crispy top and revealed the steamy layer of perfectly soft slices peaches and pears. Paired with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was everything you’d want in a dessert. Rusty’s heavy hand with the cinnamon perfectly blended with the flavors of the fruit, which complemented each other very well. All peach would have been too sweet, and all pear would have been missing that extra bright sweetness. Together they made a happy and well balanced crisp. As we scraped our bowls down to the very last crumb, Rusty assured us that it was even better in the morning once its been cooled completely in the fridge overnight. Oats, fruit…sounds like breakfast to me!

With Elane arriving later that night and Rusty’s son coming early the next morning, the orchard was full to its capacity. The weekend had some great activities and chores lined up, seeing that there were so many willing and helping hands around. With all of the moving bodies and parts going on that evening, it would be hard to picture what the quiet, eventless morning was like. I remembered it faintly as though it were days ago. Then I realized what I had really learned that day: 1) Nothing compares to the flavor of a homemade dinner made with ingredients that you’ve taken the time to care for and 2) Once a live bear appears in your schedule unexpectedly, you should know the rest of your day won’t compare to anything that came before it.

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