Chapter 21

March. And another Swap Meet. They happen on the first and third weeks … weather permitting. Well the weather didn't permit on the third week's Meet for February which gave me more time to perfect the two letters that I was writing to give to Mr. Mackey. First one was to Uncle Paul and I'm glad I left a spot blank on the page because it allowed me to let him know I received his latest letter, thank him and the family once again, and to answer the few questions he'd thoughtfully asked.

Yes, as soon as the law firm had received my communication they filed it and then rushed notice of such to my uncle to get him off their backs; however, Uncle Paul said that he'd be keeping an eye out to make sure that Robert nor his family tried anything else. Uncle Paul also said that I'd be receiving a document from the state within the next month or two with a raised seal that I should never lose as it would be the primary proof of the divorce should Robert or his family ever try to deny it took place or that it was Robert that asked for the divorce in the first place. He hoped that I was doing well. I answered him by saying that I was putting all of the lessons that Daddy and Gran Gran had taught me to good use. I hope that suffices to let him know that I am getting along well enough all things considered. He reminded me on the strictures of conveying information by mail and I took that to mean not to be too free with my words and I answered him that I would very much take that to heart as I knew it would ease his mind.

The letter to Mr. Stillwell was a little more difficult to write, but not as difficult as the first one had been. I learned and am practicing the old style of writing where you convey as much as you can in as little space as you can. You have one piece of paper to write on and one small envelope to send it in. I thought I was being cleaver and really well until I heard at the Meet that some people had thought to steam open the envelope and use the inside of the envelope as a second page and then gluing it shut. I would say that is squeezing every penny you can from your postage.

Dear Mr. Stillwell,

Or would you prefer Don? I'm grateful that you have dropped calling me Mrs. Belmont for all the reasons you can imagine but mostly because I'm not that woman anymore … I'm not sure who I am anymore, but I am sure that I am your friend Ettie. This letter may be repetitive as I'm not sure if my first letter arrived or not. I'm not even sure if my first letter was welcome or not. Either way you are getting another, but I will hold off until I hear from you before writing again. Once again I want to assure you that Evie and I are fine. Also, I have agreed to sign those papers that Uncle Paul arranged for. [in small letters above this sentence I squeezed in: papers have been received and filed with the state; it is done.] The chickweed and wintercress are finally big enough to forage and I found a duck nest with freshly laid eggs and Evie and I ate very well, one egg being more than enough for both of us. I also have had great luck with pine needle tea. To the uninitiated it likely sounds disgusting, but I promise you that pine needle tea has a great deal of Vitamins C & A and is not just an old folks remedy. Made a very good trade at the Meet in February with the Chaga fungus that I foraged. Looks like nasty stuff to me but apparently it is in high demand due to its health benefits. I hope I do as well with it at the next Meet. [in small letters here I added that the second Meet in February had not happened due to weather so I hoped to mail the letter in March.] For now, we are still living on what I was able to forage in the autumn but April should really open up other opportunities but that is then and this is now. Mustn't count your chickens before they hatch. Speaking of chickens, I've heard that they are now allowing small livestock inside the city limits though they are limited to the number and breed and only if the manure is gathered and turned in for the use of the new methane plant. ….

I went on in that way until every millimeter of that piece of paper was covered, closing the letter once again with "Your Friend, Ettie". I suppose I will force myself to do as I said and wait on hearing from him before writing another letter. Or at least in mailing another letter. I've actually drafted another letter and will add to it in the evenings when I am not too tired to do so.

And the reason I am tired? Syrup. Yes, I said syrup. It has been since Travis was alive that my family boiled tree sap to make our own syrups. It is an all-day production every day but as the forage is slim and since I can't get a garden in until the ground dries a little more this seems to be the best use of my time.

I am more thankful than I can say that the old rocket stove worked just as it always had and that I've been able to use tree trash and scrap wood to boil the syrup rather than the large, seasoned logs that I am trying to save for the fireplace. It is not as cold as it was but it is certainly not summer time temperatures.

The other thing that I have taken to doing is canning wild greens. First off is fiddleheads. I eat them other ways as well, but I've canned what I can – no pun intended. I've also canned wintercress, chickweed, and garlic mustard. I have a couple of 4 oz. jars of the field garlic that I've found; it will come in handy if the domestic garlic doesn't make.

And I'm planning for April and May, praying that I can start opening up the garden though it is awful to do it by hand, especially after all the rain because everything is so packed down. When the gardens were done, I worked in all the compost and manure that I had. It has to be enough. Because if I can't, all the work I've done in February and March will have been for naught. I've seedlings starting to pop up in the greenhouse already. Some trays are still dormant but there's enough that I should have plenty to transplant … if I can prepare the ground to do it.

At least last year this time … has it really been that short of a time since they all left? Since they left me alone to take care of Evie by myself? To feed us … by myself? To protect us … by myself? To do all of the worrying … by myself? To do all the loving … by myself? I catch myself being angry at them less and less, but it still happens. Like today.

I had to shoot a bear. It was a scrawny, mangy looking thing, a yearling that wasn't surviving too well on its own for the first time, and I had to leave it in the woods as I didn't think it was healthy enough to eat. It would have eaten Evie and I however. In a heartbeat. It was a heartbeat away from trying. It had already gotten into one of the sap buckets. Find the silver lining Ettie, finding something. Ah, I've got it; the bucket wasn't damaged.

Shooting the bear scared Evie who was already out of sorts because she wanted to get down rather than be carried. She then refused to be put down. Every time I tried she would shriek and try and climb back up, pinching and pulling as she went. I finally was forced to do the one thing that I hate the most and that was to pop her behind to get her to mind. It was not the work I was finding myself unable to do so much as it was the fact that she was making carrying the gun dangerous. What I wouldn't give for another adult, or even a teenager, to share the load that Evie is becoming. It isn't her fault that I'm not up for the job, it is simply what it is. I must find a way to do this even if it means even stricter measures. To feed us and take care of us I cannot be tied to the house but at the same time I can't leave her home alone. I used to wonder at what I considered the ignorance and thoughtlessness of parents who would leave young children alone while they went off to do other things. Now I am getting a glimpse of what might have driven them … but only a glimpse. I refuse to take that route. There are too many things that could go wrong.

The only sap that I am collecting this year is maple. It takes the fewest gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, something near to forty give or take a few on either side depending on the tree. And the trees are giving a lot of sap this year. Reading Daddy's farm journals I've learned that isn't true every year. Perhaps this spring has been such a blessing in that respect because of the harshness of the winter. I don't know and I don't suppose I really have the time to think about it, there is too much work to do to simply daydream about things that simply are the way they are.

And so saying I suppose I simply must put this pen down and go about the business of checking the house and getting to bed. Tomorrow will be another long day. Another long day alone to do what needs doing. Something else that simply is what it is with no changing it.