September 19, 2015
I haven’t even started working in the fields, yet; and already I am drenched with sweat. Such is the weather inside my rain suit today. To be fair, this high-tech anorak is doing what it’s designed to do: keep the rain out. However, it’s also keeping the heat and humidity in, creating an internal weather system, with high- and low-pressures meeting at various points across my anatomy to produce isolated fog patches interspersed with occasional drizzle. Reminds me of that Woody Allen bit about how he was heating his Bronx apartment in winter by running the shower with just the hot water turned on and leaving the bathroom door open; and then opening up the living room window when it became too foggy only to have it start raining over the sofa where the two fronts met.
Of course, the mere fact that I have donned the rain suit has staved off the real rain—at least while we’ve been on the road. Sure, there have been a few blessings from the grey skies above; but nothing truly worthy of my foul weather gear. This is what I refer to as The Umbrella Effect—when you have one, you don’t need one; and, conversely, should you question the intent and/or abilities of the heavens when you don’t have one, buckets of water will relentlessly descend to teach you some respect.
Yes, my clothes are wet; and, now that I am standing by the side of the field, it is truly raining, making them wetter (I’ve taken off the rain suit y’see). Yet, I am grinning from ear-to-ear. And why not—Gunther and I have been having a great time riding through hill and dale in rural Ontario on this Saturday morning. It’s noon, and we’ve just arrived at our destination for today—Quayle’s of Cahiague, an up-and-coming hops farm near Coldwater. I say “up-and-coming” because the farmers, Bri-mate and Doon—good friends from way (way) back–having successfully launched Phase 1 of their hops farm earlier this year, are seizing an opportunity to launch Phase 2 ahead of schedule.
Phase 2 involves planting several thousand hops plants of varying varieties in rows that sprawl across a few acres. It doesn’t seem like a lot of work when you see the plants in the trays; but, when there are only three people (Bob, a farm hand, is also helping out), and all the planting is being done by hand (the farm is up-and-coming, remember—funds are scarce), Bri-mate and Doon can use all the help they can get.
Why hops? Simple: there’s a demand. See, beer micro-breweries have caught on like a wild fire in recent years; and they are purchasing the hops for their brews from South of the border. Quayle’s of Cahiague intends to give them a locally-grown, organic alternative.
Which is how Gunther and I find ourselves standing next to this field on this soggy Saturday morning. We’re here to help. Well, I am; Gunther is resting under the cover of a Birch tree.
Bri-mate explains the situation to me: They’ve got 4,500 plants that need to be planted this weekend or next. After that, all bets are off because frost becomes an issue; and when the frost gets to them, they return to the place from whence they came (unlike all the money that has been invested into purchasing them). Doon and Bob are measuring out the beds, placing straws in the ground to mark the spots where the plants are to be planted, and dropping plants beside each straw. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to help Bri-mate dig a small hole beside each straw, drop a plant in it, and cover the roots with soil.
“You feel like helping,” Bri-mate asks?
“Let’s get ‘er in,” I respond. I have always wanted to say that.
And so, we spend some hours in the precious daylight planting hops—first the Cashmeres, then the Triple Pearls. Well, I mean, it’s day; and, to be sure, it’s light; but, excepting for the occasional appearance of a fragment of blue sky, it’s mostly raining—at times torrentially. Not that this matters to me because I am already soaked to the skin as we have previously discussed.
As we plant, we talk; and I find the work to be quite relaxing. I think that, when people work together doing something menial like planting a field, they are afforded time they wouldn’t otherwise have to just… shoot the breeze—about hops and it’s role in the beer brewing process (it’s the stuff that gives beer its bitter taste); about Led Zeppelin (Cashmere, one of the hops varieties we’re planting –> “Cashmere”, the song by Led Zeppelin –> Jimmy Page, lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin –> what kind of a mind thinks up the complicated riffs you find in “Cashmere” –> what an amazing band Led Zeppelin was –> dude –> dude).
Time somehow collapses; and a couple of hours pass. Despite the damp weather, I am getting a bit parched since, having been focused on planting and yakking, I haven’t had anything to drink in a while. It’s time for a break. We wander over to the Ford F-150 to get some water only to find the last of the water bottles is nearly empty. Not to worry for, down a nearby embankment, there’s a natural spring. We fill our water bottles. I try not to guzzle; but the water is so cold and crisp, it’s hard not to. Bri-mate explains the tests that have been done on the water indicate it is a lot closer to pure H2O than most springs. That explains it.
Another few hours in the field, and then it’s time to begin heading back down to the city lest I find myself riding on unlit highways at night in the rain and fog. Between the two of us, we have made a sizable dent in the work at hand; but there are still many plants to be planted. While I would like to stay longer to help increase the size of that dent, the trade-off isn’t worth it; and I saunter over to the Birch tree under which Gunther has been waiting patiently to transform from farmer back to rider.
The boys take a break to see me off—they’ll continue farming as long as there is enough light to see—and there are hand shakes and congratulations all around. Then, with a press Gunther’s starter button, we’re off; and I am cautiously guiding my steed back up the muddy track through the fields leading to the road.
Half an hour later, we are on the highway, heading back down to civilization. Soon, I’ve picked up the rhythm of the traffic on this particular evening; and, as I switch over to autopilot my mind wanders. I think about Bri-mate and Doon and the chunk of life they have ambitiously bitten off. Like many before them, they are rolling the dice across an open field. Beyond a certain point, though, a lot depends on the mood of Mother Nature. Will they make it? I think they’ll pull it off. They’ve got tenacity.
Closer to home, I exit the highway and, as I wait for a red light to turn green, I think about the destiny of the hops we’ve planted today. Hmmm… Gears begin to turn; and cogs drop into place… Yes, I think a detour to one of my favorite watering holes for a beer and some chicken wings is in order.
Update: Two weeks have passed since my visit to Quayle’s of Cahiague. The boys were able to get the remainder of the plants into the ground by the Tuesday after I was up at the farm. Just as well—we’ve seen the first signs of frost this past week.