There is no photograph. I am sorry. There was no time. It was too late. There is nothing left but essential juices. Gone up the food chain, as they say, no longer on this earth, become part of something in the great beyond and never to be forgotten by those who knew.
We ate Mr. Stripey.
Mr. Stripey was one of the big, juicy, mild, thin-skinned, organically grown heirloom tomatoes from Nina’s Red Barn Farm, which has become my first stop at the Ringwood Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning from spring to fall. She sells others as well, among them the famous Brandywines that I grew in my own little patch several years ago. They are reminiscent of the original “Jersey” tomato I grew up with.
Nina invited me to stop by last Sunday, but she had only been home from work a short time when I arrived. I felt a little guilty taking up her time when she obviously had so much to do, but she encouraged me with “Come over here by the corn rows,” and “Swiss chard is coming up there,” and Look at the pumpkins. We thought they would vine out in an eastward direction, but they are marching west instead.” “Over here are the zinnias.” She rustled around the back of a bush.
“Here.” And offered a handful a of plump, sweet raspberries. Heaven.
She talked knowledgeably about growing corn and “everything it has to do to become corn,” far more complicated than I ever gave anything without a brain credit for.
I was tickled to see Nina’s chickens, who were scrambling at the coop door, knowing that her arrival meant they would be allowed out into the yard to peck among the lush grass. They rushed the open door in a wave of rose and cream feathers. As as soon as they hopped to the other side, they stopped and clucked among themselves, creating a pile-up of hens behind them, not much different from a traffic stall on the New Jersey turnpike.
“They’re just like people, aren’t they?” laughed Nina. “They get right outside the door and stop.”
I loved seeing the hens swirling around me, citified romantic that I am, and tried to put out of my mind all the chicken sandwiches I have ever eaten. These were laying hens, and soon Nina invited me in to collect the smooth globes of their eggs, which she would wash and sell, storing them in a cooler in a shaded spot at the end of the driveway for folks to come at will, put $3.00 in the cigar box to bring home a dozen fresh eggs.
A few hens managed to slip through the generous limitations of the enclosure. Nina chased them down and returned them to the safety of the group on the other side. One had slipped through the hedge into the neighbor’s yard, but she soon grabbed it and handed it to me.
“Just hold her around her body and keep her wings down,” she instructed. “Drop her over the fence.”
I was embarrassed to say how thrilled I was to hold a living chicken, so you may well be weeping with laughter by now at the poverty of my adult life. The hen was plump and warm and soft as a pillow. She did not fight me but waited, clucking quietly while I carried her to safety.
There are also bee hives, two of them, high on a deck to (hopefully) discourage the bears. I followed her upstairs to visit them but was reluctant to step into stinger territory.
“Always approach a hive from the back,” Nina instructed. “Look, there are some collected on the front porch of the hive.”
I had gone this far and didn’t want to look like a wimp after having been so pitifully thrilled at holding a chicken. I tiptoed behind the hive and sure enough, there were a small collection of bees colored the same glowing gold as the honey they produced. They ignored us. We spoke quietly, almost reverently.
“Put your head down on the hive and listen,” Nina suggested.
Not stopping to think that I was about to put my head on an active bee hive, I leaned over and rested my ear against the corner. It was one of the most amazing sounds I have ever heard, a visceral vibration of thousands of tiny wings against my cheek. It ignited my sense of wonder as much as any five-year old, and I looked up at Nina as if I had just discovered the new world, then bent over to do it again. It was the sonic frequency of life. My ears were swallowing the sound. I couldn’t get enough of it.
It is probably one of the plain, ordinary things that people experience, but I am happy to report that I will never quite be the same for having rested my head on a hive of honeybees.