In Birdland we seem to have mighty thunderstorms every night. It’s quite a show. First the heat gets more and more oppressive as the day wears on, the clouds seem to add to the humidity like wet grey blankets above us. Then the wind picks up, blowing in a sudden coolness. The clouds get heavier. We hear the thunder in the distance, see the lightening flicker. We rush around opening windows to rid the house of the damp heat, then run around closing them again when the rain hits, sometimes with some hail mixed in. The grass and fields are emerald green, but the yard has muddy spots that don’t dry up. You catch a whiff of decay, as if the roots are rotting beneath the green. Our corn looks okay so far, but when we get too much rain the corn doesn’t have to send the roots down too far to get a drink. The stalks grow tall and lush, but the roots are lazy and weak, so that a heavy storm will blow them down. I’ve lived out here long enough to see a few very wet summers, when whole fields lie down in one direction, as if a giant sat down to rest and got up again.
This week I was hoping for a dry Wednesday. We went to the Mahomet Market and set up our table, despite the forecast for rain. The Mahomet Market sets up every Wednesday from 3-6 in the grassy area West of Busey Bank at 312 East Main Street in Mahomet. The bank is kindly hosting the Market for several weeks because of roadwork at the usual location. It was pleasant to sit in the shade of my umbrella, visiting and winding balls of cotton rags for rug-making. Lisa was there from Tomahnous Farm with a table full of color. Tie-dyed t-shirts and cut flowers, Basil, Broccoli, and a basket of Garlic with a hint of purple shadowing its white, papery skin. Ed from “Ed’s Place,” a sustainable farm, presented samples of Sugar Snap Peas and Purslane, his table spread with offerings of woodwork, potted Ferns, and Tomato plants. He had simply crafted trivets of wood and tile, small potpourri boxes with intricate patterns cut out to emit the scent of the herbs within. I just love farmers’ markets for their diverse offerings. You never know what you’ll find. I love them too, for honoring the important connection between consumers and the growers and makers of the goods. Buying Lisa’s certified organic vegetables or Ed’s purslane means that for one meal, at least, I’m supporting sustainable agricultural practices. And since I have visited Lisa’s farm, just a few miles East of the market, I can envision her broccoli growing, picture her cutting it from the stem, her long braid flopping over her shoulder as she bends. I also know I’m limiting the oil and carbon emissions in bringing that broccoli to my plate. It didn’t come from California, but from Champaign County. As always when I visit with Lisa, our talk turned to chickens, and in between customers we traded tales of predators, comparing horror stories of blood and feathers, or sudden-overnight-disappearance-of-an-entire-flock-with-no-trace. Birdland is getting rather short on chickens, and I think next week Lisa will bring me some chicks. I tell her I’ll bring a crate, and if she doesn’t have time to bring them, I’ll just stop by after the market. I ask her how big they are and she cups her hands so I can imagine them—big enough to be feathered out. I think she said they are half Cochin and half Auracana, which means they’ll have feathered feet and might lay greenish tinted eggs. They’re half bantam, so they’ll be small. I’ll keep them in the aviary, the safest place for chicks.
Our talk is pleasantly interrupted by a patron who stops at my table. We exchange mini-biographies. She grew up in Mahomet, left, returned. I grew up in Champaign, moved to the family farm. The afternoon passes; I finish winding my rug cotton and pick up my knitting. I move my chair to keep in the shade of my umbrella until I’m sitting under the tree next to Lisa’s table. Suddenly somebody notices that it’s 6:00 and the promised rain hasn’t come. We each pack up our wares and everybody helps with the tables. I enjoy this camaraderie. I hope it won’t rain next Wednesday.
Grow in Beauty; Purchase Peace; Blessed Be.Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She will bring her books and fiber arts to the Mahomet Market on Wednesdays from 3-6, and to the Steeple Gallery Coffeehouse on second Saturdays from 10-2 this summer.