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2012 Readings & Workshops

March 21: Berkeley, 4:00-6:00 pm: Ashby Village reading and book talk, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Suse Moyal Center, 2484 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

May 10: Oakland, 3:30-5:00 pm: "Conversations at AgeSong," The Terrace Room, 1800 Madison, Oakland

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Welcome Spring (and her rats)

Spring Warren, author of The Quarter Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year and Turpentine, has graciously agreed to guest blog this week. At our very first meeting, Spring and I discovered that we share a deep and abiding interest in rats, and since then we haven't been able to get off the subject. No topic, even books, has proven to be as fascinating and all-consuming. We can't seem to stop exchanging stories. Spring has really outdone herself this time. She has even included some very moving photography, guaranteed to blow your mind.

Urban farmers, gourmet cooks, animal lovers, and rat connoisseurs—do yourself a favor and check out her website. Here's a description of her book:

The Quarter-Acre Farm is Warren’s account of deciding—despite all resistance—to take control of her family’s food choices, get her hands dirty, and create a garden in her suburban yard. It’s a story of bugs, worms, rot, and failure; of learning, replanting, harvesting, and eating. The road is long and riddled with mistakes, but by the end of her yearlong experiment, Warren’s sons and husband have become her biggest fans—in fact, they’re even eager to help harvest (and eat) the beautiful bounty she brings in.

Full of tips and recipes to help anyone interested in growing and preparing at least a small part of their diet at home,
The Quarter-Acre Farm is a warm, witty tale about family, food, and the incredible gratification that accompanies self-sufficiency.

And here, without further ado, is Spring's account of the kinds of miracles, moral dilemmas, and moments of grace that happen every day in the garden:

When Leslie offered me the position of guest blogger on her blog, I knew what I should blog about. Leslie and I have a shared relationship to, if not interest in, rats.

Unfortunately, I’d shared all my rat stories with her already.

But here on the Quarter Acre Farm, the town lot on which I live and grow most of my own food, it seems that one is never finished with rats. First of all the Quarter Acre Farm is in California, where rat living is easy. Second, we have chickens, duck, and geese, and all of these creatures eat food that rats love. (Come to think of it -all creatures eat food that rats love.) Still, my husband puts out such a largess of birdseed, and fortified fowl food in nice little bowls so that the intended diners never manage finish it all up and so provides the rats with a welcome that apparently makes the rats feel unequivocally at home.

Luckily the cats do pretty well as an antidote for that welcome, and their ferocity keeps the rats from staying too long at chez Warren. We’ve had quite a few months of rat-free living lately - making me think the chicken coop down the street must provide even more chicken chow with even fewer cats than we have here.

Then again, maybe not.

Fixing up a new and improved rain shelter for the chickens, I moved a cinderblock to one side, tipping it over and disgorging a mass of leaves, fiber - and what appeared to be wriggling pink thumbs, into the dirt.

I can bet most of you said “Ewww!” as you guessed the thumbs were rat infants. I might have howled “ewww” myself except for the hens converging on the tiny rats. Any thought of an easy dispatch via chicken posse was too grisly to contemplate. I love my hens, but I’d been pecked by their rapier beaks myself and I couldn’t allow such a painful end to the wriggling pink babies.

I swept down and plucked the four rat pups out of the dirt to keep them from the ravening hens and waited for disgust to wash over me. But the little animals were warm and dry, and so cunningly miniature! The rat babies waved their pinhead paws, tails curled like a basenjii’s, and looked practically adorable. They smelled just like all babies seem to smell – a mix of milky sweet and somewhat sawdusty. Their skin was pink as bubblegum, and so fine I could see their dark eyes through their eyelids and the milk plumping their bellies. The siblings had obviously just enjoyed their afternoon meal, snuggled against their mama, warm, happy; I supposed they’d all been dozing happily when big monster me bumbled into their world and kicked over their concrete bunker that must have moments before seemed ideal- so safe and strong and situated handily besides the best restaurant in town.

As I stared down at them it seemed they looked somewhat familiar to me. I looked at them again with a measure of shock, as I realized what they reminded me of were the images in the first ultrasound photographs of human babies that newly pregnant couples seem to like to hang on the refrigerator.

So – what could I do? Any thought I might have had of dispatching the critters was now unthinkable. So I relocated the cinderblock two feet to the north, returned the stuffing to the western hole, wrapped the babies in a piece of terrycloth and put them back where they belonged - with a stern talking to.

“Just because the living is easy here, doesn’t mean it’s safe. We’ve got cats and hens and I’ve got a husband who isn’t above using rat traps. This is your moment of grace. Grow up here if necessary, but then head out to the ag fields, or even to the rental house just to the beyond the fence. Those students have parties four days a week, you can gorge on Fritos and beer and likely get stoned just by breathing. But don’t stay here. Spread the word.”

And so the rats got a reprieve. And I got a story and the chance to hold rat babies in hand and recognize how alike all us animals really are. And hopefully, our neighborhood party house got some new residents.