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The salad days at Smilin’ Dog Manner

By G.D. Maxwell It’s hard to think there will ever be, a fruit as perfect as the rasp-ber-rie. It’s harvest time at Smilin’ Dog Manner. Push has come to shovel and we’re about to test the limits of friendship.

By G.D. Maxwell

It’s hard to think

there will ever be,

a fruit as perfect

as the rasp-ber-rie.

It’s harvest time at Smilin’ Dog Manner. Push has come to shovel and we’re about to test the limits of friendship.

"Boy you guys sure wound up with a lot of lettuce."

"Why don’t you take a head or two?"

"No thanks. Still got most of what you gave me yesterday."

"Tough. Take some damn lettuce or else."

Looking at the bounty still in the ground, some might say my Perfect Partner and I were hard working, diligent gardeners. I like to think we were merely incredibly naive because the alternative is thinking we were downright foolish at best, stupid at worst. WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

The life-giving waters of Sulfuric Lake sit at 3,660 feet above sea level – think Olympic station. Even during the smokin’ hot days of the summer of ’02, nights were fresh – think cold. The first hard frost could come anytime in the next 15 days... or 15 minutes. There are, as I write, maybe 30 heads of romaine lettuce left in the ground, countless have been consumed, countless more have been given away. Two rows of chartreuse leaf lettuce we’ve been grazing on since the third week of June we’ve simply abandoned. They now look like brightly coloured hedges. I may never eat arugula again. Ditto beet greens.

I’ve eaten so much fresh spinach – raw, cooked, wrapped in phyllo, sauced in orzo – that tiny anchors are starting to appear on my swollen forearms. I have committed the sin of gluttony with fresh peas and sought repentance through acts of charity with my neighbours. Pods still hang on their vines like a Christmas tree overburdened with identical ornaments. My pee has turned green.

Enough potatoes remain in the ground to bring tears to the eyes of an aging Irishman. The potatoes have been both delicious and entertaining. One dug up the other day bore such a startling resemblance to Zippy the Dog it was saved from eating, named DogSpud, and given a place of honour on the counter. I’m hoping it grows sprouts where whiskers ought to be.

But the coup de grace must surely be this year’s raspberry crop. To describe it as bountiful does it an injustice. Scary comes closer. Arriving here last year about this time, there were ripe berries on the canes, a bonus considering no one had been resident to nurture them along for the previous year and a half. We gobbled them like desert nomads too long between oases. Not a single berry was left to preserve.

With a bit of TLC, some judicious pruning, a few sessions of stoop labour weeding and some righteous shit, we’re up to our wazoos in berries this year. I start to pick a few for a snack and wind up with a quart, maybe two. Picking takes on the fevered pitch of a search and rescue mission. Berries about to fall to the ground from their own weight and ripeness must be saved, be jammed, be vinegared, be pied, be cobblered, be jammed into my mouth until my cheeks swell and my chin looks like I endoed onto asphalt.

Despite their maddening seeds, I’ve come slowly to the conclusion raspberries are the nearly perfect fruit. Just saying that feels like I’m cheating on strawberries, the imperfect queen of all things grown and edible. If strawberries pulled cleanly away from their hulls they’d be perfect. But they don’t. They come with a calyx of green leaves – giving the whole a complete Christmas look – and tongue-like involucre best gouged out with a slim, sharp knife. Strawberries are, in a word, fussy.

But raspberries leave all their flotsam behind and drop willing to hand at a gentle touch. No extraneous motions are required. No hulling. No cleaning. Even low-hanging raspberries rarely touch the ground and those that do are best left to compost where they lay. Washing raspberries is a losing proposition; their structural integrity just won’t tolerate such handling and residual water simply dilutes the intensity of the explosion when tooth meets drupe and juice breaks loose.

Besides, I don’t have any strawberries. Plans are afoot to correct that but, like Stephen Stills said, love the one yer with.

Having overcome the nightmares of spring, I’m ready to wrack my back again and carve more beds out of the unforgiving clay of the Cariboo. We need more room to give peas a chance and we most definitely need strawberry fields forever. One of us has a hunch asparagus might grow up here and one of us has a hunch the varmints will eat it down to its roots but neither of us will ever know for sure if we don’t plant it and wait a couple of years to find out.

But with Big Jean’s announcement this week that he will throw the country into turmoil and ratify the Kyoto Accord, I’m shelving the plans to plant mangoes and bananas. We don’t have nearly enough global warming up here to make those work. Maybe in the Fraser Valley, but not in the Cariboo.

I don’t know what Aline slipped into Jean’s coffee to turn him into a come-lately environmentalist and certainly there’s a part of me that’s cynical enough to think his born-again commitment to Kyoto is just another ruse to turn Paul Martin Jr. into Kim Campbell Jr., but I find myself in the troubling position of siding with Ralph the Mouth and Gordon "Me Too" Campbell on this one.

If we’re ever going to make the Earth unlivable we’ve got to stop things like Kyoto before they even get started. After all, initiatives like this might infringe on our God-given right to drive SUVs, keep our homes too warm in the winter, light the night sky and build drafty condos. What’s next? Making Whistler’s sustainable retailers keep their doors closed during the coldest winter days instead of propping them open so the T-shirt seeking dolts don’t mistake them for being closed?

I’m afraid Jean’s out to lunch on this one. After all, where would we be as a country if we challenged the status quo? Well, yes, we’d all still be living in Montreal and Toronto and the west would be a wilderness, but hell, the way things are going, most of us already live in Montreal and Toronto, centres of the Great White Universe.

No, clearly the only rational course is business as usual. Let’s get serious folks, most of us won’t live long enough to choke to death on our own waste. Our children might, their children probably will, but at least we won’t have to put up with the unpleasant task of altering our expectations and consumption habits.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Or was that the Hokey Pokey?