Fragments: Rain, Page Proofs, and Vegetables

We had rain this week.   Sunday night was particularly memorable.  We got over half an inch.  Most of that fell within an hour.  The rest drizzled down over the next few hours.  Male and female rain, as I’ve been told our Navajo neighbors would term it.  We just call it good weather.

Mystery Squash (about five inches, top to bottom)

Mystery Squash (about five inches, top to bottom)

Several times Sunday evening, Jim dashed out between the raindrop to check our fancy digital rain gauge (a very useful tool when most rainfall is under an inch), finally returning to announce triumphantly, “We just hit exactly half an inch!”

I may not have been born a “child of a rainless year” as was Mira, the protagonist of my novel of that name but, during the nineteen years I’ve lived in New Mexico, I’ve really come to appreciate rain.  These last couple of years, when we’ve been in drought conditions, every rainfall is a reason for celebration.

Living here has really reversed how I see rainy days.  “Back East” where I grew up, a rainy day mood meant feeling gloomy.  Remember Joe Btfsplk, the character in the cartoon Li’l Abner, the one who had a raincloud hanging over his head all the time?    No one needed to be told that he was perpetually down. The symbolism just doesn’t work here.

Soon after I moved to New Mexico, I read a newspaper column by Jim Belshaw in which he commented that New Mexico was the only place he’d ever lived where when it rained people just got up from their desks, stood by the window to watch it rain a while, and went back to work – and no one thought this at all strange.

When Jim and I went to ride our bikes on Monday morning after the big rain, the skies were still overcast, but everyone we passed was smiling broadly.  “Great weather!” more than one person called out.  “60% chance of more today!” someone shouted.  Yeah…  Live in the desert long enough and all your symbols get screwed up. It’s pretty fun, actually, since it makes you take a fresh look at all your preconceptions – never a bad thing for a writer.

Speaking of being a writer…  The page proofs for Treecat Wars, my second collaboration with David Weber, came in on Saturday.  Page proofs are the pages of the book set up pretty much as they’ll be printed.  Reviewing proofs is the last stage in an author’s work on a book.  I never skip proofs.  Most of the time, everything is great, but there was the time I found that the first paragraph in every chapter of The Buried Pyramid had been left out.  I’ve found some other weird errors.  Most have crept in during production, usually the result of some odd keystroke globally changing the spelling of a word to some other word.

So, even in these days of computers – maybe especially in these days of computers – I don’t skip the proofs.  Yeah, I’d rather be writing on the sequel to Artemis Awakening, (still AA2, though I’m trying out different titles), but duty calls.  My plan is to do new writing in the morning and proofs in the afternoon.  Plans rarely work out, but, hey, you gotta have a plan, right?

I’ve come to think that every writer should have a garden, because gardens are a wonderful reminder that planning only goes so far.  After a slow start, our garden is taking off.  Monday morning I picked nine small ichiban eggplant and a substantial zucchini.  Jim picked about two cups of string beans.  We had stir fry for dinner.   I’m guessing we’ll have it again sometime around Thursday.  But I can only guess…  Zucchini, in particular, seem to go from “Nice, pick that in a few days” to “Holy cow!” faster than even a long-time gardener can predict.

Sunday we had a salad with our first tomato of the season as well as our own Swiss chard and radishes.  Cucumbers are behind schedule – but since when have we been able to predict them?  Some years they take over.  Some, like this, they poke along.

And then there are the mystery squash.  We couldn’t resist planting some squash seeds that came in fund raiser packet.  The package showed a variety of types – both summer and winter – that I recognized.  These don’t match any of the pictures.  Jim has been taking photos in to his office and consulting both the ethnobotanist and various other colleagues. The best advice so far has been, “Hmm…  Looks like a winter squash variety.  Sometimes those are better when picked young, before the rind gets too hard.  Why not just try one?”

So, we probably will…

It’s all very amusing.  Life is like that.  Rain to celebrate.  Symbolism to contemplate.  Jobs to do.  Gardens to enjoy.  Oh, yeah, and writing…  Always and forever, writing.  It’s what I do, and a large part of who I am.

10 Responses to “Fragments: Rain, Page Proofs, and Vegetables”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    You got me curious, but not quite curious enough to pass the whole day at at it 😉

    The coloring on your sample matches a photo of a festival squash on Wikipedia. Shape is different, but that could be due to the age of the fruit. IMHO, what you actually have is a natural hybrid. Or, at least as likely if these were ‘legacy’ seeds, an ancestral variety that shows a combination of characteristics. There’s quite a movement around here towards preserving or reviving varieties that were grown in the 19th century. I don’t recall seeing a lot of legacy squash, but tomatoes, for example, had an amazing variety of forms and colours before retailers started demanding uniformity – our ancestors wanted to eat their veggies, not present them nicely in a display case!

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    What kind of rain gauge do you have?

    As for the mystery squash, I can only relate the experience of an acquaintance, who ate a mystery squash and suffered from cucurbitacin poisoning. The issue is that wild squashes naturally have cucurbitacin, one of the bitterest substances known and fairly toxic. Domestic squashes don’t have much cucurbitacin, but in hybrids, cucurbitacin production can soar. This guy and his wife ate a squash grown from the seeds of one of their own squashes. It was a weird hybrid, and more bitter than they expected. They ended up calling their poison control center. The toxicologists were fascinated, because they’d never run into a case of cucurbitacin poisoning before, and wanted to know all the details. Both the man and his wife recovered without harm, but they’re a lot less careless about their squashes now.

    My advice is to test your mystery squash apart from the rest of the meal. If it tastes unusually bitter, pitch it. Note that cucurbitacin is not destroyed by cooking.

    Incidentally, poisonous hybrids are also common in things like potatoes and tomatoes. It’s normal for plant breeders to test for toxicity when they’re creating a new cultivar for the market. This is something backyard breeders need to be a little careful with.

  3. Dominique Says:

    I love this post, it made my Wednesday morning. Thanks Jane. You are right, in New Mexico rain makes people happy not gloomy. I like how different the southwestern culture is from everywhere else in the U.S. Anyway, today’s Wednesday Wanderings seemed very “wandering”. I loved it. You’ll have to let us all know how the squash tastes 😉

  4. janelindskold Says:

    We tried the mystery squash. Based on the seeds and the density of the rind, it was fully ripe.

    Despite the external similarity to a pumpkin, the flesh was pale green, less dense, and less sweet. Without any seasoning, t made a nice neutral side dish with a spicy meal. The same neutral flavor should mean it will take seasoning well.

  5. Paul Says:

    And do let us know when “Treecat Wars” is available!

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      AAMOF, the first half is available now, if you can stand getting it in serialized form. [next 1/4 Aug 15, remainder Sept 16] The October bundle from Baen eBooks. Otherwise, c. Sept 16 as an e-book or beginning of October in paper.

      • janelindskold Says:

        That’s more than I knew… Thanks, Louis!

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        You’re welcome. Come to think of it, the first 1/4 will be available as a free sample – Jim Baen was a firm believer in getting the addi… erm… customers well hooked before dipping his fingers into their wallets.

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