Learning to Live: Sweet Corn and Raccoons

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau

I’ve never successfully grown sweet corn at Rosslyn. Not until this summer, and the reward has been as much psychological as gastronomical.

One of those trademark tastes of summer. Corn on the cob. Fresh out of the garden!
One of those trademark tastes of summer. Corn on the cob. Fresh out of the garden!

As a boy my family grew sweet corn. I don’t recall it being a challenge. I do recall the splendor of towering stalks and flowing silks. Mostly I remember the joy of walking through the sweet corn “forest” and choosing the ripest ears. I remember sitting in our “stone sitting room” (and area of our front lawn with sofa-style bench seats made out of stone arranged within a rectangle of stone walls) husking corn, growing excited each time I started a new ear, witnessing the shiny kernels, their size, their rows. Sometimes I nibbled uncooked corn as I worked, sweet, crunchy and cool despite the summer sun.

Most of all I remember the taste of eating something delicious – closer in my young mind to a dessert than a vegetable – a taste that had taken months to transform from a withered and lifeless kernel into a delicious treat. Magic. Every time.

But since coming to Essex and gradually revitalizing Rosslyn’s gardens and meadows I’ve shied away from growing sweet corn.

Gardening at Rosslyn

During the first couple of summers, the garden was still too small to accommodate a corn patch. And my gardening hours were too rationed to undertake more than the essentials: tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and radishes (French Breakfast Radishes!) But each summer the garden grew and the variety of vegetables we planted increased. Sweet peppers and hot peppers. Eggplant. Peas. Green beans. Watermelons. Cantaloupe. Brussels sprouts. Leeks. Onions. Cabbage. Artichokes. Beets. Kale. Swiss chard.

But no corn. Not until last summer.

Rosslyn Sweet Corn

In the spring of 2012 I decided that we finally had enough space and time to plant sweet corn.

I remembered that staggering the planting was helpful to avoid having the entire crop ready to eat at the same time, so I planted a couple of rows.

Within a couple of days the squirrels and chipmunks and crows had picked every last corn kernel out of the ground. So I replanted a single row, and this time I lay boards on top of the seeded row. I planned to lift the board daily, inspecting for sprouts, and when they began to emerge I’d move the boards and plant another row, proceeding gradually until all of the corn was planted.

The sprouts emerged, and I rolled back the boards. Unfortunately they were near enough to the edge of the garden that an overly hungry lawnmower savaged the entire row!

I gave up. Until this year.

Rosslyn Sweet Corn, Round #2

When I returned to Rosslyn in May from a Santa Fe roadtrip, I discovered that the generous neighbor who accidentally mowed the corn down last summer had grown and delivered several flats of 12″ to 15″ tall sweet corn plants. I counted almost five dozen plants ready for me to transplant into the garden. Which I did.

And despite June’s incessant rains, every single plant survived. Most were stunted from the water volume, but all have produced sweet corn. And for about a week now I’ve been eating corn on the cob.

Each bite is a gift. But all gifts come to an end sooner or later.

Racoons Love Sweet Corn

The first sign that racoons had gotten into our sweet corn.
The first sign that racoons had gotten into our sweet corn.

A couple of nights ago a family (perhaps an entire clan, considering their impact) of raccoons held a late-night picnic in our sweet corn patch. The images capture the mess, but overlook their efficiency. At first I was stung by the injustice of it all, after sooo many attempts to grow and eat corn.

But then I began to notice how meticulous the racoons had been. They selected only the ripest ears, plucked them from the towering stocks, feeling perhaps a bit like I did as a child. Thrilled with anticipation in the linear corn forest. The peeled the husks down expertly, and then ate the kernels off of the cob directly as we do. I imagined their little hands and eager mouths. And my disappointed waned. After all, they didn’t take all the corn. And these meadows had belonged to them for half a century. I suppose they still do.

They ate 37 ears of corn.

And last night they came back for me. Only a couple dwarfish ears of sweet corn remain.

Perhaps next summer I’ll skip planting sweet corn. For now I’m mostly hoping that our neighborhood raccoons don’t develop an appetite for tomatoes. Or melons…

Rosslyn’s Post-Raccoon Sweet Corn

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About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at virtualDavis.com; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at 40x41.com; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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