May 23, a Sunday, and as of tonight the fields are now planted! Everyone was up before six, making food, gathering supplies. Pee's brother number three, Tee, came with a small Kubota tractor. Two cousins came each with a two-wheeled Kubota, each pulling a wooden wagon. We loaded the wagons with six hundred pounds of rice seed, and all our various supplies and we headed out.
I didn't know exactly what to expect. I felt a little bit silly having spent three years of my life working on a book about rice (Seductions of Rice), yet never having planted a single seed. Last year at this time I helped with planting at the Yindichati farm, but only by preparing lunch each day and by transporting people from field to field.
When we arrived at the fields everyone unceremoniously got started. Everyone knew it was going to be a long day. I watched what the others were doing and then copied them. I picked up an empty five gallon plastic bucket, made a sling with my cotton sarong (which I felt proud of myself for bringing…), and then loaded the bucket with rice seed and lifted it so that the sling went over my shoulder and shared the weight of the seeds. They were lighter than I'd anticipated, but still it was a bit tricky getting used to it. I walked out on the field where everyone else was and then started to toss the seeds, looking at all the others to see exactly how to do it. I would gather a large handful and then with a strong flick of the wrist I'd toss the seeds as I walked. Several people came by to help me improve my method, but generally, we all just worked. Pee and Ma, Doi, and three cousins: we were seven people tossing the seeds.
After the seeds were spread on one field, which didn't take long (the fields are small, about ¼ of an acre), Tee came with his tractor fitted with a disc hoe (I don't know if this is the correct term) and a rake behind. The tractor took much longer to cover the field than it did for us to spread the seeds, but after the tractor had finished with a field, it looked beautiful. It was all quietly remarkable.
We drank lao khao (rice whiskey) from six in the morning onwards, as if it were coffee.
Pee at one point left the fields with a bucket and a fish net. A few months ago I would have wondered what she was doing, but now no longer. I knew that she was going foraging, and probably for frogs. I walked with her, a foraging slave. Wherever there was water that I would never in my life set foot in (snakes!), she'd walk right in, her blue jeans immediately soaked, and then with the net she'd "fish" for whatever she could find. She pulled out tiny frogs, about ½ inch in length and less. She pulled out snails, huge snails, about 3 inches in length. She pulled out crabs. "Snake" she called out, as if she were simply saying "frog". She pulled a small snake from the net and tossed it at my feet, knowing that it would cause a momentary distress (she likes that stuff…) .
Right before lunch Pee went foraging again, only this time for salad greens. She walked right into the large field pond (where there are BIG snakes) and gathered an aquatic green, two large handfuls, and then brought them back to where we were making our picnic under a beautiful large tree (which sits right in the middle of Pee's four rai). Pee started to strip off the outside skin of the green, and then Doi immediately began to help. As always, she passed me one to taste, and sure enough, it was sweet and delicious.
Food started to assemble. Everyone had brought a lunch, but it was all put out to be eaten together. It was a FEAST! And it was WILD! There were tiny crickets (jinglet) that Doi brought that were particularly delicious. There was a soup-like dish made from red ant eggs which was also flat-out yummy. There was a frog curry made by Pee that was, of course, super hot. There were tree leaves, raw and steamed, maybe six different varieties altogether. There were at least three different nam priks.
If lunch can be a powerful experience, lunch was a powerful experience. Here we were planting a family's fields of rice (Ma has eight kids and thirty –six rai, four rai per person including four for herself), six hundred plus pounds of seed, land and seed that can sustain life. And to eat with the rice, crickets and frogs, tree leaves and fish, everything "free" and sustainable.
The day became hot and hard, but everyone stayed happy. I layed down on a pile of rice straw in the barn to take a thirty-minute sleep, but I got bitten badly on my neck and arms by who knows what, waking me up in a not so happy way. Three days ago I was working at the farm to get ready for planting, and I put out my lower back. Ugh, something I haven't done for a long time. But three different people stopped by the house for nuet, massage (three people with very strong hands and a lot of experience….), so between my bites and a creaky back….anyway.
By eight o'clock everyone was asleep. The fields are planted!