The mallow grows slowly, covering the fields in a twist of green vines, for months. Wild horses used to try and run through the old pastures when we first bought the property. The plants worm their way up the animals’ legs, so quickly, and we only ever find their bones.
The mountain was not ideal for the fields, at first. The rain fled down the slopes, towards the rivers nestled in crags and valleys. We spent many winter months hauling dirt up the thin roads. We had to rush. The peak climbs up to the west and we built a hill to the east. We wrapped it around the field to catch the rain. The water sits where the vines need it.
The plants shift and curl in the daylight and rest in the night. During the summer days they stand tall and begin to bloom, the white buds blossoming like cauliflowers. This is when we go for the first of the harvest. The small ones go in cakes and muffins. We take rakes, pitchforks – anything sharp – and we go for them early in the morning. They hiss at us in the rising sun.
Pink marshmallows were our mistakes, sold first from desperation by inexperienced farmhands. They became popular in the late 90s. Now we are prepared but still they catch us out.
We water them every day, but it is not enough. They must stand taller than we can afford with watering cans and metal jugs. We have to wait for the rains. The plants reach towards the clouds and the buds flower. When they dry they harden like hailstones. In the wet they become pliable, and the rainfall rips them apart. They drop into the water as it mixes with the mud and the vines. The middle of the field dips lower than the outside.
The rising water floats the mallow and the dirt and the plants as they spiral towards the middle of the field. It is up to our waists when we wade in, and it is always so cold. The summer sun does not warm the rainfall on the mountain. The vines wrap around our ankles in the black water.
We wait as the mallow congeals into bales. Everything sticks to the white and sometimes red pools around the waterline. We cannot feel our legs in the cold and we never know if they are our own until we are inside and dry and dressed. We stand through the rains until they end and we fend off the vines and bones or they stick to the bales. Someone always begins to cough. The wheezing is always thick and permanent.
We lose so much for each crop. Even the vines die every harvest. We burn them and melt some marshmallows over the fire before we start again.