Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Moon Rise

   
        The full Harvest Moon rose on Tuesday night, and we were on the oak tree platform out at Finely Wildlife Refuge to watch the show.  Watching the full moon rise is one of our ways of easing into autumn.

            Moonrise was slated for 6:39 PM in Portland. When we arrived at six, the grasses were turning golden, small critters were rustling in the blackberry brambles, and the place was empty. We climbed the hill to the huge oak and settled in with dinner—tabouli with sungold tomatoes and a cucumber, fresh whole wheat bread and apple butter, grapes, grape juice, and apple crisp. Two owls argued over turf in the distance. We discussed where the moon would rise. I was afraid it would be behind the hill. Mark argued for a clump of trees, based on the sunset shadows. We ate slowly, wrote in our notebooks, and watched for the moon.

            Moon watch is always a slow and peaceful process. Even after years, we are still never quite sure where to look. At about ten of seven, right on schedule, Mark ponders the projected time, which has passed with no moon. Do they take the time zones into account? Because there’s an hour difference, you know, from one side to the next. How accurate is that information on the internet? Should we enter our longitude and latitude next year? Would it matter? Where would we find that info?  We pack up the dishes while we can still see everything.

            We wait and watch. I break out The Sand County Almanac, which we are reading aloud and read the essay of the passing of the passenger pigeons. The chapter is an elegy for things past, destroyed by man without thinking. It is beautiful. I consider global warming and how out of joint the summer’s weather has been.  Will someone being writing our elegy soon?  The owls have quieted, but the geese are settling on a distant pond and we hear their night time conversations as the grasses grow darker. No moon yet…am I right about the hill blocking our view of the horizon on one side? The air cools as the sun sets behind us.

            A mosquito bites my leg and another buzzes around my head. Although the little pond behind us is dry, the marsh is still holding water and must breed the insects. One bat appears, looking for dinner. We smile. Another flits by. Crickets call and the bush critters are still. The night grows darker—is there no moon tonight? Is that possible? Although we know that it is not, that the moon will rise, we are still worried. Sun and moon rise. In a complex and rapidly changing world, we need to rely on these actions.

            Just when we are afraid we will have to leave without the moonrise, Mark sighs. “I see it,” he says. “Right in front of us, right where I thought it would be.” And then, I see it, too. A tiny sliver of deep golden light, rising through the tangled branches of the brush in front of us. Quickly, now, it emerges, deep orange from the dust, haze, and smoke of the valley. The sky is deep purple and  moonshadow appears on the platform. We watch, transfixed. The moon will rise; the earth keeps turning.


            All too soon, we have to leave. I pick up the dinner bag; Mark tucks his notebook into his backpack. The trail heads down into the owl’s valley, where a vernal stream runs. It is silent now. Under the trees, the night is dark, but we know the way ahead. We have walked this way before, hundreds of times. Cross the bridge, turn left, and head for the open parking lot, where the Ark is waiting. The moon follows us home, lighting the way.      

Crisp Topping

The topping is all in proportions:
1 part flour
1 part butter
1 part sugar
2 parts oats

Then add a pinch of salt and some spices, and mix together by hand. Spread over fruit and bake until bubbly. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Signs of Indian Summer

In New England, Indian Summer is the time after the first frost, when the sky is bright blue, apples hang on the trees, and the days are warm and glorious. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the signs are more subtle—we do not have a killing frost until late October, if then—but the delicate shift is season, and the deep longing to hang onto the last golden rays of the sun are the same. These are the signs.


·        Powdery mildew on the zucchini.
·        Smoky air from distant fires.
·        Blankets at night.
·        Too much fruit!
·        Eggplant. Tomatoes. Corn. Green beans.
·        Young chicken eggs.
·        Kayli, the furry beast, NEVER comes in.
·        The fennel in the front yard needs to be tied up, away from the sidewalk.
·        Flan for breakfast (this is related to the eggs…).
·        Huge Harvest moon.
·        Art Retreats.
·        Chai is tempting.
·        Bees are very honey turfy.
·        Our reading nook looks appealing.
·        Hot in the middle of the day, cool in the evening.

·        School starts.



Indian Summer Fritatta , perfect for a group dinner or full moon watching

3 cups of blue potatoes, cubed and boiled. Use the tiny ones!
2 cups of small tomatoes
Large handful of feta cheese
6 basil leaves, chopped
6-8 eggs, beaten with pepper and garlic

Layer tomatoes and potatoes in a baking pan, add cheese and basil, pour the ggs over all. Stir to settle and bake in 350 degree oven until the eggs are set, about 40 minutes. This can be eaten warm or room temperature but it is not good cold. The colors are lovely!


Saturday, August 30, 2014

September Work List

September  is the month of balance, as work attempts to take over our lives and the wilderness still calls. Do we stay home, do housework, grade papers, and have an orderly week, or do we flee for one more weekend of deep silence by a mountain lake? Hard choice—the light falls away, the winter clouds move in, and another summer ends.


To Be done:
·       Finish harvest and canning.
·       Distribute the surplus figs.
·       Draw up the garden plans for next year.
·       Sort the potatoes and decide on which varieties  to  replace.
·       Move the chicken coop on the first garden bed.
·       Plan one more backpacking trip—one where you set up camp for two nights and dayhike further in.
·       Balance. Physically and mentally.
·       Watch the full Harvest Moon rise.
·       Go on an Art Retreat.
·       Paint those windows you had on the list in June.
·       Fuss that the Juniors cannot write. Remind your colleague (or be reminded) that it is the beginning of the year and they will improve. After all, look at last year’s crew.
·       Begin letters of rec. for proactive students.
·       Refuse to move dinner inside.

·       Remember to stare into space.


Green Beans and Walnuts with pasta

This is a several step dinner...

First pour a half pint of heavy cream into a mason jar and add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Place it on top of the fridge for 24 hours until it turns into Creme Fresh, a thick, yogurt like substance that does not curdle when warmed.

Second, toast a large handful of walnuts.

Third, put it all together. Put a pot of water on for whole wheat pasta. Steam a huge handful of green beans.
     Saute an small onion.
     Mix the cream, green beans, and onion together and warm. Pour over pasta. Add the walnuts and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Winter Storage

The end of August and beginning of September is harvest time here. The house was not designed to hold a wide variety of winter stores—we do not have a root cellar—so finding good storage places for all of the winter foods can be tricky.  This is where various foods are stashed.

Basement wall, warm and dry:
  • All canned and dried goods, in mason jars
  • Wheat, oatmeal, and barley in large tin containers (there ones that held Christmas popcorn mostly).
  • Beans in mason jars.
  • Bulk pasta and teas in the original containers
  • Honey in mason jars

Basement by the door, cooler and damper:
  • Apple crop, laid on one layer thick in seedling trays

Stairwell of the basement, constant temp:
  • Potatoes, sorted by variety in bags and then resting in milkcrates
  • Next years seed stock is in bags, tucked way back in so we do not eat them by mistake
  • Garlic hangs above the stairs

Larder, which is an insulated space, vented to the outside, accessed in the stairwell:
  • Squash and pumpkins
  • 60 pounds of onions
  • loose garlic
  • longkeeper tomatoes
  • Fruits waiting to be processed
  • Seed tin

As the weather grows colder, the larder also holds:
  • Greens from Sunbow
  • Leftovers
  • Soup for the week
  • Box of oranges over Winter Solstice


Garden Beds:
·        Greens
·        Parsnips
·        Leeks
·        Sprouting Broccoli
·        Not carrots—slugs eat the tops and I can’t find them after early November.

 

Late Summer Pasta


Roasted eggplant (cubed, rolled in olive oil, and roasted in 350 oven for about 45 minutes)
Half pint jar of roasted tomatoes (I use the one that did not seal…)
Sauteed onion and garlic
Can of the Good Tuna from Sweet Creek
Fresh basil


Toss them all together and serve over whole wheat pasta with  lots of Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Three Fingered Jack

       



     Mark and I just came back from hiking around Three Fingered Jack, one of the Central Cascades more craggy peaks. It does not have the serenity of Mount Jefferson or the majesty of the Three Sisters, but, for a backpacking loop of simple pleasures and deep silences, it cannot be beat.  Much of the area was burned over eleven years ago, so examining the regeneration process is also quite interesting.
            We entered the wilderness Friday morning from the Marion Lake trailhead, which leads steadily but gently upwards through Doug Fir forest, along a small lake, and to several fine campsites on the lakeshore. The trail crosses the stream outlet on a rock bed while the water chuckles below, out of sight, which is pretty darn cool. After passing the lake and some excellent large streams, we climbed to Minto Pass, pausing to eat huckleberries and low bush blueberries which were lush throughout the burned over pass. I quickly understood why Native Americans set fire to the berry fields to keep them clear; I have never seen so many fat, juicy berries on a mountainside in my life!  We crossed the PCT and dropped down into Eastern Oregon, the dry side of the range, with a pretty quick shift in trees from hemlock and true fir to lodgepole pine and an occasional ponderosa. Eight miles in, we had lunch at Wasco Lake, which is where we should have stopped for the night. Three Fingered Jack loomed over us; while we ate we considered what it would be like climbing the crumbly core of the ancient volcano. Along the trail we encountered a crew of trail workers, some students doing soil studies, and several through-hikers.
            After lunch, we walked over to Jack Lake, moving in and out of the burned areas. The lakes and moist areas had protected some of the forest; the fire did not rage through and kill every tree on the mountainside. Beargrass and other wildflowers dominated the fields here. We did not turn left and head into Canyon Creek Meadows, where many day hikers were headed to check out the wild blooms, but stayed on the main trail down to the campsites. By three thirty, we were soaking our feet in the warm waters of Jack Lake. A good day—about ten miles.
            The next morning, we headed off, first to Square Lake and then to Berley. Mark was a little tired from a less-than-restful night; he had heard rustling and heavy footfalls in the dark, and was convinced a bear was eating our food. The next morning the only evidence of our nocturnal visitor was deer tracks. The trail was totally in the burn all morning, but it was still beautiful. The dead trees have weathered silvery gray and the views were amazing. Mount Jefferson protected our backs, while the Three Sisters lured us on. Before the burn, you could not see the mountains. We looked out over Eastern Oregon as we walked through snowbrush, lodgepole pines, and fireweed. This part of the trail follows the contours of the mountain, swinging around canyons more than dropping down into them and then out. A nice walk. We passed four guys heading in the opposite direction; at ten thirty, they were the first hikers we had each seen that day. By early lunch, we were at Square Lake, hot and ready for a swim before eating. Most of the lake was open because of the burn, but the campsites were still shaded by trees that had survived. There was no one around. The world was silent, except for a soft breeze. We spent two hours cooling off and enjoying the world before moving on; in retrospect, this would make an excellent stop for a second night, if we had camped at Wasco the night before.
            The afternoon over to Berley was hot. The entire south slope of Three Fingered Jack was covered in sweet smelling snowbrush, about shoulder height, which blocked the breezes but not the sun. We could see the highway below. For two miles, we trudged along until a cloud of dust kicked up by horses announced the trail junctions, and we turned onto the PCT. I do not like hot afternoon sun; it can make me ill. Mark trickled water over my head; I tied a wet facecloth around his neck. The trail was better as we turned north, away from the sun and into a few trees that provided occasional dappled shade. We both agreed that this would be a better morning walk. Berley Lakes are, for me, always elusive. The first turn in is marked by a small cairn, often knocked over and the second is always about fifteen steps further than I expect. We were thrilled to finally find this small mountain lake, totally surrounded by mature trees, in the late afternoon. We were the only campers that night. It was so quiet that we could hear the bugs buzzing on the other side of the lake. Amazingly peaceful. A hot day—about eleven miles.
            Sunday morning, we decided to poke around camp before heading out. There is a requisite amount of time that must be devoted to fiddling around camp on any backpacking trip. If it does not happen at night, it usually happens in the morning. I sorted the foodstuffs while Mark backflushed the water filter. We watched a hummingbird divebomb the pink cloth bag that was hanging on the line while another examined the reddish orange tent poles. We finished off the dried figs and peaches that had been snacks for Friday and Saturday. We knew that we were hiking through the Eight Lakes Basin for the day, looking at about seven miles total, through trees and burn, so why rush on?
            Sunday peace continued all day. We chatted with one woman horseback riding  who was astounded by the emptiness of the countryside. We ate second breakfast about two miles in at Santiam Lake, staring once again at Three Fingered Jack. Lunch was a long pause at Duffy Lake, considering the butte that frames one side of the pond.  Three guys walked along the trail heading out while we ate. Climbing out of Mowich Lake, we met the local backcountry ranger. He had been posting no campfire signs all along our route and felt that they were effective in shifting behavior, for the most part. “Some people, though, you just have to fine,” he grumbled. “They were all at Marion Lake last night. Overall, though, I have the best job in the world.”  He’d walked 14,000 miles in the wilderness in the last four years. Before we parted, he told us about a site at Blue Lake, a couple of miles further on.
            Blue Lake was incredible. The trail is more rugged. There are some steep climbs through the burn and along exposed rocks. Blue Lake perches on the ridgeline between the Eight Lakes Basin and Marion Lake basin, at about 5000 feet. From the trail, we saw Three Fingered Jack to our left, all craggy and broken with huge puffy clouds behind it and Mount Jefferson, serene and bulky to our right. Below were a series of small lakes and ponds. Huckleberry and blueberry bushes lined the trails into our night’s site. Fireweed flashed magenta at us. Pearly everlasting provided a creamy white accent. Mountain breezes ruffled the surface of the lake. Silence surrounded us. The sunset turned the puffy clouds pink and red and just after we climbed into the tent, deer walked through, heading for a drink. After that, silence.
            The last morning was a seven-mile drop down into Marion Lake. Once again, berries distracted us. Some clearings were full of beargrass, some of fireweed and pearly everlasting, others berries. Why? And why were lodgepole pines coming back were hemlocks had once grown?  How do the berry bushes survive?  How long will it take for the forest to return? When can we come back to these trails?

            By noon, we were in the world again, sitting on a creekside patio, ordering burgers (meat or salmon), fries, and coleslaw.  The food was excellent. Our feet were dusty and tired. Our hair needed washing. But the sounds of deep silence echoes in my mind as we began the long drive home, and will follow me well into fall.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lucy and the Apple Harvest

     
      Lucy the Cat enjoys her role as supervisor. She loves to climb ladders, to sit in the driver’s seat of vehicles, to poke at eggs and other fragile objects resting on the table, and to demand attention whenever we have company. This week, she was totally engaged in  apple harvest and pressing.

Apple Harvest is a two part project. First, we took our ancient, wobbly wheelbarrow two blocks down the street to an old apple tree in the front yard of a shabby vacant rental that had dropped its fruit all over the yard and sidewalk. Dropped apples are excellent additions to the very dry summer compost pile—the moisture aids in decomposition and the scent makes the yard smell better. We gathered three loads worth and then studied the tree itself. There were still quite a few apples on the branches, so I spent half an hour with the apple picker and cleared the tree of excellent fruit. I had half of a large laundry basket full when I was finished.

       
     The next day, I took on our own Macintosh apple tree. I’d been picking for about a week, but I used the tall orchard ladder to really clean things up. When I was done, I had three piles—one eating, one compost, and one juicing. The eating apples went into the basement and the juicers filled the laundry basket in the back yard. Lucy was very interested in the sorting process.

            I borrowed a press from my friend Rich—Lucy had to bond with the box for several hours while I organized the day. It was a cool and sunny morning, perfect for outdoor food processing. Once everything was set up, she sat on the chair watching me chop up the apples in the masher, poking the fruit as it emerged until her paw was sticky. There is a real rhythm to the process of grabbing the apple, whacking it in half, checking for really nasty spots, tossing into the bin, and then cranking the masher, which is truly enhanced by old bluegrass music. A few bees wandered by to investigate the project as well. While I mashed fruit, the pulp began draining in the press.



            Once the press was full, I wrestled with the ratchet—I do not have a brain for ratchets—and began cranking down on the press. Juice flowed out. Lucy, of course, sensed the change in the center of action and wandered over to investigate. Steadily, the press bore down on the pulp, juice flowed out, and I used my feet to stabilize the entire operation. Sun, breeze, apples, cat, making tasty food from free fruit—life was pretty fine.  After two rounds of pressing, I had 14 quarts of  free  apple juice, which I pasteurized and canned for the winter (10 minutes in the steam canner, hot pack). It was a good day’s work. Lucy approved.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Yorkshire Dales-- History in rocks

       
Shapp Abbey with chicken
    Although much of the Yorkshire Dales is agricultural—full of sheep and cows grazing in pastures and fields of wheat, potatoes and barley growing in the Eden Valley—it is also layered with history that is, for the most apart, unlabeled and often unexplored. Our guidebooks often mentioned important archaeological sites that had not been unearthed yet. “We do not know why…” was a common refrain. We crossed Roman roads, examined standing stone circles and waystones, saw an abbey in ruins, brought down by Henry the Eighth, where a chicken was hunting for dinner in the late afternoon sunlight, and a priory where small houses, one per monk, surrounded an open space. Each monk had his own workroom, bedroom, living space, private garden, and outhouse with running water. One afternoon, we walked down an old tram bed—a nasty, shaley surface. The churches were built slowly, with Anglo-Saxon and Viking carvings.
         All Creatures Great and Small was filmed,  lead mining destroyed the countryside. Smelters were tucked into each valley. Flumes climbed the hillsides; long buildings stored peat and coal, which were mixed together to melt the lead; streams tumbled through the mining sites. The top of the hill where the rocks were gathered was still decimated  and bare a hundred years later. We wondered about the impact of all of the smelting on the local population. Clearly, it was not a clean operation. Lead dust must have floated out of the chimney, gathered in the grass, been eaten by sheep grazing the fields lower down, breathed in by children. What was the impact of this pollution? We searched the local history museum in Reeth, looking for a hint of this issue, but nothing turned up. Not a peep. What the lead still around, in the soil, being eaten by sheep? No idea.
Mine Ruins
   The most distinctive day, however, was our walk from Keld to Reeth, through the nineteenth century mining country. In the late nineteenth century, lead mining dominated the high hills of the Yorkshire Dales. The population exploded with the possibility of mining jobs and many families farmed and mined lead. Between Keld—an idyllic green valley full of walled in fields and scattered outbuildings—and Reeth, the market town where

Mine tailings
When the mines were depleted, they closed down. The population declined, both because of the mines and also because of changing work patterns, as young people moved off of the farms.  Now, the farms are consolidated and several are run by one family. The outbuildings are empty (and eyed by city folk as summer homes) and some of the farmhouses in the valley are clearly empty and declining as well. Sheep wander through the old furnace rooms and the building become yet another layer of British history to be puzzled out by walkers.

Loki Stone, Kirby Steven Church
Giant's  Pillows-- who knows....
Smelting site
Priory Church
Sheep in old mine