Every year, I have my ninth grade students make lists of what they love about their lives...the more specific, the better.
This is my week:
I love my room when it is raining hard outside, gold light inside, and everyone is working on an assignment that takes some serious thought to do, but not to grade. The room hums.
I love walking to work in the morning and seeing Christmas lights gleaming through the dawn mist on the other side of the park.
I love sitting in the (very warm) balcony of our old movie theater, surrounded by people wearing Santa Hats, all watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and hissing at Mr Potter and cheering at the bank bailout and amazing speech.
I love watching the elk herd watch us while we all listen t the geese settle in for the night on the marsh. Twilight.
I love having a second pot of tea while visiting old friends.
I love stollen, baked on Christmas Eve. I also love the idea that, although four or five of us started with the same recipe, it has evolved in all of our houses.
I love the silence that falls when everyone at the table has a full plate.
I love fuzzy pants in the evening.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
It was the fifth night of Hanukkah. We’re not Jewish—Mark attends Quaker meeting and I am a lapsed Catholic Transcendentalist, but I love Hanukkah—and latkes. It was latke night tonight.
When I first moved to Oregon, my roommate was a Jewish guy. He was a great roommate; we agreed on food, politics, and music. We kept the kitchen kosher by simply not eating meat—not a great sacrifice on my part, because the cat’s food did not count. The first year out, I went home for late December, but, the second year, I was broke. The transition across the country had been hard. I was not used to the unrelentingly grey days and nights; winter in New England was bright. I struggled to find a decent paying job. I really missed my old job, where the weeks before Christmas were packed with prep, laughter, and hard work. My holiday rituals, which I had carefully considered and sorted a few years before, felt out of place and had to be negotiated with my roommate. On Christmas Eve, I was pretty depressed and sprawled on my bed when my roommate stuck his head in the door.
“Do you want to come with me to Hanukah?” he asked. He had been “adopted” by a Jewish clan on the other side of Portland and often visited on Friday nights. I hesitated. “You’ll feel better,” he added. I agreed, changed my shirt, and put on my Santa Claus earrings.
The house was packed. Children ran everywhere. Adults talked. Holiday music blared over the conversations. Candles were shining in the windows. The kitchen was steamy and smelled of frying oily potatoes. Everyone was glad to see my roommate—and me. One little kid skidded up to me, looked at the Santa faces and asked “Are you Christian??” “Kind of,” I replied and he ran off. It was lovely.
So, every year, we eat latkes for at least one night during Hanukkah. It has become another acknowledgement of the returning light in darkness, as that evening was for me. I slice half an onion as thinly as I can, run an apronful of russet potatoes from the back yard through the cuisinart, toss in two fresh eggs, a handful of flour, salt, and pepper, and mix it all up. We bring up applesauce from the basement and make a green salad. I find the blue and white Chinese bowls for sauce and sour cream and fry the latkes in safflower oil, using my big cast iron pan. And we feast by candlelight— as many candles and holders as there have been nights. This year, we had five small silver stars floating in a blue bowl. Their light shone long after dinner was over.
Monday, December 4, 2017
The school building is quiet. Outside, fog hides the hills, the road is wet, the tree branches that dance outside of my winter window are finally bare. Cars come and go, a constant parade of parents, employees, late students, the occasional police vehicle….Inside, the building is warm. It smells of lunch and breakfast, showered and sweaty kids, cheap perfume. Right now, it is still. Everyone is tucked in classrooms; far away, the Lunch Ladies’ voices echo up the stairs . For once, there are no beeps and warning whistles, no upset students shouting. My neighbor walks by quickly, heading to the copy machine before the next class begins. In my room, the new strands of white lights hang under the plant shelf; beans sprout on windowsills; the painted chairs are still up on the desks; Becca’s Thousand Cranes spin softly for a paperclip hanger in the ceiling.
It ismorning—peace, warmth, and routine surround us.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Mark and I made a pilgrimage to the local Pound Pear tree this morning and picked up sixteen very large, hard pears. It was a bit of a workout carrying them home in our daypacks, but they did curve nicely around my spine, unlike the complete works of Shakespeare.
We love the pound pear—it has been around, perhaps, since Roman times, and there are documents going back to the 16th century, at least. It is a Homestead fruit, planted as part of an orchard for winter eating. The pears are rock hard when they fall, ripe, from the tree and they never soften. It is not a fresh-eating, delicate fruit. But, it keeps. If you pick them before they fall, they will last for months. Then, in late winter, you can stew it down on the back of the stove for some loose, sweet fruit on toast. If I had space, I would plant one.
This particular tree is in the back of a local park, near some houses, on the edge of town. It must be the last tree from an old orchard. It is fifty feet tall and all of the fruit is far above our heads, even with a fruit picker. It’s unassuming, shaped like the other, younger trees in the area, and about the same height. You wouldn’t know there was anything different unless you walked close and spotted the pears on the ground in mid-November. They range in size from a large eating pear to two fists together. They are hard; many of them are still not bruised, even after falling from the high branches. They do weigh a pound! We hunted down the best looking ones, avoiding the splits and chomped edges.
When we came home, I hacked up five of them, whacking them hard with my knife, cutting out the cores and bruises, and tossing them into the crockpot. I added some fresh ginger left over from making cough syrup and a cup or so of water and turned it on. They will cook down for several hours until they soften. At that point, I will taste them and add a little sugar or honey, but they will be remarkably sweet on their own. The rest are tucked in the larder, waiting their turn for the pot. We will finish them up in our January oatmeal and yogurt.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
We are reworking the front garden bed this fall. For years, there was a gigantic volunteer fennel plant dominating the space, reaching about seven feet into the air towards the fig tree. Then several other invasive, weedy, but drought tolerant species moved in. The hop vine, which was once centered near the walkway trellis until we moved the pathway, spread underground. Spring bulbs proliferated. It was not orderly, but it provided a nice screen, so we let it be. When the fennel reached the end of its natural life, we were ready for a change.
In August, I pulled up all of the asters and loosestrife and mint that had spread throughout the bed and covered everything with a thick mulch of straw. I placed the gooseberry and black current, still in big planters about where I wanted them to see if they were happy with the light levels. Then we left it all until the rains really started, because we need to drive stakes in for the new fence.
While I waited for the rains, I dug through the shed and asked around for old, dying garden implements. Rake handles and heads, small shovels, some funky edgers and seeders gathered under the plum tree in the back yard. I experimented with laying them out on the ground, asking the key question: Do I fill in half the fence completely or all of it more sparsely? We decided on sparse.
This week, we took small stakes out front to think about the uprights. Straight line? One foot in? A “bay” in front of the big red currant? Maybe a zig-zag to evoke old rail fences and provide a place for the other two shrubs? We laid it out and studied it for several days. Today Mark placed the big stakes, one to three feet in, with three zigs for the shrubs. They will be deep; there are drunken students in the neighborhood.
While he worked on the stakes, I worked on excavation. There was once a soaker hose in the bed. I found that and pulled it out. There was once a little path at one end, like a second exit. I found that and pulled it out. There were stepping stones in several places to help harvest the red currant. I found those and pulled them out. I also took out several scraggly plants and some comfrey roots. I was amazed at how far down all of this stuff was; the years of leaf and straw mulch had added up! Finally, I hauled up yards of hop roots which had spread throughout one side of the bed. Mark was worried that we would have no hops left until I showed him the mother root.
By noon, we had the rough draft of the new bed and fence. Mark will pound down the stakes another six inches, then we will lay out our garden tools as rails and infill. Once done, I will plant the two shrubs and deeply mulch the entire bed with leaves for the winter. Then, as time goes on, we will add more tools.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
I have always been slow to turn on the heat in the fall and quick to turn it off in the spring. Even when the heat is on, we keep it low—64 to 66 degrees when we are home and up, low 50s when we are sleeping or working. The cats have nests around the house where they curl up on blankets or sweaters during the day.
Why? Maybe it was being raised in the energy crisis of the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter put on a sweater and turned down the thermostat—to 68, Mark points out on cold December mornings. The university extended the winter break for several years by a eek to save on the cost of heating all of the buildings during the cold spells that hit New Hampshire in early January. I have always been away of the consequences of burning fossil fuels and the need to reduce our reliance on them. We have gas heat.
Maybe it is a New England thing, because old houses were designed to shut off little used rooms in the Winter, bringing the entire household into the kitchen during the evening and sending them to bed in unheated rooms every night. I have always loved heavy blankets and nightcaps. Even now, our bedroom is the coldest room in the house.
Maybe I am just cheap, hating to throw money after a little warmth that could be just as easily provided by a heavy sweater. I remember one winter when we were determined to only purchase heating oil once, all winter. We spent most of the winter in the bedroom, wrapped in blankets with the cats, watching old movies, when we were not at our warm kitchen cook jobs or out exploring the winter wilderness. It was chilly, but cozy as well.
For whatever reason, the heat is not yet on here. We have spent considerable money, over the years, to insulate our little house—ceiling, windows, walls, and floor—and we have an efficient furnace as well. It was all part of our design to reduce our carbon footprint. I made lined curtains for the living room. We have a plug for the fireplace. Even as costs have gone up, our costs for heating have stayed about the same.
This year, the challenge has been much easier than in the past. Last February, Mark moved his little Kimberly stove into the dining room, a small, well insulated space that was once the garage. It is fiddly to start and maintain and only takes small chunks of wood, but it is very effective. Mark loves it because it is very efficient and cutting edge in design. I love it because it is clearing up piles of old scraps of wood. The cats love it because they can sit on the slate fire pad, which holds heat for hours after the fire dies away. It heats the dining room and the kitchen and we, in old New England tradition, have moved into the smaller space, leaving it only to sleep at night.
Soon, we will break down and turn the heat on. We like being able to use all of our rooms especially when the weather is bad and we need a little more room. But, until then, I will toss another chunk of laurel into the chamber and sit in front of the stove.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
First, I will compost in place anything that is not disease carrying, like the goldenrod branches in the front garden. A rough chop and they are laid down where they grew, closing the nutrient loop. Then I haul the vegetable plants to the big compost hoops, tossing them in whole. They will break down this winter. The summer mulch stays in place, usually layer of straw that has already begun to break down. If the beds are not part of the chicken tractor rotation, I layer some compost in them; when we have a rabbit, they also receive rabbit droppings. I pull the weeds and volunteers that I have allowed to bloom for several months. The beds are ready. This is where we are now.
Across the street, six full grown linden trees are dropping their golden leaves. Two doors down, a birch is shedding red leaves. The fig is about to drop some huge brown leaves and the oak is waiting until December. I am watching all of them closely… soon the landscapers will be around with rakes and leaf blowers, pushing the bounty into the street. When that happens, we pounce. First, lock the grey cat into the bedroom so that she is not rolling in the road. Then we find the leaf rakes—one in good shape, the other dying—and the rolling bin. Maybe we grab the big blue tarp as well. Working quickly, racing the dark, we fill the bin and dump it, over and over, one binful per garden bed. The street pile disappears. The garden piles grow. An hour later, all of the beds are covered in leaves. If there is time and leaves, we will set up a hoop in the driveway and fill that as well.
All winter, the leaves mingle with the other organic matter, followed by the chicken tractor. For a month, the coop sits on each bed while the chickens rummage around, turning over slugs and eating weed seeds. When the coop comes off, I toss the leaves and straw and everything else over lightly, mixing it all with the soil. This allows it to all break down before I begin planting in March. Every year, the beds hold more moisture, have fewer pests, and grow strong vegetables. And it all begins now.
Monday, October 23, 2017
The Harvest Season is about over. I pulled the tomato and squash vines from the back garden today, preparing for leaf fall, which began during the winds and rains of the weekend. It was, overall, a good year, although being gone for the month of July has impacted our fall garden crops. We all decided it was time to “Eat Down” on the stock of jams, butters, and pickles already on the shelf.
This is what we have in storage for the winter (bold indicates from our yard):
Three quarts dried
Two quarts frozen
12 half pints of apple butter
4 quarts dried
5 pints in sauce
3 quarts dried
10 pints canned
12 half pints chutney
7 quarts dried
4 half pints apple butter (more next year!)
3 quarts dried
14 pints of sauce
1.5 quarts dried
30 half pints roasted
14 pints of salsa
4 pints of Bread and Butter
3 half pints
6 pounds of All Blue
31 pounds of Desiree
30 pounds of Butte
17 pounds of Yukon Gold
1 quart of Indian Woman
1 quart of Cranberry
1 pint of white
There’s also cabbages, beets, and parsnips in the garden and six small pumpkins and several squashes in the larder. I’ve ordered 70 pounds of onions, more dried beans and winter squash, hard wheat berries and oatmeal (which came today!) and garlic. We are almost set for the winter.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
After a long, cold, record-setting wet winter and an August full of the smoke from forest fires all over the West, these golden Autumn days have been a real gift. The nights are cool, the days are warm, and the grass is green again after a few soft, all day rains. All of the fall flowers are blooming in my yard, deep purple round faced asters bounce against the long yellow bands of goldenrod. The bees hover above the round bed and feast on the fallen, cracked open, ripe figs before packing the last hive box full for the winter. I am also moving food inside—potatoes, figs, tomatoes, and winter squash—and changing our diet to reflect the new season. In the afternoon, the cats and I bask in the sun, lower in the sky, but thicker, richer light because of it. The Harvest moon shines over us all at night, lighting my hands as I clean out the herb beds after dinner, not quite ready to move inside for the season.
Friday, September 29, 2017
Sunday, September 17, 2017
On Friday, we dug the potatoes from both beds. I’ve been letting them dry down for several weeks so that they would store better, but it was time. We pulled 94 pounds in about an hour, then cleaned up the Three Sisters bed as well. I harvested a big vase of sunflowers that had volunteered on the potato plot. After dinner, I picked a basket of figs from the tree and set up the drier. The air was dry and clear, a perfect golden afternoon.
This morning, the world had changed. The sky was soft grey with layers of clouds. We went hiking at the wildlife refuge and stopped half way around to pull on rain coats. The light in the woods was dim, filtered both by clouds and by leaves. Back at home, we hauled in the things we do not want to get wet—the hammock, some plants for my classroom that I had just repotted, the tablecloth and pillows—and settled into the dining room. Do you want a fire? Mark asked. Yes, I did. And here we sit, with fire, tea, cats, and books, watching the rain come down and hoping that it is moving inland, to the forest fires still burning in the Cascades. Maybe we will have baked potatoes for dinner.
Friday, September 8, 2017
1. Chickens are really dinosaurs.
2. Chickens are wily creatures who can walk fences if they want to lay an egg somewhere else.
3. Chickens eat small rodents alive.
4. Chickens lay small eggs for the first few weeks. They are cute-- but you feel wrong, somehow, eating them. Like you are eating a baby.
5. Chickens practice Labor Coaching, loudly.
6. If you have chickens and someone finds a loose chicken near-by, they will knock on your door at 7:45 AM to find out if it is yours.
7. You are the Big Chicken.
Also, blue jays will eat honey bees. How, I do not know.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Small batch canning works well for our household—there are two full time eaters and we focus on eating locally. My goal is about 95% local produce, which is not impossible or even unreasonable with a little planning. Right now, I am saving tomatoes for the winter. Thirty pounds from Sunbow were roasted and put up in half pint jars early this week, perfect for pizza, soup, and pasta this winter. I cooked down two soup pots full for sauce—10 pints. There are already dried tomatoes on the shelf and tomato chutney in a far corner. A pile of black tomatoes balances on the table, ready for lunch sandwiches.
I can work this processing into my daily routine because of the steam canner I bought years ago from Territorial Seed. Rather than hauling out the big canning pot and rack, filling it with water, and waiting for it to heat-- which takes about an hour!—I can heat up a batch of sauce, pour it into jars, and seal it in half an hour. The steam canner heats up in less than five minutes, uses about a pint of water to seal the jars (you pour a quart in, but most of it remains), and saves an immense amount of time and energy. I can prep a batch of apple butter, set it in the crockpot to cook down overnight, put it in jars in the morning, and have a box full of food ready for the basement shelf before I leave to prep for school in the morning.
The jars are filling up, slowly and steadily. Every time I take a batch of something down stairs, I re-adjust the food already on the shelves to make room and spend a few moments admiring my efforts.
Monday, August 28, 2017
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Raymond Carver wrote this poem as he was dying of cancer, looking back on his complex life. I read it to my classes on the last day of school each year, because that day is a little death in our lives, as the classroom community falls away. I have painted it on boards to hang in the back garden, to remind us all of what is important. And, while I was traveling this summer, I was haunted by the words regularly. I am—we are all—beloved on the earth. But, on long drives, I changed one word and realized that we can also be beloved of the earth.
And so, this summer, I realized that I am beloved of the Earth, as well. I am blessed with the ability to be at home, in a deep and thoughtful way, in two landscapes, not just one. This is a gift. I have one foot in the rocky waters of New England, the other on the lava trails of the Pacific Northwest, the Willamette Valley. Home.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Knowing that we were going to be gone for six weeks this summer—from the last day of school in late June until early August—I had to make some changes in the planting plan for the year. Basically, nothing that needed to be eaten or processed could come ripe while we were away.
Some things were just not planted this year. We have no summer lettuce or broccoli, no green beans, no runner beans. Beans need to be trained up twine for the entire month of July in order to produce anything, so they were out. Lettuce comes on and goes too quickly and then needs to be replanted. Broccoli will get aphids if ignored. We are missing these basic veggies in our meals, but I can still find them at the market or the farm, so we will survive. We will still have pasta with green beans, walnuts, and crème fresh for dinner.
To fill in the space, I planted extras of other crops. We have more dried bushy beans in the beds, two beds rather than one. We have quite a few cabbages, both late and early. The early we ate before we left and a few held until we returned. I put in more winter squash, although I still planted two types of zucchini, one early and one that climbs, comes on late, and produces until November (which is, really a bit longer than you want it.) I planted a climbing cucumber, knowing that it would not really produce enough for pickles until August. I was right; there is a bowl soaking in brine right now.
We arrived home right in time for canning season. The blackberries are ripe. The apples are ripe. The peaches are ripe. The blueberries are ripe. The gooseberries were waiting. The eating plums were still clinging to the tree for a few days after we pulled in. Tomatoes will be ripe in a few weeks. The figs will wait until everything else is processed and will, hopefully, beat the fall rains. The potatoes will need to be pulled soon, as will the beans and corn. I am glad we did not stay way longer.
Overall, we are missing some of the basic summer produce, but there are always cabbages and the six week trip was worth it. Next year will be a garden-focused year.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Road Trip questions…..what was the first song that was yours, not something your parents played?
Four years later, back from the cross country adventure, we moved in with my cousins again. The house was bigger—my parents had a room inside—another child had been added to the mix, but the situation was the same. Kids formed a pack that ran around just beyond the gaze of adults. On Saturdays, we were all left alone in the house while every adult went to work. We argued over whose turn it was to change Kevin’s diapers (he was only house broken for my father), watched bad television, went ice skating until we froze, and listened to music. Roland had acquired the Beatles compilation albums for Christmas and we played them over and over. Once again, we sang along to “Hey Jude.” It was not my favorite song—the ending refrain went on too long in my mind—but we were loud.
Three years later, Roland convinced our mothers that we had to go to Boston to see Beatlemania, a group of musicians who performed the classic songs, in authentic costumes, with a slide show. Going to a show in the Big City was not common at that point in time; I doubt that he would have succeeded if the women of the house had not wanted an evening out, perhaps at the new Hyatt hotel on the waterfront. Whatever argument he used, they agreed. We drove into Boston, bought scalped tickets, which felt unbelievably adult, and went in. Our mothers drove off with specific pick-up instructions. (I believe they were late getting back…) The show was transformative. I understood, watching the slides and listening to the music, the connections between popular culture, current events, and music—something I was only just beginning to consider. And it was sad, too, to watch the group disintegrate over time, which I only sensed then and learned the details of later. I was transfixed. And so was my cousin, who always tried to be a Bad Boy, to be hip and cool. In that context, “Hey Jude” took on a whole new meaning, the longing to do well, to reach for something more.
This was the last time I spent any real thoughtful time with my cousin. We were on separate paths by then. I was the Good Girl, the smart one, who took Honors English and read piles of books on the side. He was a Bad Boy, skipping classes, smoking across from the bus stop, messing around with girls. He did not graduate. At the time, I don’t think the adults really understood the problems that could cause; they had all done pretty well without high school diplomas. They would not be so causal now. We all wanted something better; we just did not know how to get there. “Hey Jude” was written as a guide, if we only listened. I still don’t think “Hey Jude” is the best song they ever wrote—but it sends me back to my roots every time.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
I am afraid that the world has become a much noisier place than when you were living on Walden Pond. We have not listened to your words. I visited your old stomping grounds yesterday. It was a cool muggy day, overcast and threatening rain. I teach your work to my students. We plant beans in your memory.
I stopped at Emerson’s house first as you would as well, where they talked far more about the portraits on the walls than about Emerson’s ideas, which is a shame, because I don’t think anyone really reads the man any longer. No time. As you know, one was of Sumner, the friend who was beaten on the Senate floor for his positions on slavery. “Beaten, like yelled at?” someone asked. “No,” the guide replied, “beaten like hit. I think with a bat.” It was a cane, but that’s a small detail. APUSH students love the story—who doesn’t like the story of a good fight for what you believe? APUSH is all about memorizing dates and facts for attest at the end of the year; Alcott would not approve. There is no recess in APUSH, no experiential learning. They read, listen, take notes. In some ways, things have not changed much since you were in school, Henry.
After lunch, I went to your grave. There was Emerson’s huge rock, dominating the ridge as he dominated the transcendental scene. And Louisa May, tucked in with her family. Yours was buried in flowers and blocked by three people arguing over the national political scene. It’s bad, Henry. No one was been caned on the Senate floor—yet—but it’s ugly. In some ways, I think you all would feel right at home reading the national news. But you would never argue over tactics in the cemetery! Between the discussion and the road repair that was happening down the hill, I fled.
There’s now a trail over to your cabin. I know you came in and out of town via the railroad, but walking on or near the tracks isn’t legal any longer—someone might be hit and sue the railroad. We have become even more litigious than we were in early New England! So they put in a trail that wanders through the local wetland and by a bean field. The bean rows were straight and free of weeds. Someone had gone in with a tractor to cultivate that field, rather than using a hand hoe. Why? Time spent cultivating beans, knowing beans, is time well spent in philosophical thought. But there it is, a perfect bean field. Well, almost. It had been flooded by rain last week. Your personal field has been taken over by third growth and returned to the woodlot.
Dog walkers like your trail, Henry. And women with phones do, too. This is the strangest thing. People now walk down a trail talking to someone miles away—this woman was talking to someone on another continent!—rather than watching for the wintergreen blossoms by the side of the path. You may even see two friends together, both looking at their phones, not at each other. We are a distracted society. We need your simplicity more now than ever.
People love your cabin. There is a broad path to the door—or the eight posts that mark the location in the woods. They write comments in the guest book like “the perfect house” and then head for the gift shop. A ranger was lecturing a bunch of pre-college kids about your relationship with Louis Agassiz when I was there. Loudly. They wanted to add rocks to the pile by your door. That pile has grown since E B White was there; it is no longer a small ugly pile, but a large ugly pile.
But then they all left and I was able, for the first time all day, to hear the forest around you. There are still mid-summer birds and insects, the rustle of the leaves in the trees, the sound of pencil on paper in your little clearing, Henry. The pond is still there—no loons today—with a path down to where you gathered your water. In the near distance, the train still calls as it leaves town, but I think it is going faster now. And it is, still, just far enough away to block the sounds of humanity rushing about their lives, but close enough to walk into town to talk with a friend, one on one and face to face.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
What I love about The South—the northern South, to be clear.
1. Sides. Sides are the best dining idea ever! In Pacific Northwest parlance, you choose your protein—fried catfish, meatloaf, pork chops—and then two or three sides, which range from reasonably healthy, like collard greens or pickled beets, to deep fried okra or sweet potato French fries. Mac and cheese is a side. You can also just order sides if you are not too hungry. Sides allow you to customize your dinner perfectly. And southerners have way more choice than other parts of the country. If the Lusty Bun diner ever existed, it would have southern sides.
2. Iced tea. It comes in big red plastic glasses, semi-transparent. You can get it sweet or un, or, the best, half and half. With lemon. And the waitress calls you honey when she serves it. It’s not strongly caffeinated, so it is safe to drink until afternoon.
3. Night. Summer nights wrap around you, warm and humid. Moths fly into your tea if you leave it untended. Insects call. Fireflies float through the air. If it’s been hot, it cools down a bit. The air smells, too. Of river, or trees, or skunks or rain… Night makes up for the bake-y heat of the car when it has been sitting in the parking lot too long.
4. Voices. Southern voices are slower, more calm, than northern voices.
5. Time. Maybe it’s just Kingsport, where Mark is from, but Eastern Tennessee seems like a step back in time. I’m not sure exactly when, but at least to 1975. Sometimes earlier. The buildings, the signs, the interiors, even some of the smells…they all remind me of my childhood. Objects that would have been replaced ten or more years ago in Oregon are still around, still being used. It is haunting.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Kansas is an amazing place! Everything in American history washed through the state at some point and there is probably a small town museum that mentions it. And it is beautiful. Just beautiful.
“Kansas was once part of the great inland sea, “a woman with a Mennonite cap informed us in the Oakley Museum. There was a local ranch where thousands of fossils were discovered in excellent shape, so many that the woman of the place, who was an artist, incorporated the bits and pieces into her paintings. “You can see them, with vertebra for the tree trunks and small shells for petals on the flowers.” She pointed the way. “And the big fossils are around the corner.“ We examined the paintings, then headed around the corner. And there was an eight foot long complete amphibian fossil, bigger than any we had ever seen-- and we just came from Dinosaur National Monument. Amazing!
At the next museum, we found the iconic photographs of the Dust Bowl rolling into Scott City, the ones that are in the Timothy Egan’s book that I assigned a few years ago. We saw the buildings that the dust covered-- ate lunch in one. We examined photographs of the Jack Rabbit Round-ups, when they caught 10,000 rabbits in one day, because they were eating any green plant that survived the drought. Ten thousand in one day and they held regular ups. Another display described the life of Zora Hurst, one of the plaintiffs in Brown vs. the Board of Education. She went to school in Oakley, which was integrated because the population was so small. As we headed down the road, I began to remember all of the history that happened in this state: the westward movement that started out in Kansas City, the debates over free and slave states that circled around the borders, the beginnings of the grange and populist movements of the nineteenth century. All of it happened right here, in the middle of the country.
The next day, we wandered over the Tall Grass prairies. The Nature Conservancy, working with the National Parks, purchased an old ranch and began to preserve some of the land as prairie. It had not been plowed, but grazed by cattle. First we explored the buildings, the fancy, modern for the time barns and the house, then we headed out to the grasslands. Bison grazed on the far hilltops. Flowers bloomed-- some that we knew, some that we did not. We examined the bloom patterns, commenting on how the tiny flowers began at the bottom of the stalk and opened upward. “There’s a name for that,” Mark muttered. Birds flew around our heads. Clouds covered the sky and a breeze dried the sweat on our backs. Some lovely. So quiet.
And then, both nights, we had HUGE thunderstorms. They began with heat lightning at dusk and slowly built to full on, hour long storms, constantly flashing and rumbling. We laid snug in the Ark, listening to the rains pound on the roof. It was impossible to sleep. I understood, perhaps,why Kansas has always been so strong minded and contrary-- they may just be short on sleep from the summer storms. They were incredible.
We left the state reluctantly, wishing we had planned several more days to explore the border towns, like Fort Scott, where we found a preserved downtown and the old fort when we stopped to hunt for a bathroom one evening. But we had miles to go, literally, before we slept and we pushed on. We may need to go back.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
When I was in fourth grade, our teachers allowed us to choose the patriotic song for the class to sing after the pledge of allegiance. It must have been in the fourth grade playbook—all three of my teachers, in two radically different states, did the same thing. Few kids chose the “Star Spangled Banner”—too difficult to sing—and most chose “America the Beautiful”, favoring amber waves of grain over exploding gunfire. I, however, always wanted “This land is Your Land”, an early sign of working class radicalism.
It was, really, the lyrics. My family had just driven from New Hampshire to California, to Florida, then home again. I had seen the Gulf Stream waters and the Pacific Redwoods, the ribbon of highway stretching out in front of me. I felt, on a deep level, connected to the landscape Guthrie was describing. It WAS my land, all of it. I had roamed and rambled over it all, talked to people in campgrounds and rest areas, explored the woods and rivers. I could name all fifty states on the truckstop placemats without help. We did it for fun in the camper at night. Of course, in elementary school, they only sang the first two verses, on a good day, preferring to focus on landscape and not politics.
Years later, I heard Pete Seager sing the “lost” verses and was astounded by the new depth they brought to the cheery fourth grade song. First, Guthrie saw his people in relief offices and waiting in soup lines, the poverty that was—and is—endemic to our country. Times were tough in the 1930s when he was traveling the country, picking up money by rewriting songs about the Columbia River for the electric company. Grapes of Wrath tough. But, are they better now? I don’t think so.
And then, the laugh out loud last verse, where he talks about seeing the “no trespassing” sign, walks around it, and decided that “that side was made for you and me.” As someone who has always wandered into areas where I am not “supposed” to be, that line resonated. I can see why it was left out of the songbooks. Finally, the song swings into one more grand chorus, celebrating the landscape one more time. This land belongs to you and me.
I think about this song once more as we drive across the country, hoping to find that we all have more in common that in opposition. This is an amazing land, from the gulf coast waters to the redwood forests; we need to celebrate it, not tear it apart.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
It was a hot afternoon. Highway 84. Sagebrush, potatoes, long distance trucks, mountains in the distance.
We filled the Ark, pulled over to add ice to the cooler, and watched in horror as gas leaked out. It is always something. Always. We had a ton of work done before we left and still….We drove over to the shop next to the truck stop. They looked at it. At first, the mechanic was dismissive. “It’s your windshield wiper fluid.” “But it smells like gas.” “Yeah, it does.” He bent over. Mechanics are engineers after all. Once hooked on a problem, they are ready to ponder it. Professional pride. “I think you should have the VW place look at it,” he said. “We do fords and such. This is different. We’d hve to get out books and such. ” He gave us directions. “I’d drive it,” he smiled.
We headed into Twin Cities, seven miles back down the interstate. Deep sigh. Saturday evening is not a good time to need a repair on a car older than many mechanics. The VW shop was still open, but barely. The mechanic came out. “I think it’s something to do with the emissions on a hot day,” he said. He was a young guy, helpful. “We could replace that hose, but I think it will be fine. It was just hot. Keep an eye on it.” I looked at Mark. “It’s your car,” he shrugged. “But you are the worrier. Are you ok?” He nodded. “We can get it fixed at your parents if it does not get any worse.”
Back onto the highway. Sagebrush. Potatoes. Big mountains in the distance.
Monday, June 12, 2017
The world is cool and cloudy, balancing on the edge of summer. We dream of hot sun, mountain lakes, corn growing several inches in a day, but we are not there yet. At school, there is still a pile of papers to grade, a room to clean, final projects to complete. The seniors are gone; the school feels smaller without them, but we are not done yet. We love the cool clouds because they keep us all in the mind of Spring, not Summer, focused, still working, not quite done for the year. In the garden, the same waiting takes place, Everything is planted, sprouted, slowly growing, drinking in the moisture of the frequent showers. The woods are lush and green and leafy, tunnels of new growth over the back roads. When the sun comes out, it will explode. But not yet. We wait for the sun, the longest day of the year. We wait for summer.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Last Saturday morning, I was walking downtown around nine thirty in the morning, heading for the library and Government Corner, one of my favorite council duties. It was cool and cloudy, very still, and voices carried. I could hear Dave expounding on the uses of a native plant while riding his bike downtown at least a block away. We waved as he passed. I love where I live, I thought. I am so rooted to this spot.
I passed the Mexican chain restaurant and wondered if one of my students was working there that morning. He’s a cook, moving up from prep a few months ago. When we read together, we talk about the tricks that cooks play on each other and the front end people, like turning off the walk-in lights when a friend goes in or hiding the knives. He’s practicing his English. We make jokes, too, about how lettuce and letters can sound alike, but you would not want to mix them up in conversation. Its’ a good sign, making little jokes in a new language. We enjoy our chats before we start reading.
My student came to the United States a few years ago. He was not safe in his village and his brother was already here. He has told me about crossing the border in Texas; his sister was caught and he had to make many phone calls to have her released and allowed into the country. He told me, too, about how his mother remembers the soldiers coming to their mountain village in the 1980’s looking for young men for the army and how they hid people. He came, too, because he wants to learn and he knew that, if he stayed in his country, he would have to work in the fields all of his life. His father did not like it when he went to school. He is here, now, in school, but he will not graduate. He came just at the worst time for an education—the beginning of high school. He had to learn a new language—his third—before he could learn the subjects, because, even if the numbers are the same in English and Spanish, the language of mathematics is not. He could not pass an English class, or Global Studies, or even Foods. He had PE and ELD classes. Now he is 18. He needs to work to support his mom and sisters; he wants to leave the restaurant and work during the day so that he can see his family and friends. He only speaks English in school.
It is hard living in a college town some days, like last Saturday. I’d been kept up by bellowing yahoos who were drunk and walking in herds down our street at midnight. So many of the herd seem to take an education for granted—there was never any doubt that they were heading for college and that they were not paying for it by working the Midnight to Eight shift for minimum wage on Friday night. It seems wrong that one young man, who crossed the border, risked his life, and works hard will not be in college next year—even if he could pass the math portion of the GED in Spanish—because he needs to take care of his family, while others appear to squander their chances on parties and beer pong. It is even harder to hear people complaining about immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, because they don’t know my student. If they did, they just might change their minds.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
When I was little, Memorial Day was still celebrated on May 31st, not as a long weekend. The best parade in the area was in Newton Junction, which consisted of a school, a few houses, a railroad line, and a small general store. My grandparents lived across from the school. The parade started at four in the afternoon. After school, my aunt piled her three kids into the back of the station wagon, picked up my mom and me, and drove the windy, bumpy, tree lined roads to my grandmother’s house for the parade.
It was a traditional parade. School bands, veterans from several wars, a few floats pulled by old trucks, some dogs and kids on bikes. It marched down the main “street” and the watchers curved into the parade as it passed, so it grew longer every few feet. My cousins and I fell cheerfully into line behind the bands—a stairstep family of four, if anyone was looking. I blended in perfectly; my cousin Steven and I had the same hair, smile, freckles. Twins. The marching band led the way to the cemetery, where things grew more serious.
The cemetery was small, green, a bit overgrown, but spruced up for the ceremony. There must have been a monument or two for World War Two, World War One, and Korea. There must have been flags. The Vietnam War was just about to escalate. Everyone there had sons who had served—my family enlisted in the air force. My uncle was stationed in Japan. The adults all remembered wars. What struck me, then, though, was the silence. The entire town gathered in this small, still, green space, and stood in silence.
Someone spoke a few words. Someone else laid a wreath on the graves, maybe a flag. There was a six gun salute, which scared all of us every year. The sound hurt our ears, reminded us of the violence of war. Then someone played Taps, the clear notes rising through the evening air. Day is Done. This day was done for us, four small kids. The larger day was done for all of the men who had served our country. We knew this.
When the ceremony was over, we all wandered back home for dinner. I suspect we stayed at my grandparent’s house and they chased us outside while they cooked hamburgers and set the table. We ran around, shouting, arguing, slipping across the street to climb on the monkey bars. Life went on—but we remembered, deep down, the silence of the cemetery.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Last year, I planted a Three Sisters bed of Cranberry beans, Painted Mountain corn, and Winter Luxury pumpkins. I’ve hesitated to grow corn because of our short season but I had traded a wool hat for some metal hoops for a cold frame. Five hoops on a ten foot bed created a solid little greenhouse, which I arranged over the just planted corn and bean seed. It was up in a week, but I left it covered to discourage birds and increase growth. By late June, the corn and pumpkins were growing several inches a day (I measured) and tossing leaves in the breeze. We harvested three large pumpkins, a quart and a half of beans, and three quarts of corn, which I ground in the wheat mill for cornbread and polenta. And it was a beautiful bed. This year, I have planted the same combination in the last bed, so that the corn will provide a screen from the alley. We shall see. The seeds are up.
The two potato beds are all bushy and green. I planted them out several weeks ago when we had a break in the rains for several days. Because the organic matter is so high in the old beds, they had drained and warmed faster than I expected. Planting went quickly. They were up in a week and I laid the hoses down and mulched the plants with straw this weekend. They should be set for the summer—if the hoses don’t explode or develop leaks. Blue, Butte, Desiree, and Yukon Gold.
The tomatoes went out a week or so ago as well. They were growing in the greenhouse in gallon pots. Usually, I bump all of my tomatoes up into the four inch pots, but, this year, I put ours into gallons. This made it clear which plants were ours as I gave away the others. It also gave us more flexibility for planting, which we needed. Because they had plenty of room to grow, the starts were not at all stunted by being held inside for several weeks longer than usual. They were sun scalded for the first few days of being outside, partly because the south wall reflects light back onto the plants, but quickly adjusted to being outside and put on rich new growth.
The polenta ratio is one third grain to two thirds liquid. Therefore, half a cup of ground cornmeal can be poured slowly into a cup of water or milk (or combo, depending on what is in your fridge) and cooked slowly until thick. I like to add some salt, butter, and a wee bit of sugar to the mix. Basil and cheese can be nice. Tomatoes, olives....
Friday, May 5, 2017
A few days ago, I was wandering home from a meeting, dreaming about flatbread cooked in the cast iron skillet. So easy. So yummy. And we could have it with that jar of dal that I had seen this morning… and maybe the salad greens from Sunbow….I had a plan. I made the flatbread dough, went outside to trim out a garden bed, came in to heat up the dal only to discover that we had eaten it already. The jar was some rhubarb compote I had made a few days ago. Tasty, but not dinner. I headed to the basement to recover a jar of Sweetcreek tuna, which we added to the plate of salad greens. Fresh salad, tuna, flatbread, with rhubarb cake for desert—a save, Mark observed. A spring feast.
This evening, I made a pan of cornbread using the corn we had grown in the backyard last summer. It was red and gold, so the cornbread is rather pink, but so lovely and fresh corn tasting. I had dumped a couple of cups of Hutterite soup beans from Sunbow into the crockpot with three bay leaves and a local onion right after lunch, and they were soft and rich. I Filled a bowl with salad from the backyard—kale, mustard, lettuce, sorrel, arugula, peppermint, garlic chives—and placed it in the middle of the table. We spread home made apple butter on the second chunks of cornbread and sighed. We are so spoiled, I observed.
And it is true. We eat what is in season in abundance for a few weeks or months and, just when we grow tired of it, it fades out of the rotation and something else takes its place. Right now it is tender salad greens. Soon, it will be zucchini and tomatoes right off the vine.
1 cup of water
1 t of yeast
1 t sugar
1T olive oil
¾ t salt
2 ¼ cups flour (1 ww)
Proof the yeast in water with the sugar. Add the flour, salt, and oil, and stir. Knead a few times on the counter if needed. Let rest for an hour or so in the bowl, then divide into 8 pieces, roll out in circles, and cook, quickly, on a cast iron skillet. I use high heat and watch them closely. The dough can sit in the fridge for a few days if you only use half of it. Serve warm with olive oil, zatar, and salt.