Archive for August, 2007

Blood on the moon

August 29, 2007

Early, very early, this morning, with a aid of a little piece of modern technology called an alarm clock, I rousted my poor tired body from bed to view the total lunar eclipse that the sky offered up.

I have seen a number of eclipses: two solar (one full, one partial), and now two full lunar eclipses. It is not surprising that in other cultures they have been viewed as miraculous and portentious events. And this was the first I have ever seen in absolutely clear skies.

Over the months, I have become fully indoctrinated into country living, rising most of the time with the light and going to bed generally not too long after the dark creeps in. I may sit up and read for awhile, but most often, the total dark is the signal to call it a day. In the winter when nights are rather long, it’s not uncommon for me to get up in the dark, use a flashlight to get downstairs, turn on NPR to see what’s happening elsewhere, and snuggle up in one of the recliners, still in the dark.

It’s been so long since I used my alarm clock that when it went off at 2 a.m. I didn’t at first know what it was. My mind was sorting through a large group of possibilities, most of them involving things like smoke alarms, UPS alarms, and the like. Then I realized it was my little 12-time-zone battery-operated clock. So I got up.

The first time I saw a total lunar eclipse I was living in San Rafael, California, and the event occurred at a much more civilized hour–about 9 p.m. The moon turned blood red and angry. Very little else in the sky was visible–too much ambient light.

My neighbor Kenny tells me he saw a picture of an eclipse in Germany in which the moon turned blue. He tells me it depends on the composition of the atmosphere in the viewing area.

But I didn’t know other colors were possible, so I was expecting and found a red moon. But this moon wasn’t an angry red. It looked sad, if anything, a soft rose that I associate with pensiveness and even mourning.

But when the last bit of white faded, the sky lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the more amazing celestial sights I have ever seen, this sad (blue, if you will) rose-colored moon amid stars that were as bright as any I’ve ever seen.

And so many of them. If you live in a city, or even a small town, you may never have really seen the night sky unless you like to go out camping in the mountains or desert. Even then you have to be willing to extinguish all of your camp lights, set up camp far from anyone else, and be patient long enough for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then you can see the sky, a night sky you’ll never forget.

The dark adaption is important. There is a chemical that floods the back of your eye when it is exposed to white light to reduce the impact of the brightness. When white light is absent, the chemical gradually subsides and you see better and better in the dark. The process can take 10-30 minutes.

But it’s worth the trouble. There’s nothing else that I can think of that gives me a truer picture of my place and relative importance in the universe than a view of an unobstructed night sky with a little learning to understand what I’m really looking at. It’s truly humbling.

I was moved by this sad moon, and I’m glad I got up to see it. I’m not sure how anything watching the mess we are making of our world these days could not be sad. But last night’s moon, like a mourner at a funeral, helped spread the grief. 

I suppose this is why I blog

August 28, 2007

My mailbox today had a couple of comments from people I’ve never met but suspect I would like to–Nathan and ClapSo.

Nathan lives in Israel, and I met him virtually in the course of my former employment. He was a great source for some articles I wrote, and in the process proved himself witty and simpatico. When I think about the madness in the Middle East, Nathan and people like him are always a consideration.

ClapSo feels a bit like an alter ego. When I lived in the Bay Area (in what seems like a completely different lifetime), he would have been one of the folks who sat and drank wine and smoked assorted things with me and argued (less lucidly as the evening went on, admittedly) about whatever the hot topics of the evening were. And he’s a poet, a nice synergy there, too.

Blogging is a way of sending thoughts out into the atmosphere and seeing what comes back ( a little like those SETI researchers I wrote about earlier).

Tomorrow is my regular writing-group day, so I’m going to have to go off shortly and get prepared for that. The generator is running on fumes at the moment because I was too lazy to fill it earlier, and I expect my UPS to get a field test any minute.

Here are some things I have learned from my garden this summer:

  • How to extend the life of basil: When it starts to flower, cut the main plant off leaving just two leaves at the base and water it like crazy. It grows a whole new plant.
  • Herbs are really important: It really doesn’t matter what you have to cook. If you have good fresh herbs, almost anything can become ambrosia.
  • The late crop of raspberries is even better than the first crop: Most of these are nearly an inch long. A handful makes a great breakfast.
  • You can rejuvenate cabbages, too: If you cut them off just right when harvesting, the root and a couple of leaves that you leave will grow a whole new crop of mini-cabbages, sort of like giant brussel sprouts. They steam beautifully.
  • Never say die: If you get one of those weird years where you’re having plenty of sun but little heat (like we are this summer), plant a second crop of the brassicas and lettuce. They do just fine.
  • Flowers scattered through the vegetable garden feed the soul the way the fruits and vegetables feed the garden.

It’s a lovely evening tonight, but now I have to go type in my revisions and print out the stuff I need tomorrow.

ClapSo, I haven’t forgotten that you tagged me, and I promise to act on it this week.

Packrat, weird weather, some successes and failures this year

August 27, 2007

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living out here full-time for the best part of a year. Time flies by so fast.

We have a packrat again. If you’ve never experienced this, you can’t appreciate it. Several years ago, one moved into our woodshed. Ben came in and told me about it. He said, “I was just going to shoot it, but it peeked out and wiggled its ears at me. They are really cute, and I just couldn’t do it.”

Then it moved into the engine compartment of his Ford truck, chewing up the electrical harnesses and creating chaos. His attitude changed after he spent one whole winter without a heater even after “persuading” the packrat to move.

Packrats are incredibly destructive. This one has decided to move into my truck. So we’ve placed a live trap, so we can release any chipmunks or squirrles that trip it. But the packrat will eventually get caught and probably get a swimming lesson. Sounds cruel, doesn’t it.  But it has 100 acres of forest to nest in, and it can’t chew up my wiring harness, too.

The weather has been very weird this summer. Here it is the end of August and we haven’t had a day over about 75 degrees. The corn and tomatoes are so slow to come on without the heat, but they’re making it. I have a Beefsteak tomato the size of my fist that I’ll pick tomorrow. There are about 20 more a few days behind. The Beefsteaks have been difficult in years past, but this year they’re my stars. And my favorites, always.

Our garden has been wildly successful this year, even if things are a bit slow. Some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Fresh herbs in abundance are a great blessing
  • Pet your plants
  • Talk to them when your watering
  • Spread bullshit liberally, all talking aside

I have 5-6 watermelons that will probably make it this year, and 3-4 canteloupes. Since one of my life goals is to actually grow a ripe melon, I may have to be developing a new one soon (life goal, not melon).

Poultry (chicken or turkey, we’ve done both this summer) doesn’t get any better than when it’s stuffed with a clump of cilantro or basil and shallots or onions and a few lemon slices. An hour or two on the barbecue, and you have a meal fit for gods.

I was going to write about failures, too, but we don’t seem to have had any. My garden has been a poem in progress all year.

Now I must go cook dinner so I can read the Sunday Times without feeling guilty.

A long rant about something, or perhaps nothing

August 25, 2007

Once upon a time, I was president of the state poetry society, and I discovered that herding poets is a lot like herding cats.

By their natures, poets are not organized people. And they don’t respond well to those who would like them to be organized.

I find myself lately with my true poetic nature coming to the fore.

God bless those of you who keep checking this space in hopes that something new has happened. My sincere apologies for the long absence. But the truth of the matter is, I just haven’t felt like writing. Anything.

Then tonight I sat down and penned a couple of pretty good poems, one a rewrite of a fragment penned earlier that will probably be called “Why the Sky in August Sometimes Looks Sulky” and the other something brand new: “I Want to Be Jack Kerouac.” That’s when I thought perhaps I could add an update here.

Part of the problem is summer. Here’s what my pantry looks like now after all of the old stuff has been cleaned out: sauerkraut, canned blueberries and blueberry butter, canned pie cherries, canned Royal Annes, canned plums and plum sauce, canned apples and applesauce, dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, canned green beans, pickled green beans (very interesting these–I didn’t have the dried red peppers the recipe called for so I used Chalula powder–ground up garlic roasted with hot red peppers–instead), pickled beets. The corn and tomatoes are just coming on. I was beginning to despair of them ripening with all of the rain, but they seem to be doing so anyway.

I have a very sore gum, the result of a really bad tooth brought on by some very bad dentistry some years back. It’s better tonight. I’m trying to avoid a trip to a dentist by using a peroxide mouthwash and scotch as a painkiller. On a scale of 1-10, going to the dentist is about a 15 for me. So far, so good.

My flower beds and herbs have been attacked. We think we found the culprit tonight–a packrat running around. He likes parsley and sage but not oregano, and he really likes trimming the begonias, although he doesn’t seem to eat them, just clips off the leaves and leave them in a pile. His days are numbered. We’ll catch him in a live trap, but then he’ll probably get a swimming lesson in the river.

The coyote who likes the Italian prunes has been foiled. He broke the tree off a couple of years ago, but it’s put up a new vertical shoot (that he can’t climb), and the shoot is fruiting.

I went crazy in town yesterday and bought some veal, so we’re having weinerschnitzel very soon.

That’s it for life in the country this evening.

Tonight’s dinner is worth writing home about

August 4, 2007

Brother Tom and sister Lisa arrived today to spend the weekend.

I spent the morning canning, and by the time they got here was totally wiped out. But I had new pickles, canned green beans, and blueberry confit to brighted next winter.

After the profligacy of the last week, tonight everything came together. A chicken stuffed with cilantro, lemon and onion slices went on the barbecue, accompanied by new potatoes sliced thin and sprinkled with butter, kosher salt, and rosemary, then wrapped in foil to steam.

The summer squash got a dose of cheese, cracker crumbs, fresh basil, and egg and went into the new electric oven to bake.

The fresh green beans got steamed, then tossed with butter.

We all ate more than we should have.

This is the first real dinner in which 90% or more of the food came from our garden, and it was truly wonderful. It’s always amazing how much different food from the garden tastes.

It tastes like food tasted when I was a child and has never tasted since.

Tomorrow will be another workday. Lisa promised to come only if I could keep her busy. I think she was a little taken aback when I began laughing hysterically. The leather gloves, pruners, and weeding tools are laid out for her.

Buying spree

August 3, 2007

Recently I wrote about my new little cast-iron skillet, a Griswold #5. I am pleased to report that after significant testing, it is a truly superior omelette pan, holding enough heat to cook the eggs without scorching them. Woo-hoo!

But that wasn’t the end of my shopping this week.

I hate to shop. I mean, I REALLY hate to shop. I think I’m just so old that there really isn’t anything I want to put in that much effort to buy, except for, well, a few things. . .

I bought my first item on eBay this week, a terrific and very large Pyrex percolator. We’ve used these the entire time we’ve lived together, but they’re very fragile, and for the last couple of years we’ve been reduced to a couple of 6-cup pots. Works great for the two of us, but when we have company, I feel like I’m making a pot of coffee every 5 minutes.

So a few days ago, I successfully bid for a “rare 12-cup model.” It arrived yesterday. It’s really a 10-cupper, but it was in perfect condition, packed in a manner to survive shipping, and so much better than anything I had previously that I’m thrilled.

Then I went to town after a canning marathon. It is grossly unfair that canning has to be done during the hottest time of the year. If the vegetables got ripe in December and January, having the kitchen woodstove going all day would be a real treat. Having it going all day in August and September is a debilitating experience, even with all of the windows open.

Now I could can on my propane stove. But the idea of burning 1-2 gallons of propane to heat all of that water and do all of that cooking and end up with $2 worth of vegetables is not acceptable. So we fire up the wood stove. The heat there isn’t free, but the cost is mostly labor (not mine, the guys’) and a little chain saw gas.

I had to go to town a couple of days ago, and all the way in I was mulling over the problem of summertime cooking. As you may recall, I love to bake. The heat from the canning just about did me in, but I couldn’t stand the thought of not baking all summer. And I was thinking about my neighbor’s convection oven, which sits on a counter top and does amazing things by virtue of its 110 connection.

I have 110 power, it just takes a generator to get there. Over the past few days, I’d been thinking about this. I meant to go online and look for these ovens, fully expecting to pay $200-300 for one. But O never did. When I got to Bi-Mart, I got the things I went for (I don’t even remember what they were) and then went over to appliances to look for a counter top oven.

I made it past the 25 models of microwave (not interested, I have one I got for free that gets used occasionally to pop corn on movie nights) and found one countertop oven. It was under $90, and it had settings for bake, broil, convection, and rotisserie. And it only required a 1500-watt 100 power supply. Who could resist?

So I brought it home. Much to my surprise, Ben didn’t have a nervous breakdown at me bringing home an electric oven to our basically non-electric household. He’s pretty cool about new toys, probably because I’m generally pretty cool about his new toys, from the miniature chain saw to the Cobra mustang.

I did the burn-in tonight, and it seems to work just great on the generator. Apple pie is coming this weekend, and possibly biscuits. I also have more canning to do, but I’ll keep doing that on the wood stove as the most cost-effective option.