Monday, May 30, 2011

Anthropomorphic conversation

"Mama, what's that shiny thing down there?"
"Oh- that thing? That's the metal roof on the new human's house."
"But mama... I thought you said this was our home!"
"Don't sweat it, Bambi. I'm pretty sure the new human is too chicken to shoot one of us. And don't worry about that vegetarian carpenter neither. Watch out for the electrician, though. He's the wild card..."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Drama in the canopy

Technological advancements of our day allow and encourage us to attempt to engage in multiple very different activities at once. For example, one can dress oneself, nurse a baby or prepare food while digitally being informed of major world news. That same person can write an electronic note to a co-worker 1000 miles away while talking to a neighbor on the phone. Someone can plan a day's work by viewing an animated radar image of a weather system on a small handheld screen, and that same person can get in a car and move down a road at 60 miles an hour while simultaneously typing a grocery list for a spouse on that same handheld screen. You get the drift. As a person who is naturally inclined to side with the Luddites when it comes to the value of modern technology, I continue to find myself surprisingly adapted to the changes in American lifestyle that new technology imposes on our day to day personal habits.
I talk on the cell phone while driving. (Terrible habit.) I use the internet daily. I have a blog. I can text. I continually break my own taboos about what technologies are acceptable in my life and when it is acceptable to use them.
When I first got a cell phone it was for emergencies only. Then the convenience of calling people whenever and wherever trumped that ideal. But absolutely no talking while driving. The temptation to utilize my ridiculous commute time for multitasking won me over on that one. Then I decided that even when a cell tower came to Hot Springs I would never use the cell phone there- I figured there had to be a place in the world that I was only reachable the "old fashioned" way. That battle was lost in a year or two, but I vowed to never use the cell phone in the woods. Well, guess what, I do sometimes now. It doesn't seem right, but sometimes I can convince myself that making a phone call while hiking or strolling in the woods is a good use of time.
Yesterday morning I found myself with an unexpected day off of work. Between rain showers I laced up the ole leather walking shoes and headed out for a much needed hike up the local mountain, Lover's Leap. On the way out of the house, I grabbed the cell phone. I figured maybe while I was getting in some good old fashioned exercise I could make a couple of phone calls and thereby cross a couple things of the ole To Do list.
As soon as I stepped into the cool wet breezy Appalchian woods, I regained awareness of what is left of my truly human wit. Thank God and Daniel Boone and the pending rapture for that. It's in the cells (of my body, not the phone). My body relaxed. My breathing attuned itself to the wet, oxygen rich forest air. My ears settled into the complex awareness of multiple depths of the quiet and not so quiet sounds of the woods. I wanted nothing to do with my phone, and I felt like a fool for having considered using it while having such a lush opportunity not to.
I hiked up the backside of the mountain, by Silvermine through a little mini grove of wild paw paws and wood nettles. Back into the holler I remembered the friend who died back in the woods there when I was newer to the mountain. I realized how this mountain has helped me identify myself as a grown person, and that was marvelous to me. Up the trail there were the precious semi hidden secretive earthy blooms of wild ginger and delicate white wands of galax flowers. I noticed for the first time that each tiny little galax flower is comprised of 5 tiny petals. Fresh growth on the tips of rhododendrons were green and alive, sourwood leaves were shiny and vibrant, and the cool breeze perfectly complemented the wet day. At the top, green unripe blueberries on wild shrubs promised bountiful snacking later in the year.
Had I been on the cell phone, I would not have heard the sweet, delicate "witchity witchity witchity" of the common yellowthroat on the river side of the mountain. Nor would I have heard the insect-like buzz of the worm-eating warbler, who sat perched in the canopy singing its little heart out. I crouched silently and watched it for a while until it noticed me and proceded to fly down to the ground next to where I was perched, allowing me a good long close up look at its lovely markings before it circled me and headed back up to the canopy where it chirped calls of alert to whomever... Had I been on the phone I wouldn't have detected the twitching tail of a common grey squirrel who thought it was so sneaky down there, quickly gobbling up tidbits from the floor of the little nook where it foraged, protected. I would not have even noticed the multi-species bird squabble up in the canopy as I descended closer to the river- or the loud splash of a beaver's tail in the water beneath a low hanging birch branch. All of the spectacular arboreal drama would have been by-passed all together.

May I urge you, dear readers, to leave your devices behind and go for a good long walk in the woods, in this precious place that we live, and enjoy the precious phenomenon which is life all around us. It's unique to our planet, unless you believe in aliens.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nectar, nectar- Read all about it!

Childhood springtimes in Charlotte were spent riding bikes until dark, watching nests of robins hatch out in the camellia beside the house, playing in the overgrown run-off ditch which we called "the creek" (and which to this day still holds its place as one of the wildest, most mysterious and exciting places of nature in my psyche), and eating honeysuckle nectar on the edge of the yard. My sister and I and whoever else might be over would stand at the fenceline of the yard and pick one flower at a time, then simultaneously cut the bottom tip of the flower tube off with a finger nail and grab the stringy thing inside, pulling it down through the tube of the flower until a single drop of nectar would emerge from the opening. That nectar would carefully make its way onto the tip of our tongues, at which time there would be a comparison in size and sweetness of that particular drop to previous drops and inevitably some bragging about who was the most talented at finding the perfect honeysuckle. The yellow flowers give a sweeter nectar. No- the white ones do. No no no- the ones that are changing from white to yellow do... I think we would spend inconceivably long amounts of time standing at the fenceline eating honeysuckle nectar. I would always daydream about collecting a vessel of nectar, one drop at a time, and then drinking it down. That would be the best thing ever possible in life, I would think- and the impossibility of it would make each drop more precious.

Of all the childhood pleasures that are left behind for the practicality of adulthood, eating honeysuckle nectar simply cannot be abandoned. Each year I celebrate springtime with honeysuckle eating- straight-up one drop at a time from vines on someone's fencerow, and in more recent years, I have been enjoying more sophisticated variations of the sweet godlike nectar. Honeysuckle infused milk or cream allows an impossibly sweet floral and perfect base for honeysuckle ice cream, honeysuckle strawberry milkshakes, and honeysuckle chocolate truffles. The flavor that a handful of fresh blossoms imparts on a quart of milk or cream is utterly off.the.chain! Of course, you would only appreciate it if you are someone who likes complete awesomeness.

So it's May in the mountains, and the honeysuckles are in full bloom. You could say that they are pretty much getting their groove on in these parts right about now. The air is pregnant with their perfume, and it is making me go bonkers over nectar. I spent several evenings and early mornings last week working on my honeysuckle truffles for Donna and Heidi's wedding celebration, and today when I got to Jenna's she had the BRILLIANT idea that we make some honeysuckle wine. I was sold. We changed the idea to honeysuckle mead and were off. We spent the middle part of this warm day picking honeysuckle flowers from along my new Starling Gentry Road driveway. After gathering an ample stash of blossoms and collecting a gallon of good cold spring water, we headed back to Jenna's house to get the mead going. The blossoms soaked in the (cold or room temperature) spring water all afternoon and this evening we mixed the batch. Here's the recipe:

Honeysuckle* mead (to make one gallon):
ingredients- honeysuckle blossoms- as many as you can get
good water, preferably without chlorine because the yeast might not like that- one gallon
local honey- one quart
champagne yeast (can be purchased at Asheville Brewing Supply on

Soak the blossoms in the cold water for 4-12 hours, then strain the water off of the blossoms with a strainer or cheesecloth. Use about a pint of water to heat with the honey to dissolve the honey (making a warm syrup). When the honey is completely dissolved, stir the honey water into the remaining honeysuckle water. You now have the delicious sweet syrupy base for your mead. (Jenna described the taste of this stuff as "righteous.") Warm or cool the base to a temperature that feels just warmer than lukewarm. (If it is bathtub temperature it is too hot.) When it feels just warmer than lukewarm, sprinkle a half packet of champagne yeast over the top of the liquid. Stir if you want, then watch for a few minutes while the yeast comes alive!
Transfer the liquid (with yeast) into a clean one- gallon sized apple juice jug and put a fermentation lock on the top- these can also be purchased at the Asheville Brewing Supply on Merrimon.
Store the jug in a warm place out of the way and watch it bubble and ferment for about the next month. When the bubbling slows down or stops and the liquid clears off, you can bottle it and/or drink it.
Enjoy your homebrew and stick it in The Man's face that you just made your own good damn drinkypoo and didn't pay any stupid taxes on it.

While we're at it, here goes the honeysuckle truffle recipe:

Honeysuckle* truffles:

1-2 large handfuls of fresh honeysuckle flowers
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
16 ounces of dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa content is ideal, but I find the dark
chocolate Ghiradelli chips work just fine)

A couple days in advance, gather the honeysuckle and soak them in the cream in the fridge overnight or for a few hours. Strain the honeysuckle off the cream. Heat 1 1/4 cups of the cream in a saucepan over low until just simmering. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. In the meantime, using a double boiler, melt 9 ounces of dark chocolate. When completely melted, stir the cream into the melted chocolate and stir thoroughly. Cover and put in the fridge to cool for at least 3 hours. This is your truffle base. When the base is cold and completely set, remove it from the fridge and roll the base into small balls. Set these on a cookie sheet on a piece of wax paper and put them back in the fridge to get good and cold and set (at least an hour.) Before removing them from the fridge, heat 7 ounces of the dark chocolate in the double boiler and melt completely. Remove the truffle base balls from the fridge. Take a large spoonful of melted chocolate from the double boiler and place it in the palm of your clean hand. Use the other hand to pick up one of the truffle base balls and roll it in the melted chocolate in your other hand, coating completely. Do this to all of the base balls. If you like, sprinkle a very light coat of cocoa powder (through a sieve) onto the top of the truffles. Put back into the fridge to set one last time. The coating will turn hard and a little crunchy, while the center will remain soft and smooth.
Keep the truffles refridgerated until you serve them. Enjoy the looks on the eaters faces when they bite in! Thanks to Rachel Brownlee for the truffle recipe.

*Note about honeysuckle: Because it's an oriental invasive plant, I will rip out honeysuckle vines from my land just as much as the next gardener or native plants enthusiast. However, it is so hardy and pervasive that, like many other non-native invasives, it is almost like fighting a losing battle. So while I am losing, I prefer to revel in the magnificence of all its heavenly glory and even sing its sweet praises. I know, it's a paradox, but when life gives you honeysuckles...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Today's Walk from My Garden to Susie's

Gardeners are a funny lot. Real funny and real quirky. Passionate. Eccentric. Sometimes crazy. I am completely tickled to be one among such company. And I absolutely love hanging out in gardens- mine and those of fellow plant lovers. I have a small handful of people whose gardens really inspire me. Their gardens are like the most natural extention of themselves and just being there inspires soulful observation, meaningful conversation, and heightened sensitivity to the elemental beauty which is our world. Without a doubt, Susie M is one of my top most favorite and inspiring gardener friends, and I now have the incredible fortune of my new garden (and home) being a glorious 10 minute walk through field and forest to her garden. I jumped at the chance to walk down there today when she called me to invite me over for hot stew at lunch. This day being the cold, misty May day that it was, it was extra extra green and gorgeous and lush as a rainforest, so I grabbed my camara and made the commute to warmth, food and friends into a sight-seeing mosey of a thing. And oh- boy oh- boy oh- big big boy was that walk ever gorgeous. I was in my brand new garden when Susie called, and I just so happen to have photo-documentation of the walk, starting from my garden, down the fields and through the forest to her garden. I can't wait until my garden is years old and lived in like hers.
Pictures from my walk:

My bloody butcher corn patch- string tying technique suggested to me by some good ole- gardening neighbors for crow deterring action...:

My house in progress from the large garden (by the way, those little patches of tiny green in the garden are not weeds, but rather white clover I sowed between rows of crops):

Ancient Chinese ginko with modern Appalachian rain on it:

Verbascum blooms- I am utterly in love with these colors:

Cheapy $5 rose from Roses, but check out the sweetness of this yellow:

My little path down to the big spring- slippery elm on the left was given to me by my former neighbor:

Black raspberry from Ruth, another favorite gardener friend:

Path to Susie's through the Gebhart pasture:

Ruby, Susie's little orange friend, is very excited to walk down the path with me:

Final path through the woods to Susie's:

Choice images from Susie's many gardens...
City of York, a most elegant old rose:

Todd found these complimentary-colored bugs doin it on some elder:

Susie style:

Susie has a soft spot for succulents and cacti:

Susie's heavenly scented fuschia roses, which I now have some of and which we think were planted by Pat, a previous gardener at Susie and Todd's place:

Some allium:

Todd admiring a flame azalea (which was given by me and before that by Jean S, another gardener friend off Spillcorn):

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Daily Grind

The daily grind has got me thinking that I don't have much to write about. When I really get to thinking about it, I have to say to myself, 'self, that is hogwash.' The thing is, the ball is rolling. And if we are going to to go with that metaphor, I am hugging the ball and rolling with it, making it go clunk each time the ball (with me on it) makes another rotation. The daily grind. Get up early. Drink tea. Fix food for the day. Go somewhere- like work or the house or Jenna's. Focus on the work all day. Get tired. Try to come up with something hot and healthy to eat at about 8:30 when the light is too dim outside to keep going. Go upstairs and fall asleep trying to read, write on the blog or watch something on Hulu. Wake up at 5:30 and do it again. It's good. I'm honestly tired at the end of each day. I am maintaining my schedule, earning my pay, and getting things done. I spend nearly every day all day outside with good company. I have plenty, and I live in a beautiful place.

The thing is, a month can go by in the blink of an eye. The grind has got time flying and me scrambling to keep up with things that can't be rushed. Giving proper attention to the elemental beauty I live in. Allowing time for walking through my world to simply observe. Feeding the creative beast within which tends to get hungrier the busier I get with the daily grind. Stretching my muscles out and resting them. Stuff like this gets put off for another day, and then I realize a month has gone by and my head was up the ass of the ole Daily Grind the whole time.

I try to do things to keep it fresh: Honeysuckle breakfasts help put a sweet and wild twist on my daily grind. I've been infusing creamy milk with fresh honeysuckle blossoms and using it to flavor my french toast, morning tea, and making it into rich, floral smoothies straight-up with fresh strawberries. This weekend I made time to drive out to Leicester to retrieve a gorgeous rattlesnake skin from my friend JL who went backpacking down near Cashiers last week. As he walked along, he told himself (naturally), 'the next rattlesnake I see I'm eating.' Sure enough, 10 minutes later, there was one in his path. 'Damn,' he told himself,'now I have to eat it.' So he threw a large rock at the snake's head to stun it, then held its stunned head down with a stick while he promptly beheaded it with his pocket knife. Halfway through the process he questioned what the heck was he doing, but it was too late to go back. He put the beheaded snake in his backpack and hiked toward camp, while the thing continued to writhe and squiggle. It was still moving when he skinned it off for the pot. I love this story because I could easily see myself in that situation and it cracks me up.
I also participated in a hilarious round of cherades out in Grapevine, on a night where Susie demonstrated her goat riding abilities on a sweet horned one named Victor, and I boogied in a moon and firefly lit field to some really really loud Muddy Waters.
I also spent the day palling around with Jessie as her guest at a well known local festival. I did not wear a fanny pack. I did wear a straw hat and ride a shuttle bus into the festival...
Today I am back to the grind, although hanging out with Jenna on Sundays is never routine or monotonous, and is quite lovely.
Write me with ideas of how to keep keeping it fresh with a busy working and house building schedule.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the day they threw Bin Laden's body to sea

On the day they threw Bin Laden's body to sea:

a delightful and delicate breeze blew through the sunshine,
I burnt my back planting rows of Jarradales, Butternuts, Delicatas and Bloody
the green of May was markedly different from the green of April,
the electricity for my lovely house was meticulously mapped out by the electrician
and his curly haired gal,
I drank cold spring water all day long,
and carpenters hooted and hollered "America-woo!" while nailing the last bit of siding
to the east side of the house.