Wednesday, September 28, 2011

West, again.

The plains ignore us,
but these mountains listen,
an audience of thousands
holding its breath
in each rock.

- from Visiting Mountains, 2004, by Poet Laureate (2004-2006), Ted Kooser 
For the complete poem, visit Vintage Colorado Poetry or visit Ted Kooser's webpage.

Until next week...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Trip Into Town

First stop is always the post office because we’re never really sure what time it closes.  The clerk and I play this game together every time I mail a package.  He says, after putting the package on the scale: I can guarantee this for Monday for only $52.85 (I look aghast) or I can possibly get it there by Monday, but most likely Tuesday for $22.45 (I mumble that there’s really no hurry as there’s nothing important in the box) - - or I can get it there by Wednesday for $4.23 (I nod enthusiastically).  He knows I will never pay the highest price and I know that he’s got to go through the litany of absurd choices (plus the singsong: “anything liquid, fragile or perishable?”), especially when his manager is standing a few feet away.  But he has a slight smile on his lips as he rattles off the numbers.  He has to know no one is ever going to pay $52.85 to ship some gently-worn work jeans to a friend.

At the feed store we got a collar for Ike – his neck just keeps getting bigger, and a bright orange leash to keep in the car in case we ever forget to bring one with us (which I just had).  I also wanted a big bag of black oil sunflower seeds for the birds, but the owner said they were too expensive to stock (“They went up to $35 a bag and no one was buying them.”), but he’d have smaller bags later in the fall; meanwhile folks were feeding their birds other kinds of seeds, he said.  Kel picked up turnip seeds and we almost got out of there with only those items, except then Kel went out to see if the new collar would fit Ike and that gave me just enough time to find the shoe and boot section of the store.  Interesting.  Kel came back in and I joined him at the counter, my mind working.  When he opened his wallet to pay the owner asked, fatefully, “Is that it?” and I blurted out that I would’ve picked up a pair of Bogs if only they’d had my size.  He reared back a bit and assumed an expression of deep hurt.  Pushing himself away from the counter he cried, “Your size!  What’s your size? Of course we have your size!”  and down the aisle we went, past the rat poison, the packs of sticky spider traps, the horse halters and the numbered ear tags (for cows) and he leaned down and looked at each and every dusty box of Bogs until he found one that said: Kids5, Black.  He handed me the box and pointed to a cracked black chair in the corner, near a tall pile of cardboard boxes.  Then he grabbed a plastic grocery bag to put on my foot since I wasn’t wearing socks.  He fretted over me so much I flashed briefly back to Nordstrom’s shoe department: sitting in a comfortable lounge chair while listening to classical music being played on the piano near the escalators; someone was just about to come around with a tray of champagne when I “came to” suddenly and was still at a feed store that smelled strongly of fertilizer, in a shell of a town, sitting in a broken chair wearing a grocery bag on my foot printed with the words, ThankYouThankYouThankYou.  I got the boots.

In line at Walmart (where they had bags of black oil sunflower seeds, same price as always), the cashier was telling the wrinkled couple in front of me how much she hated snakes and the old man was teasing her by inviting her to come out and sit by the pond and watch the snakes sunning themselves on the rocks.  She kept saying, “No, no!  I’m not comin’ to visit you!”   The old man just laughed, his tongue pointing straight out of his mouth while his wife, the buying transaction over, gently urged him and their cart towards the exit.  When I approached the counter I told the cashier she wouldn’t want to come visit me since we had lots of snakes, too.  When she asked – and I told her – where we lived, she said, “I can’t go anywhere!  They’re snakes north, south, east and west of me!  I just hate snakes!  Doesn’t matter if they’re only on TV, I hate them!”  I pushed the cart out into the sun and the hot parking lot, thinking about snakes, and Kel loaded the bag of sunflower seeds. 

While Kel got the squishy right front tire on the car looked at, I took Ike (on his new leash) for a walk along the old railroad tracks and the small garden someone planted there.  There were rows of okra in bloom and tall tomato plants that looked healthy but had not a single flower nor ripening fruit.  Then we found a shady alley to walk along and were greeted by the heavy, sweet fragrance of honeysuckle – the vine had overwhelmed a crepe myrtle.  I prefer the honeysuckle anyway.

Kel pulled up in the car, tire repaired, and we decided to take the dirt road back home since the car wasn’t clean anyway.  We’d seen a plume of dark gray smoke rising from the south and though it looked close when we’d first seen it, it seemed to recede farther and farther to the south as we drove towards it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Today's Dough: Cracked Wheat

One of my favorite books as a child was one of beautifully-illustrated nursery rhymes.  The binding was cracked and the corners had been rubbed down to the paperboard; some of the pages were torn and some were creased.  But opening it: I pored over the colorful pictures and read about a gray and white cat in a skirt that danced with an elegantly-attired owl (The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat…), Jack tumbling down a hill, his pail of water spilling out behind him, or blackbirds with their heads poking out from a pie (Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?).  There was also a list of “chores” for each day of the week: Monday was for washing, Tuesday for ironing, Thursday for marketing, etc.  And although this concept appeals to my obsessive need for control and order - my weeks lack such rigidity and the myriad of tasks on my To Do List spill chaotically throughout the week.  The best laid plans…

Except maybe for Sunday.  I look forward to Sunday.  It’s the one day of the week for which my plan is no plan.  The day starts later than the other six and there are pancakes or waffles for breakfast.  There is no workout.  Yoga is optional.  I may or may not vacuum out the car.  I might get around to doing the laundry.  It’s the perfect day to tie on the apron and putter in the kitchen.  No tug of other obligations distracting me from the ingredients being mixed together in the bowl. 

Today I’m baking up two loaves of cracked wheat bread.  The dough is easy to work with, soft and fragrant with molasses.  As it bakes, the earthy smells of yeast and wheat fill the kitchen.  It's difficult not to cut into a loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven. 

It’s a particularly lovely Sunday here: there is a soft, cool breeze from the north, the sun is diffused by a sheer skim of mare’s tail clouds and from my studio windows I can see the cows grazing in the pasture, tails lazily switching.  In case you are also enjoying a relaxed Sunday and are in the mood to bake, I include the bread recipe below.  It comes from New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant and the only changes I've made were to “veganize” it.

Cracked Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves

½ cup cracked wheat or bulgur
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup vegetable “butter” spread (like Earth Balance)
3 tsp. salt
¼ cup molasses

1 tbsp. dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water

1 cup almond (or soy) milk
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ to 3 cups unbleached bread flour

In a saucepan, cook the cracked wheat or bulgur in the 1 ½ cups of water for about 10 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed.  Stir as needed to prevent sticking.  Add the “butter” spread, salt and molasses. 

In a small bowl, proof the yeast in the warm water.  Lightly oil two 8 ½ x 4 ½ bread pans.
Place the bulgur wheat mixture in a large mixing bowl and add the almond (or soy) milk.  When the mixture is lukewarm, add the yeast and stir.  Add the whole wheat flour and beat well.  Stir in bread flour until the dough is stiff enough to knead.

On a floured surface, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.  This will remain a very soft dough and should feel slightly tacky.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch dough down and knead for about a minute.  Divide in half, shape into loaves and place into lightly oiled bread pans.  Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Bake in a preheated oven at 375F for 30-35 minutes.

(If this recipes sounds good, please visit my Vegan Recipes page for delicious entrees, sweets, salads and breads.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vegan "Kitchen Sink" Crockpot Stew

Into the bath.

A slight chill to the morning air, the grass covered in dew, a reluctant sunrise easing up over the trees: It was the first day of fall and my thoughts turned to...the crock pot.  It's definitely the season to dust it off and fire it up.  After a little bit of internet searching, I found this ridiculously simple recipe from  It's made up of all kinds of veggies, grains and beans.  Pretty much whatever you find in your vegetable bin would be an appropriate addition.  Chop up a few fresh ingredients and add them along with some canned, frozen and dried ingredients - put the lid on and set the crock pot to High (4 hours cooking) or Low (6 hours cooking) and just...walk away.  This is especially delicious ladled over steaming hot garlic mashed potatoes.  Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley or other fresh herb.  Makes a ton.

Chop up:
1 large onion
2 carrots
1 sweet potato
5-6 good-sized mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
2 small zucchini
1 small eggplant, peeled

5 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp. cornstarch mixed with a little bit of water
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
3/4 cup uncooked red lentils
2 15 oz. cans garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup of corn
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
3 tbsp. soy sauce
5 tbsp. vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Perfect Circle: Goodbye R.E.M.

The Variety Theater
Photo courtesy of The Variety Theater.
It’s fitting that the person who introduced me to R.E.M. is the same one who told me that after 31 years together, they’d called it quits.  I remember very distinctly that I was reluctant to go see them when they came through Cleveland in 1984 (July 10, to be precise; Dream Syndicate opened) – I don’t remember why – but my friend convinced me to go.  They performed at The Variety Theater, a small venue on Lorain Avenue that had seen better days.  There were lots of empty seats at the back of the theater and the bands’ friends and girlfriends sold t-shirts near the lobby.  Michael Stipe hadn’t yet created his stage persona and he merely stood behind the microphone, clutching the stand, looking as if he was trying hard to pretend the audience wasn’t out there.  He wore a white button-down shirt and his face and long curly hair were softened and blued by the stage lights.  The combination of his obscure (and hard to understand) lyrics and rich voice with a touch of the south pulled us into a small, intimate circle.  He was mesmerizing.  By the time the show ended, I was hooked.  Like patients slowly coming out of the ether, my friends and I sat in the car afterwards listening to Murmur, reluctant to shake the spell.

Worse for the wear: Part of a record store
poster for Reckoning, their second album.
Photo courtesy of moi, poster courtesy of L.
I listened to them practically non-stop from that point on.  I collected interviews and articles, clipped photos, wasted hours in front of MTV hoping to see their videos and even developed a small cottage industry around my obsession - creating pen and ink portraits of Stipe (with a loyal customer base of one).  If I sound like a 1960s teenager in the throes of Beatlemania, that wouldn’t be too far off. (Understandable at my age, but the older and ostensibly more rational felt the same way.   A music critic wrote in a review of Murmur that angels in heaven wouldn’t be strumming harps, they’d be playing R.E.M. songs on Rickenbacker guitars.).  R.E.M. was the dominant band on my personal Generation X soundtrack.  Through them I learned about Patti Smith, Athens, Georgia and the folk artist, Reverend Howard Finster.  I saw R.E.M. another six times and (through the same intrepid friend) met them backstage at another Cleveland concert (1985; The Three O’Clock opened).  I still have the album cover with their signatures.

I carried my love for R.E.M. to college with me – Chronic Town is inextricably linked with my freshman year, windows wide to let in the warm late summer nights and an overworked small radio/tape player splattered with oil paint.  I sought out local bands that covered their songs.  I found another benefactor to buy my R.E.M.-related artwork and hitched a ride with a guy named Blaze to see them at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati in 1986 (Fetchin’ Bones opened).  As thanks I gave him the trampled $20 bill I found on the floor after the show. 

Michael Stipe, Miami Univ., OH
Photo courtesy of Kristin Foster.
The blush began to retreat slightly from the rose during my senior year when R.E.M. came to my university.  It’s not that I wasn’t thrilled they would perform there, I was just saddened that they’d gone mainstream – they had to have if they were including my pink-and-mint-green, preppy university on their tour schedule.  I didn’t even join my friends sleeping in line the night before tickets went on sale (but I did get a ticket nevertheless…).  And when a fellow classmate appeared on stage next to Stipe, signing to King of Birds, I was thoroughly hurt and offended.  You bet your sweet bippy I was jealous!  It should’ve been me up there except for the fact that I didn’t know sign language and as a shy and inept teenager, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to how to end up on stage anyway.

As the years passed, R.E.M. inevitably toyed with their signature sound just enough to alienate me – committing the ultimate unpardonable betrayal of favorite band to loyal fan who was “with them from the beginning.”  Additionally, I wasn’t interested in knowing their politics or hearing which celebrities they were mingling with at parties.  I guess I got stuck back in 1984: the indecipherable lyrics; the shy, curly-haired singer with the gentle voice, the sweet hope of friends selling band t-shirts on a fold-up table and the sound of “Perfect Circle” playing through the speakers of a darkened car on a July night in the parking lot of The Variety Theater.

(Goodbye R.E.M…and thanks to L for bringing me to them.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dizzy Dean Days

Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss? – Jay Dean

Dizzy Dean Days, Spaulding, OK

On a beautiful October day a few years back we arrived at our new home in rural Oklahoma and while we waited for the moving van to appear, we noticed that our secluded road seemed awfully busy.  That weekend we kept seeing shiny vintage cars and restored tractors heading towards what seemed to us as the middle of nowhere.  A few days later we saw the same line of cars and tractors heading back in the other direction.  The middle of nowhere turned out to be Spaulding and Spaulding, we found out, was once home to Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean. 

Photo courtesy of

Dizzy Dean?  No internet connection set up and the word “smartphone” wasn’t yet part of my vocabulary, so I did what I usually do when I need the answer to an urgent question - I called my dad.  As usual, he had an answer: major league pitcher for the Cardinals and the Cubs.  Became a sportscaster.  As a kid, dad plied* the stands at the old Cleveland Stadium and despite looking as if he’s napping during televised sporting events, he’s got a near encyclopedic grasp of football, basketball and baseball.  He could probably tell me a thing or two about old cars and tractors as well, if only I were interested.

Born in Arkansas in 1910, Jay and his family moved to Spaulding in 1925 and even though Jay wasn’t enrolled in the local school, he and his brother Paul, played for the junior high team.  He further honed his pitching by hurling hickory nuts at squirrels. Anyway, every year the good folks of Spaulding have a 2-day event that celebrates Dean – and maybe long ago, it really was about honoring him.  As the son of a sharecropper who picked cotton alongside his father and siblings, Dean would’ve fit in comfortably with the residents of Spaulding.  But as Dean retreats further into the sepia past, the days reserved in his honor now celebrate rural life: farming and ranching and independence and catching up with one’s neighbors – and the accoutrements of such: John Deere tractors, bailers, mules, steers and fried pickles.  Throw in a few lovingly restored, scrubbed and buffed Chevys and Fords – fins and pointy taillights preferable – and there you have Dizzy Dean Days.
*Dad elaborates:
I worked as an usher, but didn’t seat people.  In those days, there was a rope dividing general admission seats from reserved seats.  I for the first four innings watched to see that no one climbed over the generals to the reserved.  If they did, I called a nearby cop (except for my buddies).  It was a great job!  I worked from 1947 through 1949.  The Indians were in the American League, Dean was in the National League.  I did see him, but not as a player.  I did see many of the great ones.
(Learn more about Dizzy Dean here – or ask your own dad.  Incidentally, did athletes trash talk in the ‘30s and ‘40s?  Yes, they did.  Dizzy’s got some great quotes.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Evening Walks

A storm to the south.
It's dark by 8 pm now.  There is the thinnest filament of cool threaded through the warm summer wind, which now comes more frequently from the northeast than from the south.  A fall wind.  Cool air collects in shallow hollows.  Yellow and brown dot the trees and the rattling sound of curled sycamore leaves clinging to their branches contains the germ of future ice storms and bitter, sweeping winds.  The night jars still wheel and dip in the twilight, but they'll be gone by October, replaced by Canada geese on the wing, heading south.

No matter.  The evening walks will go on.  A ritual created by the presence of Ike and his requirements for exercise, for exploring, for chasing and playing.  Turns out we require those things, too.  He is endlessly fascinated by the cows who briefly hold their ground, then amble off at the last moment, looking back at him reproachfully; and the rabbit that lives in the woods near the oil pump and the armadillo who, despite Ike's thundering run, makes good his escape every time.

Too fast to focus.
Last night there were many things to see: a skunk nosing the grass and dirt in the upper pasture; a very irritated Western Pygmy Rattler soaking up the last of the day's heat; ten or twelve poor-wills circling over the pasture; a new pile of bones under a cedar tree and Ike discovered the fun of jumping into the new pond and out again - while his friend, Winston, stood stoically - and dry - on the shore.  Winston sometimes joins us for both our morning and evening walks and is teaching Ike the seriousness of patrolling one's territory.

It's not quite yet, but it soon will be, the most lovely, the most melancholy time of the year.  As summer loosens its blazing grip, as the days shorten and evenings cool into purple, the sense of time passing - of the past - heightens.  It's a delicate season.  Its bittersweet flavor makes it my favorite, yet I also dread its coming.  And there a place of perpetual fall?  If so, I might like to live there and walk through the twilight.

Winston in the rosy twilight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Short Work of Fiction (Tilt-A-Whirl)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia...with some alterations.
It wouldn’t be long before they got here.  In a small town a death is reason for hurry; a murder assures great speed. And they would all come, even the ones off-duty and the ones who wish they were cops.  Certainly the radios were humming now.  That city woman killed someone.  The man had meant to do me harm, of that I have no doubt, but how would they know that?  My ties here are thin, though I’ve lived here for more than ten years.  I’ve kept to the outskirts.  I came from elsewhere.

As I sit waiting for them I know I should be planning for the critical moments to come – a resolute silence, a lawyer and then a calm and clear statement of what had happened – but my mind keeps pulling my thoughts back to the summer after college when a friend and I went together to a carnival near my hometown.  It was raining lightly but not enough to have brought the rides to a halt and we gave the tall and too-thin, bearded man our tickets to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl.  The yellow clowns painted on the sides of the cars were vaguely sinister yet alluring, the deep red metal of the clam-shaped cars shiny with rain.  As the ride began we moved ourselves from side to side, urging the car to spin.  Before long the ride was in full motion and we pressed together and clutched at the wheel in the center.  When it would spin crazily tears of laughter poured down our faces.  We laughed so hard there was no sound to it.  Our grins flashing by must’ve looked maniacal to the spectators standing around the outside of the ride.  To us they were merely colorful blurs.  The tall carny, seeing our efforts, worked his way towards us on the slick and undulating surface until he was standing in front of our car.  He grabbed the side and shoved it, sending us into a blissful spiral, but then suddenly he was gone, his footing lost in the rain.  He had slipped over the edge of the ride.  For a few moments more the ride continued, mechanically oblivious to what had happened.  My friend and I strained to see him, hoped to see him standing, unharmed.  Later we’d learned he’d broken an arm and was bruised and cut.  The joy in the day was gone, our thoughts playing over and over the image of the man disappearing over the side of the ride.  We’d done it to him with our quest for the sensation of spinning.

The afternoon light is soft and gray coming into the window.  The house is so quiet.  Soon it will be filled with strangers and the sounds that strangers make.  I rest my hands on the table and study the fingers.  They’re thin and white.  They’re mine and they pulled the trigger. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Utah State Route 159

Great Basin National Park
From about 11,000 feet, standing on the rock-strewn slopes of Wheeler Peak, the road we would take was too small to see, but other roads, threadlike, rolled out into the basin and disappeared.  Green circles cut into the brown dryness, circles created by the sweep of giant sprinklers, turning like the hands of a clock.  The wisps and strings of rain far off in the distance hung from thick gray clouds.

We came down from the mountain and east into tiny Baker and the improbable and welcome: espresso and veggie burgers.  Four motorcycles were tethered like horses in front of a what once could have been a saloon but really was a storefront and motel.  We cruised briefly west before heading determinedly north, slipping out of Nevada and climbing back in a few hours later somewhere among the Goshute Mountains.

Baker, NV
A faded sign pointed us towards Gandy, Trout Creek, Callao and the ghost town - or so it said on the map - of Gold Hill and shortly thereafter the pavement ended and we bumped onto gravel.  Immediately a plume of mocha-colored dust flared out behind us.  For a few slow seconds a crow kept pace with us and it seemed he might fly with us the whole way.  Behind him bale fortresses of freshly-cut hay rose high in golden-brown squares – evidence of a hard, grassless winter to come.

The road cut between mountain ranges, the valley wide and flat and to the right of us, ribbons of salt flats rippled and shimmered against the base of blue foothills.  Trapped water.  The Great Basin.  The road is also wide and flat and every few miles thick groves of willows hide houses, barns, windmills and tractors.  Patches of cattails and thick-bladed grasses gave clues to the hiding places of cold springs and the persistent trickle of water traveling down from high in the mountains.  Vibrant life amid the dust and salt crust. 

The landscape subtly changed as the road slowly rose and narrowed.  We edged closer to the mountains towards the west.  Hills flattened by distance unfolded into craggy canyons choked with blue-green pines and gray jutting slabs of rock.  Thin trails spindled off in confused lines.  Every sign we passed pointed to towns to the east as if there were nothing ahead, nothing to the west.  Near Callao we stopped at an overgrown picnic area scraped out of the ground by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Wood tables disappearing among the weeds and grass.  A thin stream cut through the picnic area and then under the road, the water cold and clear.  Gray feathers lay scattered along the banks and a lone beer can bobbed in the rocky shallows. 

CCC picnic area near Callao.
Through another town: a faded house surrounded by junked cars and a rusting yellow bus splashed with the words, “Into the Wild” and then briefly back onto pavement that began and ended at the neat Mormon ward house.

We turned in earnest then towards the mountains, climbing, a sign pointing now towards the west and Ibapah.  Other signs appeared and through binoculars we could make out a gate and an airstrip.  Maybe.  The map told us only: The Utah Test and Training Range.

At last we reached Gold Hill and its broken down buildings, scarred hills and remnants of the mining town it once was.  Not quite a ghost town: a man in a white t-shirt stacked wood in his backyard and stopped to watch as we drove past.   

Gold Hill
A turned over garbage can - a long way from home - identified itself in white spray paint as “Ibapah,” its contents spilling out along the roadside.  For some reason we stopped and got out to look at it.  It marked our turn and the end of the dirt road.  93A.  We turned right onto smooth pavement and bit by bit what we call civilization rose up against the mountains marking the horizon: a billboard, phone service and radio stations, an on ramp, rushing cars, Wendover.

Into Wendover.

As ever, when writing, I am indebted to Cactus Ed.  When I look west, I often do so through his eyes. 
" make the discovery of the self in its proud sufficiency which is not isolation but an irreplaceable part of the mystery of the whole. Come on in. The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone - and to no one."  
- Edward Abbey, from The Journey Home

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Keep Heading West

Time to head west, away from the tall grass and into the salty bowl of the Wasatch and the Oquirrhs, then down into carbon country and the San Raphael Swell.  A turn of the wheel will take us further west, into Nevada and the Great Basin.  See you next week. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Working the Seam

As a kid, a glimpse from the car window of a horse-head pump nodding up and down in the middle of an open field sparked stories that rolled along with the miles. It seemed to me then, as now, a starkly lonely sight. They endured the battering of the elements – whether a functioning pump, laboring on unnoticed or a defunct, still one, frozen where it stopped, abandoned to rust and the reaching weeds. Even the sound – often the only thing to keep company with these machines – is lonely; an echoing clank of metal against metal, a sigh as the pipe slides down into the earth and back out.

Today three of these pumps share company with us on our ranch. There were four, but a couple of years ago a huge pit was dug and one was uprooted, its seeming miles of pipe pulled and pulled and pulled from deep in the ground and carted off to a graveyard of muddy and rusty oil field equipment. A Land of Misfit Parts. There is no evidence on our field now even of its existence. The other three are mostly silent now, but as far as we know, there is still oil below them to be reaped. We don’t own the pumps and we don’t own what’s beneath them.

The view up close is less romantic than the one from the car window. Up close one sees the sludgy pools of oil, the rust that has stained the ground, workers’ footprints set like fossils into the clay, busted gears, chunks of cracked and discarded metal, chips of plastic, oil-soaked rags and gloves. Gifts from the oilmen.

The power of these metal beasts is frightening with their gears and thick loops of belts, grumbling motors and hammering heads. The pumps, when in motion, are relentless. They won’t stop for a man's arm or his skull. They pump on in the rain and under the bleach of the sun. They are alive that way, myopic, determined, alone. Working the seam.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Today's Dough: Whole Wheat French Bread

Ahh, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a bucket of fragrant, spongy dough rising in the refrigerator.  Sometime last year I discovered no-knead breads and though I still primarily make my loaves the "old-fashioned" way, occasionally, when I'm in a hurry, I'll mix together a batch of the other.  Then I have fresh dinner rolls and a loaf or two for the week.

The recipe (from a King Arthur Flour catalog) for the French bread dough in the photo at left  is one of the most successful of all that I've tried.  It bakes up crusty on the outside with a soft, light interior and complex flavor.  I'm planning on using one of these loaves for tofu banh mi sandwiches tonight.

If you're curious about making bread but have been reluctant to try - definitely find a no-knead recipe to give yourself a kick-start.  I recommend either visiting the King Arthur Flour recipe site or picking up a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois (they also have a whole grain no-knead book which is great).  There really is no kneading involved (stirring, yes); most of the work is done overnight in the refrigerator - the bonus being that the bread will develop rich, yeasty flavor that just gets better (nearing sourdough in flavor) over several days.  You can stir up a batch and use as needed.  Most of these recipes keep in the refrigerator for at least seven days.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kinds of Flight

In the early evening as I watered the flower beds and the asparagus in the lingering heat, far off I could hear the wind come, leaves in distant trees hissing as it rushed towards me, growing in strength and volume, now swaying the trees nearby.  It tugged at my hat and sent dried and crumpled leaves tumbling across the grass.  The wind cleared away the oppressive heat and I looked upward expecting to see storm clouds.  Instead, I saw a lone turkey vulture way up high, serene, floating, taking advantage of the new currents, and just below him, small black specks wheeling and dipping under thin, gauzy clouds.  Swallows, or some similar bird.  I knew it from the way their wings curved back and from their quick darts and flashes of movement.  There were probably 25 or 30 birds.  And for a while they stayed high above me in the same small area, simply enjoying the waves of wind.  Young birds practicing their flying, perhaps, or joyfully shrugging off the dead stillness of the day and reveling in how the wind enhanced the freedom of flight.

In case you haven't realized by now, I love birds.  We are lucky to get a good variety through here – some long-term residents, others that stay only a few days – and after a few years, my slow brain has caught on to the different types, when to expect them and their varied kinds of flight.  

Our year-round residents, the chickadees, tufted titmouse and nuthatch flash nervously and quickly among the trees, always preferring the shelter of the branches to being exposed long in the open.  The goldfinches come and go in flocks, one bird apparently guiding the movements of all.  Egrets and herons lope across the skies in early morning and again in the early evening.

For aerial maneuvers it is hard to beat the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (who are with us only during the summer months) or Bluebirds (year-round), both highly-skilled insect hunters.  They are the aerobatic pilots of our airspace, executing with precision steep banks and stomach-dropping free falls that follow the erratic zig-zag of insects in motion, snapping them up in mid-air.  The Scissor-tails with their long tail feathers look like small kites fluttering against the blue.  The sturdy Bluebirds are all business.
The heavier bodies of flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers are more difficult to keep aloft, or so it seems from their flying.  They flap-flap-flap-flap, then glide for several beats, dropping precipitously before they hurriedly flap-flap-flap-flap again.  I suspect they really prefer to be firmly attached to the side of a tree.  

As for the crows, they are always in a hurry.  Their flying is filled with purpose; flat, steady and powerful wing-beats carry them over fields and through the trees.  Crows understand that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  They prefer to be in their clans and often fly in pairs or small groups.  Their flight seems to me tinged with guilt – skulk-flying –  and I am certain that they are either flying away or towards trouble.

The elusive stealth flyer of our skies is the Barn Owl.  Just as the last tinges of light drain from the sky, the owl leaves his nest box up in the barn’s rafters and glides silently out over the fields.  The Barn Owl has fringed feathers with comb-like edges that break down turbulence and muffle sound.  This silent flight is why he is so deadly to field mice, gophers and snakes.  His coloring lets him fade into the night.  They never see or hear him coming.

Finally, perhaps my favorite flyer, the hawk.  If the owl is the stealth plane the hawk certainly must be the fighter jet.  He circles idly above, seemingly indifferent, just as the vultures do, but his fierce eyes are surveying the landscape far below, looking for the slightest ill-timed dash for freedom through the tall grass - and then down he swoops, claws and beak at the ready. 
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