Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Tall Grayish Figure (Part II)

The elegant gray figure has followed me here, or rather, there are many like him (or her) here in Oklahoma.  They are far more reclusive than my Georgetown fellow.  If they sense our presence at all they take flight.

We have one frequent visitor to the pond near our house.  He glides in over the trees, drops low and working his wings, lands expertly along the edge of the water and resettles his feathers.  After a few moments of reacquainting himself with his surroundings, he begins walking gingerly along the edge of the pond, his high, backward steps measured and slow.  He looks like an old man walking contentedly through a park with his hands clasped behind his back.  No rush, just passing the time, enjoying the view.  But the heron is a hunter.  His disinterested behavior only lulls the water creatures into a sense of safety.  He studies the ground as if choosing among the offerings of tiny delicacies on a silver tray.  The pond pops with mud-brown frogs no bigger than a thumbnail and small fish dart in and out of the shallows.  He stops and stares hard into the water.  Under the heron’s laser gaze is one of these frogs or a fish that isn’t paying attention.

One late afternoon as the setting sun lit the eastern side of the pond, a heron stood among the tall grasses at the pond’s edge and gazed into the still brown water.  Suddenly his head darted forward and we saw a large fish struggling in his beak.  With quick and careful maneuverings, the heron twisted the fish so that it followed the line of his beak and bit by bit, the heron swallowed his prey.  It looked to be too big for even this large bird and for several moments we watched as the heron gulped, the shape of the fish clearly visible within the long neck.  I was reminded of Carson McCuller’s story about the jockey who was so small and thin one could see the outline of a lamb chop in his stomach after he’d eaten it.  The fish then was completely gone, down into the heron's stomach and he resumed his measured steps along the shore.

(The Carson McCuller’s quote, from her short story The Jockey, is: “Sylvester turned to the rich man, ‘If he eats a lamb chop, you can see the shape of it in his stomach a [sic] hour afterward.  He can’t sweat things out of him anymore.  He’s a hundred and twelve and a half.  He’s gained three pounds since we left Miami.’  ‘A jockey shouldn’t drink,’ said the rich man.”)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Purple Maddy

Maddy all in violets and lilacs.
This is the fourth (and perhaps final?) color study of Ms. Madeleine.  I'm looking forward to getting all four color groups together on the same large sheet of BFK Rives.  As it is, I have all of the Rosie color sketches and the Maddy color sketches on my studio wall and if I may say so, they look pretty cool. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today's Dough: Whole Wheat Roasted Garlic and Herb Focaccia

Second rise.

Backing off on the serious posts for today - what better way then to share some dough love?

This is one of the easiest bread recipes I know of - and it's also one of the tastiest.  You mix together a few ingredients, scoop the dough into a bowl where it rises (to amazing heights) and then off into a 9"x13" pan for the second rise.  After about 30 minutes in the oven the house smells like an Italian bakery and you have chewy, crunchy, airy and flavorful focaccia with which to make roasted veggie sandwiches (don't forget the peperoncini) or to dip into pasta e fagioli soup.  Once the bread has cooled, I cut it into manageable pieces, wrap them well and put them in the freezer.  Thawed and heated slightly it tastes just as good as when it came out of the oven.  I'll post the recipe in the Vegan Recipe section.

Adapted from a recipe from Vegetarian Times.

Baked and sliced.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Problem with Cheese

I have no intention of using my blog as a “bully pulpit” (well, not regularly, anyway), but I found the information below very interesting and kind of alarming.  When I made the switch from a meat-based diet to one based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, it was easy – I was mentally ready for it, but when I decided to then eliminate dairy, it was a challenge saying goodbye to cheese.  Now I understand why.  Like most Americans, cheese played a huge role in my dietary life.  I grew up with aged provolone hanging from the kitchen ceiling from which my dad would cut slivers and give them to us kids; thick, soft slices of Havarti and crumbly cheddar on crackers, schmears of cream cheese on bagels and pasta liberally topped with grated Parm.  Not only did cheese taste good, I associated it with family, celebrations, good food and enjoyment.  The following excerpt is from the October 2010 issue of VegNews; the article is about food addiction and was written by Victoria Moran.  

One surprising “food drug” is dairy.  We’ve been taught to consume milk of another species – a biological oddity in itself – and we’re inadvertently drugging ourselves at the same time.  “All mammalian milk contains casein, and it crosses the blood-brain barrier to become casomorphin,” says Kerrie Saunder, PhD, a functional food consultant practicing in southeastern Michigan.  “This morphine-like substance we believe is there to encourage the young animal to nurse.  Human breast milk has about 2.7 grams of casein per liter.  Cows’ milk has 26 grams per liter, but since it takes, on average, 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese or ice cream, this becomes a multiplied-opiate addiction.”
In a group of vegans, it’s common to hear, “Cheese was the hardest thing to give up.”                                                                                                                                                              
I don’t miss cheese.  I realize that family meals and celebrations are just as warm, enjoyable and memorable now that I’m a vegan.  And I certainly know that good food – great food – can be cheese- and animal-free.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Night Spiders

The evening of the day I wrote my short tribute to the yellow and black garden orb, I settled into bed to continue reading The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturlist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature by Loren Eiseley (more on him in an upcoming post) and came across this:

It was a cold autumn evening, and, standing under a suburban street light in a spate of leaves and beginning snow, I was suddenly conscious of some huge and hairy shadows dancing over the pavement.  They seemed attached to an odd, globular shape that was magnified above me.  There was no mistaking it.  I was standing under the shadow of an orb-weaving spider…There she was, the universe running down around her, warmly arranged among her guy ropes attached to the lamp supports – a great black and yellow embodiment of the life force, not giving up to either frost or stepladders.  She ignored me and went on tightening and improving her web.

The exact kind of spider - this one finding warmth on a cold autumn evening in the false sunlight of a streetlamp - to which I was paying homage.  It amazes me how often these small coincidences happen.

As Mr. Eiseley sent my thoughts back to spiders and our missing black-and-yellow garden orbs, I ran a quick mental inventory of other insect companions and found that there are quite a few on the MIA list this summer.  While there are more grasshoppers than usual, there are no mosquitoes (hooray!), no deer flies (though the irksome horseflies have survived), or fireflies; not a single ladybug or her less helpful imposter (the Asian Lady Beetle) – and we are missing yet another kind of orb-weaving spider.  These I call the Night Spiders, because they begin their work as evening falls and they are gone again, or nearly gone by the time the sun rises.  They can be fairly large; they’re a light speckled-brown and tuck themselves into tiny, prickly balls and wait in the center of their perfectly-constructed webs.  They populate the length of our tree-lined driveway, one after the other suspended in the branches, sending long strings of thick silk from one side to the other, sometimes anchoring their webs on rocks along the drive.  Then they begin the slow task of spinning the deadly, trapping parts of their webs.  In the morning they patiently reel in their hard work – I know because I’ve watched them – but occasionally they forget a strand or two.  I know this because I’ve walked into them.  It’s like brushing past a remnant of the night world, something from the dark, something of which you catch only the smallest, unsettling glimpse.  A very sticky piece of the night.

(Another small coincidence.  The morning after I wrote this post, I stepped outside into the pre-dawn gray and pink and there, right by the door, was a Night Spider - as if to say, yes, we are still here.  She'd strung her web between the tall holly and a small bush growing up from the monkey grass.  It was too dark to take a picture, so I waited about an hour and came back.  By that time, there was no trace of her or her web.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pictures From A Trip

The road through Buckhorn Wash.
I keep thinking of him as just being on a trip.  He was always somewhere else.  Toronto, Chicago, hitchhiking to Alaska.  So to me, right now, Mark is simply away.  On the road.  Doing a job somewhere on the other side of the globe.  I’m waiting for the late night when I get a call.  I’ll pick up the phone and hear the long-distance hum.  It will be a collect call from Mark.  He will speak first.  “Hello, sweet.  I love you.”  And I will answer, “The charge is reversible.”
- from Pictures From A Trip, by Tim Rumsey

My mother gave me the book after she’d read it.  It was around the same time that we were deep into Edward Abbey, especially Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang.  With a little convincing we would’ve taken up chain saws to slay a few billboards and filled the gas tanks of a bulldozer or two with Karo syrup and sand.  This book was completely different, yet with a shared spirit.  It's about a road trip; a certain time in one's life - after college but before the weight of real responsibilities ties one to place and routine.  The ending is given away in the prologue, but when you get to those last pages, it still hits you like a punch to the stomach.  It's a joyful, funny book and one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.

I’ve kept a copy of the book through my various wanderings and it's yellowed around the edges.  I recently reread it.  It's held up well.  It meant something to me back when I first read it but it resonates with me now with a painful keenness.  The narrator's brother could be my brother as a young man:  free, impulsive, vibrant, careless, funny and sensitive.  The brother's relationship to each other reminds me of a sisterly version of mine with my brother who over the years has been protector, role model, sounding board and confidante.  When he moved to Utah for college I was heartbroken.  When he got a job and excelled at it, I was proud.  I envied the ease of his physicality, a natural athleticism I lacked.  I always thought he was the handsomest guy I knew.  In short, I adored (and adore) my oldest brother.  His friendship, love, humor, orneriness, goodness and guidance, I cherish.  As the eldest, he forged the rough path upon which his siblings walked with relative ease.  His independence is his hallmark, his soft side an oft-hidden, unpolished jewel.  Now he lives with something for which I possess no real understanding, though when alone with my thoughts, I try.  I struggle to make sense of what is happening to him, but I lack the right experiences.  I can only work with the rudimentary tools that I have.  Nevertheless, I understand enough to balk at the the story's ending.

In September we will meet in eastern Utah to run our third annual 10k together.  It’s a quiet and peaceful race – we have long stretches of it to ourselves – that winds through Buckhorn Wash and terminates at the San Rafael River under a large tent.  We walk – sometimes run – on the red dust, near petroglyphs scraped casually into the stone walls that guide the road and past thick stands of cottonwoods that choke the dry river bed.  Ribbons of dusky color flow across the surface of skyscraper-high rocks and dark magenta stains drip towards the ground.  Walking the dirt road, walking through and past eons.  The sky blooms from pre-dawn black to robin’s egg blue.  In bright morning sunshine, we will sprint downhill for the finish line at the river, collect our medals and feel good.  

Afterwards we plan on extending our road trip together, heading north to Wyoming to spend a few days with two good people and a friendship born of bad news, tentative hope and empathy.  I’m looking forward to being on the road with my brother, talking, listening to music and to seeing our friends.  I know that my brother will be impatient for home – life has always moved at an accelerated speed for him, now especially so – and the Type A in me chafes at the time away from my home.  But the sister in me pleads for more time with my brother, more miles on the road, more conversations and shared memories.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tall Grayish Figure (Part I)

That morning I’d run my usual route up the hill to R, down to P, across the bridge and through the neighborhoods of Dupont Circle working my way to M Street.  I ran along silent and empty M into Georgetown where it was only me and the water truck showering the large baskets of pink petunias hanging from the lamp posts.  I turned left and followed 29th, enjoying the ease of the downhill, until I came to the canal and turned right to follow the narrow green path alongside it, past a homeless man sleeping on a bench, then under the huge mulberry tree which drops its dark purple fruit into the water below where the turtles snap them up like sweet, juicy bugs.  

I got to the place where the old brick buildings tower overhead and cling to the high edge of the tall stone wall.  To my left the water was a dark green, unmoving.  Up ahead I could see something on the path, a tall grayish figure.  I hesitated, aware that there were no stone steps out, no escape route back up into the city. And the path was very narrow.  I wondered how deep the canal was and once in would I be able to pull myself up over the other side.  My legs kept moving forward, though – once running I’m reluctant to stop for fear I won’t start again – and the figure grew larger.  To my relief, the ill-defined shape formed itself not into threatening man but into bird.  A huge bird; a Great Blue Heron peering down into the canal.  I slowed then so as not to startle the bird.  I assumed he would take flight immediately anyway, but he didn’t, even as I came within a few feet of him.  He was as tall as I, standing at the edge with a lonely and contemplative dignity, attired in soft grays and whites and embellished with wisps of delicate, long feathers.  What did he see in the depths?  He seemed not to notice me as I admired him and then walked past him to continue my run.  

A few weeks later I was again running along the canal path, this time in the opposite direction, to where the canal slips away and curves off towards the Potomac.  It was a bright Sunday morning.  Again the city was still and quiet.  At the bend in the canal the tall gray figure stood, his slim face and long yellow beak turned towards the sun, wings spread wide to absorb the warmth.  His eyes were closed – at least that is the way I remember it.  I slowed and then stopped to watch him for a few minutes, wondering what a heron thinks – ancient memories passed down through heron generations of swamps brimming with frogs and quiet ponds jumping with unwary fish...unhurried flights over lush green landscapes, or maybe of empty and lonely places that have never known the taint of man.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Blue Maddy

The first color sketch of the Divine Ms. M (aka Madeleine).

Today's Dough: Whole Wheat Maple-Pecan

Whole Wheat Maple-Pecan; first rise.
Today I'm baking up a slightly sweet - thanks to pure maple syrup and a touch of maple extract - whole wheat bread full of toasted pecans.  This recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook.

Friday, August 19, 2011

One Side of a Conversation

Have you got yer turnips in yet and yer mustard greens?  Time to get those in.  I love me some turnips.  And them mustard greens.  Get those in for the fall.  Now how do you cook ‘em?  Uh huh.  Uh huh.  Yeah?  Why I just boil ‘em up real good, get some butter on there, lotsa salt and pepper.  Eat a whole plate of those.  Do you put yours up?  You can put ‘em up, yep.  Just boil ‘em real good and put ‘em in the freezer – like yer spinach.  Same thing.  Have ‘em all year.  But you better get those in the ground.

No, ain’t nobody got good tomatoes this year.  No, sir.  Not even Bill Yates out there on 48.  Plants tall as you.  But they was just burnin’ up.  Couldn't water 'em enough.  Gave up and dug 'em in.  And the watermelons.  Damnedest thing.  He had a whole field of ‘em.    In two days them hogs ate ever’ single one of them melons.  All that was left was rind.  Cleaned right out.  Saw it with my own eyes.  Nothing like the pork barbeque, though.  Too bad y’all are veg’tarian cuz my boy he does the barbeque.  Put him up against anyone on that.   

Well, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.  No.  Not really.  But yer pies and yer cookies  – can’t beat a good fruit pie, no sir.  Not the cakes.  I can do without the frosting.  People put too much frosting on the cakes and it gets so you can’t taste the cake!  But a good fruit pie.  Hard to beat that.  What’s that?  Uh huh.  Well, yep, that’s good, sure, but me I like the rhubarb.  You got rhubarb in the garden?  You should get you some rhubarb.  Puts up good, too.  Hey, are those apples of yours ready yet?  Let me know when them apples are ready.

I love me some beans.  T’other night I had a mess of white beans, now, normally I don’t really like the white beans but these were darn good.  Now you give me some of them red beans – wooo – I could eat my way out of a wash tub of them red beans!  Did you plant beans this year?
Alrighty now.  Uh huh.  Get yer turnips and yer mustard greens in – you can eat the turnip greens, too.  Better get them in.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Town Called I.X.L.

There is no easy way for us to get to Tulsa.  One must ride the curves, behind the slow cars and through the school zones and small towns with their speed traps and along the ups and the downs of the two-lanes that lead, just past Bristow, to the turnpike.  From there it’s a straight shot, but much less interesting.

It’s not a bad thing, driving this way.  How else would one see a town called I.X.L., population 59, at last count?  Heading north into I.X.L. the sign says: I.X.L.  Returning south it says: IXL.  To the south of I.X.L.  is a pecan grove with acres of tall and wide trees.  Underneath the trees the grass is smooth and green as a lawn.  Cows drowse in the cool and peaceful shadows.  The North Canadian River crosses your path on the way to I.X.L.  It’s a shallow but wide river, with sand bars dividing it nearly in two.  This year it’s especially low, but the white egrets and herons still come to fish.

Sign courtesy of
If there were an easy way to go, you’d miss seeing towns called Newby, Gypsy, Castle, Iron Post and Welty.  You'd miss the countless small churches along the way: the Welty Full Gospel, the Gypsy Holiness Church, the African Methodist Episcopal, the Welcome Bell Chapel and the Goodwill Baptist – some so far off the road that all you see is a faded and peeling sign pointing down a dry and dusty road.  

It would be a shame not to add to one’s knowledge the various offerings from these towns: Clark’s Maintenance, Hoss’ Tire Shop (with the colorfully-painted stone wall), Rob’s Magneto Service, and the Speed-a-Way right on the corner.  You never know when you might find yourself in need of their services.  “Tiger” is running for Head Chief this year and would appreciate your vote.  In Bristow you can buy yourself a brand new Ford, load up on barbed wire, eat a pizza, visit the archery store or simply stop in at the gas station for “hot subs, cold beer, cheap cig.”  If your old VW Beetle or Rabbit needs a part, look no further than the VW graveyard with its long lines of rusty, windowless bugs; your dune buggy needs can also be met.  And the Paden Mud Bog would be glad to get your business, if one could figure out exactly what the Paden Mud Bog was selling.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bones and Shells

It was a day for finding bones and shells. We walked along the broken fence line, heading towards the tumble of rocks to the north. The long streaky shadows of morning lay across the humps of thick grass, a deep orange sun beginning to tip the treetops in yellow. I called to Ike, who was lagging, and he ran up to me, lifting his head with the weight of his prize – proudly carrying a turtle’s shell he’d unearthed from its resting place. A box turtle. The occupant was long gone. Small, pure white bones rattled around the inside of the shell. Pieces of the thin, translucent veneer of the shell – shiny and fragile as mica – were peeling off. Ike left his prize behind with the strain of climbing the rocks.  

Later, up in the western pasture along the edge of the woods, we found the bones of a small coyote, the tail still thick with soft fur, everything else clean and white. The bones lay as if the pup had rolled over onto its back in a posture of complete abandon, of feeling safe.

We continued across the western pasture and along the road, down past the derelict horsehead pump and then towards the pond that is slowly drying up and disappearing in the drought. A green heron took flight as we approached. We walked gingerly onto the cracking mud, the shoreline wider now and gooey in spots, like fudge. Walking on earth recently covered in water, walking on a small scale natural disaster. A cow’s skull, hip bones and leg bones, dyed a deep orange from their time submerged, lay stuck in the mud. With rain the relics will disappear again under water, away from our dispassionate scrutiny and rest again. Ike and I looked more closely at the mud. Tiny shells, swirls of white and pink, freckled the deep brown clay.

Back up along the line of trees, this time along the eastern edge, another coyote tragedy. The bones small as those of a cat, lying in a sad heap, picked over, tossed about. Another restless coyote soul trotting over the prairie. 

Nature holds no secrets. She is blunt and honest and harsh and sweet. The living and the dead, side by side, bones unburied and shells abandoned – all to be reclaimed by the earth, nurturing the next generations. As for Ike and me, we can only hope to fulfill such a noble destiny. In the meantime, we will explore and run, sniff, play and wonder and pay our respects to the white bones and the empty shells.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The First Fig

The fig trees in Washington, DC grow nearly as tall as the hardwoods, it seems.  They flourish in empty city lots, in cramped front lawns, up against fences, their branches hanging with fruit.  They seem to need or get little care.

Both Oklahoma and Washington, DC are considered to be in the "humid subtropical zone," and since both areas have similar hardiness zones (our part of OK is in zone 7a; DC is in zones 7 & 8) we assumed it would be as easy to grow tall and happy fig trees here as it is there.  What we didn't take into account was the ocean. DC is near a coast, and Oklahoma is land-locked, so our state does not benefit from the moderating effects of that big body of water that mitigates damage from frosts and freezes.  As a result, our fig trees die back to the ground each winter.

We planted different varieties of fig trees all along the eastern and southern borders of our garden - each specially chosen to be able to live in our hardiness zone.  Our goal was the have a tall, thick, attractive and productive border of figs.  But each winter the plants have died back only to have to start again from scratch in the spring.  The possibility of fruit under those conditions is slim to none.  Frustrated and hoping to get some fruit, this spring Kel transplanted several fig trees into large pots and they are all thriving.  One tree has four beautiful, large, purple-green figs on it and we harvested the first fig the other day.  This fall we plan on moving all of the figs still in the garden into pots.  Unfortunately that means the figs will not have unlimited space in which to grow, but keeping them alive and thriving during the winter will hopefully assure a big crop of figs next summer.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Driving into Rain

Up ahead the blue-gray bulk of storm clouds shades the line of trees to a glowing, bright green, a trick of light played on the eye.  Above, the sky is mostly blue and sunlit; thick beams of light stream through more benevolent clouds than those in the distance.  The concrete of the road is still dry.  A few fat drops of rain hit the windshield like thick oil, streaking through the layer of dust you hadn’t noticed before.  The rain picks up suddenly and the light shifts, changes, darkens.  Wind buffets the car.  Suddenly the rain comes, falling straight down and heavy, bouncing up off of the road, turning it black and shiny.  The inside of the car is a comforting sanctuary - despite the staccato of the rain on the roof - isolating you from the wet and the wind.  Nevertheless you grip the wheel a little tighter and lean closer to the windshield.  The sound of the radio becomes a distraction and you turn it off.  Car lights on the other side of the road shoot long, bright fuzzy beams onto the pavement; cars in front drag red wavy lines behind them.  You're pulled along by their crimson threads, heading deeper into the gray, driving straight into the storm.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Today's Dough: Applesauce Walnut

Applesauce-Walnut bread in the raw.

I found the recipe for this bread in a small, well-worn book, A World of Breads, by Dolores Casella that I picked up at my local library.  It has a huge variety of different breads from around the globe.  Dolores is a bit stingy with the directions, but I like this - it makes me feel as if the art of breadmaking isn't as complicated as it is usually made out to be.

This applesauce loaf originated (according to Dolores, anyway) in France, and with the optional addition of cinnamon makes a slightly sweet bread, crunchy with walnuts, but with a soft texture thanks to the addition of applesauce.  A perfect breakfast bread.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

No Life-jackets Allowed: Glen & Bessie Hyde Run the Grand Canyon

My own experience of the Grand Canyon has been so brief as to really not count at all.  During an ill-conceived move to California back in the early 90s, I picked up a friend in Fort Collins, CO on my way west.  He’d been participating in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament and needed a ride back to San Francisco – my destination.  We decided it was a good opportunity to do some sightseeing along the way so we stopped at various places all deserving of weeks of our time rather than hours, but such is youth.  Zion, Bryce Canyon and Las Vegas all got cursory visits, but our stop at the Grand Canyon was the stingiest.  We arrived at dark and spent the night in a cabin and the next morning headed over to the South Rim, walked a little bit, peered over the side and snapped some photos before eating breakfast and continuing on our way to the Golden State.  I’m almost ashamed to call myself an American.

I got no closer on a recent trip from Utah back to Oklahoma (taking the very southerly route...), but did pick up an interesting book about the Grand Canyon at The Little America hotel in Flagstaff, AZ.  I love The Little America.  Tall pine trees surround the hotel and obscure the view of the highway.  The room decor is pure 1970s, but spotless and very comfortable.  Giant logs in a huge stone fireplace pop and snap as the flames warm the lobby.  The gift shop sells fringed leather coats, cowboy boots and chunky turquoise jewelry.  They also sell books about regional topics and I picked up one titled, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael Ghiglieri & Thomas Myers.  I can’t resist books whose topics are death: coroners’ memoirs, stories from the Body Farm, true murder mysteries.  Death in Grand Canyon goes into exhaustive detail about the ways and hows of every known fatality in the park.  Exhaustive as in lists of names, dates and the sordid details.  But it’s more than dry lists.  The narrative is fascinating and entertaining. 

Danny Ray Horning
There are the, well, run-of-the-mill mishaps – people slipping into the abyss, people playing practical jokes that go horribly wrong, suicides, rafting accidents, heat- and thirst-related deaths, distance misjudgments and the occasional murder.  There are the characters you may already know something about: John Wesley Powell who navigated the Green and Colorado Rivers (three of his men were murdered after they left the expedition), The Kolb Brothers, skilled river-runners and photographers who filmed their journeys down the Green and Colorado Rivers; the fugitive, Danny Ray Horning, a convicted bank robber, child molester and murderer who had escaped from prison and went on the lam for 54 days in 1992 (complete with kidnappings, thefts, shoot-outs and car chases.  Coincidentally, Horning trawled for kidnap victims at the above-mentioned Little America hotel.).  

Glen & Bessie Hyde
Photo courtesy of Emery Kolb Collection/
Northern Arizona University Cline Library

One story that caught my eye was about Bessie Haley and Glen Rollin Hyde.  Back in 1927 Bessie was a 21-year old divorcee from West Virginia who’d moved to San Francisco for a fresh start and to study at an arts academy.  Apparently not content, she and her roommate bought one way tickets on a ship bound for Los Angeles.  The roommate had plans to make it big in Hollywood and Bessie went along for the adventure.  Bessie apparently was prone to going along for adventures.  During the trip, Bessie met Glen and the sparks flew.  They became inseparable and Bessie's roommate sought her fortune in LA without her friend.  

Glen was from Idaho and with a few river runs under his belt nursed a dream of running the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – with Bessie – making them the first couple ever to have done it and her the first woman to complete the journey.  If they made it.  The two married and fleshed out their dream.   The run, they figured, would make them famous and they imagined touring the country giving lectures about their adventures, the money and fame rolling in.  To make it even more interesting, they planned on making the run in a scow that Glen built, setting speed records for traversing the canyons AND doing it all without life jackets. 
I think you can probably see where this is going.  Glen’s boat was a sorry mess.  A Green River local pronounced the scow “a floating coffin.”  But they set off anyway.  Struggling through Cataract Canyon, Bessie was ejected from the boat but was somehow rescued by Glen.  At Lee’s Ferry, an experienced boatman advised them to wear life vests.  Glen declined.   

Farther down the river, Glen was the one ejected from the boat, but with Bessie’s help, he was able to pull himself back in.  In late November 1928, the pair made it to Phantom Ranch and resupplied, once again being urged (this time by veteran Grand Canyon boatman Emery Kolb) to use life jackets.  Glen replied that they didn’t need artificial aids.  Bessie by this time had had enough, but was unable to pull herself away from Glen.

Turns out it wasn't the scow's fault.  On December 6, Glen’s father, Rollin, waited at Needles to pick up Glen and Bessie.  Ten days later he was still waiting.  On Christmas Eve, searchers (including the Kolb brothers) found the Hyde’s boat, intact, caught in an eddy at Mile 237 – still loaded with all of the Hyde’s possessions – even Bessie’s purse.  A campsite was found miles upstream from the boat, but further searches around the area revealed no other indication that the Hydes had been there.  It was speculated that a particularly difficult set of rapids catapulted the Hydes into the river where they drowned near Mile 232.  The boat continued on without them and then became caught in some rocks.  

Like the best legends, this story remains an unsolved mystery.  Glen and Bessie’s bodies were never found.  Some suggested that the Hydes had been murdered.  Over the years rumors and questions persisted.  In 1971 a gray-haired lady on a Grand Canyon rafting tour confessed to her fellow passengers that she was Bessie Hyde and that she’d murdered Glen to escape his abuse.  She later recanted.  It was also rumored that rafter Georgie White Clark was really Bessie Hyde - documents found among her possessions hinted at a connection.  The two women, however, bore no resemblance and the rumor remained just that.

One thing is for sure, however.  Bessie did become the first woman to run the river – at least until Mile 232.    

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where the Outside Meets the Inside

Oklahoma brown tarantula scaling the house.
We try hard to defend the boundaries set by the walls of the house; to me it’s very clear where the outside belongs and where my indoor sanctuary begins.  Yet the four- six- and eight-legged creatures pass through freely with neither respect nor awareness of our barriers.  They find their way in despite the screens, storm sashes and doors.  We’ve scooped up or chased out hummingbirds, wrens (they love to build their nests in boots), slate-colored skinks, mice, snakes, frogs, scorpions of all sizes, grasshoppers and crickets, of course, wasps and sleek salamanders decorated with electric blue stripes.  Pill bugs appear inside in droves when it rains.  There is no end to the spiders that move easily in and out, especially beige-toned wolf spiders.  All spiders seem to adore the dusty corners at the bottom of doors and once we found a fat Black Widow snug in her cottony web in a spot our feet brush past countless times every day.  Don’t get me started on the Brown Recluse spiders that apparently think the house was constructed as their personal hunting ground and shelter.  I’ve never seen one outdoors.

A Western Pygmy Rattlesnake coiled up in the drain
pipe by the side door.
Tiny spiders, crab-like and one shade lighter than their host's leaves make the journey indoors aboard the bunch of basil I’ve just cut.  Leafhoppers, ants and small beetles catch rides on hat brims for a crow’s nest vantage point.  Every once in a while a tick will come in either attached to us or on a piece of laundry that’s been hung on the line.

This is one advantage of winter.  The creatures go where they should – either to warmer climes, to their maker or into some safe, dark place to wait out the cold.  Quite a few of them will make our home their safe, dark place, but at least I can’t see them.  Even the Brown Recluses have the decency to disappear and call a halt to their nightly patrol of the baseboards.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

In the Stacks

Early in the morning I’d let myself into the building, turn on the computer and then go in the elevator down to the stacks.  It was always a few degrees warmer down there with a faint and comforting ticking noise coming from the furnace.  I had the whole building to myself for two hours before I had to head to my full-time job.   The first floor room I worked in was a soft gray in the winter morning light, the desks, bookcases, trash cans and chairs still, immovable as mountains, frozen in their abandoned positions.  They could have been that way for centuries.  

Nobody was really certain as to what was down there in the basement, book-wise.  My job was to catalog what was, to dust off the old and forgotten and reunite them with their cataloged mates.
I’d turn lights on as I went along the stacks and since they were on timers, they’d eventually click off slowly one by one.  The ceiling was low and off at the edges of the room were darker rectangles, gaping doorways into areas I had no curiosity to explore.  I avoided as well looking up into the inky depths of the ceiling.  I’d load up a cart with about ten books, choosing from an area I’d cataloged the day before, working my way through decades of old city and county records and take the elevator back to the first floor.  Dull books, except sometimes for pictures which offered glimpses into the past.  The accomplishments of towns and cities: bridges built and tunnels dug; waterworks and welfare rolls, taxes collected.  Endless numbers and figures, maps, charts and graphs.  There’s something poignant about our diligence in keeping such records – only to see the once-relevant data end up in anonymous row upon row of mouldering books on shelves in a dark basement.

In most cases I am a person not afraid of letting go of material things.  Too much stuff makes me feel weighted down and anxious.  But I hold on to some things and I wonder about my tendency to keep old lists and journals filled with scribbled thoughts and ideas – the mostly dull facts and figures of my own existence.  Letters and numbers out of context, lacking detail, body or explanation.  Is it some need to leave a record of my intentions and accomplishments for after I’m gone, minor as they may be?  Do I feel a need to prove to future generations that I had goals, that getting things done was important to me?  Dry bread crumbs of personal data leading back to someone long gone from a world that is only about the present.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ask Anything

Let me say at the outset that savvy city dwellers have nothing on country dwellers.  When it comes to being canny, I’ll bet on someone fresh off the turnip truck over a city slicker any day.  

As relative newcomers to the state of Oklahoma as well as to rural living, Kel and I often have questions; maybe not the most fascinating of questions, but the answers to them are important to us.  That’s why we feel fortunate to have befriended knowledgeable locals, good, fine people who were born and raised here, steeped in the customs and traditions, weather patterns, history and legends of this fine prairie state; honest folks who are eager to help out a stranger.   

Locals who are certain that we are “visiting relatives” or “just passing through” (one woman was convinced that Kel was the new preacher in town), are not shy about asking us questions.  Before a conversation picks up any kind of steam, invariably we are asked: why did you move to Oklahoma?  Emphasis on the why.  This is accompanied by a look of exasperation and dubious suspicion.  

The streets here, unfortunately, go only one way.  When we seek answers to our questions – generally about gardening, weather patterns or ranching, more often than not our friend, old or new, suddenly falls victim to the mumbles, shifts their eyes away from ours, seeking refuge in the distant horizon line.  Then they say something along the lines of, “well, now…I really couldn’t say…”  No amount of rephrasing the question produces a direct answer.  One time Kel invited a neighbor over for the explicit reason of having him help us select a site for a new pond.  He’d just had one dug on his property and being a local, we took him for if not an expert, at least someone more knowledgeable about pond-building than ourselves.  Kel and neighbor spent a few hours mucking across the rain-soaked 160 acres analyzing several potential sites.  Dappled in mud and soaked with rain, Kel finally asked him which location he thought would be the best.  The answer left Kel just as clueless as before the muddy trek over the pastures.  Our neighbor gazed off - surely a nugget of pure, country wisdom forming like storm clouds in his head - and pronounced, “It all depends on what a man wants.”  

This gentleman would’ve made a fine match for another friend.  When we asked her how many cattle she ran on her property she became vague, her voice dropping into the low registers and then she changed the subject.  And this from a lifelong cattlewoman and someone with whom we’ve broken bread many times and exchanged Christmas gifts.

We still ask questions of our friends and locals, not so much because we think we are going to get the answers, but out of habit and routine.  A kind of politeness.  Maybe it’s even expected of us.  But when we really want an answer to something now, we Google it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Morning Walks

My usual morning routine has been commandeered, re-purposed, hijacked and enriched by a 21-pound puppy.  Instead of my 2-hour indoor morning workout, dog and I head outside while the sky still holds on to the last of the night.  Squinting into the gray light we crunch through tall grass, climb over gopher holes, duck under tree limbs and navigate rocks and fence lines.  We've encountered rabbits, a wary juvenile skunk, the neighbor's sheep dog and a clueless armadillo.  It's a great workout for both of us - but only one of us gets to sleep all afternoon.

Ready to patrol
The ladies in the south pasture.
Skunk territory.
Mr. Bull.
Oil pump at dawn.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sugar House

At the end of our dirt road was a 40-or-so acre property that, though as a child it wouldn't have occurred to me, was a wormhole between the agrarian, self-sufficient past and the city-dwelling, import-dependent future.  An old couple lived there.  The Van Aken's land was a perfect mix of field and forest.  They had dairy cows that browsed the pastures and fought the pull of gravity as they grazed along the steep, rocky slope that led down to a thin stream.  My mom asked the Van Akens to our housewarming party and they declined since the party was right at milking time.  

In the summer, Mr. Van Aken grew corn on the fields that dipped up and down like deep sea waves.  A white-washed country home sat partially hidden by tall evergreens and behind it sat a red barn that dwarfed the house.  Somewhere deep in the hardwood forest lived a maple sugar house.  Except for the high power lines that crossed the property, the corner on which the Van Aken’s land sat was a piece of early 20th century life.  

Ohio is paradise for big trees.  It’s the amount of moisture, I guess, but the maples, oaks and beeches grow massive trunks and their branches spread out, touching their neighbors’ branches, providing a vast, green, shady canopy for the undergrowth below.  Mr. Van Aken had buckets on all the big sugar maples on his property and come early spring it was time to harvest the sap and boil it down.  Vermont seems to get most of the maple syrup credit in the U.S., but northeastern Ohio is no syrup slouch.  Down the road from the Van Aken’s is a small town that has some of the richest maple syrup around and it’s harvested and sold there.  I love it so much I order it to be shipped to me in Oklahoma.

One winter Mr. Van Aken invited us kids to come into the sugarbush and watch while they boiled down the syrup.  If my memory serves we journeyed to the house on a wagon led by a couple of his horses.  It hardly seems possible, but I think it’s true.  The smell of woodsmoke met us before we even came up upon the cabin – rich and thick – gray-white clouds drifting up through the trees.  Once inside the house the heavy, sweet smell of maple surrounded us and we watched the amber syrup bubble in large vats.  It was hot in the cabin, the fragrance and warmth nearly overwhelming us.  Mrs. Van Aken was there wearing her bonnet, stirring the syrup with a long stick.

After the elder Van Akens died, the developers came sniffing around.  They’d already eaten up vast acres of open land along our road.  The corner lot and all of that land were ideal for cookie-cutter suburban homes built too close together.  For a couple of years we worried that one day we’d see bulldozers knocking down the trees and leveling the fields.  But their daughter has held on to the property somehow and now it sits quiet and unused, the old house gone, the past living on undisturbed.  The grass grows tall in the former corn rows with no dairy cows or tractors to keep it shorn.  The sugar maples go untapped.  I wonder if the dull silver buckets still hang from the trees and if the old sugar house still stands. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Loneliness of a Single Shoe on the Highway

I can understand the bunched-up article of clothing, the broken Styrofoam cooler, the beat up mattress or recliner, even the battered microwave.  Fast food bags, cups, beer bottles, cardboard and tires are no-brainers.  But it’s the appearance of a lone shoe that gets me thinking.  Small and forlorn; holding the shape of a foot, it’s almost a living thing as it rests on the concrete.  Cars and vans, trucks and motorcycles speed by, the people inside mostly oblivious to it.  

It’s surprising how often one sees a single sneaker, pump, work boot or sandal resting along the highway.  Was it thrown out of the window in anger?  Drunken abandon?  Did it somehow come loose from luggage atop the car and tumble onto the roadway?  Sometimes the shoe is positioned so it looks as if at any moment it will begin striding purposefully forward.  Other times it lies on its side, exhausted with the sadness of its fate, hopeless.  I imagine someone walking along with one shoe, loping unevenly up and down, up and down, somehow unaware of their loss until the lost shoe is too many miles behind them to retrieve.

It’s a lonely image, the abandoned shoe.  Rocked by passing semis, drenched with rain and snow, coated with road dirt and salt, it sits stoically through it all, waiting to be rescued.  If I just stay right here, my owner will come and get me!  Does the owner miss it?  Do they wonder as to the whereabouts of the companion to the shoe they still have, puzzling as they hold the remaining one?  It’s like breaking the bond between twins.  What is the sound of one hand clapping; well, what is the worth of a single shoe?  Whether right or left, its utility is stripped away; the task it was born to unfulfilled – and yet there it is – perfectly good - sturdy, stylish or beloved.  It makes no difference.  Its destiny is the trash can while its mate waits patiently along the side of the road.

(Go ahead and Google "lone shoe on highway" and see what you find.  Lots.  There's even a Wikipedia entry on it!  What it all just means, sadly, is that I'm not that original.  I'm glad that I didn't Google this topic BEFORE I wrote this post...)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Today's Dough: Walnut Braid

I've got two loaves of walnut-wheat braid to bake up so I've handed my blogging duties for the day over to Joe Stanford.  He's written the very interesting second installment about drawing (inspired by a recent New Yorker article) and you can find it by clicking the Guest Blogger tab.  

From the Garden

Praying Mantis hunting in the daisies.

Technorati code: PC6JEPBD6U46

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Greeting Card: Happy Puppy

Happy Puppy
The result of the sketch I posted last week to go along with Joe Stanford's guest post about drawing. Blunder - aka Otter, aka, Munchkin, Bud, Buddy and Hey, stop that! - is the latest addition to our home and the inspiration for my latest card.  When he's happiest, he's on his back, exposing his generous puppy belly.

For the complete collection of my hand-painted greeting cards, please visit my Etsy shop, Empty on the Inside.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Reich firing up the Cloudbuster.
July has slipped into August and the blue sky, usually so welcome, has become a reproach.  We are being deprived of rain and I miss it; every living thing here misses it.  I get a little desperate, eyeing the perfect, puffy white clouds that now and again linger overhead, somehow neither providing rain nor sheltering us from the heat of the sun.  Thoughts turn to cloud seeding, rain-dancing, cloudbusting.

Years ago while living in Cambridge, MA, I became interested in Wilhelm Reich, solely because of a song by Kate Bush called Cloudbusting.  The song is from the point of view of Reich’s son, Peter, and there’s actually a lot of information about Reich packed into that 5:08 song.  I found the book shelved on one of the dark basement stacks of Widener Library at Harvard, rarely checked out, all but forgotten.

Reich was an Austrian psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and scientist who emigrated to the United States in 1939.  He practiced some controversial methods involving touch therapy and having his patients strip down to their underwear during sessions (it gets more interesting than that, but I'd like to avoid an NC-17 rating).  Reich was big into something he called orgone – a cosmic energy – which he believed was responsible for everything from the formation of galaxies and cancer cells to the biological expressions of sexuality.  Powerful stuff.  This belief led to the invention of the orgone accumulator; he built some large enough for his patients to sit inside.  But he also invented something called a Cloudbuster, a machine that he claimed could form clouds out of blue sky and make them release rain.  The Cloudbuster was believed by Maine farmers to be responsible for saving their 1953 blueberry crop from a potentially devastating drought.

Fortunes started to take a downward turn for Reich in the late 40s with the FDA taking a closer look at his practice – in particular the orgone accumulator.  Kate Bush sings of black cars coming for Reich and a radioactive yo-yo buried in the ground.  In real life, he was accused of violating an FDA injunction and his books and papers were burned and the orgone accumulators destroyed.  He died in prison in 1957 only a few days prior to his release.

I don’t have a brain built for psychiatry or meteorology, let alone the esoteric study of orgonomy.  But I wouldn’t mind Dr. Reich paying a visit to Oklahoma, climbing up behind the wheel of his Cloudbuster and pulling some rain from the blue skies. 

Another truly fascinating character from history - you can't make this stuff up - is Wilhelm ReichFor a more personal perspective, read Peter Wilhelm's book, A Book of DreamsThe video for Cloudbusting is vintage Kate Bush kookiness with Kate playing the part of Peter and Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm Reich.
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