Monday, May 2, 2016

Rare Intervals

Fleeting beauty. Broken clouds after a rainy morning and enough leaves that the light is becoming shafts. The green is beginning to run rampant. A flood watch, down in the lowlands, but the ridge absorbs like a sponge, now, and the driveway is little affected. More rain moving in, so I go out and collect a small batch of morels, to tide me over. I made a soft-spread last night, actually this morning, working off the tapenade theme, morels cooked in butter, smoked cured ham, sweet relish, and black olives; process with a little brandy. Being poor, I eat this on generic saltines. I recommend it as a way to use up extra morels. Most recipes using dried mushrooms call for using a reconstituted ounce. I don't have a scale that's accurate in small quantities, I mostly weight rocks and large pieces of wood, and I don't need very specific numbers. Sandstone is 140 pounds a cubic foot, more or less. So I was considering making a simple balance scale, but I have no standard, I need something that weighs a gram. This entire issue only came about because I was rolling a smoke and I wondered how much tobacco I used in the average cigaret. I guessed it was a gram, a complete guess. Thought about it later, and started collecting small pieces of metal, if I can get access to a decent scale for an hour, I can nail this balance down. B called and wanted to come over for a drink. This is like a once or twice a year occurrence and I could only imagine something was wrong, but, no. He's hosting the family dinner on May 15 and wanted to cook the very large roast I'd scored from the pub. Dinner for 20. I tell him, sure, we can do that, cook it in the smoker with a pork roast above it, dripping down, for about 20 hours. He's so relieved that I'd thought about it, I can see the worry leave his face. We make some plans, agree to talk again. Ronnie will make potato salad (really an egg salad with potatoes, the best I've ever had), Dawn will make a green salad, B will bake French Bread, Josh will bring beer and ice. I had thought about it. If Jenny and Scott are going to be there, we might arrange a morel gravy with several pounds of morels. This could end up being one of those legendary meals. I've cooked at several. You feed 12 to 20 people a feast, and a couple of years later 70 people swear they were there. See my offprint, The Family Meal, An Exercise In Manners. B wants to cook a whole pork loin as part of the mix, and I need to think about the arrangement of the meat in the smoker. This kind of feast takes a mind of it's own, yes, it will blow your mind, stay calm, arrange the meat and go to bed. Tomorrow, some things might be made more clear. Read more...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Story Board

It starts raining in the night. Cool enough, when I get up to pee, that I shut some windows, and put on my bathrobe. I'd been working on a paragraph for several hours, trying to align punctuation with what was said, had drifted off to into a consideration of the ambiguity of language. How emphasis is enhanced by structure. How structure is achieved. Finally nodded into a dream where little people were stacking large blocks of stone to build abutments for a bridge. Hours later, when the rain reminded me to pee, I picked up the thread of what I had been saying, saw clearly that there needed to be a comma before the conjunction. I often enjamb beyond my intent in the interest of being clear. The nature of the affliction. Joel gives me a raft of shit, well deserved, because I often fail to see the pile of yak dung. He calls while on dialysis, which sweetens the pot. In training for being blind, I seldom turn on any lights for mundane chores, going to pee, getting a drink, rolling a smoke. Rolling a cigaret in the dark was by far the most difficult. You need to know which edge is gummed, but there is a pattern and that's the key. The gummed strip is always on the inside top edge of the fold as it emerges from the pack. Learn to do this with your left hand, so that with your right hand, using a thumb and two fingers, you can pick up just enough tobacco for a smoke. When I succeed at this, more than half the time (54%) I'm proud, if I have to light a match or a candle, it's no big deal. As a test to my faith, the goat-suckers are out in force. I swear, when they were goading me down the stairways of hell, shackled like a slave, the soundtrack was always those goddamn Whip-O-Wills. Listen, I love a few things, the Cello Suites, Greg Brown, those last drawings Modigliani sketched without second thought; and I don't like other things, pretense, bad pottery, inexact language, so I figure I'm nearly normal. You like some things and don't care for others, welcome to the game, or the race, or whatever it is. It cleared a bit in the middle of the day, found a few morels and made a nice tapenade, clouds move back in with thunder, I shut down and took a nap. Rain on the roof wakes me. My earliest memory is of rain on a Quonset hut, last time we lived in one, on a Naval base in Maryland. Mom says this isn't possible because I was not yet two. Leaf-out is probably 25% on the ridge, nearly 100% along the river road into town. Saw a river tug pushing a load of road trusses up river. These are made at a huge yard outside Cincinnati where I've often stopped to watch them move very large things. They also make pre-stressed concrete roof panels which I figure are quite heavy. The weight limit must be whatever the weight limit is for the road that gets them to the river. Around here it's coal trucks, and I think the load limit is between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds. Factored out per axle. But still, there's a section of road over in Kentucky, on my route to Florida, a dozen or so miles, between a power plant and a coal mine, where the ruts are dangerous. I did the math on this, back when I could do math, figuring the coal at about 90 pounds a cubic foot, specific gravity of about 1.5, though I have no idea where I got those numbers. They mound the trucks with a shape that roofers would call a 'pyramid-hip-on-a-gable' which I'm sure puts them ten or twenty thousand pounds over the weight limit. There are never any cops on this section of road. I go this way to Florida, because there's a stretch of the road in Virginia and North Carolina that is absolutely stunning, and I love the geography, on the high ground, until dropping down at Columbia, to the coastal plain. Then hundreds of thousands of acres of pine trees. Until I was 16 I was pretty sure I'd end up being a swamp rat. You could tie up a house boat or whatever hull you'd re-floated on hundreds of miles of tributaries to the St. John's River. Easy life, in some ways, no bills, no debt, but it's difficult to get a library card, and you have to dock close enough to a town to row in and get supplies. The ridge is a good substitute, the isolation, the quiet, the darkness, though I do miss the lapping of small waves. More than compensated by the wind in the trees. Rain on the roof, thunder, I'd better go. Read more...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Just Food

Driving in the usual way it's five miles through the State Forest, then five miles on Route 125, then seven miles along the river into town. The long way around it's seven miles through the forest then 17 miles along the river. Both routes share the last seven miles, but otherwise they're different in terms of specific environment. The plants are a lot different. I wanted some cattail shoots, so I went the usual way, out past the lake. In the make-over of park services they've allowed access to a new area, a small cove, and it's thick in cattails. It takes about ten minutes to harvest a batch. These are very good, peeled and steamed, with pesto mayonnaise; and I'd bought a bag of mixed baby greens, which I wilted with hot butter and mushrooms. Wilted salads were a big thing, when I was a kid, fried salt-pork and cornbread. I still love it, though my mother would never have considered morels. As a family we did harvest wild blackberries and wild plums, to make jams and jellies, ate fresh fish twice a week, and had access to the great military commissaries at very low cost, milk and butter and cheese. I never knew we were poor, Upper Lower Class, until I was in college. Even then, the wealthier kids, mostly from the Northeast (going to college in Florida) vied to be asked to dinner at my parents' house. There was usually a weekend fish-fry, shared effort, Dad fried the fish, Carlene made the hush puppies, somebody made slaw, Mom made cornbread sticks, essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet for free. First-time Yankee students usually ate until they vomited. At the same time, I had never eaten a mushroom and never seen an artichoke. It just struck me, the name for tiny ice crystals that fall out of an often clear sky is spiculae, I'd lost that word, so I write it on a slip of paper and pin it to the wall. There are dozens of slips of paper, with words or quotes pinned to my walls, they're part of my memory process. Like some radio shows, this time of year, talking about proms. I went to mine, with Sandra Harper (as I remember), but it wasn't anything special, a night in a rented suit. In my mind, I was already out of there, having accepted a job in summer-stock theater for that summer, which changed my life completely. New England, gay people (who ran theater before AIDS), good and interesting food, and a general intelligence that reached beyond mere survival. A whole new world. That I could do this still mystifies me. I would say that nothing prepared me, but something must have. Now, fifty years later, I'm collecting rain water in a bucket to wash my dishes, reading by candlelight, and drinking moonshine. Talk about success. But maybe it is the measure, what you can do without. It's at least a measure by which the rest can be judged. I love the tension drawn by a line in the sand, not that it means anything, it's, after all, a line in the sand, ephemeral at best. After the hour spent on commas in that last sentence, I spent all of my effort building a small mousetrap from small sticks and string. It didn't work, but it was a fun project. I spent an entire evening gluing sticks together, forgetting the basic tenet of 'outward force', a trapped mouse, like a trapped pig, is always going to push against the fence, so the rails need to be on the inside of the posts. Joel thought it was stupid I'd read Thoreau's journal, which it would be, but I read a lot, so I can spare the time. Read more...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Crossing Shots

Rodney called and I tried to tell him that I didn't need a buddy. A difficult but interesting conversation because he was drunk and deep into his personal hell. I hate this shit, but it is interesting. I'm fine with myself, I know the chinks and voids, and I try to never offer advice. Usually I mumble, little more than nothing, a smear of butter, a hint of exotic marmalade. But the endless cascade of hard times wears on me. It bores me, actually, I'd rather be pilloried, drawn and quartered, whatever. D had already called, so I felt like a phone junkie. Never could get back into my groove. Had a drink and listened to Bach, turned off the lights and sat in the dark, got into a non-thinking mode. The light rain helped. More light rain in the morning, enough to prelude a trip to town, the weather sounds better for tomorrow. I'd started smelling something dead, but I can't find whatever it is. Probably dead mice in the walls. The smell always goes away after a few days, but I have to look under everything, under the house, behind piles of books, because you're not supposed to have rotting animals in your house. They mummify, actually, with that death mask on their face, and even a small mouse can look quite vicious. I had to laugh, I was completely disheveled, in my bathrobe and slippers, I'd started the espresso maker, and I went outside to collect enough morels for an omelet. I'd seen a few, breaking ground behind the shed, coming in yesterday; but the very idea that I could go out in my bathrobe and slippers and get morels for breakfast seemed like a big deal. It wasn't a big deal, it was merely a matter of putting things together, morels, omelet, coffee, hungry. In our film Basho is a bum, wearing layers of clothes, puts on the coffee, walks a hundred feet from his back door, in his fucking bathrobe and slippers, and harvests morels for breakfast, he doesn't say a word, the soundtrack is the usual subdued TR, a duck egg we had watched Basho/Bum steal from a nest becomes this fragrant omelet that steams in front of us. Two takes right away, one is that he's a total fake, the other is that he might be the real thing. Trip to town, low on supplies, skipped the library because I'm expecting Thoreau's Journals; at the pub the main cooler, with six of the taps (including the Guinness) was being repaired, so Cory gave me a bottled beer. The books were in, and cheaper than expected, $50 for the two-volume Dover reprint of the 14 volume original, printed four pages to a page, 2,000,000 words. I'm in deep clover for the next year. Way oversized, heavy hard bound books, I'll have to read them leaned from lap to desk, which digs into my thighs and makes my feet fall asleep, so I have to get up fairly often, stretch, take a walk, eat something. This works well for me, a trip to the woodshed, sweeping snow off the back porch, getting a drink, rolling a smoke, then reading for another couple of hours. As a sidebar I was cooking red-beans and rice, the entire concept of red-beans and rice has changed so much in the last twenty years. These 'red-beans' might actually be crowder peas, and then the rice. I think the best rice in the world is being grown in Louisiana right now, and I fully embrace it; the red-beans I'm still tracking dow. Read more...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Slow Rain

A train in Kentucky, coal for the power plants. Strange to hear it, but the conditions are exactly correct, so when I get up to pee what I hear is dripping rain on the roof, some frogs and bugs, and a train. The darkness was absolute, and I had to feel over to where I kept my headlamp. I didn't want the light, but I didn't want to stumble and fall. I'd already knocked over a pile of books tonight, which happens when you just pile books up. Forces my hand, and I'll put away some books later, sorting them by size and color. This is a stupid system I started using decades ago where I'd remember that something I wanted to reread was in a small yellow book. The system actually works, some of the time, which is about as well as to be expected. B has his library arranged alphabetically, which is so logical it leaves me speechless, my system of size and color pales. Through a scrim softly, back light, vague shadows, does one thing matter more than another? No. That classic butterfly in Mexico, a myth, is real enough; or dancing with the little people. What becomes iconic is simply fulfilling a function, a small gasp of disbelief, then you realize Donald Trump is actually running for president. I have to retreat to my redoubt and reconsider. Later, after a night of rain, fog is so thick I can't see across the hollow. Not a breath of wind, and the green is truly beautiful, washed clean and in hundreds of shades. Sitting on the back porch, with a cup of coffee, I feel detached from the politic of the world. I notice a lovely soft green plant in the cleared area, walk over there and see that it's Black Cohosh, a folk medicine for 'woman problems', plentiful enough that Dave says it isn't worth digging. He supplements his income by digging roots. It's interesting to note that many people on the creek dig roots, most everyone carries a trowel in the fall, one friend carries his in a holster. Brought up on westerns in the early days of TV, I've always loved the idea of a holster, wore a Buck knife for several decades, now I carry a Gerber knife that clips on the inside of my jean's pocket, and a Leatherman tool, with which, given the right soundtrack, I could build a new world. I'm granted a bit of hyperbole because I have a lot of morels right now, and I'm inordinately proud of that. I have morels and you don't. Clearly something is signified. All it means is that I spent some time in the woods, but when it appears on my table, a thick and smooth mushroom gravy, it seems to acquire meaning. Another title for my memoirs might be Butter And Bacon Fat, which would be not far from the mark. I need butter as I'm down to a single stick. Olive oil is fine, it brings out the fruit (apricots) but animal fat brings out the woodsy, smokey flavors, and that's what I like best about wild mushrooms. Mostly I just indulge myself. Ryan and Lindsey worked on the driveway, digging out the grader ditch, and they dug in all the right places, which is both pleasing and interesting to me. Pleasing, because I don't have to do it; and interesting because they dig in the correct places. Drainage, if you study it, makes a certain sense. And their timing is spot on: when the trees start leafing they absorb huge quantities of water, so there isn't the same danger of damage. Late winter, early spring, is when the driveway is most vulnerable. For six or seven months I should be able to get to town whenever I wish. D calls and wants to come out with a load of white oak stumps in exchange for dinner and conversation. I can't believe my good fortune. A load of white oak now, with what I pick up during the summer, will see me through another winter. I still have some wood left from last year, and Ryan said he'd come over and split what I needed. A deed of trust.

Nothing prepares you
for the still night, and the smell
of fragrant flowers

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Too Good

Spoiled. Found another nice patch of morels and made a soup that's more like a stew. Butter, minced onion and mushrooms, a can of chicken broth, with cream added at the end and pulled off the heat. Now that I'm into the swing of it I read about sea-battles, then a couple of interesting pieces on ship-building. I was working on a paragraph, though it's fair to say that I'm always working on a paragraph, and I had completely lost track of time, when Samara called from Denver. A good call, talked about gardening and cooking, and she now wants to visit during morel season. I could leave her my map. Which could be useful. They seem to prefer certain areas, burned hardwood, wild fruit trees, canopied oak, but there's very little pattern I can distinguish, mostly I just walk around carefully, and try and stay one step ahead of the turkeys. I know I'm riding a wave here, the bounty of an exotic, but it's very real, I'm actually drying morels because I can't eat them all fresh. Granted, I'm spending all my time doing this, but what better to do? I got a little turned around today, sat on a stump and enjoyed the illusion of being lost. I was specifically lost, but in general I knew where I was. West and south of the house there are many square miles of unbroken forest, but I know most of the drainages, so I can usually find myself fairly quickly. It starts clouding up again, mid-afternoon, so I walked north until I could sense Upper Twin Creek Road, which hereabouts is called Rocky Fork, then cut back east. I intersect my property down slope, where are three natural terraces that step to the road. They actually look man-made, but I assume settled sandstone dikes. The second was revealed to me as a morel spot some years ago by a hunter (I'd caught a dog of his, and held it), and I found some there, including two large enough to stuff. I'm harvesting them early this year, because of the turkey problem. I'm planning a meatloaf with a thick mushroom gravy. The large ones I'll stuff with cream cheese and minced onion, served on a bed on enchilada/tomato sauce. I realize I'm slightly obsessed, but I'm not a threat. The first little shower came through and perched a perfect crystal on top of every leaf. It's incredibly beautiful for three or four minutes, then it's gone. In a stand of Mountain Laurel today, and the dark green was intense, like with Holly, the leaves are constructed to retain moisture, and they feel plastic. I keep finding myself at the bottom of the hill, no matter how often I swear not another climb. And it isn't too bad because I'm not in a hurry. I'm thinking about a paper, Some Median Plants, that would address the number of miniature plants that grew in a stressed environment. Deep vested thunder, but it's to the SW and that's not my weather side. Still, I'd better go, it's extending all around. Read more...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musing Aloud

Leftovers On Toast is the working title for a memoir I seem to be writing. Twenty years ago I wrote a small book of poems using a tape recorder. I was living alone in the desert. I drove endlessly through Paradox, with all windows down and the hot air swirling like a nightmare. A small voice-activated recorder, and I'd devised a cradle for it on the steering column. I had to talk loudly, because of the wind noise, and there's a deeply desperate quality to the sound. I was remembering a particular event, a clam bake on Cape Cod, on a private beach, an assemblage of theater folk, and had the thought that I could more easily record those 3 AM moments of apparent lucidity than keyboard them, because I'm such a terrible typist. But then I remembered how dreary transcription actually was. Still I might try it, just to hear the rhythms. I was working recently, that 3 AM shift, not knowing if I was beginning or ending something, and I enjoyed reading a paragraph out loud. I changed a few small things, because they missed the beat. Hearing the voice is so critical. There's a moment, reading a poet (manifest in hearing one), that you actually hear the voice. From then on, the reading is easier; prose, of course, also, Proust, Faulkner, McCarthy. When I can hear a voice, I'm transported out of myself. The leftover mushroom dish was fantastic for breakfast, morels and cheese on toast, with a fried egg on top. I would only ever feed this to someone who was going to die anyway. I'm running low on butter and I just bought some. A great day in the woods. Found a dried wood-ear mushroom that would be large enough to make a soap shelf in a shower. I've done a couple of these and they're real crowd pleasers: flatten the back, hollow the top, and plaster it into place. It looks like it grew there. And I found a new patch of morels before the turkeys got to them. The down side is that I harvest them young, they'd be twice as large tomorrow, but I know those goddamn turkeys will find them. When I got back to the house there was a vehicle, a late model small 4-wheel drive pick-up, and an older couple looking for the graveyard. They were polite, as you might expect, when I emerged from the woods. I looked a bit frightening, but they held their ground. Rufus (I swear to god) and Betty Blevins, looking to see where some distant kin was buried. I asked them in and fixed tea. They were somewhat intimidated by my house and the ten thousand books, but we had a nice cup of tea, then I donned leather gloves, picked up some clippers, and took them out to the cemetery. They actually knew who a few of the people were, distant great-uncles, and at one point Betty said, pointing to an infant grave, that it was her great-grandmother's sister. Walking out, Rufus said he thought it was strange that I'd own the family plot, talked to me about the church that used to be down on the Rocky Fork side. Corn, he said, in all the bottoms; it was, he said, a corn economy. I was happy to be shed of them but it was an interesting diversion. I'd been thinking about waves all day, now that I could see the wind stirring tender young leaves, the invisible made visible; oh, right, the wind, now I see it. The news of the day, another hundred thousand seeking asylum, 500 dead in a capsized barge, a bomb going off somewhere; and it is clearly avoidance, that I choose hunting morels rather than considering whether Ted or Donald is the better candidate. Read more...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

West African

Slack guitar, not unlike Delta Blues, a treat at 3 in the morning. A nice excuse for a wee dram and a smoke. I'd been listening to Skip James earlier, so I was primed for this African music. The lyrics sound about the same. Went back to bed, having planned several hours in the woods for later, and a book on mushroom cookery to peruse. Coffee and a couple of slices of polenta (just butter, salt and pepper, these Logan Turnpike grits don't need much, although I do usually add a few drops of pepper sauce) and I'm outside. Hunting morels is a fairly slow-motion event. I harvest maybe a pound, and when I get back to the house I make an excellent clam/mushroom chowder. I make a simple clam chowder, using canned minced clams, quite often, but the addition of sauteed morels, the butter they're cooked in, and a little cream, put this over the top. I agree with the Barnharts, that morels are maybe even better dried. The flavors are condensed, there's a smokey touch, and the mouth-feel is luscious. My specimen hickory tree, only my specimen tree because it's right outside one of my windows, is budded, and the sumac are unfurling their fronds. The last three days the oaks have started leafing and this changes the landscape. The hills and hollows are furred with green. Feeling enormously self-satisfied, I can't help myself. Eating so well, Joel joked about that, morels on toast. Reading about foraging mushrooms in the Pacific NW and some interesting recipes. One of them, for which I have all the ingredients on hand, that I intend to make tomorrow, is a gorgonzola ragout with mushrooms served on polenta. I immediately come out against cutting polenta into shapes, I just cut it into wedges, quarters usually, I don't hate having those irregular left-over bits of fried grits: with maple syrup, they are very good, but it seems so needless, to cut things into shapes. Saw TR and the Thoreau will be in on Monday, but the museum is closed, so Tuesday. The Buckeye Diary Bar and its miniature golf course were hopping, so I got a milkshake and watched for a few minutes. Avocados were two for a dollar at Kroger and I don't ever remember them being that cheap, so I bought several of the hardest and a couple of cans of crabmeat. I love avocados, stuffed with crabmeat sauteed in butter, topped with a spoonful of pesto. But, on track, I collect a few more morels, to make a pound of fresh (and I have a batch in the dehydrator), make a nice pot of pecan rice, mince a medium onion, brown it in butter, chop the morels, cook them until they release their juice, add a half cup of chicken stock, then crumble in the cheese and take it off the heat. Everything about this works, the nutty, woodsy thing, the texture, the slightly fecund cheese. I'd give this a ten. I'm a good cook and like everything else I'm good at, it took time and hard work to get there; good, only, not better than that. I cook a great many meals that might be rated highly, most of them over-rated, but that's because I'm perfectly willing to read a book and stir a pot of risotto, or take forty minutes to fry an onion. I substituted pecan rice for the polenta because I must have eaten polenta at six meals in the last three days (if you include the cheese grits) and I wanted to try this new rice. The underground rice network had highly recommended it, and a friend sent me some. Smell and taste is an interesting subject, and the aroma of this rice actually makes you remember shelling pecans so that Aunt Sadie could make those cookies, Sandies, which are, actually, gritty. As we grind down to a Trump/Clinton election, I have to say, it's interesting. The Republican VP is important, because Trump would be impeached almost immediately, and what about the Supreme Court? And money, I don't know anything about that, if you have a few hundred million, what do you do with it? First, of course, is that everyone gets a cut, that ancient sacrifice where you divide the carcass, then, I guess, you move to Switzerland, or buy an island off the coast of Scotland. Read more...

Thursday, April 21, 2016


I fell into possession of this huge dictionary of vegetables, the history of each one and where it came from, and I lost an entire day. Who knew rutabagas could be so interesting? Aunt Sadie used to fry slices of rutabagas, or sweet potatoes, or white turnips, until the sugars converted. This is alchemy. A starch becomes a sugar and caramelizes. The word ' tomato' comes from the Aztec zitomate. A few more morels and I limit myself to an omelet, toast with pepper jam. I saute the mushrooms in butter, then make a sauce with the butter to pour on top. As my Dad often said, "we're in the tall grass", which can mean a great many things, but usually meant 'good fodder' since Dad grew up just one step above share-cropper, and fodder, for humans and animals was always a consideration. B's brother, Ronnie, made hominy this year. I don't know a single other person that makes hominy. I know one person who still makes sorghum syrup, at a loss, and I know several people who live on boats. Right now I know a great many song-writers and composers, I've always known builders and designers, always writers, wherever I happened to be, and a group of marginal people that generally seem more centered than the great mass that chose, early on, to compromise. Kim called, to verify he would be here for an extra day in early June, just before Diane will be here; two people in fourteen days, a veritable onslaught. I'm looking forward to it, hearing about the outside world; I get so involved with simple words, pate, saute, satay, that I lose track of time. Hours later I'm reading about watercress, and I remember some watercress and sweet butter sandwiches at a theater benefit, it must have been in Boston, I almost never went to these. But free food is a powerful draw, and those small triangular sandwiches were very good. Most of the food was pretty good at the meet-and-greet events, and the champagne flowed freely. Gentle rain on the metal roof draws me back to the present, where I'm grown more frail, and my body fails me, but I'm surprisingly comfortable with growing old. I'll die alone, there's little doubt of that, it could be a week or two before TR or B found me, spirit departed, carcass impregnated with fly larva, another corpse in the endless cycle of dying. Read more...

The River

The river corridor is beautiful. Two weeks ahead of the ridge in terms of Spring. Coming home yesterday I was a traffic hazard, but I pulled over at every opportunity. I took an hour to drive the 17 miles, stopping 10 times to examine bushes. The one large stand of bamboo is particularly lovely. TR called from the museum and he's ordered the 2 volume Thoreau's journals for me and I might get them on Saturday. Also, not only that he had been accepted for grad school but that today he learned he was getting a free ride. Good news, as I fear for an entire generation shackled with student debt. Debt has always bothered me. I have none, which allows me to live cheaply. Pay cash for almost everything. I had a small surplus, which is why I felt I could buy the Thoreau, and that while living on $800 a month (all inclusive, including taxes and vehicle insurance). Marilyn and I lived closer to the bone than that, for five of the years in Mississippi, until I started building barns and houses for other people. More than completely self-sufficient, a surplus, in fact, that built a house and paid for the place in Colorado. By bend of bay brings me here. No regrets, except that I wish I could have been around my daughters more when they were growing up. Napp, as they say. Morels on toast more than justify a day in the woods. Several people had mentioned a morel patch to the west of the cemetery, which involved clipping through green-briar, and it is a promising spot, I found a few and sign for many more. But also sign of turkey. I'm so pissed at them that I can hardly express my anger. I'll shoot, if I see one tomorrow, and turn it into a forcemeat. Turkey pate on toast points with olives. Green leaves fluttering, red maple and sassafras, the windows are open, the smells are fecund and sweet. Breaking Morel Rule #1, I make a second mushroom dish the same day. The rule clearly states one dish per day, the rest to be dried. Still, at the end of the season last year I was making Duxelles, which, the way I've adapted it, becomes almost a pate. Finely minced morels, finely minced sweet onion, crushed pistachio nuts, and butter, saute for ten minutes, then let it set up in the fridge for an hour. I like this on those little rye rounds, with sweet gherkins. Truly, one of the best things ever, you don't know whether to weep or just go ahead and die. I'll get back on my oyster schedule this week, and I'm looking forward to several combinations with morels. Also cream cheese and lox with Duxelles on a bagel. Best not to think too far ahead, lest I palpitate my heart. Sunday meal on a ship-of-line was always that British pudding thing, oats, with dried fruit, and pork fat, maybe a piece of gristle you could chew for a while. Read more...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spring Text

Sassafras, and now the sumac are budding. There's a blush of color in the hollow. Cold water from the wet-weather springs is the sweetest I've ever tasted. Enough morels for a omelet, split toasted cornbread with red onion jam. The 'Fresh Eggs' signs have begun appearing, and in this flush, I'm eating a lot of them. If I supply the carton, I usually get eggs for $2 a dozen, which is often cheaper than at the store, and I eat about a dozen a week. The Order Of The Omelet. I would never wear a coat with tails, nor display awards, what did I tell Diane? That I could give up a day spent reading and writing to be with her, talk about the things we shared in common. Of course I could, look forward to, am excited about, I'm not immune to social contact. But most of it is crap. I'd rather be alone. As I understand it, The Battle Of The Nile, was about denying Napoleon North Africa. Egypt. Napoleon is like a Randy Newman song. Putin. Trump. The first Whip-O-Will, but it doesn't have its song down yet, like an orchestra tuning up. Fairly often I'd be sleeping in an aisle, having shut down my crew so the orchestra could rehearse. There are few things better than hearing the Boston Symphony Orchestra tuning up. Maybe sex with an alien, but I've never done that. But I did hear the BSO tune up twenty times. It always struck me as Eastern music. Hot day, over eighty degrees and shut down Black Dell when I went out mushrooming. More than a dozen morels, so I chop them with an onion, brown in butter, and add a can of chicken broth. Mashed potatoes make a great thickening agent. I serve this on toast, it's one of my favorite things. A good conversation with Samara in Denver, wondering about the snow there. She said the roads were dry, the plowed piles were melting, and they needed the moisture. No problem getting around; the ridge, I tell her is much the same. I need to get to town, and tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful, so my intention is to stop by the pub, buy some potato wedges on the way home, an order of fried stuffed jalapeno peppers, and hole up with some fiction. Samara calls back, to extend the conversation, but Kinsey had come over to talk about books, and that takes precedence. And she had brought a dozen farm fresh eggs. Pullet eggs, but none the less, three will get you two. My clothes are generally frayed and stained, but clean. On long sea-duties, blockades and such, fresh water was a problem for personal washing and clothes. Usually clothes were rinsed in urine, as a kind of bleach, then washed in seawater. This must have been damned uncomfortable. Pooping was not done from the poop-deck, but at the bow of the ship, the heads, which were just planks with holes in them, in a man-of-war ten each side, depending on the tack, the sailors mostly hung in the rigging and dropped their drawers to the leeward. Toilet paper was a problem. There wasn't any. And the food, my god, was awful. 500 to 800 men on a ship 200 feet by 60 for two years. Oatmeal, cooked in last night's fat, for breakfast. That fat, called slush, was saved daily, half went to the ship, for treating ropes, the other half made a 'slush-fund' for the cooks, to sell to the tallow merchants when they made land-fall. Cook fires were extinguished during battle. Rat jerky was fairly common. Scurvy was common, but by 1805 it was known that citrus could prevent that, so grog (two issues a day) was now one measure of rum, two of water, and one of lemon juice, with a taste of molasses. On shaved ice, with a sprig of mint, this is still a pretty good drink. Read more...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Plain Speak

Bit of a tousle out at the compost pile. Hissing and growling. They know me and my slingshot, so when the light goes on and I appear at the door, they slink off, two dogs and a bob-cat. Wide awake, woke Black Dell with a slap on the shoulder, stretched, washed my face, wandered over to the island for a wee dram. I can usually divine the state of the world when I roll a cigaret. Those loose pieces of tobacco, the inherent problems involved with turning a flat rectangle of paper into a cylinder, which end to put in your mouth, some things signify. A large cannon ball, a 24 pounder, with six pounds of powder in the charge, is moving rather slowly, it can be seen. You could dodge a cannon ball. Step aside and swirl your cape. It sometimes happened that the sonic blast of a close shot killed someone, without a mark on their body. More often it was fragments of a six inch ball of cast iron breaking apart, and the splinters. Guts and body parts. I have to take a break (after three days) from sea battles, blood and gore. I've been reading about Horsetails (Equisetum) because it's one of the plants planted on dikes, and I've been interested for years in the category of plants that can stand a bit of salt water, to start the reclamation process. Also, the endless salt-pans out west were interesting. Over the last couple of decades it's been a minor reading diversion. Equisetum, above all other known plants, takes gold out of soil. I knew there were plants that did this, but Horsetail seems to be the best. Sea water carries trace gold, but what I was thinking about was planting a nice stand around some mine tailings. The smelting process is simply to burn the dried stems. A few morels, budding through the duff, and tomorrow holds great promise, so I'll be in the woods most of the day. I need to get out, having been holed up for days reading naval history. Except for lunch at B's yesterday, which was delightful, AND I came home with another meal of the extraordinary chicken wings. Grilled, then doused in butter and sauce and re-grilled. They were large, twice the size you would expect, like young turkey wings, and I'd been thinking about that, where they came from. Ohio produces a lot of eggs, and these are the wings of ladies who are done with their laying. The rest of them becomes a reconstituted chicken product. A great many thighs, according to Harrison, who was probably making it up, go to Russia. After pork tenderloin, I'd have to say, I like cooking with chicken thighs best. They go so well with citrus and fruits. If I'm feeling surgical, I'll bone them and stuff them with crabmeat. Pound them out, roll them up, top with a wine and butter sauce. I served these at a cooking gig once, and to the dismay of the hostess, everyone was in the kitchen with me, eating fried chicken skin. A Cape Cod friend, so this goes back a ways, calls. She's going to be in the area in June and wants to visit, I'm right up front with the downside, no running water, no TV, the outhouse; but she eats meat, and that's rather a plus. She says she'll chance it, so we'll have to work out the logistics, which are complicated by the fact that the only bridge will probably be closed. Read more...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

More Nelson

Yet another hole in my knowledge. I don't know a damned thing about the Battle of the Nile. I remember reading a book (the only history book on my parents bookshelf, which ran mostly to Perry Mason and Rex Stout) when I was quite young, about the effect of sea power on history. A second day researching Trafalgar and some of the people involved, which leads to rereading parts of some Melville (White Jacket), and other sources of information about working conditions and the actual firing of cannon. Interrupted by a scam phone call, claiming to be about an IRS issue. Interested in the scam, I play along with it. Involved me sending them a one-time payment to get the IRS off my back. I have to laugh because I've been so honest with my taxes that I actually have overpaid by losing benefits to which I was entitled. B and I were talking the other day about how not getting arrested was one of the foundational principles of our lives. At any rate, I found the phone call amusing, then called the scam-call hot line to report it. Preying on the poor is big business. The IRS might legitimately ask how I had gotten out of debt and retired, but the record will show that I was merely frugal. Today, washing some underwear and socks by hand, eating cat-tail shoots with a cream sauce on toast, listening to Bach, I was struck with the fact that I wasn't a part of the social world. Part of the ballast, in a Man-O-War, was sand, buckets of sand everywhere, gunners didn't wear shoes, and sand gave them traction against the blood running to the scuppers. A gun crew was six, usually one side would help the other. Usually a broadside was one side, but breaking the line, finally, the Brits completely took control. Collingwood, who took over command, realized early that they had won. Much of this battle was fought at extremely close quarters, and the British were better gunners. B stopped by, to ask me to lunch/dinner tomorrow afternoon, some chicken wings he needed to get out of the freezer. I agree, naturally; food and conversation with B is a special treat. I do want to talk with TR tomorrow, and if I'm going off the ridge I might as well go to town. I'd like to run out to Home Depot, a significant drive, and buy that grill. Sometimes, in the heat of battle, a ship might just loose a broadside to create more smoke. The 'powder monkeys' were kids or women. The carnage was unbelievable. I didn't go to town, reading about the rigging on a ship-of-the-line; finally do go down to B's for a feast of excellent wings, with Texas fries, and an avocado/sprout salad. A beer and a couple of hours of conversation. We both have an endless stock of stories, so one leads to another. Comfortable silences. Coming back home, the slanted light, a thousand spider-web filaments in the trees, a prismatic world. Musically it would be harmonics. Last night an hour of good blues from Jorma's Music Ranch, delta blues with that slack guitar, and I just shut down thinking, got a drink and sat back. It's difficult to describe, that sense of being totally involved in a particular music, Bach or Son House, where you lose track of everything else, anything else hanging on the next sound. Miles. I've listened to some of those recordings hundreds of times, and what you hear is what's left out, the gap, that's your problem, he seems to be saying, here are the salient notes. Which he mutes and aims upstage. Fuck you and your preconceptions, he seems to say, either you get it or you're a Republican. Read more...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Feux de Joie

Splinters. A major cause of death and serious injury in 19th century naval battles. Cannon balls ripping a ship apart. Trafalgar was the last major sea battle fought with sailing ships. Brutal. I pick the book up again as soon as it's light, reading about Nelson's death, just as the battle was ending, then a wonderful section about getting the body back home. The Brits just threw bodies overboard, jotted down the name and cleared the decks, but an admiral you pickled and took back home. Then the horrible summation, total casualties and amputations. As it happens I know quite a bit about field amputations. Years ago I was the sole recipient of Jude's Bizarre Book Of The Month club and one of the books was a guide for field amputations. Two minutes was considered decent. You give the guy opium, if you have some, or a large glass of rum, the assistants hold him down; you cut through all the meat and muscle, expose the bone, push the upper, saved, part out of the way, saw off the bone, and round it crudely with a rasp, pull back the saved parts, flap them over, stitch it shut. At some point you have to cauterize the wound. Most of the victims died anyway. Blood loss and splinters to the brain. I'd jotted down several names and terms I didn't understand, and at some point I took a cushion over to the stairwell, there are book cases on either side, and the 11th Britannica lives there. There's a staircase window, and a staircase sconce, and there's a push pin where I can post an index card with my notes. Usually, after a time, I go get a drink and roll a smoke, some times I put on a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and smoke a pipe. You know me.

The creek is dancing
pure water cascading down
the rocky stream bed

Nelson's strategy was brilliant, break the line, take advantage of the wind, and when you broke through the line, you could rake an enemy vessel on his unprotected stern. It worked more or less perfectly. The Brits lost not a single ship and captured 19 of the French/Spanish vessels. It's easy to imagine most of the battle because there are so many first hand accounts. I also had not thought about the fact that in light airs, at close quarters, smoke would be such an important issue. Nelson lived, below decks, dying, until the battle was won. He died of a musket ball, shot from the rigging of a French ship, that went in through his shoulder, traveled through his left lung, and broke his spine. I'm completely engaged, reading this account, transported. A vivid imagination is a cheap source of entertainment. I fry a large skillet of potatoes, when I know I'm going to be involved, so I can graze; dump out a can of black olives, slice off some smoked salami, a cranberry-pecan encrusted goat cheese, some left-over cornbread. This is reading at its highest level, where the fabric of nature is breeched. What I mean is where you completely lose track of yourself and you are that guy, ramming home the charge. Some of these ships had three decks of guns, 112 gun crews, with marines and the guys that ran the ship, 800 or a 1,000 guys living and working in a space 200 feet by 60. Work the logistics any way you want. The Brits had been running harbor patrol forever, practicing their gunnery, coming about in slack wind, they were just better at the business at hand. Also, shooting at the waterline, rather than blowing away the rigging.