Monday, June 30, 2008

Yellow Cherry Tomatoes

I spy with my little eye....something yellow.

I love yellow pear tomatoes, so this year when I decided to grow a few vegetables in pots, I scoured the local nurseries for a yellow pear plant. This one had the right picture on the little white plastic stake. But when it started to produce fruit, the small green beginnings looked suspiciously non-pear-like. They had no necks. My sister, the master gardener, confirmed over the phone that I had been misled. Instead, I have yummy ripe yellow cherry tomatoes. Delicious, low-acid, perfect, popped right off the vine. They are not what I wanted, but it's not worth making a fuss.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Roasting Marshmallows

There is nothing like sitting around a roaring fire roasting marshmallows on a hot summer night. Choosing the right stick is of paramount importance. It has to be long and narrow with smooth bark. A pointy end helps; otherwise the marshmallow develops a huge hole and has been know to fall into the flame. Not that this has ever happened to me, of course. Ahem. There are various techniques to toasting. I prefer the char-it-till-it’s-black method. But then I have no patience for the slow-constant-turning method. I actually like when it catches fire. After blowing it out, I slip off the outer layer and pop it into my mouth then put the marshmallow back in. The underlayer then toasts to a gooey golden brown.

As I sat starring into the flames last night, the neighbors popped over with their 2 girls. I sent them off to the wood pile to select sticks. They toasted and ate marshmallow after marshmallow, thrilled with the woodsy-ness of it all. We fed the fire late into the night; telling stories, pointing out constellations, listening to the trill of the tree frogs and the random early bang of firecrackers. I love being part of the innocence of childhood.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Indian Pipe Flowers

The rain came down in a steady drizzle drazzle. I went up to the wooded part of my property to look for the Timber Rattler that my neighbors swear they saw; I saw no snakes but I did see lots of these. Pretty cool, huh.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mulberry Fruit

For the record, mulberries are edible.

Having arrived early for my writing class and not wanting to wait in the hot car, I decided to explore a nearby park on the Hudson River. Three young boys with ball gloves hanging from their handlebars pedaled past me as I walked along the shaded road. Drawn by the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle, I ambled over to a copse of trees. I stood in the dappled shade taking in deep lungsful of the sweet smell trying to make an olfactory memory for the long winter months ahead. Looking up I saw that the trees supporting the vines were mulberry and that the fruit was ripening. Reaching up I pulled off a few berries, rolling their sweet-tart flavor around on my tongue. I fell back in time to my youth when we ate the warm berries from the trees and used their rich purple juice as “lipstick”.

The boys came back up the street obviously disappointed from whatever mission they had been on. One of them saw me plucking fruit from the tree and shouted “Hey lady, you can’t eat those, they are poisonous.” I looked over at them. “No they’re not,” I shouted, “these are mulberries.” Curious, they rode over to look at the tree. “How do you know?” I plucked ripe berries from the tree, putting the purple fruit in their sweaty hands. They watched carefully as I ate some more then nibbled on the berries. Surprised, they looked at me like was I wise woman, sprung from the ground. ”They’re good!” One boy play-punched another, “You said they were poisonous.” I took the opportunity to talk with them about eating things in the wild and being careful to know exactly what it was before putting it on their mouths. We talked about mulberries, examined the leaves and the fruit. They pedaled off, their hands and mouths stained purple. Smiling, I walked back toward class with purple “lipstick.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nature walk on the first day of summer

I walked down a path strewn with wildflowers.
Warblers, vireos, and cuckoos were singing and carrying caterpillars to feed their insatiable young.
An Eastern Kingbird peeked out barely visible as she sat on her nest.
A fuzzy baby Baltimore Oriole shrieked until a harried father popped a juicy black tidbit in its mouth.

Stopping to watch a Dung Beetle roll his heavy load,
I noticed hundreds of minuscule brown toads the size of my pinkie nail hopping frantically out of the way of lumbering feet.
A small Northern Ring-neck Snake darted off the path into the grass and a large black rat snake lay curled in a tree like an inner tube tossed for spite.

Dragonflies darted like glittering jewels of blue and green.
I would need to bring a backpack full of field guides to identify the abundance of nature that surrounds us.
Happy first day of summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wildflower Gardening by Default

I am taking a laissez faire approach to gardening this year. I have not pulled a weed. (Well, accept for dandelions, clover, garlic mustard and vetch. Oh yeah, and globe thistle sproutlings. Egads, what was I thinking when I planted them?) In the beginning, I was too busy, but then I noticed the miniscule white blossoms of mountain sandwort, a blushing pink lady’s slipper and a burst of purple from a dame’s rocket, so I had to leave them. I never got around to weeding a bed close to the woods only to discover that what I had been pulling all these years is wild sarsaparilla.

I have decided to catalog what it is that I have growing instead of trying to tame it. Here is the list so far. I'll update it as the season progresses

Wild Sarsaparilla
Pink Lady’s Slipper
Mountain Sandwort
Mountain Laurel
Highbush Blueberry
White Wood Aster
Whorled Loosestrife
Two-flowered Cynthia
Witch Hazel
Butterfly Weed
Common Mugwort
Lady’s Thumb
Dame’s Rocket
Yellow Hawkweed
White Campion
Philadelphia Fleabane
Ground Ivy
Cow Vetch
Sweet Fern

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Homework Assignment

Have I told you that I am taking a writing class at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center? This week’s assignment was to take a bit character, someone ancillary to the plot, and write the story from his perspective. In order for this to work, I felt I needed to choose a story that everyone would know. I love O. Henry, so I chose Ransom of Red Chief. Tell me what you think.

Abe slowly drew his hand down his luxurious gray beard in a manner that he imagined made him look ponderously thoughtful. It was an affectation that annoyed the hell out of his wife Martha. “Mother, you ‘bout done in there? C’mon out here and sit a spell. I got news from town.” With her back to him, she rolled her eyes; she was dog-tired and he could be long-winded. She had been putting up beans and standing over a boiling canner for hours had left her limp as a wet noodle. His voice grew louder as he tried to entice her out of the kitchen. His eyes twinkled with glee. He threw out his line with the gem of a lure, “’s’bout that old skin-flint Dorset over in Summit.” After 47 years of living with her, he knew the right bait to use, and just how to set the hook. “His son’s gone missin’--been lost or stolen.”

Martha, unable to withstand a juicy bit of gossip appeared at the screen door wiping her hands on her apron; she let the door slap behind her as she came out on the porch. The duet of tree frogs and crickets pulsed in the hot spring evening. A tiny breeze cooled the beads of sweat on her brow. She eased her old bones into the front porch rocker. “Abe, you know I can’t abide that man. He’s awful pious passin’ the plate on Sunday, but on Monday he’ll take the farm away faster’n greased lightenin’.” She shook her head, huffing through her nose. Folding her hands in her lap, she pushed against the wooden floorboards with her black lace-up shoes setting the chair in motion. But unused to sitting with idle hands, she got back up to fetch a mess of beans to shell for the next day’s canning. Sitting back down, she gently tipped back and forth in the gloaming; her hands going through the familiar motion of splitting the pod with her thumbnail and pushing the beans into a bowl. “Well, do tell then,” she said. “What’s happen'd t'at little hellion?” Now that he had her attention, he reached into the front pocket of his bib overalls for his pipe and tobacco pouch. He zipped open the creased brown leather and began to stuff the bowl of his pipe, packing it tight with his index finger. Scraping a match against the underside of the rocking chair he puffed out the sweet-smelling smoke.

“Well,” he started, “ After I finish’t plowin’ and turned out Sal, I went t' town to pick up some chick'n feed.” Martha nodded. “Yep,” she said “I know. And you fergot to get the scratch.” “Yep, you’re right. Well, I’ll send Linc down to get it tamorra.” Abe pushed on, “Whilst I was at the feed store, I fell to talkin’ with ol’ Sam Sanders. He done tole me that the Dorset boy is missin' - lost or stolen”.

He looked over at Martha to gauge her interest but could not see her face in the gathering dusk. In the pause, Martha mused half to herself, “Lost or stolen, my eye. I betcha he ran off. No doubt that little hooligan wuz throwin’ stones at that poor little cat of Miss Carlisle’s. He knows how much she sets store by it. She probly marched herself t'over there to complain. That boy would get a whoppin’, if he was a son of mine. Old man Dorset is too high ‘n mighty to do it and the mother, poor thang, is too young and frail to handle such a rowdy.” Abe nodded to himself. What she said was true, but how she knew what was going on in Summit, 3 miles away, when she only went to town on Sundays never ceased to amaze him. “Yep, apples don’t fall far from the tree,” he pronounced. They rocked, their chairs creaking in unison.

Abe puffed on his pipe, then continued. “Sam and I went acrost to the post office to see what Bill’d heard. The usuals was there. We wuz all sittin' around chewin' the fat when that young fella came in. Him that rented our buggy. He tipped his hat and asked what the fuss wuz about. I tole him that the leadin' citizen over in Summit, Elder Dorset’s, son had come up missin'. I mentioned it t’him special like, so he’d know to keep an eye out. “What’d he say?” Martha’s disembodied voice queried from next to him. “Nuthin’. He just bought some of that God-awful t’bacca that Bill pretends is so highfalutin’, ast the price of black-eyed peas, posted a letter and left.” “He sent a letter? That’s mighty peculiar.” Who’s it dressed to?” Abe shook his head, “Didn’t see it and Bill twouldn’t say. He did say in a loud voice that the messenger from Summit would pick it up in ‘bout an hour.” “Huh,” Martha grunted. “I still say it’s peculiar. It’s not like that young fella knows anyone here ‘bouts.”

They rocked in silence for a few minutes both lost in thought. “Ya think the boy’s run off?” Abe considered the question. “Mebbe, he is a bit of a pester-pot.” Martha snorted. “Pester-pot. Abraham, you do have a way with words. That child is a terrible, mean-spirited, spiteful hooligan, I don’t care if he is ten. I can’t image what he’ll be like when he grows up.” Abe harrumphed in agreement. “He’s a bad’un, alright." Abe puffed and Martha shelled beans, their quiet sounds blending with the night noises around them. “Town’s folk upset?” Martha prompted, looking for more of the story. “Nah, not from what I seed. Folks seemed glad for the peace and quiet, him being gone an’all. Mark my words; he’ll be back, right as rain. If he’s bin stolen, those bodies that’s done it are in for a licken.” Martha got up, the beans shelled, “Papa, you're probly right, as always. I’m goin’ to bed. You comin’?” “After bit, Mother, after bit.” Abe rocked on, stroking his bead and thinking about how he had been a hellion too, in his youth; having run off more than once. He was sure the Dorset boy was out playing at being an Indian somewhere close by. He’d be back, by hook or by crook.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Fish Story

Hazel and Leah were friends, neighbors, fisherwomen and my grandmothers.

My mother's parents, Omer and Hazel, bought a small resort in Michigan on Little Platt Lake in January 1948 and named it Buckeye Resort. There were 9 cabins and a small store. My granddad worked on the boats and would take people out fishing while my grandmother and mother would mind the store and cabins. My father's parents, Casey and Leah, lived next door.

On a chilly May morning during trout season, Hazel shouted across to Leah to see if she wanted to go out fishing. Leah, always eager for any reason not to be in the house, agreed. They gathered their gear and met at the resort’s boathouse. Hazel pulled the cord on the Johnson motor and the flat-bottomed rowboat puttered away from the dock. They were headed across the lake behind the point. My mother watched them go and then started her day’s work.

She happened to be standing on the dock several hours later when they pulled back in. She reached down for the anchor rope and hauled the boat up on the ground. Both women were excited, talking over each other; they had had a good day of fishing. In addition to the mess of perch and sunnies, Hazel had caught an enormous brown trout. They were giggling like schoolgirls. On the way back across the lake, they had made plans for a big fish fry for both families and they would invite the Lillys from across the road. Leah offered to have it at her house. While making their plans, they decided to take the fish over to the Benzie County Record to see if it was record-breaking. Both Hazel and Leah had their pictures taken with the trout. But the paper got mixed up and only printed Leah’s picture with the trout and she got the public credit for catching it. That is the picture you see. I, would have been hopping mad.

In the end, 3 families had a wonderful fish fry with fried potatoes, baked beans and salad and no doubt there was dessert of some kind, knowing my grandmothers.

Odd, how things work out. What are the interesting stories in your family?

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Ah, the 3 H’s--hazy, hot and humid. My 3 favorite words. Apparently, I, alone in the universe, love the heat. Summer is my favorite season. I love lying on top of the covers with the window fan blowing cool night air over me. I love summer’s warm embrace as I walk outside after work frozen from my chilly office. I love the hot blast of air ruffling my hair as I drive down the highway with all the windows down and the music blaring. I love sitting on the back deck with a sweating glass of gin and tonic listening to the tree frogs. I love watching the bats flutter through the air snapping up the biting insects on warm summer evenings. I love getting up before the heat rises and watering the garden in my housedress and that the neighbors think it’s OK. I love the cool feel of the tiles on my bare feet. I love a big bowl of icy watermelon for lunch. I love the sun on my head. There is nothing about the heat that I do not like. (Uh, well, I do not like sunburn. And I do not love sweating. And you have to make sure to dress for it. And I did think I was going to suffocate once in Managua.)

But having said all that, remember, I live on a mountain where it never gets hot enough to need A/C but every room has a ceiling fan. I leave folded comforters on the foot of the beds, because you will need to pull them up in the dead of the night, even in July. We often sit wrapped in blankets late on summer evenings around the fire pit roasting marshmallows or passing a bottle of Hypnotiq. It is never too hot to eat outdoors and the cold waters of the lake are down the road. Summer on the mountain is fleeting, but spectacular.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Emergency Intervention

I flipped on my left blinker to turn off my street, looking left, right, left…then right again. What is that? I squinted. On the street over by the mailboxes was a long piece of black tape and something wadded up. It looked like trash. I turned left and went two blocks then turned around. I had a sneaking suspicion.

I pulled up for a quick peek before heading off to work. I walked around the car to find out--it was what I thought—a full-grown black snake enmeshed in a wad of deer netting. Crap! I toed it with my black linen open-toed espadrille. It writhed. Double-crap!

I took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. I would have to do something. It was still alive. I happened to have a pair of scissors in the pocket of the driver’s side door. I never keep scissors in the car, but I guess I understand the parsel tongue of the snake gods and somehow knew I would need them.

I squatted on the street next to the snake. Its tongue flickered out. It was tangled from its head to about ¼ of the way down it body. Working my way toward the head, I eased a section of the black plastic filament away from its scales and snipped.

Snip by snip, square by square, I cut the snake out of the netting. The freer it got, the more it wiggled, until finally it was curling around on itself. I picked it, and the still attached mess of netting up, taking it up to the rock wall by the driveway. There on top of a gigantic boulder that I used as a table, I finished cutting it out. As I got closer to the head, around its throat and eyes, it stopped moving. When it was finally free and I pulled off the last piece, I nudged it off the rock and into the flowerbed. It slithered from view. I hope it returns the favor and hangs around. I need a few black snakes to ease the chipmunk over-population situation at my house. I am going to make a point of gathering up all of the deer netting anywhere on my property. I will never use it again. This is not the first time I have had to cut a snake out of it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The importance of guests

I LOVE entertaining. Yes, I like to cook and entertaining gives me an excuse to do it; but more importantly are the guests. If the food is bad, you can manage around it if you have to, if the guests are boring, you are sunk. I invite people that are charming, witty, well-traveled, well-read, adventurous, playful, good storytellers and good friends. Parties at my house are frequent and some are annual events. There often is hilarity and sometimes singing and dancing far into the night. Occasionally there is sitting around the firepit with burnt marshmallows being pulled off sticks to be sandwiched between a piece of chocolate and graham crackers.

Once in a while visiting friends of friends get roped into the fun. This has happened a few times. This past weekend Michael and David were here. I met them years ago at a mystery dinner. They were as engaging as I remembered.

Deviled eggs (brought by a guest)
Pigs in a blanket
Pear martinis

The most amazing homemade mushroom soup (brought by a different guest)
Artichokes steamed in chicken broth with white wine and fresh herbs (same guest as the soup)
White wine

Marineated bison steak
Roasted corn on the cob
Potato salad
Green Salad with fresh herbs
Red wine

Strawberry Rhubarb pie with strawberry ice cream
French-pressed Coffee

Thank you all for entertaining me. The flowers are still lovely and the kitchen is finally clean.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Civil War Reenactment

Long Pond Ironworks hosted the 6th New Hampshire and the 12th Alabama regiments for a civil war reenactment this weekend. I popped in for a dose of history. While chatting with one of the officers about the heat and the need to always wear their wool jackets buttoned to the neck, he told me in a loud stage whisper that there was going to be a skirmish. One of the scouts had just reported some of the Rebs marching through the woods. I skedaddled to the killing fields, as it were. On the way, I shook hands with Abe Lincoln. He had come to see his boys in action. Pretty bold of him, I have to say.

The boys in blue marched down the hill toward the Alabama camp. On the barked order from their commander, they hid behind trees, stumps and a stone wall to prepare their guns. As the two sides fought back and forth advancing and retreating though the haze of smoke and the smell of gunpowder, I thought about all of those men that fought in that war. I have at least 2 great, great grandfathers that fought, one from each side: Granville S. Robertson and Jeremiah Wood. My father’s family at the time was living in Virginia, my mother’s in southern Ohio. Both of them made it through the war; came home, made babies and 140 years later, I am researching their involvement. I do not have pictures of either one of them, so I offer these from today’s event.

Did your family fight in the Civil War? On which side?