Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Betting on Rosemary

This past week my beloved basil plants froze and blackened. Because they had taught me always to seize the day, I had made basil paste the week before, so they live on in spirit. The rosemary plant is the only herb left. It's in the sunniest corner of the front garden plot, and I am betting on it to survive the winter. Chances here are two out of three.

My first rosemary plant survived two mild winters. Last year's rosemary plant I bought, memorably, from the Weird Sisters collective at the St. Louis Pagan Fest. My high hopes for it were dashed after the lengthy February deep-freeze. This year's plant came from a fancy garden shop with a snooty clerk who could barely trouble himself to ring up only a single $3 purchase. Nonetheless it has always been cheerful and bushy.

I like herbs because they teach me. If you have herbs, information about their powers and lore will somehow come to you, as will recipes. Until I grew basil I had never heard of pesto. With rosemary I make a lemon/butter sauce from an Italian recipe known as "chicken under a brick." Maybe free-association gave me the idea, but rather than dig up the rosemary plant and bring it indoors, this year I built a small brick wall around its base to hold heat and protect it from sharp winds.

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Apple a Year

The Caramel Apple is a tradition with me. On a beautiful October afternoon I seat myself outdoors under the warm blue sky, and relish every bite of this annual seasonal treat. Nuggety crushed peanuts and pecans, thick sticky caramel, tart hard juicy red apple all in one bite -- on a stick -- the concept alone is sheer genius. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you can get a hold of, and make time to enjoy, a caramel apple (also known in the U.S. as "taffy apple"; in the U.K. as a "toffee apple"). With all their wealth and fame Cleopatra and Genghis Khan never tasted anything like it. And the gods of summer can only look on, envious and hungry, at this gift from the gods of autumn -- to their mortals.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Working way too hard to dig six inches down so I could break up the dry soil and plant some bulbs, my face throbbed and I started to feel lightheaded. So I put the shovel down and stood right in the garden plot, thinking I might die of a heart attack right then and there.

That's exactly how my father died, at age 63. Digging in his garden on a fall morning he pitched face forward onto the earth, and a neighbor found him. That was 25 years ago. I'm not as old, and I don't smoke like he did, but I'm know that I'm not too young to get that phone call from God. When he calls, there's no choice but to go.

I waited for my heart to stop beating so hard. It didn't. I thought, "Well, it's better to die outside the house than inside; my neighbor will come home from work at 3:30 or so, so I won't by lying here too much more than six hours. And it's better to die fast than slow; they say it takes about 90 seconds; hope it doesn't hurt too much. . ."

False alarm. I took it very easy after that, planting my crocus bulbs and three small perennials called -- what? Campanula. Bellflowers. Blue. Now I know one thing for sure: They'll be here in the springtime whether I am here or not.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Stained-Glass Chapel of Autumn

I dread autumn -- before it gets here. Then, when it comes -- its blue sky, translucent vivid reds and yellows, warm browns, black branches -- I step outside and it's just like a chapel; practically drives me to my knees. Here's one view. I could choose any of a hundred, a million views, all of it rustling, the light shifting, furry and feathery creatures weaving through them like spirits.

The natural Ozark foothills forest is oak and hickory. Non-native, invasive cedars (tall evergreens, conical like Christmas trees) came west with the pioneers; we know that because the oldest cedars are 150 years old. (But who can hate a tree?) What a birthday: 150! If only I may live 100 more years and see 100 more autumns!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Cleaning a Country House

Every Saturday we kids worked with Mom until her place was hospital-clean. In fact I didn't see a truly dirty house until I was in my teens. But no way I can keep clean this half-log-cabin half-concrete-garage. It was built in 1930. The door and window sashes aren't true anymore. Nothing can be sealed. Fuss and scrambling occur in a certain closet, so I open it only to throw in a turquoise-colored cube that poisons mice. Mud, leaves, gravel, all get tracked in. Creatures get in: wasps, crickets, ants, wormy things with a thousand legs, sleek little skinks -- one who settled in the house finally needed a name, so I called him Harrison, and grew fond of him. I have a great stone fireplace but spiders live in the cracks and declivities, build webs from ceiling to lamps, have spider babies, and cast little papery silver capsules onto the mantel and floor. And dust/pollen, from the trees, that sifts in and covers every flat surface with its gauze.

Did I mention tar? Scuffmarks from boots? Motor oil? Faucets caked with hardened lime?

They say the way to clean is to prioritize. So, first, I try to evacuate the place. I warn my unwelcome guests with, "You have fifteen seconds to get out of my sight," and hope they listen. I sweep daily, vacuum up their webs and lairs about every fortnight, and mop the floors and clean the bathroom each month (unless company is coming), and in truly ambitious moments I will dust (although it's like the myth of Sisyphus), and pour baking soda and vinegar down the drains, and dribble corrosive on the calcifications around the faucets and then scrape them clean. But I have accepted there will never be even half a moment when this house will be Martha Stewart spotless and under control. There's too much of life here; no matter how I try I can't stamp it out. And I like it. That's why I live in a country house.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Meet Bugs and Amphibians Online!

Meet the friends that came by one morning during this warm dry week. Mister "Walking Stick" (Diaphomera femorata, related to the grasshopper) had applied himself to the screen on the eastern window, and stuck there a good long time. I've seen him, other years, in green and yellow, but this year he was armored in bronze. And, same morning, this baby turtle got caught up in a corner between walls and had to be picked up by her still-translucent three-inch shell, and set face forward. And then -- she (or he) ran! I do mean she high-tailed it! She fled! I barely got the photo!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why Rabbits are Divine

1. They appear and vanish as if by magic.
2. They are everywhere and nowhere.
3. Their homes are unknown and unseen.
4. Their nation abides by a vow of silence.
5. They do no deliberate wrong.
6. They are watchful and wise.
7. In every culture they symbolize virtues and good fortune: fertility, wealth, luck, gentleness, rebirth, athleticism, generosity, cleverness.
8. Their softness and beauty disarms even the hardest heart, and warms the coldest, and rejuvenates the oldest.
9. They inspire delight and thus confer blessings on wherever they appear.
10. A rabbit’s presence makes us kind toward one another.
We make images of rabbits and give them to our children without knowing why. We create and tell countless stories about wonderful rabbits. I believe that these are acts of worship, because deep down we know that rabbits -- bunnies, coneys, bunbuns -- are divine.