Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Pleasures

Yes, when I was a kid, fifty years ago now, I got the classic orange in the toe of my Christmas stocking, and I hope you did too. I don't hang stockings anymore, and my Christmas trees are right outside, but I have never loved anything in quite the way I love fruits. All of em. Divine shapes, colors and scents. In winter, the citrus fruits, which are improbably abundant this time of year. When I drew in pastels that's all I drew, could spend all day just admiring an orange and its blue shadow. And not only this, when you open it (or rip the skin off) YOU are the first person ever to see the inside of it. And to top it all off, it's good to eat. Here's a bowl of winter sunshine in winter sunshine. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

See My Christmas Present

See the overgrown brush? I'd planned on hacking at it two hours a day for four months until I cleared it. (See entry "My Machete," Dec. 19, in menu at left.) This is the "before" picture.

See my friend and hero Reeve? As my Christmas present he brought his gas-powered brushcutter and cut all the brush and briars from hell's half-acre in one hour or less, and then made a bonfire of the debris, using just one match.

The "after" picture. (The fallen branch along the bottom is the same as in the "before" picture; there's just a lot less of it.) Best Christmas present. Reeve got a big omelet, a big hug, and other good and valuable consideration.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Doc Sargent, Revealed

Photocopied pages of a local-history book finally reveal the real Doc Sargent who gave his name to a nearby road. Dr. Jesse Sargent (1872-1952) was a country doctor who lived in a stone house with his wife on what became Doc Sargent Road; the house still stands. He is described as "a portly man with mustache and goatee who nearly always wore a gray suit" and drove a Pierce-Arrow. He loved children and from 1917 to 1923 held Christmas programs for them in his home; he also sang in the choir at the Presbyterian church. "For years," Doc got his "simple medicines" from the local "root digger," said to be a freed slave living in a log cabin no longer standing. He was, of course, sometimes paid in eggs or meat or whatever people had to trade for his services. Toward the end of his life, Doc Sargent moved to Springfield, MO, and died and is buried there.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Machete

Demetrius the Gardener died almost two years ago now, and left in my garage his machete, his favorite and most savage tool, which I never touched until today because I was afraid of its size, weight, and wickedly sharp double-edged head. It's 54 inches tall. I'm 62 inches tall. He also left me all the heavy outdoor work he used to do.

My winter project is clearing two years' worth of weeds, briars, fallen branches and Japanese honeysuckle around my twin oaks, with an eye toward a hammock or treehouse between them someday, and I've toiled along with a weed whip and then brushcutters, but in places the brush (you can see some of it behind my blue jacket there) made barriers so dense I couldn't cut through them except with an axe -- or the machete. As usual when I'm reluctant I told myself, "Ain't nobody gonna do it FOR you," and got to work and learned it. The concave side was good for hacking down piles and layers, six feet tall, of dry fallen branches; the convex side for pulverizing them.

While I worked I kept peeling off clothing and wondered why I dreaded winter when it wasn't that bad at all. And every now and then I rested, because I'm older now, and saw that the machete was really a handsome tool. And when I got tired I took off my work gloves and told myself, "Put the machete away now; you have no business using such a thing when you're tired," congratulating myself on my wisdom, except I told myself, "Just a few more minutes" and that's when I cut and scraped my hand -- not on the machete, but on a dry branch sticking up. I said, "Okay, I get it; that was a warning," and put the machete away for the day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Last Day of Save-A-Lot

Farewell to the Save-A-Lot grocery at 225 Thresher Drive, Eureka. The store started up in the late 1960s and the sign probably is 1970s. I began shopping there in 1998, when it wasn't as nice as it is now; on my first visit people were smoking in the store. Then they spiffed it up and it was fine for canned goods and whatever I had to buy quickly and cheaply. Not very well trafficked -- there's a Schnucks grocery store half a mile away and a Wal-Mart superstore within 4 miles -- Save-A-Lot shopping peaked during the hard times in '08 when gasoline came near $4/gallon and the people of Eureka went for groceries and back on foot.

This is probably the last photo ever to be taken of the sign; I was the lone mourner in the parking lot, going in there to get day-old bananas, two cans of Great Northern beans, and a box of cornflakes. (It MUST be Kellogg's with the rooster. I am fond of that rooster and will never give it up.) But change has come. Already there's a new spiffy "Eureka Market" sign, and they've changed the house brand to "Always Save." Although that is objectively very good advice, I don't want to be seen eating out of those cans. P.S. It closes TWO HOURS EARLIER now, too, 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Drive What?

I tried to think of things to say about this delivery car topped with a giant chicken parked at the gas station/restaurant in Doolittle, MO, along I-44. But at last I must admit: I'm speechless.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Woodpecker Apartments

Tried the Flint Quarry Trail hoping to see a flint quarry. But instead I saw Pileated Woodpecker luxury highrise apartments. Woodpeckers pair up, and you'll notice they all have the same address, but each pecks out his or her own place, giving each other space. This must be what keeps them cheerfully whooping and yammering, biggest and noisiest birds in the forest, always raising more kids just like themselves, and my favorite birds of all time.

Nobody was home.

Friend of mine once said the best name for a human apartment building would be "The Balzac Apartments." I never laughed so hard.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Render Raw Suet for Bird Feeding

Reeve keeps cattle and gave me 13 lbs. of suet, or the fat from around a cow's kidneys, raw. I froze it but knew I'd eventually have to "render" it, or cook it down to pure lard the way store-bought suet is. Never done this before. Put on an apron expecting grease as I cut room-temperature hunks into one-inch pieces and tore off the "silver skin" or membrane, but it was more like handling cooked chicken breast. Cooked first batch on low flame (45 minutes), second batch on medium flame (20 minutes) until I got a golden liquid, then scooped the "cracklins" out of it...the cracklins are edible but don't taste or smell good. I was afraid rendering beef fat would stink, the way they say sheep fat stinks, but it wasn't unpleasant. Poured the liquid into disposable pans and put it on the porch to cool, and within an hour it was perfectly white hardened clean LARD, aka beef tallow, which because it's purified will stay fresh for my bird friends even in summer. Cleanup was the greasy part, because when that stuff cools -- fast -- it's hard as flint. Will I do this again? Probably not; easier to buy. But I'm proud to have done it for my birds. Finished product at right.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Buy Missouri Tree Seedlings Super Cheap

The Missouri Department of Conservation asks you to plant these native trees wherever you've got the space and desire -- their chart tells you what type of soil the trees will thrive in. Oak, Sycamore, Tulip Tree, Osage-Orange, more -- if you are Missouri, your small investment of $8 or so per seedling will last several lifetimes! Look here for the details.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Reasons to Like November

A sundae of colors this late afternoon. And yet another reason to like November: escarole soup, made today, the VERY BEST I've ever made, and economical too; found the recipe online. Serves about 4:

Escarole-Sausage Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
2 hot italian sausages
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 potato, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 head escarole, chopped
Chicken broth, about 4 or 5 cups
salt and pepper to taste

Crumble the sausage into the heated olive oil, and then the onion and garlic. Saute until the sausage is almost crisp. Add potato and carrot and saute until they are barely tender, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, drained white beans and the chopped escarole. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to adjust to your taste. Mangia from Missouri.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sex First, Work Last: Is Anyone Surprised?

"When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working."

The above is from the NYTimes today, results of a study on daydreaming and "wandering minds".

Monday, November 15, 2010

How Not to Hate November

1. Remember it is only 8 weeks until the days start getting longer.
2. There's Thanksgiving.
3. It's a good month to sit in a nook and write poetry. It's also National Novel-Writing Month.
4. November -- after deer season begins -- is the month to wear that awful orange sweater.
5. Flannel sheets on the bed; flannel pajamas; don't they feel nice?
6. Those south-facing windows get more sun.
7. The constellations Taurus and Orion, with their spectacular stellar phenomena, rise soon after sunset.
8. You can see the birds' nests in the trees, and if they're in low branches you can even collect some.
9. The sun is so low in arc that the bare trees cast fantastic shadows even in the daytime (see above).
10. The weather is great for soup-making and baking.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Healing Spring

Back in the woods, off the Infirmary Road, under this little tin roof, is the Healing Spring. I have stuck my whole head into the spring and breathed the water in, and was cured of sinus infections for several days. The trees along the quarter-mile path used to be decorated with pictures of the Pope and signs saying "Silence" and "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife," and there was even a wicker gate, very narrow, with a sign tacked to it that said "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way," but the path has undergone flooding and the monk who decorated the path and kept it nice died some years ago, and now there's a chain and a sign saying "Keep Out," but my business was too important. I had many choices and needed to ask God what I ought to be doing. So I went and knelt at the spring (which is behind the stone railing) and then lay down on a wooden bench looking up at the sky hoping to hear a directive. After a while I heard Him say, "Do SOMETHING. ANYTHING." Got up immediately, feeling energetic, and started for home where I began doing things, not paralyzed by fear of choice anymore, walking by faith and not by sight.

The Return of the Walking Stick

The Walking Stick hung around yesterday, this time on the porch screen, and he put on yellow hosiery, and you really can't see it in this photo but he striped and checkered his underside so he looked like a windowscreen from inside the porch, where I'd been sitting and reading. Today, however, a good 30 degrees colder, no sign of him.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Stick Who Loved Me

Let me put to rest all your doubts about my suitor, the Walking Stick, hangin' on my kitchen storm door trying to impress me, this time for three straight days. He's really sweet but not my type. One year he had a girlfriend, and maybe just to be spiteful he and she did you-know-what on the window screen all day. I do mean all day. Enough time for me to call people, ask them to drive over and see it. Very tantric, just joined and didn't move a muscle. But when the Walking Stick is single again, who does he call on? Not his ex, but old reliable me. I like how he automatically ASSUMES I am single and available. He does the fop thing, changing colors, and I just smile kindly, say a few admiring words, tell him the right female Walking Stick is somewhere out there waiting for him, he just has to join a church or the Beginner Aerobics class down at the community center.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who Dresses the Acorns?

Acorns by the shovelful are falling this year, bouncing from car roofs, picnic tables, right on my shoulders as I stood out of the sun under a tree, scrubbin a pot with steel wool (don't ask me what I burnt in it). Picked up a bunch and put them on a Corelle plate to model for yall. All fall I didn't have to pepper even one squirrel for stealing from my bird feeder, there's just so many acorns...they're all beautiful, I love them. Emily Dickinson has that poem about acorns (#1371) that begins:

How fits his Umber Coat
The Tailor of the Nut?
Combined without a seam
Like Raiment of a Dream—-

Who spun the Auburn Cloth?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Persimmon Week

One week a year, right now, the persimmons are ripe -- peachy-apricot-orange fruits ranging from cherry sized to apple sized. I've eaten one, but what matters to me is their BEAUTY and secret ability to forecast winter weather! And, darn, the only fruiting tree, absolutely leafless, that I found was on private property and the fruit you see pictured hung just about a foot out of my jumping and grabbing range, and that's all that kept me honest. (Demetrius called stealing other people's produce "stealth gardening.")

Persimmon trees, related to the ebony tree, are strong and hold fast against flooding -- good riverbank trees. Longbows are still made out of 'simmon wood. Persimmons grow mostly in the southeastern U.S. and Pacific, MO is in the northernmost part of their range. In the Ozarks people say if you cut a fruit in half, you can read inside how severe the coming winter will be. Their tannin makes them inedible unless ripe.

Technically the persimmon fruit is a berry, and its formal name is Diospyrus virginiana, and I still want me some.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pond on the LaBarque

Near the intersection of Highway F and St. Joseph Infirmary Road is a medium-sized pond. Someone made an earthen dam on the LaBarque and put one lone park bench on top of it, and if you sit there today this is what you will see. As always, the reflection is as enchanting as the reality. But aren't they both reality?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parsley and Sage

"First hard freeze of the year," said the weatherman. "Especially in outlying areas." That's us. Almanac says the average frost date is October 15 but this year it was Oct. 28. So after finishing all my other work, in the last of the short light I harvested the last of my surprisingly hardy Italian parsley, and cut some sage, tying its stems together and hanging the bunch upside down above the stove to dry out. The thick leaves will actually survive frost and cold so fresh sage is available for turkey dressing. Dried and ground it also serves as incense and purifier. Rosemary grows in a magic spot right next to my kitchen door, about 6 by 6 inches, that receives winter sunlight. It survives outdoors until the temps stay below zero. The parsley, a biennial, reseeds itself; and wherever sage grows, it takes over and makes more and more leaves, like an endless book.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Explaining to the Aliens

I was whisked to another planet last night (that's okay; I wasn't working on deadline) and its inhabitants asked me to describe life on Earth. So I tried:

"Where I'm from, the whole world changes four times a year. There's a rainy time when the landscape is all greens and yellows, with pink flowering trees; then the days grow warm and sunny and colorful, and tiny glittering birds fly around randomly and drink from flowers, and Earthlings play, and plants extrude the most desirable kinds of foods: berries, tomatoes, scented herbs with all sorts of powers, some of them so secret that our scientists spend lifetimes studying them...

"Then fields and trees turn red and gold and orange, and vines bear grapes, which are little sweet meaty orbs in sheer skins, purple, red or green; and many kinds and shapes of squashes, hard-shelled and expressive like sculptures. Those sell for very cheap...Next comes a very quiet, chilly gray period when things, we call 'em snowflakes, weightless and no bigger than a nailhead, sometimes fall from the sky by the trillion and pile up in tons and tons and cover everything. And, get this, each one is a tiny six-sided geometrically perfect design and there are no two alike.

"And these four times repeat over and over, like magic; we just sit there, and the whole world changes all around us. The daylight changes, the constellations shift, and we have this huge perfectly spherical white rock floating in the sky called a moon, and everyone loves it, and it gives silver light and controls all the Earth's water..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scary as a Five-Foot Parakeet

Dangling skeletons appear in my neighbor's trees every year. They are cleverly cut from milk bottles and bleach bottles, and strung together. And creepy? Try to walk past without thinking of death and how your teeth & bones are going to outlive you, about how in the year 2525 someone setting up a meth lab in the woods will say, "Hey man, look over here, I found a skull!" and it will be yours.
Halloween here isn't much because the party everyone says I should have in my woods would be without refrigeration, light, water or toilets, and nobody wants a party quite THAT scary. P.S. Demetrius always said: "Only a fool tries to walk through the woods after dark," and he should know, because he worked part-time nights as a boogeyman. That goes double on the night when his ghost and monster friends from the "other side" are running free.

My Road

Taking a walk all on my own on a weekday morning on a Midwestern two-lane highway, near the neighbor's horse farm, I have never felt so privileged. I have the world's best life. This is Highway F, which in a half a mile becomes Lynch Road.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wasps in Between

These wasps were born trapped between window glass that's indoors and plastic that is stretched in a frame that serves as an outside storm window. The indoor window -- original to the Divine cabin -- is sealed shut. The outdoor window can't be reached, at least by me. I could pierce the plastic and free these anxious wasps -- not because I like them; they have ancestors and cousins who have stung me when I dint deserve it -- but because their 11 expired bodies will lie between those windows where I'll have to look at 'em.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open House

The kitchen door and screen here aren't flush with the doorjamb. Underneath and through those doors have slunk and marched and flown all sorts of creatures, right into my house like they owned the place. In October, spiders creep in to take refuge for the winter. I once had a Halloween dinner for family and it was as if I had ordered spiders to walk across the room every minute as a party favor.

Mouse settled in and stashed an ounce or two of cracked corn in the toe of a boot I don't often wear. That same year a mouse (the same frugal mouse?) made a silo in the ring-binding of my Betty Crocker cookbook. During a really hard winter when all food is secured against mice, they scratch at and eat my Ivory soap. In the pantry closet, just last month, a mouse chewed a stack of 250 table napkins to shreds and built a fabulous nest of them.

Wasps buzz indoors and sleep or build nests all winter up in a window frame. I found one who drowned in a jar of honey (I'd lost the cap and topped it with saran wrap and a rubber band; the wasp broke its way through). They sleep all winter in window frames, and in spring wake up trapped behind the plastic window insulation. The question is, how do I free them and direct them out of the house without getting stung? (I'd squash them, but they get really aggressive when I try!!)

During the drought of 2006, a lizard in search of water came in beneath the door and spent two weeks residing in the laundry room. I grew fond of him and named him Harrison.

Moths flutter in starting in August, planning to eat my clothes and blankets, and I chase 'em but rarely catch 'em. Once, though, I was boiling some sugar water for hummingbird nectar, and a moth flew right into it and boiled to death. I said to it, "What were you thinking?"

Woke up on a very rainy night, and there in the bathroom was a foot-long blacksnake in who probably came in under the kitchen door so he/she would not be drowned. Night crawlers, plain earthworms, fuzzy caterpillars and large centipedes do this also. These I pick up and throw outside.

Every year a "walking stick" comes and hangs on the screen door at eye level. Clearly he wants my attention. I tell him thanks, but he's not my type. Then he changes his color, comes back and looks hopeful: "Is this more your type?"

Somebody cut the kitchen door wrong long ago -- looks as if it was done with a handsaw -- just about a half-inch too high, and curved -- and it can't be fixed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beer: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

This isn't a native Missouri beer, but us all down here like a cold one no matter what the label on it, and the advertising folks seem to know that in the Show-Me State you show us a beer and we'll drink it, and they seem to be appealing to us and our kind, and you know what? It's time for my weekly Sunday morning beer.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Biggest in the World

It's Railroad Days in Pacific, and special guest Union Pacific Railroad locomotive Challenger No. 3985, the only operating engine of its class in the world, made a whistle stop this morning for about 2,000 train fans who took photos of this huge mechanical marvel built in 1943, retired in 1962, and restored in 1981. The engine alone weighs 627,900 pounds. It runs on No. 5 heating oil.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Recession Chic

Sunday, Hawkeye invited about 20 womenfolk to her house telling them to bring all the clothes and accessories they don't wear. We put the resulting tons of clothes on racks and tables in all five of her upstairs rooms and everyone picked out and tried on what they wanted and took home what they liked; the remainder to charity. We all got new things and no one spent a cent. Try this with your friends. The more women, the more sizes there will be to choose from, so encourage all your Lillian Russells along with your Skinny Minnies, and serve margaritas and Oreos and whoop up the hen party. As part of my haul, I got a pink T-shirt, brand-new, with hummingbirds on it. It doesn't get any better than that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

At the Alpaca Farm

In Allenton an alpaca farm was open for visiting this weekend. Curious, I went, and in and around the barn were 20 sweet-tempered alpacas wondering what all the fuss was about. The rancher explained that they live about 15 years, don't bite (they can't; only one of their jaws has teeth) and should never be washed; it ruins their wool, shorn every spring and made into sweaters, mittens, hats, yarn, blankets, socks, and toy alpacas. This farm is named Adelman's Alpaca Dream, because the father of the family always wanted such a farm but died before creating one; the mother and son then fulfilled the father's dream, establishing the farm in 2006.

They will also sell you an alpaca or board the ones you have.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


These are growing wonderfully in the roadsides this autumn. People can't eat them. They are winterberries, ilex verticillata (to the best of my knowledge and ID skills). They are a form of holly, and will hang with us all winter, feeding birds (although their berries are not as popular with birds as some). Belying their beauty, they are poisonous to people. Its cousin plant is called ilex vomitoria, and it grows in the coastal Southeast.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tenting Tonight

When the normal dwelling just can't hold all that's in your mind and heart; when the usual bed is like your own miniature sweat lodge; when the days are dry and cool and getting cooler; when the moon is big; when you just have to crawl into something and hide...very fortunate and privileged that I have the property on which to do this. I keep this section of meadow mowed just for this reason. Also makes a great deer bed when I'm not using it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Made for You and Me

Who's the leader of the club? The first rule about gun club is that you do not talk about gun club. The second rule of gun club is that you do not talk about gun club. Nor clay pigeons, nor the mechanical thing that throws them, nor targets shaped like groundhogs, nor Cabelas which has good sales. Nor about getting this year's license and hunting for ducks, doves, turkeys in the Missouri River bottoms, and roasting 'em up, or if there is any firearm that can take a grizzly bear. As far as I have heard, the only thing that can stop a grizzly bear is a really riled-up wolverine. Nor do you talk about Sept. 11, 2001 and how firearm sales have soared since then.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Life in the country requires serious footwear, but sometimes I'm forced to go to the city, and for that I need dress shoes -- women's pumps with heels. But I'm very active, and can shred the soles of a pair of girly shoes in less than one day.

To slip and fall on the wet gravel in front of the Divine cabin, or on asphalt, or on cobblestones in the city streets, for me, would be no joke. I walk places, run in the rain, climb stairs. Three months ago, wearing stockings and a suit, in an emergency I vaulted a stone wall (using the old Western Roll). For YEARS I've pined for a pair of ordinary black pumps that could handle all this; and, oh yeah, fit my Extra-Wide, divinely crafted feet.

Finally in a Janesville, Wisconsin McDonald's this summer, I see an employee reading a shoe catalog called Shoes for Crews. Online I found their pair of passable-looking pumps with SERIOUS non-slip soles. I mean, these pumps have TREADS. And they're comfortable. Mostly they sell clogs, oxfords, sneakers, boots, etc. to working people: kitchen workers, nurses, construction workers, farmers. But I ordered their pumps and now have confidence that at least my shoes, even my girly shoes, won't hold me back or let me down. And I just had to let you know.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

LaBarque School, Oct. 19, 1907

A reader with ties to LaBarque Creek, MO shares this precious photo. His grandmother holds the slate scripted with "LaBarque School, Oct. 19, 1907"; her older sister, in a matching outfit, stands next to her. Girls' surname is Leder. This photograph is copyrighted and may not be used without permission.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Walking on steep Timberstone Trail I saw a yellow item in the road. It was a turtle, about six inches long, on its back, squirming but unable to turn over. As I approached it pulled itself inward, scared. I saw the wound to its plastron. I turned it over. Scarlet blood flowed from a deep crack in its shell; it had been run over but not killed. I took a photo too sickening to show you, and deleted it. I lifted the turtle from the asphalt and placed it among some roadside plants. Thought it might prefer to die there instead of in the hot August road. Hope I didn't hurt it worse. Felt very bad that there wasn't any hope for its survival.

This is not the usual Three-Toed Box Turtle one sees around here; this turtle unquestionably has four toes. It does not have the brown streaks on its plastron which would firmly identify it as an Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata, but in Missouri it must be either one or the other, and it is probably an Ornate. Its normal lifespan is 32 to 37 years. Every summer I see a couple of dozen turtle bodies, all sizes, littering the roads.On our narrow, steep, curving or shoulderless roads it is not always possible to swerve to avoid them. I would grieve except that I know there are many more turtles who survive in this area, where there is abundant conservation land. Whoever is responsible for that, I thank fervently.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Old LaBarque Schoolhouse: Found!

Yes, the LaBarque Schoolhouse is still standing and it's being used as a garden-tool shed for the series of 1990s "I deserve an estate" type houses, on big rolling lawns, built around it. The painted words "LaBarque School" are very faintly visible above the door; so very faintly that the camera eye could not capture them for you, but trust me, in the sunlight, in person, they are there. This building stands near the intersection of Hwy FF and John McKeever Road, behind a fence and some trees which partially obscure it. I have lived here 10 years and never noticed it until someone told me where to look for the old schoolhouse.

A commentator on this blog said he has a 1906 photo of his mother at this school, so the structure must have been built before then, but my guess is that the building was rather new at that time. Also the stucco coating is recent; on a piece of wall where it is chipped away, you can see that the original building, or at least its foundation, is native stone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Turkeys in the Mist

The August morning I took this photo it rained again, just enough to bring forth steam from the earth, and to my surprise this brought the wild turkeys out. Usually they visit only at dawn and dusk, and they have a favorite place to hunt, which is the old rotting coldframe that was so well made that seven years later I am still unable to tear it down.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Le Pic-Bois

Okay, I admit it, I wanted to escape the Missouri steam heat for a while, so I went to Quebec City, and there in the old town (Vieux Quebec; you must visit) what did I see on a shopfront but a three-foot wooden replica of my friend the Pileated Woodpecker delightfully translated into the delightful "Pic-Bois." That just means woodpecker, but it sounds so much cooler! In fact, just about everything was cooler in French. I admit too that I spoke bad French if only to say "Je ne comprendes pas" and "Je ne parle pas francais", and "Bon jour" and "Merci," and politely everyone I said it to switched to English except one seventyish man on a bicycle who saw me waiting for a bus in the rain, and stopped and said something, and I said "Je ne parle pas" and he didn't parle Anglais either, so he explained to me on his fingers that the bus would arrive in four minutes.

This huge wooden sculpture is strikingly accurate in every detail except the real Pic de Bois has much bigger and crustier black feet.

How wonderful that someone else a thousand miles away loves my close friends as much as I do!


On an August afternoon, when it'd been over 90 degrees every day for a solid month, and was pushing 100, it rained for a solid fifteen minutes, then it rained for another fifteen minutes, hard, with the sun shining. Dodging the huge raindrops I ran outside seeking a rainbow, but didn't see any. But from my porch, where I and the camera could stay dry, I saw my birdbath and bird feeder bathed in sun and rain.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August Cornfield

The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter.

The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse.
One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk
And a spot of red is on its shoulder
And I never heard its name in my life.

Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always—I never knew it any other way—
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.
(excerpt from "Laughing Corn," poem by Carl Sandburg.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fall Webworms

Hated seeing two-foot-long webby bags full of little maggots, ugly as sin and getting bigger every day, hanging from the old hickory tree that shades the house. Two of their bags were within reach of the ground. Had an urge to burn them.

Tried matches. The web would not light. At last I hit on wrapping pages of newspaper around the webs and setting them on fire.

After that was done I finally looked up the fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea. They weaken all kinds of deciduous trees by skeletonizing the leaves. Turns out that burning the bags, after wrapping them in rags, is a time-honored way of getting rid of them. The bags that can't be reached from the ground can be torn open with a stick or rake so that birds may come and feed on the webworms.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Serious Pie

The Hen House along I-44 in Bourbon, MO is a gingham curtain/wooden table family restaurant with a stunning refrigerated display of pies right behind the hostess as you walk in the door. There must be twelve kinds. It's my favorite place when I'm having a pie attack. (Cracker Barrel's crumbly little pie slices only in a pinch.) One Saturday evening I had such serious pie on my brain I prepared to drive 45 miles to the Hen House. Luckily I phoned first, because it was 7:00 p.m. and it closes at 8:00 p.m. when all decent people settle in bed or are well on their way there, but I do wish it were open all night. I feel comfortable and understood at the Hen House like I never do in beatnik coffeehouses. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, awesome fried chicken, pot roast with gravy, and all your other Missouri dream foods, and their strawberry lemonade is #1 on my hit parade. It also does catering --an idea so delightful it staggers me. This post is in honor of my friend Duke, another pie fiend. The right slice of pie lights him up like a Christmas tree.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Life Gets Around

I love thinking that the tiniest corners of the world vibrate with life, whether we see it or care or not, or get a photo, or laugh, or sigh at how much this looks like a loving and familiar kiss. And in August, with summer in its highest gear, everything not only vibrates, it hums.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Preserve Stuff

Your mom, my mom, sweating in the kitchen in August, boiling jelly and jars -- I was allergic to doing canning myself. But then there's freezing. I hope it inspires you that I tried it and did it. It's easy. Here you see my pineapple, red plums, and mango. Oh, do try it!

I followed the instructions at, skinning the mangoes and plums by dunking them in boiling water, cooling and then peeling. Sliced them. The pineapple, I cut into spears. Placed slices in freezer-safe containers. Made a cooked syrup solution, 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of water. To prevent browning, spiked this with 1500 mg of ascorbic acid (I crushed and dissolved three pills of Vitamin C). Poured cooled syrup over fruit. Put in freezer.

I chose syrup pack over dry pack, because syrup pack preserves texture better, and retards freezer burn. You can always rinse the syrup off.

Once again, as in '08, this ain't a year to waste food!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Father Feeds Son!

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Caught in action so quick that it blurred even during the half a second of one shutter snap: The adult Pileated Woodpecker (right), having lunched on some suet -- always available here -- feeds his adolescent son by regurgitating. The parents come for suet each year during nesting, vanishing until around August 1 when they bring and feed the kids and then patiently wait on the tree while Junior and/or Missy practice flying at and pecking at the suet basket. Mastery takes about a month of practice. If the young one continues pestering the grownup for food by getting close and opening its beak, Mom or Dad will give them a sharp peck, meaning "Get your own!" By September the kids have flown and the parents go "on vacation" until frost, not coming by, even for suet, but calling when they see me come out of the house. They resume suet-eating around Thanksgiving.

The female Pileateds have red caps; males have red "mustaches" as well. The younger ones can be distinguished because the head feathers are whiter; the older the bird, the more yellow. The stripes and mustaches on different Pileateds are all unique. Most often Dad feeds a son and Mom feeds a daughter, but I have seen it vice versa also.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Family Vacation

Except for the guide at the far left, this is one family, all redheads except for mom, visiting the Lewis & Clark memorial at 150 feet above the ground, viewing the levee and the confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I loved the way they lined up and the Midwestern colors they wore.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Almost a Ripoff

You would have been prouda me. At the Blank Blank in Eureka there was a sign, and here it is, plain as day, oil change for $24.99. I needed one, asked that it be added to my tire invoice, and when I gave the invoice the necessary once-over I see the price is $32.99. I piped up and said, in effect, Excuse me, wtf, and they said "surcharges" and "environmental something or other" and I asserted my Bunbun self and said, "But your sign outside says..." and they gave in, had "forgot" they'd put the sign out, so they said, and then they tapped a few keys and discounted the oil change at the "senior" rate. I did not say, "I am not a senior," because I'd figured out by then that they lived entirely in a fantasy world in which oil-change signs magically appear and disappear and a 53-year-old is a senior. Then they tried to sell me an alignment. I said you have my service record right there, it shows that you aligned me in May. They said, oh, so we did.

In these days it is so crucial to be on guard and assertive at car places; ladies, they think you have the brain of a dodo bird. This isn't the only place I had to make an effort to hold people to their advertised prices. I plan on getting a ring that looks like a wedding band so these guys in their fantasy world can fantasize that I have a husband who will come and beat them senseless.