Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pick Up Some Chicks

Every year the hardware store carries baby chicks, not for Easter (that's four weeks away) but for people to buy, raise, and get eggs from, and finally eat. That's just a fact. It's also a fact that a zinc tub full of squeaking baby chicks, all looking like they're made of yellow plush, melts my heart. $1.35 each....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26 in Missouri

They say here, "If you don't like the weather, wait 24 hours, and you'll see how good it was." Hamster-sized snowflakes fell today. Thursday was a mildly sunny day, about 70 degrees, a great day for walking and climbing...I enjoyed the tiny buds on trees, small mayapples and wake robins springing from the forest floor, and looking for a jack-in-the-pulpit. I told a friend, "It should always be early spring." Then last night it got cold. Nothing on the ground this morning. But 5 inches of freakish snow on the ground by 7 p.m. It covered up my daffodils, violets, hyacinths. I baked chocolate chip cookies; what else could I do?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Too Tough and Ugly to Say "Welcome"

As I recall, only three recycled things existed before "recycling" as we know it came to be: returnable glass bottles, tire-tread sandals, and recycled-tire doormats. Look in Lowe's all you want but you won't find these weighty, classic mats too tough and ugly to say "Welcome" but able to take horrible four-season daily outdoor punishment, will clean gunky bootsoles, will not float away during floods -- they're too durable. My old one (left), bought at Dickey Bub's, $5, the last one in stock, haven't seen one there since, began to fall apart this winter after six or seven years; the metal pincers finally rusted through and released tire chunks which began to migrate into lawnmower territory.

Living in the sticks and gas prices being what they are I buy most things online now, but the problem finding this item was: What's it technically called? A tire-link doormat, an outdoor tire-link mat, a recycled-tire mat, a machine-shop mat. . .anyway, I found one made in Pennsylvania, USA, about twice the weight of the old one, with rug-like "pile" on top, $14.95 and $10 shipping. Always pleased to buy USA-made items.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Route 66 Stop and the Supermoon

Taken March 20, 2011, on Old Route 66 in Lebanon, MO. First full moon at perigee in 20 or so years. Moon appears 8 percent larger than normal (the "supermoon").

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Controlled Burn

About a mile down the road is the Hilda Young Conservation Area that belongs to the state of Missouri, maybe around 500 acres, with two manmade fishing ponds (the second pond very remote and hard to find, and I won't reveal where it is; what you see in the pic is the easy-to-find one the state stocks with bass). La Barque Creek runs through here, and it's got some nice family-friendly trails, and archers can hunt deer on the land in season. Recently smoke came from here and today I went to look. They had performed a controlled burn to get rid of absolutely unbelievable fields full of dark red rip-your-skin-off briars five feet tall that blocked views and blocked passage. The land was burned in tightly defined square sections and some of the better-developed young trees were allowed to survive. So what you see in the photo is the aftermath of a controlled burn. Wish I had a "before" picture, but I never took a picture of a five-foot solid wall of thorny buggy briars good for gallon bags of berries in June but nothing else.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grill or Privy?

This rectangle of stones in my yard, old foundation of something, has always been here and always had dirt in it, so I put native plants in it. After a few years I noticed flagstones, almost sunk into the yard, that formed a path from the kitchen door to this rectangle. The original cabin, built around 1930, had no bathroom or a kitchen; we know this because they are obviously add-ons. So I thought this might be the foundation of an old privy. Its measurements, 3.5 x 5 feet, are standard for a double-seated privy. (Double seating was not a luxury, or a his-and-her thing. There was a small hole for children to sit on, and a larger one for adults.)

While raking a few days ago my tines struck stone in front of the "privy" and, curious, I dug there and uncovered a flagstone apron nicely fitted to the foundation with concrete. No privies at Scout camp had stone foundations or flagstone aprons -- privies are not permanent structures, because they fill up and have to be moved -- so I thought this might instead be the foundation of a stone barbecue pit, the kind everyone's dad wanted in the '50s. The other house on this property, built in the 1950s, had a flagstone patio with a stone grill that was crumbling when I first saw it and has since been demolished. Maybe both houses had barbecue pits built simultaneously to keep each tenant happy.

Thanking the Jesuits for my training in logic, I figured it's a barbecue pit. The flagstone path leads from the kitchen door and there was no kitchen door when the cabin was built. The rectangle is situated on three inches of soil atop twelve solid inches of hard yellow clay sloping toward a cliff edge, so it is unlikely a 10- or 12-foot privy pit could have been dug here. Although it is without traces of firebricks or lining and must have been a flimsy one, it's a barbecue. And I thought, darn, wish it had been a privy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Beloved Paint Sign

Long-lived small-town businesses sometimes keep the same signs up for years, and this is the old Pittsburgh Paints sign I remember from when I was a kid, seen two weeks ago in Lebanon, MO. It's so simple and beautiful, and no TV commercial ever opened up such imaginative vistas as did these letters in these colors, hung high in the sky like modern art; not designed to make you want to buy buckets of paint, but to make you marvel and dream of possibilities... (we didn't know the lead in the paint was bad). I used to think I dreamt this sign, but I did not not. Life really includes it and still does. Now to find somebody who still has the Red Goose Shoes sign...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Video Visit: The Secret Pond

Two-minute video, narrated by Divine Bunbun, of the secret, intermittent pond below the silica cliff, a La Barque Creek floodplain area so loaded with briars, mud and vines that it is accessible only in late winter or early spring. The Secret Pond is the home of sweet spring peepers and summer skeeters, and is a watering place of all woodland creatures.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bring Back the Wooden Picnic Table!

At Dickey Bub's a patient man named Lowell looked at the long and rusty 1/4-inch-wide wood screw in my outstretched palm and said, "Sure I'll find it for you," and we walked all the way to the rear of the store, where I had never been, and searched little segmented drawers full of gleaming wood screws, and finally he said there wasn't a correctly sized wood screw with a rounded top but I could use a flat-top and screw it in with pliers. I asked for a matching nut, because I'd seen some screws with nuts in the picnic table, and Lowell did not laugh at me, and gave me matching washers. They're sold by weight. I got four to fix my picnic table. The little bag of wood screws cost me 89 cents. I thought this was marvelous.

This old picnic table predates my living here. There's one that stays protected on my screened porch, but this one has always stayed outdoors getting shabbier, wobblier, wetter, more termite-eaten and pecked at over 10 years, and I tugged it across the lane last year and it nearly fell apart, and in 2011 either I fix it or have no picnic table, or have to buy a horrid new plastic one. Starting out so ignorant I barely knew a wood screw from a sheet-metal screw, I replaced its ancient iron nails with shiny new wood screws, C-clamped its one splitting leg, reinforced its wiggly support beam (is it called a joist?) with one of the big new wood screws, drove some finishing nails in from the top, and it aint a neat job but it's sturdy now and has a future. Ends of its legs are rotted and uneven, and I don't know how to fix that, but it'll hold Midwestern picnic food, and I was smart enough and strong enough to have stored its matching benches in the garage every winter so they're just fine, so y'all come. It's under the twin oaks near the fire bowl now.

Poems of the Plant Kingdom

Fresh fungus is one of the joys of spring. I kid you not. I like fungi and enjoy hunting it in the woods with a camera a day or two after a soaking rain. This is a bouquet of fresh Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Either that or it's Violet-Toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biformis). It's violet-purple, just as it shows in the photo, very impressive, and it's early, according to the textbook; neither type should be out until May. In my own lawn after a rainstorm I once found 11 different types of fungi; that was a great day....(thank your lucky stars you aren't here so I can tell you all about it). A reminder that I never eat wild fungi, I just love their creative shapes and colors. They are the poems of the plant kingdom.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stilled Life

Warm, cloudy day. Down by LaBarque Creek admiring the wonderfully clear water I saw something large and feathered on the creek bank, and was very much taken aback to find a Great Egret, dead just as you see it. Looks as if it was ambushed. It was in a tight spot, and an egret, with its five-foot wingspan, needs room and time to lift off and get away. So its life ended here.

This egret (Casmerodius albus, identified by its black legs and huge black feet) might also have been a migrant. This first waterbird casualty I have seen on this property is very sad. But if I reported and showed you only beautiful and cheerful things about rugged rural Missouri I would be dishonest. Of course we are all on the side of life, but now and then I get a reminder that Nature is not a "she" or a "mother" but a force, completely impersonal, overwhelming us with all we can stand of both beauties and horrors.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cure What Ails You

A classic strengthening soup/beverage, beef tea (this is the English version) tastes like the drippings from a prime rib. Meat lovers, rejoice. Unlike chicken soup or vegetable soup there are no vegetables to slice. Beef tea is especially good for building up males who are sick or have little appetite.


-1/2 pound boneless round steak, cut 1 inch thick and trimmed completely of fat
-salt to taste

1. Broil the steak 2 minutes per side. Then, right in the broiling pan, cut the steak into 1-inch squares and put the squares into a pint-sized glass canning jar. Be sure to scrape of the bottom of the pan using one of the squares and get every scrap of goodness into the jar.

2. Pour cold water over the meat to cover, screw on the top, then put the jar into a saucepan or slow cooker filled with cold water. Turn the heat to low and let the goodness leach out of the meat slowly, over the next 3 to 4 hours, maybe more, until the tea has good beef-broth color. The point here is not to cook, but to steep the meat.

To Serve: Pour off the beef tea, discarding the meat hunks, salt the broth to taste, and serve the broth warm.

The cooked meat will be tasteless; all the richness will be in the liquid.