Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cress in Spring Water

At the end of a rocky 3-1/2-mile hike today, with patches of snow still on the ground, I came to a dark little spring with stepping stones across it, and its whole downstream was paved with fresh watercress. Stunned to see such green wealth amid the blue and gray I got excited, and wanted instinctively to grab some for salad but didn't have a bag or nothin', and wasn't sure if it was legal -- so all I took was a photo. And I thought about the people before me subsisting during the winters on dried corn, dried meat, and dried beans and how thrilled they must have been to see and get the first fresh greens: always watercress -- leaves both bitter and sweet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From Our House to Yours. . .

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the LaBarque Creek beavers & Divine Bunbun. Like the beavers, I stayed home. And had something good to eat. And read The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing. But there's nothing more to long for when you live in a snug little home in rugged rural Missouri.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Carrot Box

This cheerful hand-painted wooden box was found at a Missouri antique mall some years ago and, charmed, I bought it, for, like, $12. Inside, it's just plain painted wood, no lining, no compartments, no decoration. I guessed it's for vegetables -- winter root vegetables that like darkness and room (not heaped on top of each other; onions or potatoes all heaped up will quickly go bad). I keep this "carrot box" or "carrot coffin" in the unheated laundry room that serves as my root cellar, and use it for onions. When the thermometer in there approaches freezing I save the onions from turning to acrid mush by moving the box into a heated room.

I looked up "carrot box" to see if such boxes were somehow traditional, and also learn the reason for their treasure-chest shape, but a "carrot box" today means a cardboard gift box in the shape of a long cone. Classic wooden vegetable bins hold a lot more vegetables and look nothing like this. This box, painted with 11 clean, idealized carrots, very witty, holds approximately 3 pounds of produce.

Monday, December 17, 2012

She's an Easy Target

Driving on the highway I saw a woman my age walking alone on the road shoulder, an unusual sight. She was hiking. Before thinking anything else I thought, "There's an easy target."

Then I thought: That's what I look like.

I go on solo hikes all the time, and take daily walks on back roads and trails mostly, sometimes crossing highways. City walks were filled with fears about being jumped or followed or harassed. That's not special; that was life as an urban female. In a better part of the city we women wore sweatsuits and sneakers while on walks to indicate that we were exercising and not out on the streets to make money. I gladly moved to the country where walks were carefree and I could forget I was female.

But I had no idea until now what I looked like to others. I tried to think of the last female solo hiker I met on a trail. There are almost none. That's because women are afraid. They're told they should be. There are those horror stories broadcast on TV into our minds. Once when I was fishing in a remote area three hunters emerged from the woods with their firearms and I thought, they're probably harmless--but what if they're not? So now, so as not to be defenseless, I'm armed; now very consistently armed. I'm aware that this isn't a perfect solution. You might tell me to get a man or a pit bull or at least another woman companion. Why? I have the right to walk and hike free of fear. I sure do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Crunch Crunch

You'll never see another photo like this one: The beaver team down on the LaBarque thought they'd fell this mature creekside oak -- which would have been the largest timber in their dam -- but then changed their minds, apparently. Wonder why? Their jaws got tired? Too much chance it would fall the wrong way and create a fatality? Too tall to guide down their mud chute into the creek? They've simply abandoned this particular tree.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December's Garden

Temperatures have been in the 60s and 70s most of the fall, including last week, meaning that the fall vegetables my neighbor and I planted in September haven't frozen yet, and today I plucked up and scissored four scarlet radishes, and small lettuce, spinach, and kale leaves, holiday colors, enough for a full salad bowl. Not only that, but while I was at the store I saw and bought 1/4 of a watermelon because I have so missed the taste of it. Except for tomatoes and hummingbirds I can still pretend it's summer. First snow predicted in a few days.

The sunsets now are pretty, too, but the best thing about mid-December-- it's only two weeks until the days begin to lengthen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rare Pink Dolomite

Found this specimen while hiking the rocky 2.6 mile trail at Valley View Natural Area, in Jefferson County, 2 miles south of Morse Mill. It's one of the two areas in Jefferson County where dolomite glades, or rocky outcroppings, often south-facing and hot and dry, are preserved with controlled burns and cedar-tree removal -- the only way to preserve this once-common and precious Missouri natural feature. Glades support wildflowers and wildlife that thrive nowhere else (and are prettiest in spring). Cedar trees are invasives which entered the area along with mass settlement about 150 years ago, and they overtake glades and native oak-hickory forests unless they are stopped.

But we were speaking of dolomite. Even geologists don't agree on what it is, except that it's calcium and magnesium somehow mixed, and rarely there are pink examples of it, probably from being mixed with a little iron. A dryer-sized chunk of petrified mud had this chip broken off of it, revealing lovely sparkling stone bubbles (saddles) and glittering crystals.

I learned today that flipping flat rocks looking for creatures or fossils underneath them -- and not replacing them-- destroys the flora and fauna that lived in that environment. I was never in the habit of flipping rocks but now I know for certain that it's bad manners.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Wide Missouri

Joined the local "Let's Hike" Meetup club to discover new trails, and they're all in my area. The group has many members  and usually about 10-20 people on every hike. They all come with many hiking tastes and paces and kinds of equipment. This photo was taken on the invigorating five-mile Clark Trail at the 7000-acre (no typo) Weldon Spring Conservation Area in St. Charles County, MO, about 24 miles from my home. Lots of persimmon trees! The river is the wide Missouri.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Stay Alive in the Woods

Rarely do I get lost in strange woods but it was 4 p.m. and the sun was low in the naked trees with darkness scheduled to fall within the hour. A trail I'd followed had petered out, tempting me to bushwhack to my goal: the riverfront. All my tricks to get back (such as retracing my steps, or walking at an angle where I'd surely cut across the trail -- sure I would! -- didn't help me. A book I like called How to Stay Alive in the Woods says that most lost people, at worst, miss a meal, and that's nothing. I walked toward the sun, because on my way in it had been behind me.

Fortunately I had some drinking water, a hiking stick, and a small firearm, and knew that if one is lost at nightfall one stays put, hopes the cellphone is working, and when the searchers are searching, fires three shots into the air to guide them. "Be prepared" is great wisdom; I felt lucky and calm. Too bad I'll miss a meal, I thought. And then I was presented with this cluster of mushrooms growing at eye level on a live tree. I said thanks but no thanks; I'm no expert, won't put wild mushrooms in my mouth without proper I.D. I got back to my car before dark and at home looked these up because they seemed so familiar. They are oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) like you buy in the market, graded  "choice" for eating. So I want you to know, if you're ever lost, look around, and you'll probably see you've been provided for.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mating Season Mystery

It was a red fox's tail. Just the tail. In the road.

I know December is fox mating season, so its attacker might have been another fox. They defend their territories, but aren't known to kill or maim each other. Chasing the intruder from the territory is enough.

Foxes have few wild predators: bobcats, bears, golden eagles. Foxes can outrun dogs, as every British hunting party knows. People do say bobcats live here, but I haven't seen proof. Human fox killers, who don't eat them, always want the tail as a trophy. They wouldn't remove it and leave it. Looked around for traces of a car killing. None. So it's a tail without a story.

The dime in the photo lets you see its length -- about 11 inches. That's short for a fox tail so it might have been a young one that got into trouble because it didn't know better. Maybe it sacrificed its tail.

A fox uses its tail for warmth (curling it around and burying its nose in it to sleep) and for balance and to communicate (the way a dog's tail does). Somewhere a red fox around here is minus its tail. It must hurt a lot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Poland, There Was a Type of Bagel. . .

The one I ate in Krakow.
In the city of Krakow in southern Poland I bought one roll at this street stall. Just a bread roll. Like a bagel but different: twisted, & crisp outside but French-bread-like inside, and sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, cheeses -- your choice. Price 1.5 zlotys, or 45 cents.

I bought one and sat down to lunch on it. Oh my. Before eating it all, I took its photo. And returned to the U.S. and within 6 weeks, homesick for Poland, I had to have these rolls again. Searched international bakeries around town. I didn't know what they were called. Googling "Krakow bagels" I found two recipes in English: One to serve 100 people, and one for 1 dozen. (Here's the link. Scroll down for the 1-dozen recipe.) Two recipes on the whole Internet and only one I could use. They are called, get this, "Krakowskie Obwarzanki," and made only in Krakow.

It's baking season, so I set to work after buying "diastatic malt powder," an essential ingredient. The recipe said to knead until the dough was "silky and stretchy." I kneaded the dough, determinedly, for 30 minutes by hand, y'all. If I will do that, you KNOW how much I wanted them! And let the dough rise. And cut and rolled it in ropes. And twisted the ropes to make open circles. And chilled them overnight and boiled them for one minute and then dipped 'em in black and white sesame seeds and baked 'em.

Oh my! Krakowskie Obwarzanki!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Field of Battle

Sorry if the picture makes you queasy but it's a lot worse in person. I buy mousetraps a bagful at a time. I've stuffed mouse thruways and hideaways in this house with steel wool. I've tried poisons, glue traps, live traps -- nothing works as well as a classic Victor spring-loaded trap, which I haven't been able to find for a whole year. Instead, Victor now sells the "Easy Set" (TM) model with the large yellow plastic bait platform supposedly scented with invisible mouse attractant.

After a year I am qualified to say that the new model does not work well. The "cheeselike" platform, complete with Swiss-like holes, has never worked; I dollop the platform with never-fail peanut butter. The trigger is so stupid-sensitive I have to hook the end with a pliers to set it. Worst of all, it doesn't kill mice outright. Good traps kill mice instantly, snap, by breaking their necks. I hate meeses to pieces, but worse is hearing the trap snap beneath the sink and then hearing struggles within.

These two mice were caught within 20 minutes of each other. The one at the top went first, and writhed and knocked around for 10 minutes while I fought to hold my dinner down --because as much as I hate any mouse, I won't pour bleach on it or hammer-crush its skull to put it out of its misery, nor will I put it to sleep in my freezer, as some humane people do. So I have to listen to it die (meanwhile fearing that it won't die, that it'll get away). The other body shows the problem with the "Easy Set" model. Instead of hitting the mouse on the neck, the large platform permits the mouse to nibble from the edge where the trap hits not the neck but the "craniofacial" region. This is not a quick, humane kill. They wriggle, bleed and convulse. I like the older model which they don't sell in the hardware stores around here any more. They do sell it online, though.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Somebody sawed down a red cedar. Inside is a heart red and blooming just like ours. A botany teacher once told us that plant cells and animal cells are alike, except plant cells have walls, and animal cells don't. What does that mean, we asked. "It indicates a common origin," he said.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tracks by the Creek

Whose tracks are these in the white silica sand by the creek? Hint: It's a bird people traditionally like eating today. But these birds are running free and wild on the Divine property, thanks be.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Beavers are Back

At dawn hearing shotguns too close to the property, I later suited up to look for trespassers, and instead found enchantment: a new beaver dam across LaBarque Creek. (Video: 2 minutes 20 seconds.)

Beavers dive and swim beautifully. The dam creates a pond deep enough to discourage predators and hides an underwater entrance to their lodge, where they sleep just above the rushing water. At right is a photo of what they did to a tree. If a tree trunk is too big for their purposes, they gnaw off and use the branches. Beavers eat the tree bark and the cambium (the soft tissue growing between bark and wood), and adults are 40 pounds or more, and sleek.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tiny Orange Fungi

To the best of my research ability, the electric-orange embroidery on this fallen branch of dead, wet oak is fresh Phlebia radiata, in its rarely-seen early phase. Usually we see Phlebia after it has all spread and grown together, dried out, and formed a greenish-brownish-white crust or medallion that I always took for lichen. Found this branch lying by the garage while I had my eyes pensively downcast. You can't stay downcast long in the country, where marvels upon marvels are everywhere, including beneath your feet, and death is just a phase in the cycle of life. I heart the mysterious and colorful world of fungi and might have become a mycologist had I known it was an option.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Out This Way, Please. . .

After 11 years of seeing these crossing my flooring like they owned the place, mostly during autumn, these two- to three-inch-long semi-glossy mahogany brown creatures segmented like worms finally got looked up and identified. This is an American millipede (Narceus americanus). They never have1000 legs, although they might have 750. A giant African millipede can be kept as a pet by other people, whom I hope are strangers living very far away from me. The millipedes' legs operate elegantly, in waves, and they move so swiftly it's been hard to get a clear-ish photo; but these harmless things really belong outside in the soil dining on the decaying plant matter they enjoy and helping gardeners. If after I show them the egress they don't take the hint, I humanely pick them up (they curl into perfect little spirals) and drop them outside; indoors they quickly dehydrate. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Old French Trading Post

Toured the private historic site Fort LaCharrette with its proprietor, architectural historian Wheelock Crosby Brown, who showed me around the oldest horizontal-log cabin west of the Mississippi and the fur-trading post founded in 1762 by Frenchman Joseph Chadron and his Osage Indian wife. Lewis and Clark visited Fort LaCharrette, the last white settlement on their way west, in 1804. Brown, a specialist in historic restorations, saved the buildings from ruin and lovingly restored or rebuilt every inch with original materials or as close as he could get. The cabin, trading post and authentic outbuildings perch on a bluff high above the Missouri River near Washington, Mo., and Brown (the bearded guy; degree from Stanford) flies there the old French flag and the 17-star American flag of Lewis and Clark's time. He gives tours, by appointment, to groups or to individuals such as myself. I got to sit in an 18th-century chair hollowed out of a log and upholstered with a blanket, and listen as Brown described the Chadrons' business and home lives. The fireplaces work.

Brown explained that Fort LaCharrette wasn't a military fort. Back then, anyplace people could run for safety and shelter was called a fort. A "charrette" is a wooden wagon (pictured) of the kind that Joseph Chadron filled with furs he bought or bartered from white and Indian trappers, and took down the bluff to a boat and to St. Louis to resell.

Things to remember: "Osage" is from the French "Aux sage," meaning "wise ones." "Missouri" is from the Siouxan, "Ouimisourite," meaning "men of long canoes." Here's another article about Fort LaCharrette.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Reporting a Poacher

The new Glassberg Conservation Area (see Oct. 31 entry) attracted quite a few hikers and explorers over the weekend, including me, every day; I even met an angler trying her luck, and got so jealous I went home and readied my own fishing rods for the next sunny day. But there's always the scofflaw city guy with his accursed two dogs running unleashed upsetting the wildlife, and although no hunting is allowed at Glassberg until spring, I saw a hunter in his green camo in the parking lot today, gearing up; no other vehicle was there. So I drove straight home where I had the number on the wall and phoned the Missouri "Report Poachers" hotline at 1-800-392-1111.

Starting on September 15 with the deer and turkey archery season, hunters are common in this area because there's so much conservation land, some of this adjacent to this property. "Conservation" doesn't mean "no hunting" -- deer hunting is an important part of conservation. Remember I got my hunter's certification back in March and although I don't hunt I learned how it's done right -- legal and humane -- and how it's done wrong. Either bow or firearm, it doesn't matter which when it's posted "no hunting." The main deer-firearms season is Nov. 10-20 (not a good time to hike, everybody! Boom, boom, dawn to dusk daily!); and hunters may use firearms in the woods until Dec. 30.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Glassberg Conservation Area, 400 Acres, Now Open; See It Here

The LaBarque Watershed’s new conservation area is now open to the public: 428 acres with 1.5 miles of easy to moderate hiking trails and good signage, a 3-acre fishing lake called Buder Lake, and Meramec River bluffs from which to view the Pacific Palisades. Formerly residential property, then acquired by the nonprofit Wild Canid Center which never got the funding to build on it, now, thanks to the Glassberg family, it belongs to us all. It opened at noon October 30. I was there. Here is my 7-minute video tour, the first ever, to peek at until you can get here and enjoy it yourself.

Fishing and hiking are encouraged, but camping, biking, and horseback riding are not allowed, dogs must be leashed at all times, and hunting is not yet permitted, but with hunters in the surrounding area you’ll look smart in your hunter orange. Wear hiking boots, bring water. There are no facilities.

The new Glassberg Conservation Area is located in northwestern Jefferson County on Highway FF, and practically across the road from the Young Conservation Area that protects a long section of LaBarque Creek. See you in the Conservation Areas!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why I Hired a Personal Trainer

For the past month I’ve had a personal trainer. Not because I plan to be sleek, buff, catlike or muscular, but I needed to re-learn how to exercise, that being a non-negotiable for women who need more muscle and bone just to function (and live on 100 rugged acres). My back hurt (whose doesn’t?) so I had quit ballet. Fearing further injury I quit Zumba. I quit step aerobics. I quit upright cycling and went recumbent. I quit exercises I’ve done for 30 years. And the less I exercised the weaker I became, so I exercised less--a vicious circle.

            When I'd joined the gym a few years ago, a trainer in his 20s worked me like a Marine. I couldn’t take it. That trainer was embarrassed to hear I’d had a mastectomy, mentioned because it affects my balance. This year I was lucky to meet Kevin Edwards (pictured), who is my age, a regional bodybuilding champion in the master’s division in his weight class, and he knows, quote, “Boomers have issues.” He told me that between trainer and trainee communication is key. I gave him a chiropractor’s chart of my back. Kevin’s training program targeted my sore spots, strengthened my core and improved my balance and posture. Toned muscles can stabilize weak points in the spine. We worked for one hour twice a week. He advised me on eating habits and I’ve changed mine bite by bite. “Whenever you eat a carbohydrate, always eat protein with it,” he says. “Eat your fruit in the morning,” he says, “so you can burn off the sugar. Eat vegetables after noon.” In the illustration you see the “One-Armed Romanian Deadlift” I had never heard of and am still trying to master. It works the core and most everything else, including balance.
            Personal training is costly but is one of the best investments I have made. If you don’t already, try making your health a top priority.  Because if you’re sick or hurting, nothing in life is good.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Free Gold

Took this on October 21 when the Divine Woods were golden through and through, bright as sunshine, leaves quietly falling, and when blended with the beautiful blue October sky and warm weather -- intoxicating!

Then I went away for a few days and returned hoping for more golden woods time, only to find that a storm had stripped most of the leaves, and I was surprised, even disoriented, to see only the white unfiltered sunshine typical of November. At least I got this photo for us.

What's different this year: Usually reluctant to let go of summer, I welcome the autumn and do not dread the winter, when life gets harder: the cabin's logs hold and radiate cold; can't sit out on the porch; the car skids; the skin gets dry. It's life and I'll take it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chicken of the Woods

This is "Chicken of the Woods" or "Sulfur Shelf" (Laetiporus sulphureus) seen today on a dead oak in the Divine woods. This meaty wild mushroom according to Mushrooms of North America is "the most popular edible polypore. Fresh young specimens are delicious..." However, I enjoy wild mushrooms solely as works of art. Chicken of the Woods (not to be confused with "Hen of the Woods" (Grifola frondosa)), is parasitical, and in its early stages, attacks a tree's heartwood, and by the time the "chickens" you see here appear on the tree bark, "they are definitely coming home to roost, as far as the tree's health is concerned," says You can see that the undersides of this tree fungus are sulfur yellow. Looking into joining the local mycological society, I found its homepage plastered with dozens of warnings: They are NOT RESPONSIBLE if you go hunting mushrooms with them, then eat one and croak! I didn't feel the love. For comparison, here's the spectacular 24-ounce Grifola frondosa I found in the woods in October 2008.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do You Think It's Time?

It's growing out of the garage gutter, 12 feet above the ground, too high for any but a skilled handyman to reach, and anyway the garage roof is too sharply pitched for me to dare to climb on. I planted sunflowers in the meadow when I moved here 11 years ago and deer snapped 'em up before they even bloomed. Didn't try it again. This sunflower is a volunteer, and the only blooming sunflower on this property because it's out of deer range. The garage gutter, to my knowledge, has not been cleaned in a decade and is full of broken twigs and branches flung from the very dead oak you can see in the background. I sent this photo to the landlord to say that while I enjoy the flower, maybe it's time to do some upkeep.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cops: 0; Me, 1

We got our colorful eastern Missouri autumn, beyond our wildest dreams, and today was its most gorgeous day. So I lunched in a little county park along the Big River, where I have a secret spot for fishing, and was at a picnic table being enriched by the view when up behind me comes a sheriff's deputy, a very handsome one, all in brown (I love a man in uniform) and surprises me when he says, "Maybe you didn't take the time to read the signs at the park entrance when you came in, but glass bottles aren't allowed in the park."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. I had half my sandwich and  two-thirds of a bottle of orange juice left. I picked up the bottle to surrender it.

"It's not glass, it's plastic!" I said.

"Sure looks like glass."

"It's plastic. Here, squeeze it," I said to the deputy. He hesitated but he did it.

He said, "Lotta people don't take the time to read the signs at the park entrance that glass bottles aren't allowed in the park." And he turned his attention to the folks on the sandbar, fishing, saying, "Wonder what they're catchin' today."

He wandered off to sit in his patrol car, and after lunch I took a little walk to see if my secret, small and narrow fishing spot down the bank was still there. It was.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Agritourism Experience

I confess I cheated on y'all and took my first overseas trip, to Poland, specifically rural south Poland (Carpathian and Tatra Mountains) with a group doing "agritourism," and now I know what that means. Our group of 12 visited Polish villages and learned about their foodways, and the cooks gave us lessons in their kitchens, so now I can fold a cabbage roll properly, and make pelmenyi, little Polish tortellinis stuffed with meat (pictured) and served in borscht. I brought back a jar of rose-petal jam. Once back in the U.S., I combed the big city for piernikis (gingerbread cookies filled with plum jam and dunked in chocolate) and Polish lemon vodka. We saw the clean and beautiful Polish countryside with farms and trout streams and pastures unmarred by chemical spraying, and we visited craftspeople and open-air markets and it was harvest time with so many purple plums, fruit, cucumbers for pickling, dried flowers and fresh sheep's milk cheeses and breads; and we hiked two of Poland's great national parks, set aside for posterity because they know when they've got a good thing going. That's the difference between most Poles and most Americans.
     Part of our agri-tour was arranged and hosted by

Sunday, October 7, 2012

House Beautiful

"House proud" is being overprotective of the appearance and cleanliness of one's house, for example hating to have people sit in your chairs or eat at your table or enter your front door -- and it afflicted many in my parents' generation (now flattered as "The Greatest Generation") and many fewer members of my own generation. Yet heretofore I was too house-proud to winterize the Divine Cabin by putting plastic on its exterior, while for 10 years I have faithfully, with blood, tears, toil and sweat, plasticked or double-plasticked from the inside the single-pane, airy, leaky, original windows, using cellophane -- and shut off from the rest of the house the beautiful but horribly drafty 30 percent of the house called "the Studio" from October to March.

The Studio's picture window made it a wonderful work room and  guest bedroom, and last year with our freakishly mild winter and the house's new heating ducts and frantic caulking and one electric heater, I actually used the Studio in winter for the first time (after 10 years' occupancy) and fell in love with it. But although it was cellophaned from inside, elusive drafts still shivered the cellophane and me.

Knowing that this winter would have to be colder because it couldn't possibly be warmer, I put on exterior plastic and tape, and this is how it looks now. Martha Stewart wouldn't approve. The plastic is translucent so I've lost, for the winter, my meadow view.

But after I finished the job, the room was so much warmer and draftless I thought I was imagining it. Came back later. No, the plastic was working. Seriously working. So I can seriously work in the studio. Useful is beautiful.

The hanging plant is my surviving basil plant, also beautiful and useful.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Welcome Autumn

1. Bedsheets from cotton to flannel.
2. Pajamas from cotton to flannel.
3. Plug in the heated mattress pad.
4. Place and plug in all three space heaters.
5. Arrange for a helper to spend the day helping me "plastic my windows" and doors against drafts. With help and two hair dryers it takes one day. Alone it takes three or four days.
6. Check propane tank fill level. (Done. It's at 45 percent.)
7. Fold and store the tent.
8. Scrub and oil most garden tools; take dull ones for sharpening.
9. Obtain salt block for animals.10. Obtain kitty litter for icy walks.
11. Cram possible mouseholes, mouse thruways, and crannies with steel wool.
12. Diagram and begin to build the outdoor fireplace made of concrete blocks that I saw in Mother Earth News.
13. Accept all invitations to wineries, Oktoberfests, hayrides, day hikes, sausage festivals, haunted houses, church bazaars, feasts, and any other riotous celebratory events, and issue invitations for at least two of my own.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Harvest Moon

Came home from a skirt-and-high-heels event dragging a huge bag of apples a friend harvested from his trees and gave me. Saw the rising full moon, said, "That's cool!" and grabbed camera and tripod and ran outside and worked until I got what I saw. The moon that's closest to the Fall Equinox is called the "Harvest Moon". This one's in the sign of Aries. Because it's the second full moon of the month for most of us, some people say it's a "blue moon." According to Wikipedia they aren't technically right, but let's pretend they are.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Trespasser

My first autumn here, in 1998, a red pickup tore out from the woods through the meadow, skidded in a spray of gravel onto my lane and down and away onto Highway F. Caught a glimpse of the driver -- a bald old man with his mouth gaping like Pac-Man -- and the license plate: New Mexico. I followed the tire tracks and crushed grass back into the woods. The trespasser had made my woods his dump. He hadn't dumped anything identifiable, though, just cans, bottles, rusted oil drums, old miniblinds, an old sink, and so on.

Called the sheriff. Two deputies came and asked me everything except my personal body measurements. I led them into the woods and showed them the fresh dump. They knew who the dumper was but pretended they didn't; only one old bald guy around here had a big brand-new red pickup with a New Mexico plate, and if I hadn't been so new I would have known him, too: the area's biggest landowner and richest man.

Every day I marched back into the woods and hauled out heavy bagsful of his trash. I did it 18 times before I got tired of it, and some of it is still there. At the spot where he'd driven across the meadow and between trees into the woods I wanted to erect a barrier. I couldn't haul stones big enough. Finally down near the road I found sawn pieces of a tree trunk. I couldn't lift them so I lugged and dragged five pieces uphill and down my lane one by one. It was the hardest physical labor I have ever done. Set up four of the pieces in a row.

The photo shows three of them. All four are are still there, and behind them, instead of open meadow, are young oaks The oaks are my work, too. While hauling trash I noticed that the red cedar trees, nice enough but an invasive, non-native species, were choking off the young oaks and hickories. So every possible day for several seasons I went into the meadow and yanked, chopped, clipped and uprooted all red cedars I could. If the cedar trunk was big enough, the stump wept sticky red tears like blood. I did it for the native oaks and hickories.

Today the barrier of stumps still stands and behind it are several stands of young oak trees gaining strength every day, and no one's going to be driving his pickup truck between them anytime soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Karma's a Bee

Honeybees without flowers will find what they can; in this case, my hummingbird feeder, where they apparently get tipsy and drown in the sweetness they were after. (One of the red metal "blossoms" on this copper-colored feeder is missing, leaving the hole. But they drown in the other feeder too.) The hummingbirds are now in their final week of residence -- the latest I've ever seen one is October 1 -- all females (for no reason I can figure out), dodging the crawling crowds of honeybees in their efforts to perch and sip. When the hummers are gone for the season, their five-month residence over, I take down the feeders, clean and store them, and cry. Grief is the price one pays for love.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brown Eggs with Value Added, Part 3

There he was at the roadside, his red pickup atilt on the road shoulder: Farmer Bob the brown egg man! As you'll recall from a previous post, a month ago the health department told him he couldn't sell eggs on the roadside anymore, and all his customers who saw him Wednesdays and Saturdays and bought brown eggs for $3.50 a dozen were saddened--but now he's back! I jammed on the brakes and got out of my car.

"Hello," I said, holding out my hand (because gentlemen shake hands with ladies only if the ladies extend their hands first). Instead I got caught up in a hug.

"I thought the health department said---and what are you doing here on Sunday?"

Farmer Bob said, "I'm here today to tell all my customers that I'm movin'. Thought I'd do it today, when nobody, you know, would be out and around to report on me."

"But I thought they said--"

"I'll be movin' over there," said Farmer Bob, and pointed.

Flummoxed, I wanted to ask: Is that okay? Did you get a permit or something? Can you sell eggs now because summer's over and it's fall? Is this, like, under the radar? I had wondered how much he missed the income from this area; it must've been a good spot for egg sales. Instead I said, "You mean over there? You'll be there Wednesdays and Saturdays, like you used to?"

He said yes.

I figured he knew what he was doing, so I didn't have to know more. I said, "Do you have any eggs today?"

(I didn't need any, but I bought a dozen.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Autumn Equinox

. . .at 9:49 a.m. Honor to the unknown builders of the Divine Cabin who in 1930 carefully and thoughtfully aligned the front door exactly east, so at the spring and fall equinoxes, an axis of sunlight runs straight through the dwelling in a long line at sunrise and sunset. It's Druidic. It's divine!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall Color

The red and green this year of the drought will have to be on your plate. The recipe for this luscious avocado, tomato and zucchini pizza is at The Piehole Midwest where due credit is given to the creator of this raw-vegetable dish you can serve and eat in any one of six ways: as salad, as salsa, as pizza topping (with mozzarella), in tacos.. .and two other ways I can't think of (I've been meaning to look up the early symptoms of Alzheimer's). Excellent because 1) there's no cooking, just dicing; and 2) the tomatoes don't have to be perfect. Peel a late zucchini, and most of the time it's still just fine to use.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Most Loved Herb on Earth...

....Basil. I'll throw basil leaves in my bed and sleep with them. This was the week, it always is, to clip the branches off the stems, to cut from their branches the heavenly-scented basil leaves that you see here, and wash them and dry them and then to pulverize the dickens out of 'em, using 1 cup packed basil leaves with 1/4 cup olive oil and salt. It's not quite "pesto"; that'd have garlic and nuts in it. Garlic flavor doesn't freeze well. So what I make at harvest time is basil paste.A huge green mess in the kitchen (pesto mess-toe) ensues. For a minute I dreaded doing the basil-paste thing but it takes an hour and lasts all year, and can't think of too many other things that are so predictably satisfying. And then I told myself, "You're complaining about fresh basil? Golly, don't you have it rough!"

Three big happy plants gave me the harvest you see here. After making the paste I scoop ice-cube-sized portions onto a tray, put tray in freezer, and when the portions are frozen, wrap and package basil cubes for winter. Can't put the cubes in the bed, but I can open the bag and sniff 'em when I need a basil fix.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Last Three Days of Isaac

Hurricane Isaac gave us a wonderful soaking downpour this past week, around 3 inches, badly needed, especially about a month ago. The tomatoes still on the vine grew fatter, the dry shabby earth greener. In fact the woods looked exactly as they do in spring; here, I will show you. I'm very very grateful for the rain. Perhaps it was withheld so that we would no longer take it for granted.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Old Tiff Mills

Interviewed a lady named Mary Jean Daugherty who grew up during World War II in Richwoods, in Washington County, next county over from here. She said, "We lived around the tiff mills, that’s what kept Richwoods going."

Q:  Around the what?

A: Tiff, white tiff, that’s what kept Richwoods going.

Q: What is tiff?

A: It’s white rock. I don’t know what they do with it, but we had big trucks come in and haul it out, and they did go dig in the forest. There was a good five mills in Richwoods; that’s what kept the town going.

I Googled "tiff mills" with no results. So I hunted up this bit of Missouri mining history. "Tiff" is a local name for the mineral barite, and Washington County just south of Richwoods had the richest barite deposits in Missouri, and companies tore up the woods to get at it.

Although barely harder than a fingernail, barite will not dissolve in water and is so dense that it sinks through mud and is impervious to radiation. It is the chalky substance in the “barium milkshake” used to diagnose digestive problems, and an ingredient in concrete and important to oil drilling. Ultimately the Missouri tiff mining companies dug up 13 million tons, and after the war found bigger deposits overseas.

The photo at the top is labeled "Tiff Mill, Mineral Point", a tiny town just northeast of Potosi in Washington County. You also see barite from my Missouri mineral collection. When bonded with sand, barite can form "roses" or "desert roses," a geological novelty item. My barite is more of a rosebud, but thought you'd like to see it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Everywhere, Endless, and Changing

I want so much to share the beauty I see, living out here--daily, my cup overflows. In the city, I got beauty at the museum or in individual plants or trees, and only in glimpses, so I moved and I stay so I can feast on the beauty that is everywhere and endless and changing. On my gravestone please write, "She loved beauty."  Or maybe this, from a North Country British gravestone:

The wonder of the world,
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, lights and shades,
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.

(That wasn't written by a Londoner.)

Woke early this late August morning with a head cold returned in full force (darn, but that's life; I'll take it) and peeked outside and the sun was just rising, but I saw turkeys at the meadow's edge, and although it's not a bird-book picture of a turkey, the above photo is what I actually saw. And loved it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Garden vegetables get smaller as the hours of sunlight diminish now. You know how the girth of August tomatoes is much less, maybe half, of July's. These August jalapenos, small but fully formed, easily detached from the mother plant, and that meant, "Harvest Me." These little emerald beauties are hot as #&!*@!!#. I can never predict how hot a homegrown hot pepper will be.

The word "harvest" comes from Anglo-Saxon and is related to the German "Herbst," meaning "autumn." I am not ready for autumn but harvest is fine by me. It's also guaranteed in one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language: "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Growing in a Micro-Climate

Missouri's in the temperate zone, but in some dry rocky south-facing sandstone glades that get a lot of sun, cheerful in the huge long drought grow cacti like these prickly pears (opuntia humifusa). I haven't seen any other type of cactus in this area. What's a "glade," you ask? A rocky outcropping amidst woods or grassland. Our glades here are sandstone. The cacti grow in just-right areas only a few feet square called "micro-climates." This one's on the sunny side of the road. The opposite side, chilly and shadowy, is an entirely different ecosystem, supporting temperate plants and creatures and moss and no cacti.

I find cacti on the edges of woods here, at the base of dry south-facing sandstone formations, and on the edge of my south-sloping gravel driveway, where prickly pear plants like shoe soles have persisted for years despite being snowed on, frozen (they turn purple), stepped on, bruised, and run over by cars. If not, they produce frilly yellow blossoms and plum-like fruits. Always get a pleasant sense of wonder when seeing  these wise and witty-looking desert entities way up in the Ozark foothills.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

All Play and No Work

Coming round a bend from walking in a park in town I saw this dramatic huge air balloon collapsing in the baseball field. Turns out a sudden course change required the captain to land somewhere open and flat, along with 8 passengers he referred to as "1800 pounds of passengers," and I ran over to ogle it like everybody else, especially tons of kids comin' outa nowhere. After the balloon drooped to the ground it still had air in it so the captain recruited the kids to roll on it end to end to press all the air out, and they sure enjoyed that and of course I have video (34 seconds) of kids rolling on it and screamin' with joy on a summer evening in Missouri. And the captain, in the red shirt, said it was much easier than just him doing it.
The travel basket looked very small for 8 people and a third of it was taken up by 4 tanks of propane fuel, 400 lbs each. After the kids deflated the balloon, two adults folded it and the captain called a truck to pick up the basket and passengers. Golly, all this excitement and novelty and it was only the second day of my annual "All Play and No Work" week. I'd just been fishing with my bff Carmel and then to a church ice-cream social with Ace and came to the park to walk it off, and now this.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

One Form of Deer Repellent

Friends down the road keep two gardens, a flower garden including tall sunflowers we never see around here because deer snap 'em off leaving four-foot stalks, and a vegetable garden. Both gardens are fenced. That's the only way for hobby gardeners to get homegrown produce to the table, because otherwise all we grow is deer munchies. They bite the tops off tomato plants too, especially during this summer's drought when nothing but gardens got watered. Can't blame them for wanting juicy greenery. Friend's husband found this skull, of a buck with only one antler, in the woods and decided to stake it in the center of his vegetable garden -- even though it has wire fencing. It has golf balls in its eye sockets. I think he means it to strike fear into the hearts of deer, who, if they only turned around, could see plenty of other nice grasses and leaves to rip and pulverize with their amazing one-inch tubular teeth with razor-sharp edges. It's also a form of folk sculpture.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brown Eggs, Subtracted, Alas

Farmer Bob's "Brown Eggs" truck at its usual roadside spot at 11 on Wednesday had no canopy or patio chair and the cardboard sign saying "Brown Eggs" was stowed in the pickup, and as I approached Farmer Bob got out of the cab and I said, "You sold out all your eggs already?"

Farmer Bob said, "The health department says I can't sell eggs on the roadside any more." His eggs weren't refrigerated and they have to be. So he wasn't selling eggs, just telling every customer that skidded to a stop nearby, cheerfully expecting to purchase henfruit, that they could buy his eggs at his house on Highway B. By my reckoning that's 15 miles and out of the way of most of his regulars. Sad because seeing his one-man business on the roadside was a bright spot in my rural day and I daresay it was a bright spot for him too.

You needn't be French to know eggs come out of the chicken with a protective coating ("bloom"), and dont need refrigeration until they're washed, but I guess they don't know that here. Farmer Bob had zucchini to sell, though. I selected one, and he gave it to me free. I hugged him because I don't think we'll meet again. Joylessly I drove into town to the gas station, my next errand, and vacuumed out my eggless car.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why We Should Protect Missouri Streams

Taken at the "beachfront" of a LaBarque Creek tributary with no official name, sometimes called "Sandy Creek" or "Robinson Creek." Deeper and wider than the LaBarque, people at the party were floating on it, boating on it, jumping off the dock into the water (squealing with joy all the while), sunning themselves, playing with their kids and grandkids, swimming in it pretending to be water dragons, and sitting beneath umbrellas on shore drinking a beer, all without fear of polluted water or the deadly currents that sometimes take people who are swimming in the Meramec, the temperamental river that the gentle LaBarque Creek empties into. I was so happy I was at the picnic, about a mile from my house. This is the sort of land being saved for posterity by the Friends of LaBarque Creek organization.

The Labarque Creek, as it runs through the Divine property, has no stretch as deep and swimmable as this one. Because it changes its shape after big rains, once in a while there's a swimmin' hole.