Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Berry Lust

Picked a bowlful of wild blackberries today for the first time this summer from the thousands of blackberry briars in the meadow. One ripe shiny juicy blue-black one leads to another,  bigger, sweeter, riper -- berry lust fills me...the more I see, the more I want. Thorns rip my skin and clothes; mosquitoes halo me, poison ivy leaves molest me; but there the berries are for the taking! Irresistible! Divine! Enjoy thinking of the thousands who have done this before me through all time, happy to see sweet berries, picking the finest ripest ones to feed their families.

Love them in cornflakes and milk. Love baking berry scones (pictured) with blackberries just picked and warm from the sun. What berry-picking teaches: 1) Wait until it's ripe. It's no good until it's ripe. 2) You can't have it all. You can only have some. 3) Live in the now. 4) The free things in life are best.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ice-Cream Social in Catawissa

Homemade ice cream: peach, pineapple, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla at the twice-a-summer ice-cream social at Catawissa Union Protestant Church, the church I'd join if I were a church person because of  the food. At the ice-cream social in the church basement, we ate barbecue sandwiches and pies and cake along with the ice cream, for the price of a free will offering. Ace, a former farm boy born in 1938, now retired, is among my favored companions for church lunches and suppers. He knows what Missouri food should taste like and that homemade piecrusts differ vastly from purchased ones (those things hard as turtle shells!), and he can tell them apart. Church people recommended the peach pie made by one congregant and we made a beeline and got our slices, but when Ace went up for seconds it was gone, so he settled for the slice of spice cake with cream cheese frosting that he's finishing here. Another ice-cream social occurs August and we will head there EARLY to secure the PEACH PIE, with everyone else in the county in hot pursuit.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Camping in the Yard

If you have a porch or a few square feet of property please try the adventure of summertime sleeping outdoors. Steamy days become cool nights here, 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in the city, sometimes with a delicious trace of ice in the air, and among my chief summer delights is sleeping about three times a week in my old green and yellow two-person tent and a nylon bag and blankets. New this year: mats all across the tent floor for comfort no matter how I roll.

I pitch my tent where the grass is mown and short, which discourages ticks. About 10:30 p.m., settling in with my pillow I watch stars through the ceiling netting; or through the door netting watch the knee-deep tide of early-summer fireflies. Every year on the very first night out there's always an incident, such as a nighttime creature sniffing around the tent. This year my presence in the meadow annoyed a deer who snorted for 30 minutes in a threatening manner, edging closer with every snort. I downloaded onto my Droid the loud and unpleasant "Police Siren" app with flashing lights, and thus established my rights without a confrontation. I've discovered that sleeping on the chilly ground eases and breaks the cycle of tormenting night sweats and hot flashes. The photo is a view through the tent ceiling early one perfect June morning.

I often wake at sunrise to a world filled with humidity embodied as mist and dew, so much it soaks the tent walls; or I oversleep and the sun heats and heats the tent until I'm driven back to the house inspired maybe to make a dreamlike breakfast of berry scones and coffee. Early one morning, creeping out of the tent into an almost psychic orange mist, I saw a buck so majestic I understood why the classics say a god disguised himself as a stag.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Enticing Local Eats, Eureka, Mo.

Eat locally! These signs at two different eateries in Eureka are not 200 feet apart. I haven't tried either delicacy. Do you dare me? Or, better, drive to Eureka, Mo. and try them yourself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How I Got to Live Here

A typed 3"x5" file card tacked up on a bulletin board at the university where I worked said a rural rental property was subletting for a year at $400 a month. I'd been living in a low-rent (bullet holes in my windshield) area of St. Louis for a decade and pined for change. I'd also been visualizing my ideal home: in the woods, near a creek, where night looked like night; I'd even taped up a picture cut from Reader's Digest. Given my situation it was a foolish impossible pipe dream. I phoned. A Dutch physics professor and his artist wife about to tour the world for a year said they sought someone clean and neat who'd occupy the house and care for their cat.
I drove 35 miles from town, increasingly enchanted by the hills and greenery. It was April. Found a little white house with green shutters and door, shaded by old hickory and oak trees (at that time I couldn't tell them apart). I glanced through the kitchen window at the porch and fell in love. The original three rooms of the house was a log cabin. Awkward additions had been tacked on. It came with 100 acres of Ozark foothills. My first night here was in June. I had no bed yet. I lay on the bedroom floor on blankets, the windows open wide to hear everything. The house is on a sandstone cliff, so when I looked out I saw starry sky. The cat was a sweet companion.

After 14 months the couple returned. I asked to be informed if they ever moved away so I could ask to be next to rent it. Moved back to the city and two years and two months later, on Oct. 1, 2001, I moved back into the Divine Cabin and they will take me out feet first. In order to stay here I have refused offers of good jobs and marriage. This old, drafty, complicated house requires hiring people to help me out but I'd rather do that than live somewhere with fewer challenges. The gorgeous stone fireplace doesn't work. The moldy, leaky, ugly, 4x8 bathroom (yes, it's the only bathroom) with the rusted hot-water heater got torn out and updated just this past year. (There's still no bathtub.) Nearly every morning from March through late November I have morning coffee or tea on the stone porch. It is my box seat on the universe. In the city, Summer Solstice meant nothing. Here it means everything.

Happy Summer Solstice June 20 at 6:09 p.m. CDT. Please celebrate anytime that life on earth is a peak experience. This is a meadow celebrating itself, across Highway F, not 50 feet from the LaBarque Creek.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Viper's Bugloss

This spectacular non-native but common Ozark wildflower also called Blueweed (Echium vulgare) is typically found in "disturbed ground" and gravel bars. On a Huzzah River gravel bar almost a whole field of these grew three feet tall, their flowers inhabited by bees and butterflies. It looked like a city of apartment buildings with tenants flying from room to room. The seed supposedly looks like a viper's head. (A simile is like a metaphor.) Handling this plant might give you a rash.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dillard's Mill, Davisville, Mo.

Pulling a lever, the guide started the turbine and the whole three stories of the 1901 mill shivered, and the old machines made of wood and cast iron, with belts of canvas or leather, came alive. I remarked on the quaking and the guide said, "You're in a giant machine." In its day Dillard's Mill, powered by the Huzzah River, separated corn from cob and flour from bran, grinding the grain into flour and the cobs and bran into animal feed, wasting nothing. It ground coffee and spices too. Dillard's Mill ground its last in 1956. Here's the mill outside (with its mill pond), a view of the inside, and its trademark flour sack.

I was the only person touring this Missouri state historic site on a weekday. It's about 2 hours' drive from St. Louis. Dillard's original mill, from the 1850s, burned and its ruins were purchased and rebuilt by German immigrants Emil Mischke and his sister Marie. According to the guide, Marie ran the mill while Emil sat outside, smoked, read the paper and gossiped. He fled the area after making pro-German remarks right before WWI, when two other local men who'd aired similar remarks turned up murdered. The Klemmes bought the mill from the Mischkes, built an electrical generator, and when it didn't turn a profit -- most folks began buying their flour from General Mills and Pillsbury -- made the location into a resort. The mill can operate but only for demonstrations.

It didn't use a millstone. After 1875 those were obsolete. This was a higher-tech "roller" mill, running the  grain several times through rollers on all three stories of the mill, then finally through horsehair brushes to extract every speck of usable flour and corn. Before electrification in the 1940s, the turbine ran on water channeled through a millrace, a gate that's lifted to let flowing water generate power. That's how it's run when you visit. The millers kept bamboo fishing rods available so farmers could fish while their grain was ground to order and bagged. More info and driving directions here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grilling Flat Iron Steak

Oh buy the steak, said the little devil perched on my shoulder. The angel opposite said, It costs nine dollars! You've never grilled steak in your life! What a waste if you mess up! The devil won this argument and I took home a "flat iron steak" -- never heard of it before; it looked kind of like the flank steak I'd wanted. Surprised to learn that flat iron steak is a new and fashionable cut from the shoulder. Cut vertically, that muscle made gristly top blade steaks. Cut horizontally, it makes flat-iron steak, the second-most-tender beef cut after the tenderloin. More fascinating info about the invention of the flat iron steak here on a butcher's blog. And either I'd grill the boneless 1.1-pound steak that afternoon or be too intimidated and waste what I'd spent on the Lodge cast-iron grill. My reluctance might seem odd, but in my middle 50s I have never grilled anything except corn and a hamburger and that was last week. Steak is a big step up.

Online (source of all knowledge) instructions said to grill the meat for 16 minutes for medium rare. I didn't marinate or rub it with salt and pepper, just brought it out raw on a plate, laid it on the hot grill and watched and waited to flip it at the 8-minute point. Surprise again; turned over, it looked awesome. Finished grilling and tented the (clean) plate with foil for10 minutes so the meat could finish cooking and redistribute its juices, becoming easier to slice. Then I sliced, to throw some steak strips into a salad. It came out magazine-perfect and so tender and delicious I turned ecstatic cartwheels and wished you were here to share. There was no fat or waste to speak of. Feels good to be building a new skill and I can hardly wait to serve this to friends. There's a marinade that's supposed to make it spectacular.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blue Sage

Blue Sage, salvia azurea, belongs to the mint family and also, says the wonderful Ozark Wildflowers manual by Don Kurz, belongs to the western third of the Ozarks, but this is the eastern third and I am so glad it's here, in a meadow that had a path mown into it that allowed convenient closeness for a photo. Wild Blue Sage's hooded flowers -- like the flowers of the "tame" garden sage -- are loved by bumblebees.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

All Bunnies, All the Time

The bunny charm bracelet got started in 2005. I have since added to it. I like mostly realistic bunnies, so there are no Bugses or Playboy bunnies. Notice the coins picturing hares: one from Ireland, and a Canadian nickel lasered to silhouette just the hare. Some are customized charms by one artist, some are vintage, and others are of contemporary mass manufacture. Most are sterling and 3-dimensional. My favorite is the bunny holding out its heart. I always pick that one out and tell people, "This is me."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Looks Like My Old Roommate Eileen

This Three-Toed Box Turtle I met today reminded me of my former roommate Eileen, who woke every morning at 4:30, went right to the kitchen and ground her coffee beans in an electric grinder, shocking me awake five days a week. It sounded like Guadalcanal.

With blue-ringed eyes and great tact I asked Eileen to grind her coffee beans the night before and explained why. She said, "The coffee wouldn't be fresh then," and continued her daily grinding. Lurch (our other roommate) and I had a problem. We lost two hours' sleep because the hag had to have freshly-ground coffee beans or else she was gonna die, I guess. Lurch wasn't going to do anything, so it was up to me.

While Eileen was out one day, I got a screwdriver, crept into the kitchen, and unplugged the coffee grinder. I removed its base plate, stuck the screwdriver inside the mechanism, jammed it in there real good, and scraped its insides around and bent whatever I could. Then I replaced the base plate, wiped off my fingerprints and left it as I found it. Later that day while I was at work it occurred to me that whatever I had done might cause Eileen to be electrocuted. I shrugged. I'd find out in the morning.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Rare Look Inside the Divine Cabin

Began this blog in June 2007. By now you're wondering, what's her writing space like? Now you know. Welcome. This is the Divine living room. That's a "kneeling chair" that keeps my back straight while I tinker with words, building houses of words, for hours and hours just about every day. A second, faster laptop I take with me onto the porch and move around the house with; they are synchronized.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Osama bin Zombie

We firearm enthusiasts of Missouri's rugged Jefferson and Franklin counties are a fun-loving group that likes to get together, talk about and try out firearms, and practice shooting, and later sit in rockers on the porch as the sun sets trying to figure out how to gig frogs without a boat, but mostly we shoot at bulls-eye targets, and now and then we do stacks of cans, license plates, and plastic bottles, and shotgunners shoot at skeets. But I had left over from the days when the gun club met at my place, this one last zombie poster, at one time hilariously funny and now just tasteless and outmoded. So this was our belated good riddance to our country's old enemy. In the photo my friend Morris sets up a juice jug for more target shooting. Morris has a .22 rifle with a mag that holds 25 rounds. Big fun!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dead Man's Curve

I'm usually lighthearted but a couple things about country living are serious and one is flash-flooding; another is road conditions. After two fatalities in one year people around here organized to petition Missouri Dept of Transportation to "straighten out" Highway FF, a road most of us drive every day.

FF, five miles long, parallels the curves in LaBarque Creek, resulting in three significant curves and a low spot where the creek empties into the Meramec (photo was taken while standing on that bridge), and then it curves again, away from the Meramec toward the bigger highway. For most of its length it doesn't have shoulders and can't be widened. Used to be okay when fewer people lived here and parents didn't hand out cars to their kids, and people weren't so harried as to wait until the last minute to drive anywhere. FF was probably once a footpath and then a horse-and-buggy road. I appreciate that it respects the creek and hated hearing about "straightening" it, even after I had my life's first-ever wreck, on FF during a snowstorm, sliding off into the road shoulder just after the third curve. $4000 in damage but not a scratch on me, thank God. Another gift was in it: a good excuse not to show up at work.

So after a 20-year-old and then a well-liked local merchant (who wasn't buckled) were killed on FF, both in broad daylight and at the same curve, the campaign began with a billboard and some publicity, and because MoDOT doesn't have funds to "straighten" the curves it's going to change the way they're paved to reduce the amount of "super elevation" (slope across roadway) that you can see here is significantly banked. Work begins in 2013. At that time all who use Highway FF will be taking that 18-mile detour I took in '02 during the widening of Highway F (which is different from FF).