Monday, September 30, 2013

Lust for Lunch and Fall Colors

A certain aura surrounds lunch; it is like no other meal, a civilized refreshment in the meat-grinder of the workday, twice so if you can consume it outdoors. I packed a picnic lunch of ham and cheddar on a seeded bun, a dill pickle and a bottle of well water, drove to Babler State Park (2300 acres), had my lunch there and have never had a happier meal. The woods are still green, and that made me happy, but I lusted too after the orange and chocolaty tones suddenly so satisfying at this time of year. On my lustful lunch hour I bushwhacked until I found some. I'm attending courses to learn my Missouri mushrooms but am not set to eat any. I do know one must cook all edible wild mushrooms; never eat them raw. The bright orange mushroom is Cinnabar Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus); the striped one, fresh Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Both are pretty. Neither is edible.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Love Life

Toads aren't often seen in broad daylight, especially just outside the gym, which is in a strip mall, so I figured this toad was looking and waiting specifically for me because he was an enchanted toad who with a kiss would turn into a handsome prince just my age, with no baggage, who shares my interests. I was game, why not, and bent down and said "Hello, little guy," and put my hand out so he could hop into it, but he hopped away, saying nothing. I tried a second time. He hopped again, toward the puddle of water in the parking lot. I pursued him with the camera. Finally he turned to me and said, "I'm a girl." She's a Bufo americanus americanus Holbrook, an Eastern American toad, found in every county in Missouri.

Oh, I said, disappointed.

That was Friday. On Saturday, clinging to the siding just outside my kitchen door making his annual appeal (often sticking to the kitchen screen door for several days), the Walking Stick appeared, trim and debonair as always, this time matching himself to the paint trim. Every year I politely refuse his proposal, telling him he's very attractive and a great guy but we are not a match.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pickin' Up Paw Paws, and Eating Them

Paw paw fruits, a real treat right off the tree, are in season, and you can't buy them in stores; you'll find them--if the wildlife haven't got to them first--in short-ish trees in the forest understory. They look like pears but act like bananas and their sweet custardy centers taste like banana cream. If you get hard green ones, put 'em in a paper sack until they blush yellow, just like bananas; the blackened ones will be very very sweet. The pulp can be separated from the seeds, and made into pie, but more simply, cut them in half spoon up the flesh. They're Midwestern -- one of their nicknames is "Indiana Banana". A gatherer brought them to an outdoor lunch and then gave me three whole ones to take home. I did indeed have pockets full of paw paws, just as the song says.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Three Kinds of Prairie Blue

Nature news from the Shaw Nature Reserve, where I took a morning walk yesterday with a group called Wednesday Walkers, a self-selected group of people with time for about a two-mile walk, led by a nature instructor, along one of the many paths in the Reserve's 2800 acres of mixed prairie, forest, wetlands, rocky cliffs and glades. We chatted and asked questions as we walked. I heard that 2013 had been an excellent year for bluebirds. Volunteers maintain the Reserve's many birdhouses (pictured: Apartment #74) and count the eggs and babies. In 2013, exactly 203 chicks were hatched in the Reserve's bluebird boxes; 180 of them were bluebirds. "What were the rest?" I asked. "Finches and sparrows," was the answer.

As we walked, sun beating down on a shadeless path cut through stiffly waving five-foot native prairie grasses, someone asked, "What kind of grass is this?"

"Bluestem. If you look way down the stem, toward the ground, the stems are blue." Wow! (Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is, by the way, the state grass of Missouri.)

"And what are these?" I asked when I saw strange but somehow familiar black walnut-sized pods among the five-foot prairie grasses.
"Wild indigo." Snapping the stem when the wild indigo is young yields blue juice that can be used to dye cloth, a discovery the Indians shared with the European settlers. The seed pods aren't really black; they're dark blue, and they look familiar because florists use them in autumn arrangements and wreaths.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Memory Lane

One day I walked a little farther and turned onto a one-lane road I hadn't walked before although I've lived in the area 12 years, and was steamrolled by almost prehistoric memories: It looks like Ashland County, WI as it was more than 50 years ago, the place where my love for the country began, on trips to my uncle's dairy farm where I slept in a room that got very cold in the morning. Stony fields no good for crops, only cows and hay; the electrical poles, mere logs set upright into the ground, holding up a single wire to perfection; second-growth timber, and chicory weeds, all very quiet, and every half-mile a fire hydrant at the roadside, cast-iron thickly painted red; here, with lettering: CHATTA TENN 1963.

Simply hadn't seen the turnoff to this road, a memory lane, or maybe it magically appeared, a new road just when I needed it, and I walked thinking how we always visited my uncle in August, and August in northern WI is like mid-September here: breezes tepid and then cold, dealt out edgewise like playing cards; dry grass; woodpiles; understated sunlight. An excellent fitness walk because of its hills, rising 283 feet total from the starting point to its highest. Three miles into it I hadn't reached the end, and turned around, but next time I'll walk farther and see what's at the end of Memory Lane.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cool Country Mailboxes

Now, that's bass!
A mailbox is to a house what a vanity plate is to a car; a fun enhancement and form of self-expression. What do you love enough to put out in front of your house? But having a cool mailbox, either be watchful or live on a remote rural road, because you aren't country until your beloved roadside mailbox, even a plain one, has been bludgeoned by a carful of teenagers with baseball bats. This senseless and meaningless act happened to me years ago. The mailboxes of my neighbor and I are black, plain, just ordinary; they didn't even used to have numbers until a carrier complained; I stuck orange reflective tape on them, that's all. After the vandalism, the handyman, Angelo, cleverly built out of two-by-fours a protective frame for our mailboxes, and Angelo's design made such attacks impossible.

I love mailboxes; they're about hope. Everyone hopes for good mail. When I can safely stop the car on rural roads I get out and photograph creative boxes like these that make me smile.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Sunrise Like a Moonrise

Last night had a nightmare, very rare for me. This morning woke up in light of a glassy moonstone grey as I hadn't seen in a while, and suddenly my chemistry changed. From the kitchen, which faces east, I saw the sun struggling upward though shrouds of purple and gunmetal gray, looking more like a moonrise, and for a moment I was disoriented: day or night? No; it's summer becoming fall, heading toward the one equinox I could do without. No one hangs onto the final days of summer as I do, begging them, please do not take my basil and hummingbirds and "honor" vegetable stands. But the morning didn't listen and whisked me along as the earth shifts on its axis, tilts away from the sun, giving me no choice except acceptance. It does, however, provide coffee to lift one's spirits.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

On a Mission

Every morning this week I have said "Good morning" to this Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis) hangin' out beneath the bird feeder enjoying scattered birdseed. They prefer juicy food, like flies and cantaloupes, but our month-long drought left her world devoid of fruits and flying bugs, so she ate what was available. Early one morning I saw her crossing the lane toward the deep woods that cover the south-facing slope, her color matching some of the leaves already fallen, and I understood that she was fattening herself for a long sleep through the cold weather in a south-facing burrow she's now selecting or decorating. We humans do much the same, calling it football season, or good baking weather, or Oktoberfest. In case we aren't fat enough, we crawl out again in late November and call it Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What City People Eat

Today I went to an urban business lunch, a buffet serving grilled chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each), pasta with vegetables (pretty good), salad, and rolls. My table seated 8, seven women and one man, and I surveyed their plates and saw:
  1. Chicken, pasta, salad, roll.
  2. Only chicken.
  3. Only salad.
  4. Only chicken.
  5. Nothing but a nutrition bar she unwrapped and cut with a knife and fork and ate like it was a meal.
  6. Chicken, salad.
  7. Only salad.
  8. Chicken, pasta, salad, and, going home in the car, still hungry (because no one takes seconds) a package of peanut butter crackers, and at home, blackberry pudding.
Guess which one I am. Made me wonder, where is this country going?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Twenty Years and Tattered

Finally this afternoon the business of a too-busy summer was said and done, and for the first time this calendar year I had time and energy to set up my tent, because in summer I like spending a few nights a week sleeping in it, enjoying the cool earth and looking up through the netting at the fireflies and stars, and waking in the dawn amid mists and freshness. Having folded my tent carefully last fall, I unrolled it-- a six-sided, two-person dome tent--took the poles and stakes from the carry bag, and as I worked the tent poles through the sleeves for maybe the 200th time, remembering adventures in the Ozarks, in an Iowa county park, on a stony island in Wisconsin, and so on--heard: rip--rip. Shredding gave way to more shredding. The netting that formed the dome was kaput.

My first thought was to buy new netting of just the right kind, cut it hexagonally and machine-sew it myself across the tent top: good as new. But, impossible. The tent is 20 years old.  It cost precisely $20 at Grandpa Pidgeon's, a chain store defunct in 1999. The twin zippers haven't worked for seven or eight years. One of the poles is a replacement, and six inches too short. It is time for a new tent.

Was it really time? I asked myself. And answered: Yes; what perfect, perfect timing! Tomorrow, day after Labor Day, tents will be on sale everywhere and you will find the next love of your camping life.