Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Nest

I fitted out one room to live in and keep warm in while propane prices do whatever they want; just leave me out of it. I will NOT pay a petroleum dealer $1200 for 200 gallons, which is less than half a tank, so I'm conserving. The cabin's thermostat is in this room; it's set at 55. One of my electric space heaters keeps the room at 60 degrees, while the rest of the house is 40-some degrees and due to get colder as tonight's temperatures shrink to 0. Since I turned the thermostat down 48 hours ago the furnace hasn't kicked on even once. I sit on the futon propped up by multiple pillows and work, or watch The Weather Channel, and at night sleep in my wonderfully roomy new brown sleeping bag. Note the Weather Channel's map of how propane prices in the Midwest have risen in one week. Is that a stone fireplace you see in the room, to the left? Yes. Beautiful and nonfunctional. More about the fireplace soon. I'm lucky to be able to make a comfortable nest. There are people with families, seniors, and houses much draftier than mine, or no houses at all, or whose tanks are at 0 and don't have a choice.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sudden Nationwide Propane Shortage

Propane heating was mysterious until I moved here and learned how to handle a propane tank, gauge, gas line and supplier. A propane tank is considered "full" at 80 percent capacity, and at 20 percent one should phone the supplier for a refill. The truck shows up in three to five days. Wait too long -- below 10 percent on the gauge -- and pay an extra $100 for emergency propane delivery. The bills (paid on delivery) are never cheap: my minimum has been $400, my maximum $880, and I fill twice a year. One hard year I sold my wedding-ring set to buy a tankful.

This cold nasty winter I've been burning that propane so yesterday I phoned for a delivery. Darn, the line was busy, and busy again and again. So I left a message and this morning at 7:55 the propane supplier phoned back and I requested $600 worth.

"Six hundred dollars will get you only about 100 gallons," said the clerk, "and our minimum delivery is 200 gallons."

"What?" I said, thinking, That's outrageous!

"We've never seen it like this," she said. Me neither! I asked if it'd be better next week. She didn't know. I refused delivery at that price and she advised me to conserve. Immediately I turned my thermostat from 64 degrees F down to 55, conserving my 25 percent (down from 80 percent in late October), and set my electric space heaters on High.

The news says propane wholesaled at $1.75 a gallon last Friday and hit $5 this week due to a sudden "nationwide shortage" that's not an actual shortage -- fracking has increased the supply. The papers say blizzards and bad roads have kept the supply from getting to the Midwest. The news also blames farmers who used a lot of propane last fall drying their wet corn (?).

I say it's a gouge, like the "energy shortage" of 1973-77, when supposedly the earth was drained of all its oil and a sweater-wearing Jimmy Carter called for sacrifice. I figure I can last two or three weeks and maybe ride out this "shortage" which will end, poof, when the state's Attorney General looks into it, which he's doing Monday. There are 5.5 million people in the US heating with propane. If the shortage were real there wouldn't be a 200-gallon minimum.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Free Chives

Last night the Arctic winds howled as I have never heard them. They tore some of the plastic off the windows and shredded it. They kept me awake. They forced the temperature way down. A human being can do nothing except think about hot soup, a favorite soup. With a sandwich if possible.

I chose the simple recipe "Shrimp Soup DeLuxe" from Twelve
Months of Monastery Soups. Fresh chopped onion, olive oil, shrimp, some dry white wine, white pepper, a bit of milk. . . and a half cup of mixed fresh herbs as the final touch. Fresh herbs in January? Yes! On a slope near the lane, hidden just inside the woods, clumps of chives grow every winter. I don't know where they came from, or why, because they grow nowhere else on the property, but they come in very handy. I cheated and went out and bought parsley for the soup, too. But the chives were free.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January Hike - 1852 Graveyard

Twelve days previously this scene was buried in a foot of new snow and well below zero at night. In fact winter is can be great for hiking: no heatstroke or chiggers and an antidote to cabin fever. Yesterday, with a  high around 40 degrees, the hiking group walked the 12-mile circuit of Little Indian Creek Conservation Area outside of St. Clair, MO; its 4,000 acres straddle Franklin and Washington Counties. Among the few highlights of this mostly forested multipurpose (horse-appled) trail is a little cemetery with weathered stones, most unreadable, yet with a few graves decked with fresh artificial flowers. At the cemetery, about 5.5 miles along, we met sudden high winds and light wintry mix, perhaps because we were uninvited and disturbing the peace. Quickly we departed without finishing our lunches and soon the winds calmed and the sun broke out. Near the 7-mile/3-hour point I'd had my hike and bailed, taking the connecting path back to the parking lot for a total of 7.9 miles, which is plenty.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ask and Y'all Shall Receive

I dared myself to attend a "Laughter Yoga" class and became a regular. Our weekly games, exercises, stretches, and meditation are led by a trained leader who knows all the medical reasons why laughter is good for health. "Laughter Yoga" chapters exist worldwide.

We meet Mondays. During guided meditation we are asked to thank the universe for all we have and make one request. Normally I want for nothing, but this time I asked for $300 (heating bills larger than expected). In Wednesday's mail came an unusually early birthday gift from my mother, an unusually generous $300 check, and also -- the cherry on top! -- a letter forgiving a $50 parking ticket I and a dozen others received while attending a special event. We had been told where to park so as not to be ticketed; we did so and all got tickets anyway, and worse, a bill in the mail after we'd complained. As of Wednesday all our tickets were forgiven.

With the day's mail in hand I laughed and laughed, especially at the extra $50.

This had to be the 50th or 100th time in life I've received deliverance on request, of all kinds from all sorts of sources, and it can't be mere 21st-century New Age magickal claptrap. I learned some time ago that "Amen" means "So be it" and yesterday that one possible source of the word "Abracadabra" is the Aramaic phrase avra kehdabra, meaning “I will create as I speak."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Troubled Bridge On Old Route 66

Once part of the famous Route 66, this 1009-foot-long bridge was built in 1931 and closed in 2009, and to discourage illicit foot and bike traffic and keep the rusty thing from collapsing under its own weight, the paving was removed and this is what you now see from the landed portion of Missouri's Route 66 State Park, a tract of about 400 acres. In the distance with the red roofing is a famous roadhouse built in 1935, known as "Old Bridgehead Inn" or "Steiny's," depending on the era and whom you ask. It's now Route 66 State Park's visitor center and museum (closed November through February; it's just as well, since there's no dancing or beer).

I walked this bridge, spanning the Meramec River, back when it was still paved and linked the two segments of the park the river now separates. This photo was taken on State Park land that was formerly Times Beach, a working-class/poor-people townlet with four bars and four churches, 801 families, a mayor, and 23 miles of dirt roads. To keep the dust down, during the '60s and '70s they hired a guy to repeatedly spray used crankcase oil on the roads, but he'd mixed it with toxic waste: dioxin, used to manufacture the poison Agent Orange. Times Beach was so saturated with dioxin with that the EPA ordered the whole town evacuated in 1983, buying out the residents. The EPA then dug up 240,000 tons of contaminated soil, built an incinerator and incinerated it on the spot (finishing in 1998), and buried what was left of people's houses, and now it's land called Route 66 State Park where there's no camping and nothing to see but this end of the bridge, and nobody lingers or picnics. Nobody who knows the story, anyway. A bike ride or run or hike around its edge (3.25 miles) is enough.

But once this was a happenin' town with grocery and gas station, the bridge an infamous speed trap allowing Times Beach to support itself. I have a friend born in Times Beach in 1971. I mean really born there, not in a hospital. She's blind in one eye and has chronic kidney problems. The bridge's skeleton stays while the state hopes someone will fund its restoration.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Every Feather Tells a Story

On the gray-brown carpet of fallen oak and hickory leaves, flashes of blue caught my eye. Treasures! Feathers! Iridescently blue; how lovely and refreshing on these cast-iron January days!

I picked one up and admired it, then saw more of them and couldn't help but collect them, and then grew uneasy. One feather on the ground, all is well, but this many feathers in one place always signifies a fight to the death. I hoped otherwise, but sure enough there was one bloodied feather as evidence. Nature has taught me not to feel sorrow over dead anything, but I became solemn realizing I was at the spot where a beautiful creature parted from the earth, to serve some greater purpose, I hope, or at least I want to believe.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

For Me? Thank You, How Thoughtful!

The urge to cook turnip-and-bacon soup overwhelmed me so I sought some smaller-sized turnips rather than the usual planet-sized turnips that despite dicing and slow-cooking persist in the soup or the mash like chunks of cork, and found some (like parsnips, they're a rarity or a mere molecule in the produce aisle) and was pleased to notice that the bag said the turnips had been grown just for me.
That warmed my heart. For me? How did they know these were exactly what I wanted and needed at this exact moment? It's a miracle! I liked this so much I looked up the For You brand and found out the For You brand began with a Dutch immigrant who grew outstanding radishes, still the brand's signature vegetable. The company has farms in Michigan and Arizona growing all sorts of produce. And on their website ( I found their recipe for Chunky Turnip Soup with Bacon and Parmesan. How did they know that was exactly what I wanted -- for me?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Church of God, Goldman, MO

From roadside memorials to shrines built of native stone mortared with costume jewelry, Missouri's expressions of faith are the most fascinating anywhere. Name the faith and it has a history in Missouri--or invent a faith, build it a church, and how cool is that. This chastely designed house of worship is in Goldman in Jefferson County, wrongly called by the Internet a "ghost town" despite the functioning gas station/quickshop across the road. Where Goldman Spur Road meets Old Lemay Ferry Road, a classic Phillips 66 sign still stands although the station has faded from view. But you and I know it's there in spirit.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sandy Creek Covered Bridge: Peace

All seemed so crisp and fresh this first day of 2014 that I treated myself to the historic 1872 covered bridge in my own home county, one of the four remaining covered bridges in Missouri. A former toll bridge partly destroyed by heavy weather, it was rebuilt in 1886 with most of its original materials. The Sandy Creek Covered Bridge, on Old Lemay Ferry Road, was closed to traffic and made a state historic site in 1967 and, following the original builder's plans, restored in 1984. It's 18 feet 10 inches wide. The site includes picnic areas, a trail of maybe half a mile, and a small "beach" on the little murmuring creek. In the early days, anyone could build a bridge and charge any toll they felt like until government stepped in. I walked across twice so I'd have paid 6 cents according to this chart. Merchants also posted ads on the inside walls.

Happy Divine New Year! Treat yourself to a historic site sooner than I did. Twelve years in the county and this was my first visit to the covered bridge.