Sunday, May 25, 2014

Benefits of Hiking Poles

A staff I made from a broomstick -- smoothly varnished, just the right size, and marked in inches to check depths of water -- served me for years of hiking until I joined a hiking group and got teased about it, like, did I ride it on Halloween. Many of them had store-bought hiking poles--pairs, like ski poles, one for each hand. I bought cheap ones to see how they worked for me. One broke the first day. I repaired and reinforced them with electrical tape and have now used them for half a year. Advantages of hiking poles:
1. They offer a mild upper-body workout.
2. Their rubber tips or spring-loaded shocks and rubber tops reduce stress on the hands and wrists.
3. I can hike farther.
4. While climbing steep hills or descending rocky pathways I feel much more balanced and secure.
5. Increased confidence and stability when I step over obstacles such as fallen trees, or vault across puddles or creeks.
6. They weigh less than my solid wooden staff (like bikes, the more expensive they are the lighter they can be).
7. The wrist straps mean that you don't have to clutch them for dear life.
8. Especially when going downhill they save wear on the knees.
9. One can serve as a monopod for a camera.
10. They telescope; their length is adjustable.
11. Good for poking around the forest floor.

1. You can't carry anything else in your hands, so must buy or at least bring along a holster, fanny pack, or backpack.
2. You must tug the straps off and lay the poles down to take photos or swig water, and a couple of times when I laid them down or propped them against a tree I almost lost them, even though I chose red ones to make that less likely. I have also tripped on them, and had them fall into a clump of poison ivy.
3. They must be stored in the car.
4. If you don't use them in the approved fashion you get lectured on the trail.
5. They are just one more thing to buy.
6. They make you look and maybe feel a little old; they're used mostly by over-40s.
7. Useless, even burdensome, on ice or in mud. But then again, why are you hiking on ice or in mud?

I like them very much; I simply feel more secure.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Scarlet Elf Caps

Found behind the garage and marveled at: Red circlets tiny as drops of blood. They are Scarlet Cups or Scarlet Elf Caps (Sarcoscypha coccinea), mushrooms of early spring. Inedible. Found some more in the woods, tiny, beneath leafmeal. These must be the last of them, as they are often harbingers of spring. On the floral front, we are now seeing the last of the spring flowers, such as bluebells and phlox, and the first of the summer wildflowers, such as horsemint.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

New at Glassberg: Meramec River Viewing

New at the end of Trail C at Glassberg Conservation area in Jefferson County, instead of balancing on the rocks at the top of the very sheer cliffs to get your glimpse of the Meramec River and its spectacular sandbar, there's a viewing platform jutting just enough so leafed-out trees don't obscure the view. The trail, about a mile long and mostly paved, is worth a walk, and the new deck just another bonus for living in or near the Ozark foothills. I've found another reference giving the story of the name "Meramec"; this time the source is the local paper.  The paragraph reads, "Many people mistakenly say it means 'river of death.' In the early 1700s when the French first got here, they interpreted the Indian pronunciation as 'Miaramiquoa.' A difficult word to spell, many early maps show its spelling as Maramig. As people from the northeast arrived here, they were familiar with the Algonquin word 'Merrimark.' Over the years, the spelling evolved to Meramec. The Indian intepretation of the name is 'River of ugly fish.' Anyone who has caught one of those big catfish on the Meramec would agree with this."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wildlife Police Blotter: Crime Close to Home

Case 1. Murder. 05/15/2014, 1:35 p.m.:  Deceased headless bluejay found floating in the Divine Property's rain barrel. Body appears to have been deliberately dropped in the barrel, which is 4 feet high but just beneath the roof and gutter. Officer did not care to seek the victim's head for further clues. Suspects: Delinquent raccoons have been recently encountered in the area. All local feral cats will also be brought in for questioning.
Case 1 crime scene

Case 2: Squatting. On or about 05/03/2014, two house sparrows fly into the garage's open door and occupy the premises despite the laws of common sense. Officer orders the squatters out, opens garage doors and leaves them open for hours at a time, advising them of the risk of death by dehydration and starvation. Birds poop flagrantly on Officer's vehicle and resist eviction and arrest. This continues until, on or about 5/12/2014, noises and flapping in the garage cease. On 5/14/2014, the reek of decay fills the garage. Officer says, "I told you so," and has not located the remains.

Case 3: Theft and vandalism. On 05/14/2014 about 7:30 p.m. a raccoon described only as "obese" lawfully crawls on the roof of the Divine Cabin but then attempts to drink from each of the four glass hummingbird feeders, causing the largest and most expensive feeder to drop to the ground and shatter. Armed with a broom, Officer (temporarily insane) confronts the suspect and whups it upside the head to show who is boss. Suspect turns tail and is struck in the hindquarters and is now a Ten Most Wanted fugitive and a suspect in the headless bluejay case. Raccoons kill poultry and wild birds by biting their heads and necks, and decapitation is quite typical.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Walmart: Always Prepared

I shop at the local Walmart because I can find everything there except plain yogurt, which is not an Ozark foothills food, and fresh fish. That's because everyone who shops there catches their own. I saw the above, and it's new, a real eye-catcher, in its Customer Service area. I assume it's needed on the occasions when a disgruntled customer is returning things and might be armed. Didn't used to have that at the Kresge's, Goldblatt's, and other department stores of yore. Nor at Woolworth's, where I was a teenage cashier.

Did you know that the first 5 to 15 feet inside a store's front door is its "decompression zone" where you forget what happened in the parking lot and prepare mentally to shop? Walmart doesn't put merchandise in the decompression zone -- it puts a greeter there! -- but just beyond the zone they pile up seasonal or faddish (such as "Duck Dynasty") merchandise on both sides of ya. Ninety-five percent of shoppers will next turn to the right, so the wall to their right after they turn is, in the retail business, called "the power wall," and my Walmart has its pharmacy and over-the-counter drugs there, with cosmetics nearby.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Praying for Mushrooms

See the May 6 entry to learn all about the dump on our property and what Patrick is doing about it. This related but more cheerful story begins when, while cleaning up the dump, Patrick found next to it a fine patch of morel mushrooms. That's right, the coveted, the sought-after; the fungi I told everyone I'd scoured the property for, year after year, and never ever found, so therefore (I confidently concluded) there was none. One Divine reader commented that on 100 acres there must be some morels, but I didn't heed him. I had scoured every inch of the land -- except in the area of the dump.

Finding morels was the news of the decade around here, but I was annoyed with myself because few things are as humbling as broadcasting one's righteousness and then being proven wrong. To be fair, the previous tenants, Europeans who knew where and how to look, hadn't found any morels in their 10 years here, either. So, Patrick having shown me where he found the morels, I tromped through the woods alone, combing through trash and likely sites and ravines, and found not even one. It's late in the season. The morels grow taller at season's end, easier to see, but they have little flesh. I thought, "Finding just one would make me feel so much better." No morels.

"I guess you want to teach me a lesson," I said to God/Lord Ganesha (the elephant-headed Hindu god of the material world, my favorite). I added, "However, God/Lord Ganesha, I have learned this lesson now. Please present me with a morel so I can quit scolding myself." About to give up, I walked over an incline and suddenly saw on a tree stump the hugest, most dazzling and freshest Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushroom I have ever seen. Yes, edible, and how! Always positively identify such mushrooms, cook thoroughly before tasting, and take only a little first bite; a small percentage of people react badly to it.

With my knife I cut away about a pound and a half of the flesh that some say tastes like lobster. I cleaned and chopped it up, sauteed it with salt and pepper, ate some, and froze the extra for later, perhaps to top a pizza. And on a reconnaissance mission to the dump I did find morels: two. So now my harsh feelings are salved, and I know the gods (Thank Y'all!) must either like me or find me amusing. They are generous.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dump in the Woods

I can't believe I've never written about the dump on the property, but in the woods maybe 200 yards from the dwellings, there it is, and the dumping was done years ago, maybe in the 1980s and early '90s,  and the ton of junk hasn't moved in the 12 years I've lived here except  in 2002 when Demetrius and I made 18 ambitious round trips dragging full and heavy garbage bags out of the woods, and quit after seeing we were not making even the least dent in the pile. The shallow ravine is loaded with jagged glass, rusted metal, plastic, a tire or two, and, to make it worse, 1) nothing old and cool, no artifacts or antiques, and 2) whoever dumped it cleverly left no clue as to his or her identity. Dumping is illegal but surprisingly common in rural areas, especially when weekly trash pickup service costs $90 every three months. I'm always shocked to find, say, abandoned refrigerators, tires, or even rusted-out cars in woods that appear otherwise pristine.

All this spring my neighbor's son Patrick has been sorting these materials, bringing them out of the woods, crushing the aluminum cans, loading them on a truck and hauling them to the recycling station, a heroic effort to unburden our woods of this ugly foreign material. But the dump has an upside, and I will discuss it in the next installment.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Blue Angels Were Here

Last year because of government budget cuts they did not appear, and in fact there was no airshow at all, disappointing thousands, but now the annual airshow is on again, and even at the sparsely attended first local farmer's market of the season, at 9 a.m., people were talking about going to see the Blue Angels exhibition that afternoon, clearly a point of pride. I wasn't planning to go -- the show attracts huge mobs and creates giant traffic jams -- but a friend offered his hillside, which has an excellent view. With a bottle of chocolate milk and a blanket I lived the life o' Riley on a perfect afternoon in May and watched stunt pilots looping, barreling, flying upside-down  and diving, and two slow-dancing helicopters. Then we all clapped our hands over our ears as the Blue Angels team roared over, scaring the daylights out of every creature within hearing distance.

Curious, I looked them up, and learned: The crafts' wings are just 18 inches apart when they fly in close formation. The Blue Angels exhibition team, affiliated with the Navy, dates back to 1946. The pilots' average age is 26. Yes, there are female pilots. The Army's exhibition team is called The Flying Tigers and I have seen them perform as well.

All highways and byways were jammed for miles with cars all trying to get near the airport and watch, so folk just got out of their cars where they were and watched the show because they weren't going anywhere.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Great Place to Take a Bath

Never heard of the place, nor the town, but naked lust for a bath drove me 67 easy miles, almost all freeway, to get to Okawville, Illinois, in about an hour and ten minutes, and find in the tiny old German town a turn-of-the-century building, The Original Springs Hotel (established 1867), built over a mineral spring discovered after the locals noticed how the spring's water affected their pots and pans. The hotel building with 36 rooms and a quaint lobby has at its center a huge beautiful
modern utterly clean heated mineral-water swimming pool beneath a two-story skylight and because I went on a Thursday morning I had the pool all  to myself. Weekends are the busy time. (The Divine Cabin has no tub, only a shower.)

The bath attendant gave me towels and a robe, and I put my bathing suit on in the women's locker room and swam in the pool for 45 minutes. Then in one of the many little private tub rooms, the bath attendant ran me a hot bath with whirlpool. I luxuriated in it for half an hour practically weeping with joy; I had last had a hot bath in January. Iced mineral water is served everywhere including the bath. Then there's the dry sauna. That much and all the mineral water you bring jugs for you can get for $23. Spa services at additional cost include massages, wraps, and scrubs, and I got a salt scrub and a heavenly 50-minute Swedish massage in a beautiful pink room with soft music, scented candles, and chimes, and my skin (toughened by the hard water at home in rural Missouri) is now baby-butt smooth, and I felt as if I had entered as a caterpillar and come out a butterfly.