Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lookie Lous

Click on the picture, taken this morning, for a bigger, better view.

Highway FF at Labarque Creek
I learned we're called "high-grounders," meaning that while our houses and businesses aren't flooded like downtown Eureka's and downtown Pacific, we're trapped on our high ground by flooded roads all around us. Forget Highway FF (pictured at left). Forget Highways F, W, O, MM, 109, 30, I-44, 141, or Business Loop 44; several square miles of our population simply can't get out.

So on this third day of staying home making the best of enforced vacation, quite a few of us high-grounders decided to take the kids to the barricades and see the disaster with our own eyes, or enjoy a walk down the car-less highways, or a hike at the high-ground conservation areas. I hiked one mile into the Glassberg Conservation Area to its overlook platform with its gorgeous vista of the Meramec Valley, facing toward Pacific. Spectacular flooding, and a view no TV crew can get at. Then I drove about 2 more miles to Highway FF's low point where the LaBarque meets the Meramec. I parked and took photos along with other disaster paparazzi, aka "lookie lous," all taking phone photos on our side of the highway and theirs. The twain shall meet when the water recedes, they say, about January 3. Regarding our Pacific and Eureka post offices (Eureka's P.O. moved to Ballwin), our bank, hardware stores, favorite restaurants and pubs, and gas stations that are still underwater -- how damaged they are and if they'll rebuild, we will have to see.

The Big River, which floods the Byrnesville Road toward House Springs, crested early this morning, and we might be able to get out that way in a day or so, but I want to be sure before driving there; my car is very low on gasoline. I'm sure there's some high-grounders low on insulin or something else crucial, but my neighbor and I are warm, dry, and safe. And what a blessing.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December Flood

To everyone's surprise, it rained all day, after a beautifully warm and sunny Christmas Day, and by 4 p.m. today we who live here were flooded in by our usually tame little creek; that means no traffic in our out of our area. You see the LaBarque all acting up, and then Doc Sargent Road firmly underwater; as I stood there taking photos the water gained an inch. Continual rain makes Internet satellite contact intermittent, so I'm posting quickly and only now. Reports from the city and the freeway also say roads and dwellings are underwater, and evacuations are taking place in the suburbs. More to come. At least it waited until the 26th, and at least it's not snow.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yule Log

December 19, 5 p.m.: I wished everybody at the astrology club meeting--Christians, pagans, Jews, New Agers, etc.--a blessed Yule, the holiday for the Winter Solstice.

December 20, 12:30 p.m. I shoveled out the fire bowl and selected a Yule log from a woodpile that's been in the garage since I moved here, and had it set up when I'm told it's going to rain that night. I covered the bowl and logs and most of the kindling with plastic. It does rain that night. The wood stays dry.

December 21, 2 p.m.: Yule. Neighbor Terri and I meet for Yule lunch. It happens to be 66 degrees. We have ice cream.
Terri's natural ornaments

3:45 p.m.: While there's still light, Terri, who is an artist, brings over a beautiful collection of handmade natural ornaments made of feathers, fungi, and acorn caps, balls of suet wrapped with jute, and more, and I've made ornaments too, and we hang them on a bare little serviceberry tree not far from the firebowl, and it is adorable.

4:00 p.m.: I try to light the fire.

4:15 p.m.-8 p.m.: Using sawdust starters that were homemade by her son Patrick, Terri lights the fire and keeps it alive and flaming for hours while we sat in folding chairs and talked and threw dried herbs on the fire and burnt little slips of paper with what we want to leave behind and what we want for the future, and drank wine in glasses printed with stars and moons. And said goodbye to the sun when it set, and admired the moon and moon shadows. And moved our chairs ever closer to the fire, which took on several shapes and wonderful colors as wood was added. Then it got rather cold to stay sitting still and we went back into our respective houses.

10:45 p.m.: I'm outside in the moonlight setting up dozens of bottle rockets to fire at 10:48 (time of the solstice) and fire those and more until I'm tired of firing them.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Story of My Balance

In my late 40s my knees began trembling when I stood for any length of time, and neither going rigid or relaxed stopped them from quaking, and because I’ve always done public speaking, this development embarrassed me and I began requesting a podium to lean on when scheduled to speak. When it worsened I asked, when possible, to be seated when onstage, particularly at poetry readings, which take 10 to 40 minutes, so I could concentrate on my performance and not my balance. Then I bought and wore flats, and then wore pants, which hid my shaky knees, and sturdy oxford shoes. Still I quivered terribly and fought to remain standing. My mother has Benign Essential Tremor—that’s constant shaking you can’t help, but isn’t fatal—and it’s genetic. Her hands always shook. At age 80 when she couldn’t pour coffee or feed herself, she reluctantly sought medical help and took effective meds. I thought that was my future. At social events and readings, I propped myself against walls and blackboards, and leaned on the vanity while brushing my teeth. I figured I had something like Benign Essential Tremor, only sporadically and only in my knees.

Last winter I fell twice, sprawling on the gravel in front of my house, for no reason. Actual walking was no problem. Balancing, though, got worse. In April, hiking Arkansas, I crawled across rocks that others walked and even danced on. In July at the Lincoln Memorial, I had to really work the railing to descend the magnificent stairs. I noticed nobody else needed the railing, including people much older than I. Thinking I’d soon need a cane, I surfed the Net for cute ones. Balance deteriorates as we age and I accepted that, although I’m still in my 50s and older people said, "You're too young." Yoga improved my condition bit by bit, so I knew it wasn’t a brain tumor.

Touring Newfoundland and Labrador in late July, I daily walked on jagged or rounded oceanside rocks as blithely as a rockhopper penguin—without hiking poles. Only one time did I have to call for a hand. Back in hot humid Missouri, working indoors, I lost that ability. September 1, I started Tae Kwon Do, which requires balance (how else can you roundhouse-kick bad guys in the face?). Practicing the simplest kicks, I had black-belt instructors holding my hand or catching me by the belt as I toppled toward the mat. I was required to practice standing on one leg at a time for a full minute, to hop around the room on one leg, and to walk along a long thin strip of tape as if it were a balance beam. These foot, ankle, and calf exercises, essential to martial arts and to balance, help me improve.

I even went to a restaurant that had an unexpected, unmarked step down, and accidentally stepped down into nothing, wearing high-heeled boots. I caught myself and stayed upright and uninjured, and believe only Tae Kwon Do foot and ankle strength saved me.

Recently, an almost-mastered spin kick that would have won me an orange belt didn’t get better with fierce practice. My balance plateaued, then declined. That’s not supposed to happen.

Not long ago, on the Internet I learn that Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is involved with balance. In Newfoundland I was outdoors all day each day, hiking, on ferryboats, absorbing sun. I no longer have the oncologist who prescribed 50,000-unit doses of D because blood tests always found deficiency. Now I take over-the-counter D supplements faithfully and spend more time outdoors, getting what sun there is. How much D I should take, I’ll have to ask an authority. It’s also crucial for bone health.

It was all a matter of D. This is for anyone who might have the same problem.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mushrooms Now? Yes!

In the woods seeking trinkets such as acorn caps and turkey feathers to decorate the Solstice tree (Solstice is Monday at 10:48 p.m. Central Time; be there or be square) I saw from a distance white stuff on a fallen tree, and hoped for treasure, and found it: fresh, edible oyster mushrooms, not only this ruffly one but more on the other side of the log, a plateful. A mushroom fan never stops hunting and hoping, even in December. There's my glove so you can see it was sizable. Among the other fungi in the woods were tree ears (edible, but not tasty), and common inedibles such as turkey tails and false turkey tails (false turkey tails have smooth undersides). I was two days too late to get a "chicken of the woods" that had blossomed at the base of a tree. Frozen and then thawed, it was mushy, no good.

I knew the possibilities because in December 2014 I found a dead tree with ten pounds of huge oysters around its foot. That tree has since fallen and this year produced nothing. 2015 was a frustrating year for morels -- too cold, and then they weren't abundant; I found only one -- but a great year for chanterelles, carpeting the woods in June and July.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

From Soffit to Suet

Most people don't believe me--it's the single most unbelieved thing I say--when I tell them that the five species of woodpeckers I feed all know which room of the house I sleep in, and know my bed is right beneath the window, and if I'm not up yet, they drum and drill on the fascia above the window to wake me so I will bring out their suet. Which I usually do first thing each morning.

"But it's true," I tell the unbelievers. "I can show you."

If I turn over and go back to sleep, the birds will drum and drill on the other side of the bedroom, too. If they know I'm elsewhere in the house but they're not sure where, they jackhammer on the tall metal TV antenna, making the entire house resound. It sounds like the clanking of pipes in old steam-heated buildings, except rapid. It throbs like a headache. Because the antenna, unlike the roof, houses no termites or bugs and even the boldest woodpecker can't drill holes in it, I've asked a friend, "Why do they do that?"

"Because it's fun," she said.

It's also effective. Sometimes the birds are my alarm clock. Often in winter they guilt me out of bed: I'm thinking, "They're hungry, I've got to feed them." Sometimes I'll stay in bed an extra half-hour just to let fat lazy devious birds know who is the boss around here. Sometimes I'll slide open the window and yell, "I am not your slave."

Friday, December 4, 2015

What's Wrong With Our Country?

Taken Dec. 4, 2015
Half-staff flags again, the photo taken at the same place, on a day the wind was blowing in the opposite direction it was on November 19, just a few days ago. Why is it so often a day of mourning for our country, people are asking, and they're suggesting various remedies, mostly forms of gun control.

My view, should you care to hear it: This culture lives and feasts on murder. The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world. We engineer and avidly play murderous video games and let our kids play them; we enjoy murders and autopsies and death and gun violence on TV and in our movies and books; we count on slaughter, fictional and real, for entertainment. We just love to be stunned when mass murders happen in our country (we don't care a real lot when they happen elsewhere that isn't Western Europe). We are excited and enchanted by the fuss, the video loops, cable news pornographically following every move and chasing every ambulance, the "experts" and "heads of state" and talking heads blaming guns, gun ownership, the economy, parents, mental illness, the Koran, racism, privilege, liberalism, colonialism, education, or history. Especially when white middle-class folks going to movies or school are murdered, concerned people call for a ban on all guns, or on assault weapons and not other guns, or say we should try to make it really difficult to get guns, or confiscate all guns, or change the Constitution because it's not correct or up to date.

First of all, stop loving murder. Refuse to let murderous entertainment or murder mysteries or horror movies into your house even if they're from the BBC, don't watch them, don't read them, and don't listen to TV news, which is tailored to create anxiety and fear and is a great tool for demagogues.

Second, quit turning each and every mass murderer into a celebrity, their faces on the cover of People magazine. The more attention we pay, the more murder spectacles there will be and the more half-mast flags will result.

Third, if you're so concerned, get off Facebook and get active, join an organization and work for what you believe in, donate money, support mental health clinics, befriend a troubled boy, fix it so that only those over age 21 with a high-school diploma and 3.5 grade average and no record and doctor-certified can legally obtain a firearm and require firearm education. Because we can't ban all guns, and even if we did they'd be sold on the sly and people would still leave them where kids can get at them, everyone should be trained from early youth in firearms safety. Make firearms "forbidden" items and you only increase their ability to fascinate.

And, if you are a responsible firearms owner, keep them and stay responsible. The first thing Mao did when he wanted "cultural revolution" was require all citizens to give up all guns, then gave them to mobs of brainless teenage boys, Red Guards, who had no problem at all threatening, beating, and killing their parents and teachers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Turning Over a Leaf

Saw the pink and silver fallen leaf. Beautiful. Took its photo. Turned it over. Then I couldn't decide which side was more beautiful. Only photography can bring us both at once.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Most Remote Waterfall

November when the trees are naked is a great time to view the property's waterfalls, especially after rain has them rushing, and this one, #7, is the most remote and difficult to access of the eight waterfalls, with banks on each side so steep and choked up with rocks and impassable fallen trees I've never gotten close enough to capture its mostly unseen majesty. But yesterday, because it was there and because if I didn't do it now I might never, I was determined to climb, splash, crawl, and balance-beam to inch as close as possible, and got closer than ever before so I could show you. Still photos are nice but they don't give you a sense of scale or capture the whole experience with sound. I took a video. Now you can see and hear Waterfall #7 at full flood for real (40 seconds). Its brook ultimately flows about a quarter mile through the woods, and then over another waterfall, #5, into a pool, and then beneath bluffs into a swirling LaBarque Creek.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Can This Firebowl Be Saved?

Finished winterizing all my single-pane doors and windows (all but two windows now blocked with 3/4-inch insulation) just under the deadline on a lucky 66-degree dry day with wind howling up high in the sky, where a hawk was riding thermals. Today: cold and rainy, with wintry mix approaching. And as long as I was out there working, I cut down some upstart red cedars and briars, and took a look at my firebowl,  neglected now for years while I overworked myself elsewhere. In December 2010 all this brush got cut down. Currently it looks like:
I can do a couple of things, such as move the firebowl away from the base of the oaks, but before that, the brush must be cleared. It isn't widespread enough to hire a brush hog for, and my friend who owned a chainsaw looked at it askance (to be fair, he hates manual work of any kind). The green sprouts at the photo's bottom right are Demetrius' onions,  perennials, sole survivors of his gardening; these I keep and use and won't have mown down. Decided to try clearing this with hand tools as my project for December. Going outside in chilly temps and working is the only way for me not to hate cold weather. I hope for an improved firebowl I'll use more often, for burning dry leaves and fallen branches, and staring into, as time counts down to the winter solstice (only 25 days!).

Friday, November 27, 2015

The 5 Grossest Things that Ever Happened Here

5. Headless blue jay found floating in the rain barrel.

4. Mouse dies beneath water heater and stinks for six weeks.

3. Handyman (no longer employed here) brings his guitar and asks for a date.

2. Demetrius vomiting his purple cabbage soup into the toilet.

1. The watering can for some reason won't pour. As I tilt it trying to pour more water out, the head of a drowned mouse emerges from the spout.

(Actually, #2 was very funny. To me.)


-Mouse scrambles across my bed with me in it.

-Clapping a fat tomato hornworm between two bricks sprays green goop all over my face, glasses, and shirt.

-Carpet has not been cleaned in 10 years.

-Removing a length of tape from around the non-working fireplace, I find stuck to it three small dead snakes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are Flags at Half-Staff All the Time?

Taken Nov. 19, 2015
It seemed to me that flags fly at half-staff more than they used to -- in fact almost continually -- and I wanted to know whether I was imagining that or was it real. Well, dog my cats, U.S. and Missouri flags have been at half-staff a heck of a lot of the time. Information came from this state-run website.
  • November 16, 2015: By order of the President of the United States, effective immediately, the United States flag at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, until sunset, November 19, 2015, honoring the victims of the attack in Paris, France. 
  • October 16, 2015: By order of the Governor, all flags of the United States and the flag of Missouri at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff on Tuesday, October 20, 2015, from sunrise until sunset in honor of Lance Corporal Dominic E. Shraft who died while serving his country.
  • October 13, 2015: By order of the Governor, all flags at every fire station in the state of Missouri and the Fire Fighters Memorial in Kingdom City will be flown at half-staff, effective immediately, in honor of Firefighter Larry Leggio and Firefighter John Mesh who died in the line of duty on October 12th.
  • October 5, 2015: By order of the Governor, all flags of the United States and the flag of Missouri at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, on Thursday, October 8, 2015 from sunrise until sunset as a mark of respect for former State Senator Harold L. Caskey.
  • October 5, 2015: By order of the President of the United States, effective immediately, the United States flag at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, until sunset, October 6, 2015 honoring the victims of the tragedy in Roseburg, Oregon.
  • September 10, 2015: In accordance with state law, Sec. 9.134 RSMo., the United States flag and the Missouri state flag shall be flown at half-staff on all government buildings statewide on Friday, September 11, 2015, from sunrise until sunset in honor of the individuals who died as a result of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. 
  • September 1, 2015: By order of the Governor, all flags at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, statewide, on Friday, September 4, 2015, from sunrise until sunset in honor of Trooper James M. Bava who died in the line of duty.  All flags at all Missouri State Highway Patrol locations will continue to be flown at half-staff through sunset on Friday, September 4, 2015.
  • July 21, 2015: By order of the President of the United States, effective immediately, the United States flag at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, until sunset, July 25, 2015, honoring the service member victims of the tragedy in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Isn't much else to say, except it was news to me that Veterans' Day (Nov. 11) is NOT a half-staff day, a day of mourning. It's a "day of celebration and honor."

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    The Gate That's Gone

    This property once had gates at its entrance on Highway F, with gateposts of pink Missouri granite. The gateposts had been wired to have lights on top, but I never saw them with lights. Only these two photos of the gate were taken, because within a year of my moving here permanently the gates were dynamited for highway widening. Today I found these printed photos from early summer '02 and wanted to show you and preserve some of the history of this place. The concrete top of one gatepost got dropped in the yard where it still is, sinking into the earth. I took a few bricks of pink granite as souvenirs from the rubble when the dynamiters were gone for the day. They actually did yell "Fire in the hole!," and pictures fell from the walls, and explosions at random every day for two weeks (we were honeymooning at home) made us jumpy.

    Highway F was torn away down to rock, the rusty one-lane bridge destroyed, and the intersection was closed so that after work we either parked at the barrier and walked a quarter mile to the house, teetering on broken rocks, or drove an 8-mile detour to get to the house from the other side.

    The highway department told the landlord it'd take the land by eminent domain if the landlord didn't grant or sell the 1 acre needed to widen the highway, shortening our lane by 20 feet. I think in exchange the landlord asked that the first 100 feet of the lane, from Highway F up to my house, be freshly paved. It sorely needed paving.

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    "Well, Dang"

    Even on bright sunny days, in November we seriously need day-brighteners -- especially on the first day of adult firearm deer-hunting season when we are NOT heading to the woods for fresh air and communion with nature -- and while on the road in Gasconade County with neighbor Terri in search of a good German meal (we found it at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann) we saw this, and because we don't see pink tractors very often, we said, "Well, dang." That got me thinking what else we say that conveys disbelief:
    • Well, I'll be.
    • Well, slap my a-- and call me Sally.
    • Well, I'll be darned.
    • Well, I'll be dipped in s---.
    • Well, dog my cats.
    • Well, I swan (or "I swannee").
    • Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.
    • Well, melt me down.
    • Well, knock me down and steal my teeth.
    It's better 'n' a sharp stick in the eye.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015

    How to Buy and Empty a 50-lb. Bag of Birdseed Without Ever Lifting It

    1. Locate a farm and home store or a feedstore selling a 50-lb. bag of birdseed for $16.99 or less.
    2. Tell the checkout clerk you want to buy a 50-lb. bag of birdseed but cannot lift it. (Whether that's true is up to you.) Pay for it.
    3. The clerk summons a fellow employee able to lift the bag and bring it curbside while you get your car.
    4. Have the lifter place the 50-lb. bag not in the car's trunk, but in the back seat. (Previous experience has taught you that if it's placed in the trunk, you cannot for the life of ya lift it out.)
    5. At home, lay down some newspaper or cardboard on the ground alongside of the back car door.
    6. Open the back car door and tug the bag until it's horizontal and its top lies just a few inches outside the doorframe. Have your containers ready.
    7. Pinching the bag just below the top of one corner, cut the corner above your hand with a razor or scissors so the cut is 2 inches wide, forming a spout. A two-inch cut lets the birdfeed flow out at a controllable rate.
    8. Place your first and largest container beneath the "spout." Tug, jiggle, and massage the bag until birdseed pours into the container. Continue until the container is full.
    9. When the container is full, close the bag, set it upright and get your second empty container.
    10. Re-open the bag and repeat with other containers until the bag is empty.
    If any birdseed has been spilled, it probably fell on the newspaper or cardboard. Pick that up and pour the spilled birdfeed into the container. Now there's no waste and no treats for mice.
    Source: Years of experience at trying everything but this.

    Friday, November 6, 2015


    To get a photo of this magnificent cloud that looks so much like the spirit that rose from the remains of this cornfield -- knowing that cirrus clouds are in fact formed of ice crystals -- first I stopped the car and stood in the middle of Highway 109, and then in case I didn't quite get the cloud, I drove to this rise, got out of the car and knelt in the field. Then I drove a ways down and took photos of the cloud from a slope overlooking a farm, and was barked at by a lady's dog, all jowly from fat. The lady came outside, of course, and I explained before she said anything, "That cloud is so beautiful I want to take its picture." "It is beautiful," she said, and she and the dog went back into the house. I wondered if they were the sole occupants of that house, and if they had only each other, and if so, how beautiful and how sad that was at once.

    Reasons Not to Rake This

    While convalescing I sat out in the sun, on a folding seat on the stoop, and took a nice long look at the work I had to do, like, to properly shove the door open and enter and leave the house: oak leaves, twigs, hickory leaves, acorns, hickory nutshells. I enjoy looking at work I can put off until later, when ALL the leaves have finished falling. Why rake twice? Why rush things? Why not enjoy the riches some people don't have -- trees and autumn leaves around their front stoop? Why not imagine each leaf is a dollar bill?

    Thursday, November 5, 2015

    "Cute Old Lady" and Other Missourians

    Thought I'd collect as many as I could in one week when the owners were around to ask for permission. I'll keep my eye out for more.

    Sunday, October 25, 2015

    Luck of the Coffee Drinker

    Used to be, Mom bought our clothes at Robert Hall and food at the A & P supermarket, home of lost or now rare enchantments such as the Spanish Bar Cake and red tins of Eight o' Clock Coffee, alongside the foreign and fascinating adults-only object (pictured) resembling a nautical speed control but engraved with weird, haunting, perhaps mystical words; Mom never used it. Today I stock only 2 brands of ground coffee: Eight o' Clock, and Chock Full o' Nuts. These passions are old, deeply set, and based solely on the names and packaging. At eight a.m., all things are possible; I still believe that. Out east, the franchise "Chock Full o' Nuts," so named because it started as a chain of roasted-nut shops in Manhattan, has sold coffee and pastries since 1932. In New England I became addicted to Chock Full coffee, rare and expensive in Missouri, consistently available at only one classy St. Louis grocery at $6-$8 for a small can. I remedied this by ordering a case of the regular coffee direct from Chock Full; the green-lidded decaf was harder to find.

    I drink more of the decaf now, when I can get it. The last tin I bought is tagged $6.49. So last week in a supermarket in House Springs I'm stunned to see the "marked down" shelf holding 5 cans of Chock Full decaf at $2.99 each. Ecstatically I bought them all. It was the best luck I had all day.
    Selling it here isn't easy because the Chock Full franchise, still active, never extended west of Chicago and the name causes folks to believe the coffee contains nuts. It does not.

    It might be the "o"s in the middle of Eight o' Clock and Chock Full o' Nuts  that have so entangled my coffee-drinkin' heart.

    Saturday, October 24, 2015

    "Tastes Like Wald Hick'ry Nuts"

    Come a certain week in autumn it's World War One around here with "Bang! Bang!" on the cabin roof and people jumping out of their skins, but it's hickory nuts raining down from the shagbark tree. Can't help but think of Euell Gibbons, a famous wild-foods expert who late in life did commercials for Post Grape-Nuts cereal and, in his Texas accent, bawled the immortal lines, "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible," and "Tastes like wald hick'ry nuts." He'd be proud that I finally tasted wild hickory nuts from my own tree. They tasted not at all like Grape-Nuts. Furthermore, Gibbons did not die, as was rumored, of stomach cancer but from a ruptured aorta.

    Two autumns ago in a trance of delight that lasted two weeks I gathered in a basket several pounds of hickory nuts such as you see here, most from the shagbark just outside but also from hickories in the woods, where I found nuts walnut-sized and walnut-shaped -- every tree's fruit sculptured a little differently. Left them to dry in a basket until Christmastime when they agreed to be cracked -- a little. It took hammers and dental tools to get the tiny, brain-shaped meats out, spraying shards of shell all over and me stepping on them, and about 3 pounds through the pile I gave up and tossed the other nuts out the door for the varmints. In winter now, my favorite wild food is the chives that grow in snow.

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

    Red October

    These gallon ice-cream buckets full of about six pounds of ripe Tommy Toes -- an Ozark heirloom cherry tomato variety -- simply appeared the other day on my porch, courtesy of my neighbor's son Patrick, who kept a garden during this difficult-to-garden summer. Patrick says he didn't even plant them; they were volunteer tomato plants, descending from a plant or two that I shared with him two or three years ago. Tommy Toes -- that's their name -- about one inch in diameter, are wonderfully balanced sweet and acid, and the plants withstand terrific Missouri summer heat and pouring rain, do not crack or get tobacco virus, keep their shape, and pump out fruit like mad all the way into the third week of October, and they'd still be growing except the other night we got very close to frost.

    It was in a seed catalog that Demetrius and I found the Tommy Toes and liked that they were bred in our climate. A bonus: Wildlife don't raid and chew on Tommy Toes they way they did our Big Beefsteaks or Mister Stripeys or Mortgage Lifters, the varieties visible on the plate in the photo of me that appears to the left of this blog. What to do with six pounds of cherry tomatoes? I gave one pound away. Four pounds I cooked down into two quart containers of sauce I then froze. Some I roasted with olive oil and ate on pizza and pasta, some went into salads, and a few are still rolling around on the counter, getting snacked on. I threw a few into the meadow, hoping they'll volunteer for me next summer. There's nothing as tasty as a homegrown tomato -- in October.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2015

    It Reminded Her of Me

    A city friend sent me this, saying it reminded her of me. All I can say is, I wish magazines today had covers like these; I have seen enough of Christian Bale and Caitlyn Jenner and whatnot.

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    Glorious October

    We've had a fabulous first 15 days of October. Unfortunately I haven't been able to enjoy much of it because of flu (get your shots!). But for the 14th year now, I'm still living in the most beautiful place I've ever been. And can still see October's beauty even if I'm not outside in it.

    Saturday, October 10, 2015

    When Sick

    Feeling bizarre, dizzy, and tired: three-hour naps in late morning and then in late afternoon. Headache and chills became malaise with no fever. Today's Day 7. My blood pressure's up (I can feel it) as the body struggles, and I cough myself awake. No, I hadn't had my flu shot. Intended to and want to: I won't tolerate this again. My old job would have fired me; you can't be sick more than 3 days without a doctor's note.

    Microwave cabbage risotto
    I have twice been out driving. Parked in the lot of the grocery store housing my pharmacy, I lay down in the back seat exhausted from the 10-minute drive, and dialed the number on my insurance card. Yes, the guy said, insurance would pay for my flu shot there. I went in. The pharmacist phoned the same number, which denied me the insurance. I should go to Walmart or Target instead. I went home.

    Because I'd missed two martial arts classes and had no number to call, at the community center I stood far away and told the black belt instructor I had not quit, it was flu, and she cheerfully said, "Everyone has it. I'm the only one not sick." "Did you get the flu shot?" I asked. "No," she said cheerfully, as I struggled to stay upright and talk at the same time. So I know I got it in a place frequented by lots of school kids. Vaccination might not have helped anyway.

    I set myself a goal of doing one thing a day. Yesterday I changed the light bulb above the door. The day before that I refilled the poison in the outdoor mousetraps. They work very well.

    I'm missing some lovely fall weather. There are benefits, however, having to do with food. I'd bought meat loaf mix the day before collapsing and had to cook it or toss it. Could not guarantee I'd be awake or mobile to take it from the oven in an hour. As a last resort, consulted microwave cookbook. In 12 minutes, in a glass loaf pan, perfect meatloaf. I took it in spoonfuls when I had appetite. I'd also bought cabbage. Same cookbook had recipe for cream of cabbage soup. Delicious. Yesterday used the remaining cabbage in the microwave "Cabbage Risotto" recipe. I had the required onion and an ancient box of arborio rice and a dried-out hunk of Parmesan. Followed instructions. This I actually wanted to put on a plate; it was fit for a king. I also ate the pizza a friend brought, piece by piece. Today I have two goals: write this and take out the trash bag. I must be getting well, although I thought that on Wednesday, too.

    Monday, October 5, 2015

    Aft of Eden

    October brought me flu, far earlier in the season than expected (although the counties surrounding mine are dark blue on the flu map), sooner than me getting the vaccine. What I have for you is pix of the most creative amphibious camper/trailer I've ever seen parked at a Jack in the Box in Pulaski County. Christened "Aft of Eden," from Monterey, California, it's half boat and half camper top, and it seemed to work for them.

    Saturday, September 26, 2015

    Sleeping with Nature

    I spent last night in the tent, because I can, and the weather's been gorgeous and clear, stars are vivid, and this meadow is my own yard--I'll always remember nights in the tent. Set it up while the sun set and loaded it with sleeping pad, sleeping bag, extra blanket, and pillow, all ready to crawl into about 10 p.m. The tent's roof looks invisible but is transparent so all night the bowl of heaven and the almost-full moon shine down on me. I woke once and saw Orion rising in the east. In another hour I saw Venus, the morning star. The coming  lunar eclipse is Sunday, at maximum at 9:47 p.m., Midwestern time, in the sign of Aries: the Harvest Moon. An auspicious time to sleep as close as possible to it all.

    Remind me these are dewy nights so I'll hook the rain fly on my tent and won't have condensation dripping on and -- surprise -- soaking my pillow before I even get in there, and waking me in the morning when the tent is in fact brightened by sunlight more so than anything around it.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    An "End of Summer" Essay

    The Summer of 2015 began with me exhausted and bedraggled, burnt out to the core, and spiritually dead. I teach year-round but took this summer off from teaching, my first summer off in three years, and made two great journeys: for the first time to the capital of my own country, Washington, D.C., and then the tour of Newfoundland and Labrador, strange wild Canadian places, as I've longed to see for four years. I got my spirit back. True, no money came in and all my accounts are kaput, but it's been worth it, worth it, worth it: I completed and published a new ebook (under another name), and drafted some new poems; returned some favors; yesterday, glorious weather, I fly-fished all day at Maramec Springs in Phelps County--only my 2nd fishing trip this summer (the first was two days before that). In my tackle box I found the last fishing license I bought: 2012. How did I let that happen? I joined a spiritual group; very helpful. The mammogram was normal for the sixth time in a row. I read books, actual books, which I never have time for, and magazines. I saw friends and met some new ones. I breathed deeply, even outside of yoga class. I bought a bottle of bourbon. I hunted and picked mushrooms, reorganized my computer files, sometimes simply lay on the carpet, relaxing. I went to concerts and a play. On a recent walk I took this photo of the horse farm on Doc Sargent Road.

    There are 10 days of vacation left. I will spend them being worshipful and grateful.

    Here's to Our Autumn Equinox

    September 23 at 8:20 a.m. UTC or 3:20 a.m. here, the 2015 autumnal equinox, when daylight and darkness are almost precisely equal. Now, I will determinedly list the good things about the autumnal equinox:
    • Fall colors
    • Fall mushrooms
    • No bugs
    • Clear starry skies with the Milky Way at the zenith
    • Baking season begins
    • Harvest
    • Hunting season
    • Time to tour wineries
    • Time to prep the fireplace/fire bowl
    • Walnuts and hickory nuts
    • Caramel apples
    • Low humidity
    These pink camo wineglasses were a gift from a friend who knows my taste in stemware.

    Monday, September 21, 2015

    Ringless Honey Mushrooms

    In mid-Missouri woods this week choirs of these mushrooms are growing close to the ground, their cymbal-like caps anywhere from half an inch wide to two inches each, clustered at the bases or stumps of oak trees or bubbling up from buried wood, and from a distance they resemble "hens of the woods," but they've got gills and separate stems and no rings on the stems, so they're ringless honey mushrooms. Whether they taste honeyed I'll never know because the Mycological Society says, "Never eat little brown mushrooms." There's also a "ringed" version, and a semi-look-alike fall mushroom with a bright orange cap that also grows in "bouquets" like these: the Deadly Galerina, also called the Jack O'Lantern. Edible mushrooms to hunt for now include puffballs and "hens of the woods." A famous mycologist told me he frequently receives emails with photos from people who write, "Can you identify this mushroom? I didn't know what it was, so I ate it." Poisonous mushrooms can dissolve your liver and kidneys. Don't risk it.

    Sunday, September 20, 2015

    Turkey and Crow Calls

    Saw turkey calls for sale in the farm & home store and couldn't imagine how they worked and was too embarrassed to ask anyone. That issue got cleared up this weekend when I got to see and toy with a variety of bird calls. Two of them, top and bottom, work on the same principle: friction creates a throaty squeak. The coffin-like "fool proof" wooden box and the disk that gets scraped with the drumstick sound alike to me, but I'm told that every turkey hunter knows the difference and has a favorite, including the kind that are like a trumpet. The gold whistle in the middle is not a turkey call but a crow call. Why anyone would want to call crows when they could call turkeys, I don't know, and was too embarrassed to ask. Demonstrated also was the very slight difference between a tom's call and a hen's -- hers is warbly, more chicken-like. I am told that upon hearing it the excited tom "will come all over himself" to find the hen. There's so much to learn.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2015

    Something Completely Different

    On Sept. 1, I started tae kwon do as a "white belt," the stupidest belt. I did know I must respectfully bow as I stepped onto and off the mats, but not toward blank walls, dummy; toward the U.S. and Korean flags hung in front of the room. I received an all-white uniform and a white belt, symbol of what is kindly called "innocence," and was shown how to tie the belt properly. At home I worked for 30 frustrating minutes before succeeding in tying it. Next class I proudly showed up in uniform with a well-tied belt, and a black belt said, "Your top is on inside out."

    Each class begins with calisthenics: pushups, situps, stretches, twists. My 11:00 a.m. class consists of three four-year-olds, a three-year-old, and myself. The sympathetic black belt instructor who knows I'm 58 told me "Do what you can." Thought I was fairly fit from lifting weights and walking.

    Because I'm the only adult in the class, the master instructor, Dien, patiently leads me in a set of slow-motion pushups and situps. Then we stand and I follow the master as we practice, in slow motion, intricate arm movements: the head block and I forget what else. Then slow-motion kicks. Unlike a flamingo I can't balance on one leg; the master either holds my hand so I don't fall over, or I grip for dear life a stationary punching dummy. I'm learning the front kick, roundhouse, and back kick, discovering they take foot and ankle strength, exactly the muscles that weight training ignores. Then, drenched in sweat, I punch the bag with my bare knuckles, lightly, concentrating on the target and my form. The knuckles split open anyway. The goal is 60 punches in 15 seconds. At the end of the lesson the master and I bow to each other. Then all other belts shake hands with any black belts present.

    Why do this? Because it's only 6 highway miles to the gym. Because the natural year is declining and instead of getting depressed as usual I'm setting a healthy goal: a yellow belt. One must be able to block, kick (without someone holding your hand), punch, obey three commands and count to ten in Korean to pass the exam. After I stuck out my first three lessons, I received, not a new belt -- that'll take months -- but a new top with the school's emblem and the U.S. and Korean flags.

    Friday, September 11, 2015

    That Strange Phenomenon

    It happens all the time in Missouri, not in very many other places, as if Missouri were the land of paradox and the fantastical. From 100 degrees Fahrenheit at 100 percent humidity to crippling far-below-zero Polar Vortex, even our seasons aren't predictable: they could be long, short, too early, too late to start, too cold, too wet; and the seasons have harbingers that are sometimes false (such as this year's cool August leading into hot days in early September) and sometimes true, such as hot weather beginning in early March for the record-setting sizzling summer of 2012.

    Behold, then, the maker of rainbows: the sun shower. Many other nations call this phenomenon "The Wolf's Wedding" or some variation on that, such as "a witch is getting married," or "monkeys are getting married." That's according to Wikipedia. U.S. old-timers, reflecting the hard times they had to live in, are likely to say when it sun-showers, "The devil is beating his wife" -- and the rain equals her tears. Last evening we got a great sun-shower example (21 seconds) and no one was harmed.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2015

    September Morn, Part 2

    Hearing the sizzle of cicadas and call of the owl, I gazed up through the tent's ceiling screen, my heart beating fast, at the ample sky in the black arms of the tall oak and hickory trees, and at the stars, individual little suns pocking the dark like diamonds, and I thought: It's all so beautiful. What a marvelous Creation. And (it hit me) I am part of it all. I am part of it all! We are all part of it! I felt utterly certain, and marveled.

    There is no want! There are no limits! I thought. That's what it's all telling me! Why fear? Why hang back? Why not aim high? Go ahead. Why hate and cower? It only takes you farther from your true source and origins. We are one with the infinite. If only we all knew that, and had the patience of trees, which are rooted to one spot, standing there as witnesses until we "get it."

    I was so thrilled I couldn't sleep. I didn't want to. I wanted to feel ecstatically certain forever. But eventually I slept, and the moonrise with its crown of light dawned -- a moon dawn! -- woke me about 2:30 a.m., and then I slept again until the sun's dawn.

    September Morn

    You remember that French painting, "September Morn," that so shocked everyone in 1912 that it got banned in America, and so on:
    I'm finally coming forward to admit I am the model Paul Emile Chabas painted, having my bath in LaBarque Creek on a September 9 long ago.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015

    A Fresh Tent

    This is a Kelty "Grand Mesa" two-person tent, and I also bought the footprint. Tonight I sleep in it for the first time and anticipate through the screens the wonders of the night sky and creatures sniffing about, and, in this hot weather, an incredibly beautiful, steamy full hour of dawn, all orange and marbled with fog. Think I'll spend the weekend in it.

    This is also the first time I set up the tent myself; the very first was in midsummer with my friend Marsha demonstrating the amazingly simple clip-on strategy used on tents now in place of the "sleeve" strategy of my old green-and-mustard dome tent that made erecting it rather like a session of tae kwon do.

    I didn't sleep outside at any time last year, and regretted it. Time on earth -- directly on the earth and beneath the night sky -- is important; you live each night only once. There's a foam pad in there and my 40-degree sleeping bag and little pillow and a light soft blanket that in the chilly pre-dawn hours I will love feeling against my neck and chin. See you in the morning.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015


    Opening a drawer I found a fat mouse who'd shredded my gift wrap and done numbers one and two on a year's worth of greeting and birthday cards. I think only moms-to-be would be so sneaky, persistent, and destructive. They chewed through particle board into a cabinet, left piles of sunflower-seed hulls and dried beans on the mantel and in my shoes, and turds in my apron pockets. I wept. With weather cooler than normal for August I thought to bake a cake, light and not too sweet, and share it like a good Missourian, and opening the oven where pans are kept I saw enthroned in my cake pan a mouse nest clawed out of oven insulation with, fortunately, no mice in it. After my nausea passed (instead of baking, I hosed down all the pans and set the dishwasher on "sanitize"), I sent the landlord a photo and demanded he address in all seriousness the plague of mice I've had since spring. One or two in winter is normal in a country house. But five or ten in late summer, openly running along the baseboards: no. Worst in 14 years. So bad I stopped feeding the birds.

    Enter Tim the handyman with the familiar blue Tomcat poison saying, "You just gotta hope they die outside," and when he set eight of these new kind of traps I wailed that these mice were too smart for traps, and he joked, "You just gotta get out the ol' .22." They're baited with a dollop of black gel -- the mice have been so bad I have two peanut butter jars, one for my mousetraps and one for me!! -- and one got caught along a major mouse thruway. With these I needn't touch the dead ones. Outside along the foundation Tim placed larger traps containing immense cakes of poison and said to refill them in two weeks. I said, there must be a hole there, why don't you find it and patch it up? Guess whose job that's gonna be.

    Sunday, August 23, 2015

    Ride Through a Lifetime

    An antique car stirs hearts like nothing else. While Dwight drove us around in his grandfather's Chevrolet 3100 "Thriftmaster" half-ton pickup truck, bought new in December 1948 for about $1000, we stopped at a light and an older man in a car beside us stared in wonder and then, teary-eyed, rolled down his window and said he remembered Ford pickups just like it. This one hauled grain, about 45 bushels per load, and silage, and everything else on Dwight's family's Kansas farm. It's always been garaged. The original's cracked engine block was replaced in the 1960s with the engine from a '53 or '54 Chevrolet. The truck was spiffed up in the 1970s, with yellow-orange shag carpeting beneath the pedals placed by Dwight's brother. Not long ago a man saw it in Dwight's driveway, stopped, and offered to trade his Cadillac Escalade for it. Dwight refused. He shared the truck's photo on Facebook and I was so delighted I asked for a ride, and hopped in to find no seatbelts, the driver using hand signals to turn left, a Kansas plate that says "Antique," a four-on-the-floor that is nothing but a stick in the floor, and a roaring engine. This bulbous old dark-green machine had personality, charisma. People stared and pointed. See how you like it (12 seconds):
    Dwight said his very frugal Mennonite grandfather would never have ordered the custom cab with opera windows; it was likely the last pickup truck on the lot for that model year and Grandpa wangled a deal. Years later, the family let Dwight use it to go to college; a bookish boy lacking the the ability to fix things, essential for farming, he left the farm for the city, made it big, and his family was skeptical when years later he said he wanted the truck.

    I just had to show you and let you hear its horn. The only thing hard to believe about it was that carpet.

    Friday, August 21, 2015

    Doing the Deeds: Father Dunne's Camp

    This property I live on was owned for 45 years by the Father Dunne’s Newsboys Home and Protectorate, a St. Louis Catholic charity that prefigured the more famous Boys Town. Dunne’s boys lived in the city but had a summer camp of 100 acres here. Dorm and dining facilities now in disrepair were dedicated in 1957, but exactly when the camp started, and who gave the land, was a mystery that sent me to the Jefferson County assessor’s office this morning, where I did the deeds, finally, after 14 years living here.

    At the Registrar of Deeds, I found that the Father Dunne Newsboys Home and Protectorate’s camp had been sold for one dollar to the current landlord on 21 January 1986; the digitized records went back no farther. The older, oversized, weighty books of legal records, handwritten or typed, bound together by year, were in the archive. That room is chilly, and after the clerk copied me the 1986 deed, she pulled up on a monitor the digitized microfilm of all the Jefferson County deeds back to the 1860s and showed me how for each year I should search all the entries that began with the letter “F.”

    She’d worked with many historians and seekers. “People get cold in here, so if you need a sweater,” she said, then pointed to the coat rack where a lone cardigan hung, “use that one. That’s the ‘house’ sweater.” Only in Missouri.

    The "house sweater" in case historians get cold.
    Father Peter Dunne, an orphan who became a parish priest, sheltered his first homeless newsboy in 1906 and the shelter was running full tilt when Father Dunne died in 1939. “Old Newsboys Day,” Father Dunne’s fundraiser, is still held annually in St. Louis. Pat O’Brien starred in the RKO bio-pic Fighting Father Dunne (1948). Can’t find the movie. But I did find facts today about this 100-acre property:

    -The house I rent was built circa 1935. It is 1070 square feet. The second house on the property was built circa 1960. There was a dorm-like building on this property in 1954, according to an Army Map Service topographic map.

    -On March 31, 1941, Herman H. and Lillie M. Oberhaus sold 67.19 acres to Father Dunne’s Newsboys Home and Protectorate for $100. It would have been 80 acres total, but in April 1937 the Oberhauses had sold 12.81 acres of it to James R. and Gladys Murphy for $800. The price suggests that the Murphys bought a house on that property. In November 1938 a 15-foot easement was granted to Union Electric for electrification and tree-cutting.
    -On June 26, 1942, William D. and Marie B. Walsh sold 40 acres to the Father Dunne Newsboys Home and Protectorate for $100.

    As of June 1942 the Protectorate owned 107 contiguous acres and maybe established the camp then, but that doesn't explain the 1935 log cabin, built for summer residency. Perhaps the camp rented.

    The property records are kept here.
    The land was cheap because it’s good for nothing but a camp. Terrain is rocky, with dropoffs and steep-sided ravines and beneath an inch of soil is clay on sandstone. It’s so difficult that to this day AT&T refuses to extend its cable here.

    Before today I knew only “lore” passed down through two previous tenants of my house (1986-91, 1991-2001), saying it was built around 1930 as the camp gatekeeper’s house. The keeper held the keys to the dorm, dining hall, and the gate, to which I held the key until it was dynamited for road widening in 2002. The camp closed in the 1970s, it is said because lots of little black orphan campers caused nearby residents to complain. Or maybe it was cost-prohibitive to remove the asbestos or bring the wiring up to code. Priests still used the camp’s pool as a vacation getaway in the 1980s; the first lease I signed required me to maintain the pool, covered and abandoned years before. The newer house on the property, my neighbor’s, is nicknamed “the monsignor’s house” and I need other records to learn who lived there.

    Coincidentally, a friend had been a Father Dunne’s (later Catholic Charities) charge, living in the shelter downtown, and camped here in the summer of 1962; he was 12. Their baseball diamond was on LaBarque Creek floodplain now grown over, its backstop having collapsed completely about five years ago.

    One day a man drove up saying he added the bedroom to the house in 1969. (It looks very 1969.) Another day an older priest drove up and wanted to revisit the property, if I said okay.

    When the Jeff County assessor’s staff learned I was unraveling the story of my adorable house, they came forward with old files and photos that helped me more, plus the names of local historians, and which library held the books most likely to be helpful.