Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm Invited

Sassafras trees here, and perhaps it's the soil, don't get very tall and have glove-shaped green leaves. A friend came by, dug up some of the root, and made sassafras tea: It tasted like hot root beer. You're not supposed to drink a lot of it; we just wanted a taste. All parts of the tree are said to be fragrant. Later, outside, I found at my feet, like an invitation through a mail slot, a scarlet sassafras leaf, and it stopped me, and reminded me that summer is everything's birthday party, a gorgeous insanity, and the rest of the year is everyday life. I hope you too get an invitation to the party. If summer has a peak, a summit, a day of wonder, it's July 25.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Woodpecker Family Breakfast

This morning as I sat quietly on the porch with tea and phone, having put out the day's suet and seeds and water, a male Pileated Woodpecker swooped in screeching, and landed on the suet cage to eat his fill. But this time was different; his whole family joined him and I caught it on video, activity starting really to heat up around 0:51 -- and all four communicating not through the Pileated's usual high-decibel jungle screeches, but the throaty burble they use for intimate communication. Few ever get to hear this sound.
The pair's two daughters spar on the tree to the right. Some years the pair who frequent my place winter and summer (but not spring and fall!) have one child, other times they have two. Previous to filming this, I watched the girls hassle Dad to feed them -- they do it with regurgitation, a great thing I've watched -- but now that they are old enough to get their own food, Dad gave them a sharp peck and refused. So they fuss and act up as children do. On the left you'll see Mom as she fends off an intruder, with Dad heroically coming to the rescue. When Pileateds feel threatened they open their wings, looking huge (they're crow-sized) and exposing startling white-bright wing linings. All Pileateds have the bright-red caps. Wish the video was as good as National Geographic, thanks for your patience; but it gives you a peek into Woodpecker World and birdish family life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Successful Mushroom Propagation

There were patches of chanterelles, lovely cheddar-yellow edibles, in my woods last summer, and I did as I was told and scissored them from the earth instead of yanking, and carried them in a net bag, which once held oranges, until I obtained a wicker basket -- the better for them to fling spores far and wide, generating new patches.

Then I waited for chanterelle season 2015: June and July. Propagation worked. Beyond my wildest. Behold today's basket (my basket is small -- I harvest only what I need) and, at right, one of the 20 or 30 new patches, the result of conservation and my active propagation.

Chanterelles grow in patches or "villages" on the forest floor, and only near, but not on, trees. I walked in that area every few days, year round, keeping the earth disturbed; mushrooms favor disturbed earth, which is why fungi grow so cheerfully in your lawn and your mulch.

I've changed my attitude toward rain. Rain means mushrooms. "Go out as soon as possible after rain," my mycological adviser said. So I do. It's a wonderland. I pick a few substandard, bug-eaten "chants" and crumble them in areas I'd like to see chants in 2016.

See "How I Cook Chanterelles" over at the Piehole blog.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eat Your Heart Out

Berry lust. . .
Go into the Divine meadow, look at the fat blackberries shining like patent leather and multi-chambered, ripe and free of charge, and try not to pick them even though they're on briars that gaily hook and rip your flesh. Berry-picking is one of my greatest pleasures because a pie is inevitable. I now pick wearing long sleeves, long pants, and a glove on the picking hand. I have always liked pies: custard, peach, chess, pecan, cherry, key lime, coconut; also savory pies, and I can't get spiritually close to  people who don't like pie. There's nothing more Midwestern than a homemade wild-blackberry pie which I made this morning -- unless it's serving that pie to a friend.

Where to find blackberry briars? Look in sunny, grassy meadows on the edge of a Missouri woods. National Pie Day aptly falls on my birthday in the winter, and  I look for pie wherever I go (black bottom pie, chocolate cream, banana cream, lemon meringue, orange chiffon, apple, pumpkin) and have made piecrust expertly so many times -- the secret is, DON'T roll it out, merely press it into the pan -- I developed permanent muscle memory. The secret to a great berry pie slice is to avoid cornstarch and use Minute Tapioca instead. You'd never know it was in there, and the slices hold their shape. Also, use a cup more berries than the recipe calls for, and instead of dotting the top with butter, use small bits of coconut oil. My guest wanted to see the berry vines, so we went out and was surprised to see -- after picking them clean yesterday -- so many patent-leather blackberries just begging to be harvested again today.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Ideal Home

Build it yourself overnight from free, replenishable, all-natural materials.

Can be built at your choice of location.

Open, airy, and lots of light.

Automatically makes you a living, while you stay safe and at leisure.

Makes you the center of the universe.

Entirely non-toxic and always mold-free.

Earthquake-proof. Water-resistant. Can be mended or rebuilt if necessary.

Esthetically pleasing. Harmonizes with the environment. (Frank Lloyd Wright, eat your heart out.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mice Ate My Lipstick

I'd vacuumed up all crumbs, cleaned and bleached the kitchen and its trash can, even tightened the tops of the spice jars and the toothpaste, all because a very bold and demonic mouse or mice for weeks had scampered across my living room and eaten peanut butter out of my traps, without triggering them -- and, the final straw, had scrambled across my bed one night while I was in it. With my house sparkling clean, I then left for eight days, and returned to mouse droppings just about everywhere although there was no food. Wait; I'd left out some makeup, a suite of Sephora brush-on lipsticks ranging from pink to red. Every color had been nibbled, clawed, and messed with. Disgusted, I declared war, and told a friend. She said perhaps the mice had wanted only to look prettier.

Tossing the lipsticks and the traps that work so well on my stupider mice, I bought at Dickey Bub's another, sneakier, super-hair-trigger mousetrap which holds the peanut-butter bait farther out of reach. This morning I beheld the very satisfactory results, and proof that at least one mouse (the one with the glowing eyes) was in fact demonic.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hope Emerald, Etc.

I prized two pendants for sentimental reasons -- one emerald, not a crown jewel, cloudy but green enough to remind me of nature, and one handsome oval smoky quartz, in superstitious terms a highly protective stone, market value five dollars. Wore them joyfully. Last January, hid them and forgot where, so for weeks and months I have torn closets apart, dumped out winter boots, stood on stepstools, searched the garage, and clawed from the cupboard boxes of Jello, thinking: "Maybe I put them here. Or here. Or here. . ." Maybe I hid them in the bottom of a trash can and they got thrown away, or in the folds of an old sweatshirt I bagged and tossed. Could I have done that? The thought gave me a pang. I'd looked everywhere. They were gone. To get a hold of myself, I recalled the Roman poet Catullus, who chided, "Cease this folly, and what you see is lost, set down as lost."

Even so, in the final week of June before leaving for Washington I sheepishly googled "patron saint of lost items," and murmured this "unfailing" prayer to St. Anthony to find the pendants -- sweetening the deal with an offer, if I found them, of a $20 donation to the nearest church:

"Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints. O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and charity for His creatures made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms; and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours, plus $20. Amen."

Son of a. . . In the pantry just a half-hour ago behind a stack of canned tomatoes I found a ziplock bag with the green pendant. I stepped back and felt my heartbeat in my throat and was so grateful I collapsed onto the futon.

I said, thank you, St. Anthony. It is half of what I wanted, so you get $10. Returning to the same pantry and shelf, I moved some cans aside and there was the quartz pendant.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hope Diamond, Etc.

In Washington D.C. for eight days I got an eyeful of famous paintings, statuary, architecture, furniture, landmarks, rarities, historic monumental everything, and went everywhere, even to Mount Vernon an hour outside of D.C., and to a sweet getaway town in West Virginia, whose anti-slavery residents seceded from pro-slavery Virginia in 1863. Favorite places: The National Portrait Gallery's gallery of paintings of our Presidents, all looking alive and keen -- great paintings! -- and the Library of Congress because of its fancy turn-of-the-century decor, but of course I made a beeline for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, one of eight Smithsonian museums there. On display is the famous blue Hope Diamond. Put your thumb and forefinger together and that's about the size of it; it's surrounded by pure white diamonds on a necklace of pure white diamonds, and rotates on a platform in a glass case (see photo) surrounded by cellphones. I had to elbow my way in to glimpse it -- and fyi, it belongs to YOU and ME -- the people of the U.S. Over the weekend of the Fourth, tourism was crazy. To see Marie Antoinette's diamond earrings I had to wait my turn. The people-watching was awesome. We all got along.