Thursday, March 31, 2016

Morel Mushroom Confidential

Recently declassified emails between myself and my mushroom buddy, a city slicker obsessed with morels and feverish about all edibles. March is too soon for good hunting.

Wednesday, March 23
RF: Do you think Friday will be too early?
DBB: Yes. Maybe the week after if it warms up. I have tested the soil temp. It's barely 50.

Thursday, March 24
RF: I wonder if Friday will be too soon.
DBB: I said yes.
RF: I may go anyway.
DBB: We need higher soil temp and nice gooshy rains.
DBB: Oh, it is your birthday and you are 50. Then I must come along.
RF: Yes. So I might go anyway. I have a meeting at 9 and then might head out if we finish in an hour. It rained in the city a lot.
DBB: Let me know where you are going and when. I will be at Senior Yoga.
RF: Okay, I’ll email when my meeting is over.

Friday, March 25
RF: Too darn cold!

Sunday, March 27
RF: I may go tomorrow morning. I may go Monday afternoon. I may go Tuesday morning. Shroomies are out there.
DBB: Really, who says?
Earthstars, 3/30/2016
RF: People I know found small grays in South County and Southern Illinois.
DBB: I’m booked solid through Wednesday night.

Wednesday, March 30
DBB: This is the type of rain that might make mushrooms. If I feel like it tomorrow I will go check.
DBB: I found fresh plump earthstars just now. This bodes well for morel hunting. It is still a bit early, but now, with this rain, would not be an unreasonable time to start hunting.
RF: Huh. I wish I could go tomorrow instead of this stupid thing I got roped into. I’ll try to go Friday. Are earthstars edible?
DBB: Not edible, just adorable.
RF: Yes indeed they are.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What It's Like to Have a Pumphouse

Nobody told me anything about this small odd-shaped wooden structure with a midget door except that in deep lengthy cold I'd better put a heater in it. Nobody said what was inside, or what kind of heater. Soon I learned this structure just outside my kitchen door was a pumphouse. I never opened the small door to see the actual pump because bees by the dozens crawled in and out of cracks in the wood as if the pumphouse were a beehive. Eventually ivy grew and twined it shut.

Bit by bit it taught me. It's an electric pump, so outages mean no water. Therefore I keep a few gallons of bottled water, and when storms threaten, I fill pans. Calcium-rich well water will encrust every faucet and etch every glass, and the dishwasher erodes dishes until one day they crack, just like your skin, and it gives all your clothes, not just jeans, a lovely stonewash; and the fix is to add vinegar or clean with vinegar, and buy new glassware when too embarrassed to explain to guests that the glasses are not dirty, just cloudy; and that if you keep drinking from cloudy glassware it'll abrade and split the corners of your lips; and soon I learned I had to filter the drinking water or else be just as stonewashed on my inside. (To install a water softener is too expensive, and the salt would affect the creek.) Wash the car with this water and it'll dull the surface and leave dry white calcium hickeys.

The water tastes fine and fresh to me, but people do remark that it's different from city tap water. Only once did the pump freeze up, the first winter here, '98-'99, for a short time only; good thing because I had no heater for the pumphouse and no place to plug one in. And while hosing down the garden during long droughts it'd pump for ten minutes, dribble, and then quit, such was the local demand on the water table. It taught me (and sometimes I still remember) that I live on a planet. Water direct from the outdoor spigot is so cold it's painful. When people worry about the world's water supply I don't worry.

That said, the pump has never failed, but the pumphouse roof was rotted, so the handyman came and opened its door and tore off the roof to replace it, and for the first time I saw that the pump is a simple gray cylinder about the size of a propane barbecue cylinder. Why such a sizeable pumphouse then? For insulation. Behold a real "pump house" that is not a bar or restaurant.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Prepare a Table

Golly, the prices on nice new redwood picnic tables that come in pieces and are properly drilled so I'd have a cat's chance of assembling them, and on state-park-quality weatherproof synthetic tables I could leave outside 365 (no longer eager to drag them into the garage every autumn); a chintzy plastic table, the only affordable kind, wouldn't last two years in our I-love-you-I-hate-you Missouri weather. But I'd like a table again beneath the twin oaks. I dismantled the old rotted one screw by screw, about two weeks ago.

Thought then to look up plans to build my own. There's a lot of wood in the garage, all sizes and shapes, much of it just fine, like 3 x 3 posts, and big sheets of pine and plywood, and hollow wooden closet doors, and braces, and other pieces I did target practice on, but most of them whole. It's been there unmoved for seven years. I hardly even saw it anymore. I'd need certain kinds of varnish, paint, power tools (with no electricity in the garage; I once refinished a door by flashlight). Demetrius bought the stack of weights in the photo, becoming for the first time in his life a crazed health nut when diagnosed with terminal cancer; he was so human. And he bought all the wood, too, because we were going to have a treehouse, and just because. This would have been my first carpentry project. Never handled a power saw in my life. Changed my mind. (My mind is my power saw.)

It occurred to me I could ask and pay someone to build a sturdy outdoor table using these available materials. So I did. It might get started as soon as next week.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Our worm farm was a failure. We did everything by the book. But when we dug into it, no worms, although we'd put lively squirming ones in with our bare hands. Lovingly. We loved worms; good for the garden. I said to Demetrius, "Some of them must have been male, some female." He said, "I guess they never met." Later I learned that worms are hermaphroditic, male and female both, but all the same they have to meet another worm or it's no dice.

Hope springs eternal. Lately I've wanted to feel more hopeful. Nothing serious, just a little down, despite trying everything to cheer myself at this best time of year, before it's buggy or hot, when all is potential. Owls call to each other. Hawks call to each other. Bluebird pairs hang around in the twin oaks for a day or so, but none have settled in my bluebird house as of yet. All perennial. All go on with or without me. I went to my favorite grocery store, quite a distance, to distract myself with produce, and there my eyes met a rack of seed packets. This was the answer. It was like pulling a lucky card from a deck.

So I weeded and dug up and turned a patch of earth 3 feet by 3, meeting some lively or indignant wiggler worms along the way, and finding perennial spring onions I'd forgotten about, and uprooting a whole aromatic handful to slice and throw into dinner. I raked furrows into the earth, and planted arugula seeds. It's the right time to plant, according to the packet: "two weeks before the last frost." Bunnies and deer don't eat arugula, because it's peppery. That's why I like it. There is no pleasure like seeing seeds you planted sprout. They do so no matter how moody we are.

Then I looked around some more and saw rebel grape hyacinths I didn't plant, I never planted, completely wild, blooming in the leaf-covered gravel apron, in very poor, rocky circumstances.

Monday, March 14, 2016


It's March 14 but tell that to this prickly pear cactus that's already blossoming in a very special rocky spot just to the side of the pumphouse on a south-facing slope. This tiny area about 3 feet by 3, lined with interesting rocks I've found, and discarded pieces of concrete birdbath, is a micro-climate. The property has several, on southern slopes where the soil is sandy, in glades I've kept clear of cedars. Micro-climates of other types also exist along a nearby road that has a shady, wet side and a stony cliff on the other. I've never seen a local cactus get going quite this early.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"Where've You Been?"

"Where've you been? Haven't seen you around."
"Busy, working. Nobody's seen me or heard from me and I wouldn't invite you or anybody to the house because it hasn't been cleaned for two and a half months. I've got papers and jotted notes everywhere, and they're all important, and if I move any I won't know my own mind, because, see, I got this contract to write four articles a week, for good money, and have to keep coming up with ideas that need to be researched and everything. That's on top of editing, teaching, doing my own writing, answering emails, working some weekday nights, participating in club meetings, trying to lunch with a friend once or twice a month, and creating a three-hour PowerPoint presentation. I quit Facebook. I quit watching TV. I quit my other blog. I quit cooking. I eat tuna from the can. I don't walk every day or go to the gym four times a week or play pickleball or shoot baskets. I dread volunteering for anything. I don't phone anybody. I quit Tae Kwon Do for a while; too strenuous when I need the energy to work. I have 19 students this quarter and 42 students next quarter and they all want personal attention. I get up earlier. I drink coffee at 3 p.m. so I can work a second eight hours."
"Wow, I didn't know you did so much."
"I can do it, but not forever. I have Netflix DVDs I've had for four months. I need to give up something. What else should I give up? You run a business. You know about these things. Please tell me. Remember how they used to tell us to give up something for Lent? I have to give something up for sanity."
"And I remember how all businesses closed between 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday."
"Different world, that was. So what should I do?"
"Make a list of all the pros and cons--"
"I've done that. It turns out I have to do everything, pro or con, if I want to, like, pay the taxes on what I earn, or buy a new car sometime this century. I am not kidding. There's no one to pick up any slack. I can't slack. I can't count on anything. I hardly go outdoors because there's so much work to do."
[Long silence.]
"Go outside and lie down and look up at the clouds. The answers are in the clouds."
-So I did it and I found the answer, which is to talk with people, stop complaining, plant seeds for salad greens, wear colorful printed Zulily leggings, and buy new insoles for my shoes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

LaBarque Creek Now, and Back Then

The photo with blue sky and snow was taken in January 2012, the other in March 2016. (It's the same leaning sycamore tree in both pictures.) The December 2015 flash flood here was like a flood of sand, creating new white sand "beaches" on the property, the result of gushing water, erosion and trees weakened and downed by invasive honeysuckle. Here's a brand-new "beach":

Looks appealing, but where you see sand there once was water. I climbed a cliff to to get a bird's-eye view of just how far the flood carried sand over the creek banks and into the woods:
When I first moved here in 1998 lavish white sand beaches lined the side of the creek where there aren't any now, and the water was deep enough to catch little sunfish. In 2001 and 2008 beavers built enormous dams just beyond the creek bend, and chewed down numerous nearby trees, destabilizing the creek bank on the near side; the flood of '08 destroyed the most magnificent beaver dam and greatest swimming hole I have ever seen. Beaver dam again in 2012. The current flood of sand means the creek is one foot deep. I never worry. Living here has taught me is that worry is all in the mind and utterly useless.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What the Roof Really Looks Like

The roofers, about 8 months after they were promised, came by, pounding and ripping early this morning, and I was happy because my neighbor Terri and I both needed new roofs, seriously. And I saw what the roof looked like beneath the composition shingles. It looks like shingles. Here's what's been sheltering the house all this while (this is probably the 80-year-old decking). The workers sheathed it and applied new shingles. Click the above picture to see the whole thing, including a roofer.

Naturally, because it was foreordained by God from the dawn of time, one of the roofers knocked just after my shower and I answered the door with toweled hair sticking out like Phyllis Diller's, and comforted myself by saying they have surely seen worse. (Any worker who goes house to house will always, if you ask, describe the worst they've seen. It isn't a squinting little woman in pink thermals with wild hair.) They needed a 3-prong electrical socket. There aren't any outside. So I plugged it into the bathroom, and the pounding and roaring was such that I left home for the day.

By 4 p.m. most of the work, as you can see, had been completed except for new shingles over the porch area, and the mess in the yard cleaned up. The first photo shows the old TV antenna still standing, next to the shorter chimney. The antenna is now leaning against a tree in the yard; there is nothing more useless. Terri informed me that the local recyclers aren't accepting metal and glass anymore, only paper and cardboard. Because gasoline is so cheap there's no money to be made from metal and glass recycling. I can probably turn the old antenna into some kind of wild-bird attraction.