Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Design is Perfect

All I found was one moth wing. I carried it into the house and folded it into a piece of paper until I had time to study it. Its owner was a Cecropia moth. I especially loved the transparent porthole "lens" in the center of the wing's "eye" that prevented the wing from being a total blind spot and was designed to look to some predatory creature like a hungry snake's or owl's eye. Here you see the wing's obverse and reverse.

Cecropia moths live only to reproduce. They don't eat; they don't have mouth parts. They live two weeks. I would like to know and feel what its life was like. Is it possible that we who are much more complicated creatures do know or can know? Could I ever articulate it?

The wing is furred, colorful, beautifully shaped, functional, and despite its delicacy isn't fragile because it survived its owner and two weeks out on the porch. I'm so glad I found it. It's a reminder that nature's design, behind it all, is perfect. We simply have a blind spot about our own perfection.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

How I Coped

On May 14 all is peachy. On May 15, Mom, 83, is diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. The next day I'm paralyzed on my back like a cockroach with my first pinched nerve and the worst pain I've ever borne. I text my neighbor who takes me to urgent care and wheels me in. She lent me two canes for almost a week so I could walk. I couldn't sit up long enough to do enough work and lost a week's income and am forbidden to exercise for three months, or lift anything, exercise being my major way of coping.

Then Mom's prognosis goes from 6 months to 6 weeks. Two sisters fly alternately to my parents in Phoenix to help out, and my stepdad's panic (he's 98; Mom was his caretaker) infects them; of course both parents refused to make any plans for such as this, and suddenly chaos like it's the last act of Ubu Roi. Dear friend tells me she's moving to California; dear friend with health problem believed we were sitting in London. My steady date, so wonderful, suddenly ghosts me for a week, and on day 8 after I text "Are you all right" comes the "I'm sorry, didn't want to hurt you" email and enter a fresh hell of shock and anguish. Meanwhile ulcer acts up (duh) and I lose 8 pounds in two weeks because food is repulsive except for coffee; it's my turn to go to Phoenix with 121 degrees predicted and the sister with power of attorney won't call a home health aide while my stepdad and his neighbor are screaming into the phone that they can't lift Mom by themselves anymore and I don't dare say I can't lift anyone because that'll really make 'em mad. It's finals week. Lose pair of specs it costs $400 to replace. Cellphone fritzes. Medical, travel and tax bills hit just as I retire from 31 years of adjunct teaching and lose that income stream.

How I coped: Without my neighbor's help and kindness I'd still be lying here, and she took me out for pizza which I wanted to eat. Chiropractic treatments cut the pain. Lay on my back all day and kept working. Prayer. Tried to write poems. Saw and hugged as many friends as possible. As my sporting outlet I went target shooting, blowing hundreds of bullets .22 and .38 with admirable accuracy. Spent hours composing furious emails to the date which I erased without sending because a horoscope told me not to. At exit interview with the apologetic mansplainer I requested compensation and gave him a four-figure figure and he paid it directly into my Paypal account. I told him to leave women alone, that he should just stay home and choke his chicken. He did not know what "choke your chicken" meant and I had to tell him.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sport of Kings

We saw a new road, then post holes and then fencing going up on a beautiful green hill, and then building began and we dreaded the subdivision surely to be built there, but that did not happen: the building stopped with one 16-horse stable and one house. It's a polo-pony farm or haven, and via road signs it invites the public to polo matches. I didn't know the first thing about it so ahead of time I drove up to the stable and got advice: bring a lawn chair; a match lasts two hours; general admission is $10, more if I wanted to sit beneath a canopy; park the car in the pasture.

I returned prepared. The polo field is huge, at least twice the size of a football field, and the action very far away. One team far overmatched the other; the latter was given a one-point handicap, but at the end of the first part the score was already 4-1.

I didn't know what to wear--it didn't matter--but had seen photos of big hats at polo matches and brought my biggest sun hat and was glad I did because the "stands" faced the June sun and all exposed skin was visibly broiling. I'd poured a nip of Jameson's into my water bottle and enjoyed the show but mostly the idea that now I've been to a polo match.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Like Flesh

A known oyster-mushroom log at the entrance to the eastern woods produced these fleshy beauties in late April (photo taken 27 April); the scissors help show the size. I'd been harvesting that log for about two years, April to December; the whole area around it was rich in mushrooms edible and non-edible because that opening was a game path as well as my favorite path, and 'shrooms love to grow in disturbed earth.

Then one day in May came a huge New Holland earth mover that for no reason broke through this log and others and treaded well into the woods, crushing to mud the best chanterelle, oyster, and Bearded Tooth patches I have cultivated and picked from for three or four years. Apparently it was for no reason except wanton destruction. They went into the woods as far as the dump but did not clean it up. I don't own the land so I can't object and besides, what's done is done.

It's a heartache. I visited the site again today and can't set it right. Chanterelles are due in about four weeks, if conditions are right. I seeded those everywhere in that area of woods, so I believe all is not lost regarding chanterelles. But the oysters? If I am good, I will be led to more. Maybe this mechanically disturbed earth will make hunting there even better one day, when the scars of the treads heal over.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Where Oh Where?

I just came in from tearing open the trash bag and spreading last week's garbage out on newspapers on the lawn, finally sorting through the last place I wanted to look for a pair of glasses I lost last week, and they weren't in there. They aren't in the car either. In fact I know they're in the house, because I remember coming home from the gun range and showering off the lead and changing my clothes, as anyone who shoots for sport ought to do,  telling myself I should also rinse off the frames on the prescription spectacles I wore.

I think I actually did rinse them and dry them. Where the specs went from there is a mystery. I believe I had them near as I worked in the living room and home office that evening. I change specs a lot, because I need computer specs for computer work, and have three pairs of regular specs, all in different rooms at different times, and costly because they're no-line bifocals, a complicated prescription, et cetera, too costly to replace without seriously hunting out where the lost ones went. I have others. I still want the lost pair.

That was last Thursday. The housekeeper came Friday, after I had already begun searching. She did not find any spectacles on the floor, the shelves, or behind anything, and I have double-checked all those spots. Have you seen them? They are very dark brown, nearly black, and squarish with the rims around the lenses bright pink. Nobody else can use them. I think it's time to pledge $10 to St. Anthony, patron of lost things, and he will help (why wouldn't he?).

Turtle Migration

Young male box turtles now cross roads and highways to find their own new territories, and most drivers slalom over them, with here and there a driver pulling over, picking up the turtle and 1) placing it on the safe road shoulder opposite, where the turtle had been heading or 2) placing it in his vehicle and driving it away to a fate unknown. "They eat bugs in basements," somebody told me. Anyway, walking on Doc Sargent Road at 7 a.m. I met a small turtle I picked up, whose plastron seemed abraded and injured--not much, but some. I was surprised because I had thought the plastron was just plates ("scutes") of dead shell--but no. Both the plastron and the upper shell ("carapace") actually have blood and nerve supplies.

I learn something new every day. Turtles have red blood like ours. This injury did not look lethal, but for turtles run over, if they survive, there are people who will fix broken shells and rehabilitate them.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Going to the Chapel

....the tin-roofed, open-air chapel at the Black Madonna Shrine not too far from here, and St. Joseph' head served as a perfect perch for a singing Barn Swallow, cheerful since I've been coming here rather often lately to discuss with God some painful things undergone by friends, family, and myself (pinched nerve, yow! making it impossible to sit and write, and grounding me for three weeks) and lighting eight-day votive candles for those, alas, whose candles are going out, like my mother and father, ages 83 and 98, both deathly ill. There is no death, though. It's an illusion. The bird said so.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Nineteen Years in College

Out of the blue came an invitation from a former student--oh, so long ago, 10 years?--Carol Wibbenmeyer, to her university graduation bash, and bringing a congratulations card I stopped by (having two other events to attend that same afternoon), found the pavilion in the park and there she was, having taken 19 years of night classes to earn her degree in English, 45 years after high-school graduation. Born in Perryville, Carol had lived with her husband and kids nearly 50 years in Manchester, and had written a short autobiography I'm holding, titled "Life's Plan in a Red Dress," and gave me a copy, and it was just too fun not to show you our photo.

The booklet says that at her funeral she wants to be viewed in a red dress, but after the viewing she wants the mortician to change her into a pantsuit and comfortable shoes. "I don't want to go through eternity in a dress. That is just not me," Carol wrote. The mortician said she should put that instruction in her will. Her practical husband says she should have the pants on underneath the dress; "that way she will be prepared for any occasion." Her funeral won't be anytime soon. You didn't know I taught college? For 31 years. I've had hundreds of students. I'm retiring from teaching in June.

The greatest honor a teacher can have is a student who remembers her.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ma'am, Change Your Air Filter?

The car's fan blew out stenchy air for a while, but then the smell subsided and I went my merry way, thinking I could get the car's oil changed and the car vacuumed out and the state inspection/emissions test done all at once if I went to the Valvoline oil-change place. Their records said I hadn't visited since 2009, and this is because they charge a lot; in my view they overcharge, but you know how it is, you have to do all this, so, like a colonoscopy, you just get it over with, and before long, as I sat in the black linoleum waiting room on a black plastic-upholstered chair reading Missouri Conservationist, comes one of the meticulously clean and barbered well-pressed young men in his Valvoline shirt carrying my cabin air filter. "Miss, this is what we found," he said, and I knew he wasn't lying because about every two years a mechanic (whose face turns green as he does it) pulls an enormous stinky mouse nest complete with cadavers out of the exact same place, and this one at the Valvoline had a dead snake in it, too. He offered to change my air filter at a cost of $39.99. What could I do? Tell him to put it back in there? Most expensive oil change ever at $117. And when I got back in the car I said what, you didn't vacuum it? See, the cabin air filter is accessed behind the glove box, and it's changed by pulling it inward into the car, and rat's nest fuzzy shreds had sifted all over the passenger side. He said Valvoline hasn't vacuumed out cars for nine or ten years.

I was desperate because the interior was grubby, I'd already been to two car-vacuum cylinders, fed beaucoup quarters into both of them and neither worked, so I went home and risked my life taking my domestic vacuum cleaner outdoors onto the damp concrete and grass (never do that!) and vacuumed it out myself with the wand, because I had a hot date.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Smiling Lizard

I know May is here when a lizard gets trapped on the wrong side of the screened porch and climbs around on the screens all day trying to enter the blue and green world she can see but not get to. I then have a choice: Leave her there ("If it was smart enough to find its way in, it's smart enough to find its way out," Demetrius used to yawn) or help her out, but first, take glamour photos--of this lovely Northern Fence Lizard (Scleporus undulatus hyacinthinus) that seemed to smile as if it had a sense of humor about its predicament. After that I waited until she climbed onto the screen door, then I opened the door and tickled her until she dropped off the screen onto the stoop and went running, and I suddenly thought twice--about its needs, not mine--although it was too late, and said, "Take it easy. Birds can eat you."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Where the Flood's Sandbags Went to Die

Yes, 20,000 sandbags saved Old Town Eureka's Central Avenue during the recent flood, and 2000 or so volunteers packed and stacked them, and were heroes enough to unstack them--but what happens to all those heavy wet bags when they aren't needed anymore? This. They were heaped 15 feet high and maybe 50 feet long, with an earth-moving machine scooping up bunches of them and dumping them into a dumpster--in the Eureka Community Center parking lot. I went there for a walk around its woods. It had never crossed my mind where sandbags might end up.

I Eat Christian Food

Google forced some changes and I couldn't reach this blog until today, but you were in my thoughts while my adventures included a stop at McDonald's in House Springs where I learned that McDonald's is Christian food. At the suggested website there's nothing unusual or even Christian, just a button to start applying for McDonald's employment.

Christian Foods is a St. Charles-area company and it apparently started a Christian restaurant or business directory which has two area McDonald's listed (St. Peters and  Fenton) but not House Springs. The company Facebook page has no information on it. What, I wonder, is required for a McDonald's to be so designated? I wondered also, where would Jesus eat? I believe in the Law of Attraction. Does this mean they wouldn't hire me?

Friday, May 5, 2017

"To the Stranger Within Our Gates"

Of course there's a Bible in the nightstand at the hotel where I was a flood refugee, but also a laminated card that said (I liked it):

To Our Guests
In ancient times there was a prayer for "The Stranger within our gates."

Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people and not solely a money-making organization we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof.

May this room and hotel be your "second" home. May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams. Even though we may not get to know you, we hope that you will be comfortable and happy as if you were in your own house.

May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy. When you leave, may your journey be safe.

We are all travelers. From "birth till death" we travel between the eternities. May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those who know and love you best.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Stranded in Paradise

The creek rose and I saw I might be trapped at home for days by flooded roads, as in December 2015, if I didn't leave right now. I threw together electronics and chargers, boxed up the coffee machine and fled to a Fenton hotel where I have lived since Saturday night, waiting for the flooding here west and south of St. Louis to crest and recede. Tomorrow I will attempt to drive home.

I'd have stayed there if I didn't have important business in town Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, worth paying the hotel bill for, and a hundred things to do online. As I've told you, during stormy weather the Internet satellite won't work, and there was no point in staying home without the Internet because that's how I do my jobs--except that there were hummingbirds who should be nectar-fed and baby bluebirds in the bluebird box.

Today I'm lounging in the room with its spiffy king-sized bed, a couch, microwave and fridge, an impressive TV, free breakfast and working with no distractions except maids knocking at the door to ask if I need something. (Yes, a martini and Cheetos. Unfortunately not available here.) I bought coral-colored roses to lighten it up a bit, and then received roses for doing a writing task. It does get a little bit solitary and the roses help.

This windy and rainy morning I woke lonely but went down to the breakfast area to find it packed with sweet-looking young people who ate like locusts. Curious, I asked one if they were athletes or a debate team, whether they were stranded here because of flooding. This was the Oklahoma Christian University Choir heading home from a concert in Illinois or somewhere like that.

A nice place to stay while the flood decides whether it will allow I-44, Highways 30, W, FF, F, O, and 109 to open a way for me to get home.

A "hundred-year flood" every two years? We know the culprit: development and paving. Pave paradise and it will flood. Yes, the hotel sign stares into my window at night.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Relatives Visit

There were four, two men and two women. Two were twice my size, one vertically and one horizontally. They paraded in with tons of hiking boots and flip-flops, sleeping bags, clothes, Easter baskets, personal electronics, and gifts for me of an Elvis mug and a marvelous egg-shaped motion-sensor night light truly needed in the bathroom. Moving their stuff from the van into my house and getting settled took a full 20 minutes. They arrived hungry.

I love hosting them every Easter. My possessions vanished beneath theirs and a ton of wet towels because everyone shampooed and showered daily in my half-bath, the only bath there is, so I got in there before 6 a.m. or after 10:30 p.m. My Missouri provided beautiful weather, flowering trees, and birds. We ate barbecue, Steak 'n' Shake, frozen yogurt, homemade pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, Chinese buffet, Trader Joe's mac 'n' cheese, dyed Easter eggs, chocolate cake, a truckload of bagged snacks, and for Easter dinner came yet another person for a truly full 1100-square-foot house that rocked with fun. My brother-in-law read aloud from an inspirational book called Jacob the Baker and I rolled on the floor laughing to bust a gut.

They flung themselves out on carpets and snored. They relaxed and read or scrolled through their Facebook or strolled around the property or sat around the firebowl. They freaked when they saw ticks on them. (I showed them what to do.) We visited antique malls, Walmart, Trader Joe's (they'd never been to one), the farm store to see live chicks and baby bunnies, the Methodist church, and a state park.

The morning they packed and departed they granted my special request to vacuum the vacated rooms, and cheerfully did so in a few minutes, saving me 2 hours of my life, and with those hours I laundered all the towels and ate all the foil-covered little chocolate eggs they had brought.

And how was your Easter?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Don't Look at These Dead Snakes

The fireplace's grille has been taped shut since 2013 because snakes were being born in the hearth, harmless blacksnakes and Prairie Ringneck Snakes, but every April into August, the (non-working) fireplace was more and more like a nightclub with snakes coming and going, and finally the situation breached my tolerance level. Averse to the "duct-tape" look, I taped aluminum foil onto the grille trying to discourage further breeding in the fireplace, and added more layers of clear tape as it came unstuck.

This week I peeled away all the tape because it looked ugly and my Easter guests would spend lots of time in the living room. I think six snakes are visible in the photo; there were a number of smaller ones, maybe 12 in all.

Tape isn't an ideal solution. The snakes die of dehydration. In July 2014 I found a live snake stuck to a loose strand of tape, clearly suffering, and videotaped its rescue in a post. In fact this blog has several snake appreciation posts. I like snakes, but they really do better outdoors, and some of my  guests who if they saw live snakes sidewinding through the house would never be my friend again.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weirdest, Strangest Night Noise

Please listen and if you know what it is, tell me! It was about 10:00 p.m. This is a one-minute excerpt but it lasted several minutes. There is nothing to see--just to hear. Owls? Birds? Murder?

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Cat Sitter

No pets are allowed on the Divine property, the better to preserve our wildlife, but sometimes I like up close and personal, especially with exceptionally fine cats such as those I cat sat for this past weekend: Hermann, Rufus, and Mimi (pictured).

They filled life with surprises. I opened the bedroom door after waking, and ginger cat Rufus was there waiting for me--and raced me downstairs to the kitchen where each morning we caught the suburban sunrise from the exceptionally fine eastern-facing window.

suburban sunrise
The house is on a hilltop and it is very different for me to see houses below, to sit in an armchair (which I don't have) beneath a good lamp (which I don't have), with a cat perched on the armrest or in my lap, making a continuous bubbling sound, to enjoy life and simple reading and writing as if on a vacation--because I wasn't driven to do 200 things at once, as I am at home--and some inter-species communication, mutual curiosity, and unconditional love.

Domestic animals rule, too!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Don Robinson on the Rocks

Hiked this morning at Don Robinson State Park, with all its raw-looking, yellow-orange must-be-iron-in-there sandstone rock cuts. I'd taken some wildflower photos and then propped myself up to rest against a rock cut that exposed alternating layers of sandstone and limestone, like cake, and saw some of the yellow rocks freckled with black.

Closer inspection showed the freckles to be what looked like tiny plant fossils. (Photographed with a magnifying lens; actual size, 3cm.) Amazed and excited, I looked harder. Most of these enchanting fernlike things were pressed into a single layer of the rock. Five miles away at my place we don't have this type of sandstone and we don't have these.
The dark lines like black pepper are the "fossil" layers.
But, surprise--they are not plants! They are dendrites, deposits of manganese oxide, that have fooled a whole bunch of people, including me now, into thinking they are plant fossils. Internet says, "They form as water rich in manganese and iron flows along tiny cracks between layers of limestone and other rock types." I don't know about the manganese, but the rock there has iron and limestone, so if this is Wednesday it must be dendrites.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lonely Jensen's Point

The day didn't know itself what it wanted: cloudy, uncertain, and so was I, trying to find Jensen's Point in Pacific, until I read that this reclaimed historic site's little park is next to the Red Cedar Inn, the red-and-white Route 66 old restaurant nobody can miss. Unfortunately the Red Cedar Inn isn't operating; everyone who sees it wishes it were.

I had Jensen's Point to myself. On private land for 25 years, and falling to pieces, Jensen's Point was finally bought and restored by the City of Pacific, absolutely ruining it as a teenage  drinking and make-out lair and shelter for vagrants.  It re-opened in 2016. Many stone steps lead up the bluff to this stone structure at the top, built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, honoring Lars Peter Jensen, the first manager of Shaw's Arboretum in Gray Summit. He held the job for 18 years. The Missouri Botanical Gardens' Gardenway Association hoped people would take Route 66 from St. Louis to Gray Summit and see the Arboretum, now called Shaw Nature Reserve.
It's a useless structure except for its quaintness and view of distant hills toward the west, and toward the south, the trains that made Pacific what it is, between the mighty and temperamental Meramec River on one side and old Route 66 on the other.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Oh, I Gotta. . .

. . .call all my friends to come over, put on their water-resistant gear and boots with major treads and come with me to tour the property's 8 waterfalls just after a good solid rain. These are waterfalls #5 (above) and #2. To photograph Waterfall 2 demands you balance on a nice wet incline. From there it's only 25 yards to Waterfall 5 but it's not like there's a walkway. Bushwhack and step in the stream if you can't jump it, and risk the quicksand--because wet silica sand can make quicksand, and don't say no, because once I got caught in it under the Highway F bridge. It won't swallow you up like in the movies, but if both feet are in it you'll have a devil of a time trying to 1) grasp that you are stuck in quicksand and treading it like you're making grapes into wine and 2) free yourself. Pray that nobody else is there to jeer. It might help to untie and remove your boots and and throw yourself full length onto a nearby gravel bar where you can sit and think about how to pull your boots out.
The watercourses for each of these falls originate on the Divine property and empty into LaBarque Creek. Only in a very dry spell are these watercourses intermittent.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Search of Spring

Soil at 50 degrees is the minimum for morel mushrooms. Each year about this time, every week I take the soil temp in the woods where they grow; this first time got 54 degrees. But really we can't expect them at this latitude (39N) so early in spring. If you were a morel, would you want to stand in wet 54-degree mud and stay there? Would you even poke your head out if there's still a chance that a freeze might shrivel your delicate tissues? Granted, it's very rich mud, quite satisfactory, but if I were a morel at this time of year there wouldn't be enough sun to coax me out.

So when the rain temporarily ceased, I (who am not a morel) went searching in the universe for other signs of spring, edible and not, and, dog my cats, I found some. The daffodil is not in my yard.

Plenty of brand-new Turkey Tail mushrooms and those brown Japanese wood-ears were growing on downed trees.

I and my neighbor Terri vote that spring should last all year. Yourself?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Druid in a Bathrobe

East to west through 3 rooms
Whoever built the Divine Cabin in 1935 did it right, because March 20, equinox, at sunrise I was waiting like a druid in my bathrobe for the early sunbeams to knife straight through three rooms to the back wall. The builder cared enough to point the kitchen door precisely due east--so that the west-facing window hosted the exact same phenomenon, a sunbeam piercing the house clear through, in reverse in late afternoon. Does it in autumn, too. But spring is the most heartening time of year and its first day its most heartening day. I toasted it with coffee, ate cornmeal mush with maple syrup, and bacon--it doesn't get any better than that. . .smiled all day.

March 2017 has been 81 degrees and then 24 at night, and then it snowed, but every time this happens I frame it as spring starting all over again. Spring is a limited-time-only thing and I set the alarm now to get up before dawn so I experience as much of spring as possible. I think somehow it appreciates me back, turning all soft and green and baby blue.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Winter Comes to Missouri

"Merry Christmas," I said to the custodian while tracking icy, dirty snow water onto his clean floor in the middle of March, the first snowy day after a string of 60- to 75-degree February days that had us all smug and out on the porch wearing tees and shorts. I was so happy I'd taken advantage of a clear dry Saturday, the previous week, to visit a distant university library during its spring break where its librarians, otherwise idle, waited on me, patiently answering low-hanging questions about the technology and returning over and over to my computer terminal to teach me things about stuff when of course they would rather be sunning.

Luckily I'd chosen that over planting vegetable seeds. Never be fooled by Missouri weather. During the warm days the bluebirds arrived and I raked up leaves into long landing strips of wet earth and sparse grass because they eat by pinning live prey to the earth. They do that more easily if the ground is free of fallen leaves and I was promptly at their service because bluebirds are among the top 100 things about life. I am their custodian. May I be always strong enough to do the job.

While looking for beauty I found a nest I'd never seen before although it had to have been there all winter.

Friday, March 3, 2017

It Snarled

Opossums trotting through the layer of oak leaves that's all around the house make a rustling sound exactly like a person. Out on the porch I looked for a person and found an opossum passing through. It did not play dead at all, but faced me and hissed with a mouth full of sharp white teeth, not at all like a person. It wasn't ready for its close-up.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

It Bloomed

The amaryllis has four majestic blossoms each measuring about six inches across. The stalk is a foot and half tall. It is like an Easter lily but scarlet, and times four, and gorgeous. Thank you to Terri who gave me my first amaryllis starter kit.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The New Firebowl

New firebowl
The firebowl I dug and built, obscured with brush and fallen wood, was a disheartening sight because I love a nice fire for myself and guests; it's just fun to watch and poke at while enjoying adult beverages. Unable to clean it up--and I wanted it moved a couple of feet over--without a chainsaw, I hired Patrick to do it, and not only did he dig and build a handsome new bowl out of stone I'd thrown behind the garage, but chopped and stacked all the fallen and mostly rotted wood, and I will burn some as soon as it stops raining and the wind dies down and I rake for quite a radius beyond the firebowl because there's fallen oak leaves an inch thick from autumn. I don't want to catch a spark.

The property could actually use a controlled burn to eliminate briars and brushy understory, but that won't happen. Meanwhile I'd cogitated on the fact that I'll probably be home more often during this administration and entertain more people, and the firebowl is a fine enhancement as well as potentially useful.
Old firebowl

Here are "after" and "before" pictures, with the "after" picture first, because if I put the "before" first nobody would know what it was. The old firebowl was encircled partly with sawn hunks of wood and partly with concrete and stone. Patrick, camera-shy, would not pose with his handiwork.
New firebowl with woodpile

Monday, February 27, 2017

Need Some Green?

Buds on trees are only tiny fists yet, and the grass isn't green, but the moss and ferns are. Just to provide us the relief of seeing some greenery. Fiddleheads that grow next to the double waterfall are about two weeks away.

Hawks are pairing; hawks hunt together only when they're choosing mates. Last night in the pink twilight two bats flew overhead and I was so pleased to see them. As I walked to the creek today to hunt fossils I heard a turkey squawking, and it didn't up and flap away as I approached, so it was probably in the process of finding a mate or mating. Turkeys visit my yard but they like to live farther up the lane, near my neighbor, because her house backs onto the woods while mine backs onto a steep cliff like this one.

I'm just going out now to chop tall dry weeds obscuring my view of the bluebird house. A few days ago I cleaned it out because they'll be nesting any day now.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tomatoes in February

Six days in the downtown of a big city, and I began longing not only for Missouri but for what I realized was my very high-grade diet instead of oil-drenched, over-salted, very tasty, expensive and calorific restaurant food (I rarely dine out) that was turning my blood to peanut butter. Baltimore's famous crab cakes are crabmeat welded with mayonnaise and fried. I've enjoyed them in the past but choked even thinking of them. The breakfast buffet had eggs fried every way but none boiled. The buffet was $20 so I felt it was okay to ask for one. Still wanting normal food, without exercising (having no energy!), I unlocked the hotel's exercise room and swiped an apple from its fruit basket, getting away with this for two days before someone removed the basket.

The plane landed back in St. Louis at 9 p.m. and I, waistband now too tight, prayed to get to the grocery store before closing for fresh produce: tangerines, apples, bananas, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, escarole, yogurt, almond milk and tofu--grateful I live where I could buy all these in one place for the price of one restaurant meal in Baltimore and more grateful I can pay. After spending that much money on six days of restaurants I will never again skinflint myself and be alarmed by $35 a week on groceries for home consumption. Heirloom tomatoes were $3.99 a lb but I had been dreaming of a perfect tomato sandwich, technically available only in July and August unless I store-bought heirloom tomatoes. Besides, they were pretty. Home at last, I didn't allow myself to sleep until I'd set up a whole-wheat bread, carrot salad, and a pot of escarole soup. The next morning the bread was ready and was made into said tomato sandwich with onion. OMG, I was so happy to be home.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What's Under There? This.

The Divine Cabin sits atop a bluff and from the road people can see, in winter and spring, what looks dramatically like a cave at the bluff's base. They actually park on the shoulder and walk on down there. It's so familiar I barely notice it, but I explored today so you can visit. In the above photo you can see in the left bottom corner my two three-foot hiking sticks, for scale, so the opening is about 30 feet.

The "cave" goes back about 20 feet, and although you can walk in you must stoop and then crawl and then meet a solid wall without portals, so it's not a cave but merely sandstone rock that is vulnerable at that layer to weathering. There's daylight enough inside for photographs. Because it's a sandstone bluff its flooring is sand with fallen chunks of solid sandstone (this presents danger and is why it's off limits), and animal tracks, mostly opossum. I found a bone about 10 inches long. What is a cave without a bone? The bone also had teeth marks (see the close-up photo). Before the flood of '15, a fox den was nearby--but beneath the bluff is not a good animal hideout because there's only one way out, and for the climbers, nothing to climb. Claws can't climb sandstone.

The bluffs were cut by LaBarque Creek when it was ancient and higher. The LaBarque is now about 40 yards to the west, beyond those trees. A fox's den will always be near water. The bluffs are wet and green year-round and they used to form a swampy pond ("the secret pond") at their base, full of frogs in spring and summer, so many they climbed the cliff and up the side of my house and stuck on the bedroom window. The flood of '15 thickly covered the creek's silty margins with sand and evened it out so there's very little pond area. A two-minute video I made way back when, in 2011, preserves it.

What you see from the road
Nearby I found a damp log with a few fresh oyster mushrooms that were in the pan 20 minutes later.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Seduced by Pink Light

These warm and cloudy days create a world of pink light between 5:15 and 6:15 p.m. "Pink light" is a woo-woo thing you imagine when you want to send people long-distance love and protection. Always enraptured and outdoors to see it, I was seduced into thinking about spring and summer. Before I knew it, I was:
  1. finding the gardening gloves and the trowel.
  2. raking and weeding, and saying hello to worms.
  3. fertilizing and then paving a small area with old shingles to smother the grass and weeds to prepare the earth for planting.
  4. at Lowe's buying seeds (hard to find!) for collards and turnips, two hardy vegetables that my bunnies and deer won't eat. And buying a garden hose.
  5. contemplating the Totally Tomatoes catalog and circling about 20 different tomatoes I want to grow, to be narrowed down to two with three plants each. (Totally Tomatoes sells both seeds and plants.)
This is either patently insane behavior or it's human. Thanks to the wildlife, of the tomatoes borne on these plants I will probably actually get to eat only one or two. I'm not a gardener. I'm kind of a make-believe gardener. That is okay. It's the journey, not the destination. . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Inauguration Store

Happened to be in the Baltimore airport where an Inauguration Store (remember, it's not far from D.C.) sold clothing with slogans including this sweatshirt ($27.99) at 50 percent off. I pitied the sweatshirt. I could have bought a pink tee that said, "I Suffered for Eight Years of Obama, Now You Can Suffer Eight Years of Trump" but resisted the temptation, even at 50 percent off. I don't have the nerve to wear it sarcastically. I believe America will be great again, because all around me are people stunned into political activity.

I went to a conference where I missed and longed for my quiet stone porch and the signs of spring. The ocean was right outside the door. No interest. Thinking only of spring in Missouri.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Pantry and Its Discontents

Always wanted one and can't believe I haven't shown it to you in all these years: the pantry. It's a miserable little closet vacuumed out now and then, scrubbed and dusted I think only once in 15 years and I made somebody else do it, and only items in glass, armor-like plastic, or metal are shelved there because paper towels and napkins, and even newspaper used as shelf liners got shredded into mouse nests. (Never, ever say to me, "Poor little mousie.") There's also some extra flour in big tough plastic 5-gallon jugs that used to hold Demetrius's protein powder, but I bet you are looking at my liquor shelf.

In early 2012 I drank my first martini in Florida sitting at a bar packed with people age 80 and older at happy hour, and I told the lady next to me it was my first martini and she yelled, "Hey, it's her first martini!" and everybody hooted and hollered and toasted me like it was 1929, and I was so thrilled with how drunk I got that when I returned to Missourah I threw a martini party. I taped some martini recipes down on the table, bought an aluminum shaker and went to a liquor superstore, my first, to hunt all the ingredients--I'd heard of vermouth but didn't know exactly what it was, nor "simple syrup" either--got olives, lemons, tons of ice and had the party, and haven't made myself a martini since.

Then I bought some Missourah bourbon after I got a free sample that really sent my head to Mars. I read about how fun it was to drink bourbon with a boyfriend but my boyfriend at the time did not drink hard stuff and to this day I have the two bourbon-type glasses I stole from his kitchen thinking how romantic it would be to drink bourbon with him, and haven't had another drop. I also keep a half-bottle of Johnny Walker Red somebody gave me to take home after a party, Sobieski Polish vodka, Ketel One for the vodka martinis I never make, some flavored vodkas (because I drank them in Poland; lemon vodka in my freezer; a whole bottle of Polish caramel vodka I bought in Chicago; what was I thinking?), Serbian slivovitz (plum brandy; equivalent of moonshine; I am the only one of my friends able to drink it) and J&B, my favorite scotch because of how it takes the edge off and makes me hear violins, and I keep saying "tomorrow I'll have a drink and watch a movie," but I never do have that drink because I don't sleep well after evening drinks and tomorrow, always, I have to get up early, exercise, work and so on. And I drink best with others.

What are the all the beans and tomatoes for? Emergencies. Also have stuff in there I don't know what to do with, like a jar of red Russian caviar. Maybe I'll open it and see what happens.