Friday, August 18, 2017

Life's Worst Meals (So Far)


Spoiled Coho Salmon: The July fishing derby drew up tons of salmon the anglers all give away at day’s end, a problem if your frugal family doesn’t like fish so doesn’t cook it much and fully expects it to smell and taste bad.

Hamburgers in Hot Dog Buns: With a bunch of teenagers to feed, Mom had ground beef but no hamburger buns, so she shaped the beef to fit the hot dog buns she did have, and the grilled and bunned burgers looked like quarter-pound turds.

Sauteed Chicken Livers: A horror show of not one but twenty or so veiny little livers I sincerely could not even look at and the only meal I ever told a friend (the host) I could not eat.

Clams Full of Mud: “Who wants clams for dinner?” caroled the enthusiastic Vermont hostess. I lied that I did. She went out and bought clams just for me and steamed them. I had to eat them.

Stuffed Green Peppers: Bitter body-temperature bell-pepper shells and acidic tomato sauce are a hellish combination always, but ten times worse if served as the gala welcome meal at an expensive retreat.  

Corned Beef and Cabbage: Like eating a human adult sent through a hot shredder.

I eat with no problem tripe, anchovies, lard, creamed herring from a jar, octopus, headcheese, zucchini blossoms, venison, sushi. . .

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Those Who Ironed Before Me

In 2008 I emailed Mom about the old wooden family ironing board I still use and printed out her answer, taping it to the underside: “bought for $2.00 in 1955 in a State Street junk store.” She and Dad were newlyweds, and it was the golden age of ironing. I first saw her cry, over a neighbor's rude remark, while she was ironing out on the porch (it was summer). I was between ages 3 and 5 and horrified. That’s my first memory of this ironing board.

In the '70s the heavy awkward thing became mine and I hauled it to the 10 or so places I lived until settling here in 2001, by then ironing at most four times a year. A week ago I saw the board’s butt end had been soaked and its cover shredded, and thought: Buy a new ironing board? Naw. I’ll simply buy a new cover. So I did. Stripped the old cover off--it had been stapled on--and saw the full-length crack in the board’s “table,” rendering it worthless but not useless.

Googling, I learned this three-legged style was first manufactured around 1914 and that metal legs replaced wooden ones in the 1940s, giving me the board's approximate age. I turned the board over looking for a manufacturer’s label or stamp. Nothing. But besides the note I’d taped to the underside was writing I’d never noticed before. Handwriting. Only some of greenish lettering was readable.

This much was clear:
 ________ d A. Dixon
______________________ Wis.

Probably the previous owner who’d junked the thing! With light and magnification I finally confirmed the name as “Fred A. Dixon.” No, not “Freda.” That “A.” is clearly an initial. Plus I cannot imagine any female so attached to her ironing board she’d write her name and hometown on it. What, is she taking the ironing board to camp, or worried it'll be confused with someone else's?

Where the ink had worn away, faint impressions in the wood allowed me to confirm the first letter of the town as “W,” resembling the fancy “W” in “Wis.” (My hometown with the junk shop begins with “R.”) Fragments of other letters were just visible. Might it be two words?

The town name’s final letter, I thought, looked like “h.” “Beach”? There is no Wisconsin town called anything “Beach.” Or did it say “Fish”? That was more likely. The top of a capital “t” was followed by the top of a capital “e.” The answer was probably “Whitefish”. . .

But there’s no Whitefish, Wisconsin. Whitefish Bay is in the next county to the north, but believe me, no native calls it Whitefish because then we can’t make the standard joke about that wealthy suburb, calling it “Whitefolks Bay.” There’s a Whitewater, Wis. But the final letter before the “Wis.” was not an “r.” The storm outside had knocked out my Internet, so I pursued this puzzle, thinking that “h” might be a “d.”

Then I saw it: Waterford!
Waterford is a village in the same county as my hometown.

Census records from 1940 list the household of Fred A. Dixon, 57, of Waterford, Wisconsin as himself and his wife Lulu, 56; their son and daughter-in-law, ages 31 and 29; and three children under age 4. They used the ironing board a lot. So did Mom, who sprinkled water on clothes and rolled them in towels before pressing them, and also darned socks over a light bulb.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nothing Bit Me All Summer

"Lavender is an insect repellent," the Lavender Farm nearby had advised. That place, of happy memory, lost its lovely scenic lavender crop from alternating years of flooding and drought. But when their brand of lavender oil ran out I bought a 16-ounce bottle from Amazon and have used it ever since as insect repellent, pre-treating myself against bites and bugs before stepping out and meanwhile smelling pretty good.

Somebody told me that lavender oil at the Amazon price I paid is probably not real lavender oil but swill from big tanks of chemicals in China, but I just couldn't see letting that ruin my day. The darned stuff, no matter what it is, works just as well, whether cloudy (it turned cloudy) or clear.

Caution that lavender oil as a bug repellent doesn't serve everyone. I drenched a friend in it before we went bushwhacking. Chiggers still bit him and so covered him with those volcanic bites that he was bedridden with nausea. Usually he deserved bad things to happen to him, but not that time.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Two Cheers for Conservation

I trekked down Highway FF to see what those earth-movers and heavy-equipment operators spent three weeks doing down by LaBarque Creek during the hotter weather. The conservation department or somebody demanded our landlord provide erosion control at this creek bend. Wait any longer and the LaBarque here, give or take a few flash floods, could undermine the road.

I could tell you why. More paving, especially a parking lot built in 2014 right next to the creek, makes runoff. This encourages the gentle LaBarque to rise and flood. During 2015's heavy rain this was no flash flood: the creek was torrential for a full day, eroding its own sandstone channel, filling its fishing and swimming holes with sand, changing  the creek's floor--it's now all shallow--and its shape, and dumping sand up and over the creek banks for 50 feet on either side, instantly altering the ecology of its entire riparian corridor. Back then I climbed a cliff to take a photo and show you the aftermath. Happened again in 2017. Flash floods now grow ever faster and taller, and when meeting this bend here they hammered a new channel through our other soil: clay.

Was I surprised to see rope for erosion control; 100 yards of woven rope to hold the creek bank all around its bend. Conservation people forced the landlord to uproot invasive cedars nearby and rope them into the creek bank's walls to try to mitigate the pounding this clay side of the creek will still take during flash flooding. Why? Because the other side is sand.

Rope doesn't solve the problem. The only real solution is to dredge or straighten the channel. The LaBarque did have its own very pretty and reasonable channel, but now it's clogged with sand.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reflective Post

Somebody really, really wants drivers to see this wooden post at night, accommodating even the colorblind. I liked it. . .it embodies command, force, desire, communication, concern, compassion in the night.

Two ceremonies 40 days apart at the cemetery--traditional, and my stepfather wanted us there. It's the least I can do for a man who loved my mother for 31 years. For 40 days after death the soul may freely wander the earth and visit places important to it, and on the 40th day (just like Jesus) it ascends to heaven and is really, really not coming back, so the survivors hold a sendoff service at the gravesite with brandy, wine, food and bread, pouring wine into the earth, and then, all ready to faint or vomit because it's 114 degrees, go to an air-conditioned lunch. Then you're supposed to move on with life, except for the six-month observance and the one-year observance. I am eager to move on. Rest in peace, Mom.

Doing my best to move on, I had a new professional portrait taken July 25 and when I saw the photo, which is awesome, I thought, "Mom would love this, I'll send one.  . ." but she's seen it already.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Produce Stand

I don't know who owns this modest and remote little farm stand in a wagon; never asked. A few times I've seen a gardener working the dense, thick victory-garden plot just behind this wagon; don't know if that's the farmer. Tomatoes of several types, eggplants, pickle-type cucumbers, berries, onions, red and white potatoes, squashes (especially pumpkins, in season) are all sold here, but supply depends on what's ripe and whoever got there before I did. Also sells salsa and jam when appropriate. For cheap. I love this little vegetable stand. It's so midsummer in Missouri.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Despicable Me

My solution to craving junk food is to order a Happy Meal for only $3, containing much less food than a standard order of burger and fries. Select chocolate milk with it and you can't lose...and inside every Happy Meal is some kind of a toy or game. Today I scored a set of Despicable Me playing cards. What is this "Despicable Me" I keep hearing about? Some kind of children's movie? Animated? Why would I want to watch a movie titled Despicable Me when I'd much rather see Despicable You starring certain real-life characters who shall remain nameless unless you take me to lunch at a much nicer place than McDonald's?

In any case--helpless people being the most superstitious--I decided that fate had handed me an oracle and I would unwrap and open the box and choose a card at random from the deck, and this card would predict my future. I said, "I will believe this card no matter what it says. I commit to believing this card will tell me the truth. I won't second-guess it. I will accept it." And I grab a random card and it is the Queen of Diamonds. Surprisingly she does not look despicable at all, but rather nice. And since when is the somewhat advanced vocabulary word "despicable" used for children's anything? This totally confusing me no end except that I do believe I will soon be the Queen of Diamonds.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Yes, the Eclipse

This property is in the August 21st Great American Total Solar Eclipse path of totality, only 70 miles wide and the target destination for millions who intend to stop their cars right on the freeway where they are stuck in a jam, get out, and watch the mighty eclipse, the first one the U.S. has had since 1979 and the first one since 1918 that sashed the country, northwest to southeast, in the same way. It's a sensation! Genuine fun for everyone and children of all ages! I'm inviting people over and serving Oreos and Moon Pies. What other foods look like eclipses?

Naturally there are products tailored for the eclipse-crazed market. Naturally I bought an Eclipse scratch-off ticket for $5. Didn't win a cent. Saw "Eclipse" bronzer in the makeup section at Walgreens.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Breakfast Alfresco

"What would be fun?" I asked myself and could not come up with an answer. This is very abnormal because I think everything is fun, from hikes to mud to old trucks to blizzards. How else could it be, living in the world's most wonderful place?

When nothing came to mind, I tried another tactic: If I was in love, what would I be doing right now at 8 a.m.?

-I'd be serving breakfast to the loved one.
-I'd make this breakfast from the very best I had, to be the best and most memorable breakfast in the world, all for love.
-I'd skimp on nothing nor would I care about calories, because my loved one is perfect as is and thinks I am perfect too. So I'd use real butter and the works and serve enough to fuel the loved one all morning long.
-I wouldn't care about the number of bowls, pans, dishes, paper towels, or anything.
-I'd go to great lengths, even trotting everything outside to the red picnic table a total of four round trips, to have breakfast in the ideal quintessential vividly green July morning, the grass perfectly mown so any chiggers would have to leap really high to bite me behind the knees.

With day-old French bread, plus eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon, syrup and some (uncured, excellent, local) bacon I'd frozen and forgotten about, I fixed the imaginary loved one the best possible breakfast and served it in the shade beneath the twin oaks. Then I ate it, in the company of one bumblebee attracted by the fragrance of syrup. Oh yes, memorable. I ought to do this every day for a year.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gift Wrapped

A full inch of rain had barely woken or greened anything because it's been so dry. Dry means no mushrooms, not since late April, and no chanterelles for sure -- normally the woods is paved with big ruffly yellow ones, and my lawn, when soaked in summer, is host to as many as 17 different fascinating Missouri fungi. Today I saw for the first time that the juniper bush under which grew, annually in autumn, 20 pounds of rare Hen of the Woods 'shroom has been pulled out: sigh.

The walk led me to the former mushroom capital of my woods where there wasn't even an LBM ("little brown mushroom," as in "Never eat little brown mushrooms") to be seen; it simply hasn't been wet enough. As for any hunter, some years are plentiful and some not. I turned to retrace my steps and saw these Dreamsicle heads of Chicken of the Woods, beautifully fresh, ribboned with orange, yellow and white. I took the smaller head, about the size of a cabbage (see the glove, at the very bottom, I put in the photo, for scale) and within half an hour the fronds were roasting to a crisp in my toaster oven preparing for my Sunday guest.

Why didn't I take the big Chicken, or both? Didn't need it, and conservation means don't rip everything up out of the earth. Why not take the big Chicken and freeze it for later? Freezing fungi dehydrates the best out of it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Simple Pleasures

"What would be fun?" I asked my shattered self, and then thought of stopping at the local bakery for  coffee and maybe a pecan roll, if they had one (these quickly sell out). I used to eat them weekly until they attached a label saying they are 670 calories apiece. So I now go a year between pecan rolls or until I can't stand the vicissitudes of life any longer.

I got there and they had one, and I also ordered a plain black coffee to be put in a "real cup," a.k.a. a ceramic cup. I once asked at a city coffeehouse to have coffee in a "real cup," and the waitress beneath her pink hair and piercings said, "We have imaginary cups too."

On every trip far from home I take a time-out to have a pastry and coffee of the local kind, and have very fond memories of a chocolate croissant and espresso at a sidewalk table in Quebec, and a light coffee with a custard pastry in a gilded coffee house in Portugal, and sitting with a coffee and pastry is always fun, a happy moment, even a peak experience, perhaps the most concentrated experience of contentment in the short time we live on this Titanic called the Earth. Come on, said my spirit. Hey, skinny one; hey, Cheerful Tearful. Enjoy it. Enjoy life.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I Set a Tomahawk Trap

Friday night the creature sprung the Tomahawk trap and got away with the peanut butter, stupidly placed (not by myself) on a piece of foil. It grabbed the foil from the outside and moseyed it along out of the trap without triggering the trapdoor and then left the trap yards and yards away in tall grass.

Disgusted for the whole day after that I decided then, after dragging concrete blocks in front of the hole in the wall, to set the trap, but never having set one before I pulled and yanked this way and that for about 15 minutes, before reasoning that:

1. A man probably designed this trap.
2. Men do things the easy way (such as leaving me the trap on a Friday so I would have to set the trap Saturday and Sunday).
3. They can figure out very clever ways to do things the easy way.
4. Man stuff, such as car engines, motherboards, etc., looks much more technical than really is, and is simpler than it looks.

So I went on YouTube and learned in two minutes how to set the trap (lift, push, pull), this time dolloping the peanut butter (a lot of it, to appeal to the greed of the little xxxx) directly on the platform so there would be no shenanigans. Am waiting to see if it works, but I think an actual tomahawk would be better.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Smiling Bowl

Early, early, early, between first light and 7 a.m., or the humidity is oppressive, and you must wear long pants and a long-sleeved high-necked shirt and boots, plus gloves, to pick blackberries from the briar bushes. And you wait all year to pluck them gently (because only the ripe berries are really worth eating) from the thorny twigs, as many as are ripe. It's an annual ritual around July 15 and it's one reason life is worth living.

Even more so if Patrick, who mows the lawn, comes by with a bowl he got at a yard sale. It's a Buffalo China restaurant-ware bowl, the classic with the green stripe around it that looks like an endless smile (it looks like that to me, but I am not normal), and he said when he turned it over and saw the stamp he remembered I like Buffalo china, and here is the whole day of July 15 in a bowl.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Solar Self

Are we all not like the Sun, thinking we are at the center of everything?

Briefly I went back on Facebook after 19 months, back among 251 wireless friends, and was passionately interested in them and in quizzes, including "What is my soul color?" ("silver") and photos of cats and grandchildren, and not only that, but FIVE-YEARS-AGO-TODAY photos of cats and grandchildren, and furthermore, news and outrages I would rather not know about, that made me heartsick and reminded me I was already so, and furthermore so many people I knew were already so and to the brim, and after two weeks could stomach no more agony and left, but regretfully, because Facebook had made me feel like part of a web, ya know.

I walk between 6 and 7:30 a.m. these summer days so now and then I see something special in the morning light.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Who Wants In?

Shabby siding panel nearest my kitchen door was no problem until somebody chewed starting early this summer, day after day creating a larger and larger hole, then finally a tunnel, then finally moved in but made sure to leave its trash (empty acorn shells) just outside to let me know he or she was there and how much they were enjoying free food and lodging between my walls. The nerve.

Have never seen this creature, day or night. Phoned the handymen to come look. A month went by. Called them again and sent this photo along. One of them arrived today with a wire cage trap baited with lots of peanut butter.

The plan goes like this:

1. Trap whatever creature is in there so we know it's out. When I see it in the trap, phone.
2. Handyman takes the trap somewhere far away and lets the creature loose.
3. That's what he thinks; I'm not gonna phone him until the creature dies in the trap. Serves it right.
4. "Then fill the hole," said the handyman, and that's my job, but he didn't say what to fill it with. My guess is steel wool. I've used it in dozens of holes in my house and rodents can't chew through it.
5. Call again and the handyman will come to patch it up.

Just very occasionally I'm weary of the struggle with rodents, raccoons, and so on.

Monday, July 3, 2017

There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight

Better than drugs.
Josie was over for hamburgers cheerfully bringing a bagful of fireworks bought at Molly Brown's in Franklin County, because where she lives they are illegal and she hasn't shot any off in 18 years, and while we drank wine and had dinner there were plenty of things to be sad about, God knows, but always our eye was on the explosive treats we'd get at after sunset and that we used to get as kids  back when sunburned skin and playing with gunpowder and matches were normal. We waxed nostalgic about sparklers, sorry we didn't have any, until I looked into my stash (of course I have a stash: a gross of bottle rockets) and found one box of six blue sparklers.

We also had fountains, fireballs, snakes, rats, roman candles, a PT boat, and noisemakers. Carefully we gathered up a pail of sand and a bucket of water and Bic lighters, and carried our treats out on a silver tray into the moonlit night and proceeded to tease out all the fuses, light them, run, and watch them explode and shiver multicolored lights. One item fell and shot sideways, starting two separate fires in the meadow that caught and burned and rapidly spread, but I waded into the tall grass with the water bucket and doused 'em, a heroine and a legend in my own mind. Why, after half an hour it hardly mattered whether Josie's sisters insulted her and got her kicked off the family property, or that I will never again hear my mom's voice on the phone.

We came back in as different, lighter-hearted people (who incidentally stank of gunpowder). Happy Fourth! Enjoy it while you can. Families are overrated.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What Time Is It?

Mom was in the bed she died in, in the living room because no other room had enough space for that rolling hospital cot. She'd been washed and shampooed by the CNA and my sister when she quietly breathed her last, while I was getting on the plane to Phoenix, and when I landed and switched on my mobile data saw my sister's text that the funeral-home people would hold off on taking Mom's body until I got there, if I hurried.

Mom and I had built a good adult relationship and I visited often in the past few years, knowing that parents don't last. In May she'd been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer that she was suffering from since March. I was glad she'd been released from it; and parents die because that's what parents do, sadly. I had no last-minute beggings and forgivings like so many people seem to have, at least in movies. Dad had passed suddenly and shockingly of a heart attack in 1982; now, that gave me what we call PTSD, then called being hysterical and messed up, and agoraphobia (the sidewalk bounced like a trampoline, it really did!) and feared mirrors and electricity and was terrified I'd never be sane again. I'm older now, and so was Mom. She was 82. Stepdad survives her; he's 98. This time he's the traumatized one, with good reason. "I never believe this gonna happen," he said, in his accent.

I'd planned a week's stay and it turned out perfectly aligned with Mom's death, funeral, and burial, and 118-degree days and 95-degree nights. I wrote the obituary because that's how I could serve, and gave the eulogy because the eldest child does, while my sister who is the executor did paperwork and phone calls and the other sister hosted and poured drinks for our many callers and guests. Besides going to the funeral home and picking out the casket, etc., I couldn't be of much service so I simply worked as I usually do, beset by deadlines, except retiring very late and rising very early and speaking some Serbian. Here, I'll teach you: "Bozhe, Bozhe, " literally, "O God, O God," and only older people say it because it connotes: "God, I've seen a lot of s--t in my time, but this takes the cake."

I asked my sisters what was Mom's biggest gift to them, and we all agreed it was her work ethic so that's what the eulogy was about. I didn't write it; I spoke. I get handed a lot of "Read the eulogy I wrote for my parent" and they are all the same. Mom didn't look like herself in her coffin simply because she was lying down and still. Only her hands, folded, looked like her. We all agreed that was not our mother.

So I came home to some kindly friends, thank God, and when I was alone realized that whenever under stress or really excited I'd called my mother to tell her about it. I actually turned to look around for the phone before realizing.

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?