Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Applesauce, but No Juice

The apples were pretty thin this year.  There were some wild storms which I imagine is the bulk of the reason for such a pitiful harvest.  We did pick a crate full at Matt's brother's house.  The apple tree down the street was cut down over the summer to make way for a mutli-family housing development.  Almost all our other go-to picking trees were rather lackluster.
So there will be no apple pressing thing year which tugs at my heart.  I so enjoy the experience and, of course, the tastes of the fresh juice.  Its not all bad though.  We did make enough applesauce--which when added to the dwindling stock from last year--should make it through until next autumn, estimating we use about a pint per week.  Since we only picked at Ryan's we know the exact provenance of this 2014 applesauce.  Usually we pick all over town resulting in a mixture of apple sources in each jar.  Not the case this year.  As such, Matt added the notation, "Ryan," to the lids.
 Its good to know where your food comes from--down to the literal tree, in this case.  I like that.  It dovetailed nicely with a book Matt and I just finished called Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis.

On the bright side, there are still a few quart jars of 2013 apple juice on the shelves in to storage.  They will be doubly savored this year, I am sure.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Two Takes on the Pelican Creek Trail

I suppose it goes without saying that I'd prefer a hike in the warm, bright sunshine than in the cold, grey drizzle.  But, that does not mean that the latter is without its charm.
We hiked the Pelican Creek loop in Yellowstone National Park twice during our last visit.  Once in the calm, grey sunshine of an overcast autumn day.  The second time in a howling, misty, hail storm.  Both were good--in very different ways.
Departing from a small pull-out a mile east of Fishing Bridge the loop at Pelican Creek is short and flat.  So short and flat, in fact, that I feared it would be too tame or crowded.  Neither proved to be the case.  The birding was pretty remarkable, I must say.  Well, at least on the first lap, that is.  We could hardly see 20 feet away on the second lap and if the birds were still out and about they were invisible to me.
For such a short stroll--less than 1.5 miles in total--the birds were just packed in.  There was a flock of leggy American avocets all in their sharp white, winter plumage.   There was a bobbing, tottering spotted sandpiper weaving a line along on the lake shore where the water meets the land.  There were some downed trees along the beach teeming with the constant motions of mountain chickadees, yellow-rumped warblers, and red-breasted nuthatches.  There were even a few busy ruby-crowned kinglets, though none with a particularly striking crown at this point in the season.   We saw a female belted kingfisher perched over the marsh waiting for the moment to strike.   Out on a sandbar jutting into the lake was a group of ring-billed gulls, many in a juvenile coloration that Matt and I had not seen before.  The tricked us, in fact, into thinking they must be something else at first.  We saw no pelicans, despite the name, but I've long ago given up on that sort of thing.  Sometimes a name is just a name.
In addition to birds the place was swarming with dragon and damsel flies--red ones, orange ones, brown ones, and blue ones.  There was also a multitude of fungus and a surprising amount of wildflowers for so late in the year.
As we finished up the first lap the rain had just begun to sprinkle down.  We were impressed it had held off at all.  It was such a grey, gloomy day.  We were also impressed the birding had been so enjoyable.  The overcast light is usually quite poor for birding.  That was when Matt noticed that the cap to the spotting scope had fallen off.  It was held on to the body of the scope with a rather weak rubber hook.  The hook was now empty.  We didn't really want to retrace our steps, especially in the increasing rain, but we also hated the think of leaving rubbish in the woods or scratching the lens of our spotting scope.  So we hit the loop trail a second time.
Oh, what a different experience!  We were whipped with wind and pelted with rain which turned to small beads of hail.  The water streamed off our rain ponchos keeping our upper bodies dry, but drenching our legs.  The lake which had been a smooth, steely mirror just a half hour before was now choppy and rough with white caps when we could see it, but was mostly hidden from view by the mist.  The lightning was wild and cracked the sky.  The thunder claps were so loud I involuntarily slapped my hands over my ears.  I felt primal and alive skipping about the forest in such a storm.  There is no missing the power of thunder out under the open sky.  There is no missing the wonder of mist turning to rain turning to hail.  There is no hiding from the raw power and majesty of it all when you are out in it like that.
But we never did find that lens cap.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

An Owl, Some Mule, and Milestones

It was Matt's birthday on Friday.  After he had drifted off to sleep on Thursday I set up a little spider web of yarn in the living room.  It was challenging laying there waiting for his deep, rhythmic sleeping breaths without falling asleep myself!  I got up quietly and spent a half hour stringing the yarn around door knobs, table legs, and a few fancy bottles of beers which Matt had picked out--at my request--for his birthday.  When he got up on Friday morning Matt had to wind the twisting, turning, back and forth string of yarn in order to liberate his birthday beers--and gain access to the rest of the house, too, for that matter.  Ginger thought both the set up and the tear down were fabulous games.  I'm pretty sure she thinks I constructed the whole thing just for her amusement.
Matt had two presents to open with the dawn of his birthday.  Both were pieces of art!  I guess my dad and I both know how much Matt admires beautiful works of craftsmanship like that.  My dad sent him an original piece by one of his friends, Tom Chvilicek.  At first we thought it was an owl facing forward.  Then we saw it as two birds facing each other.  Apparently the same thing happened to my dad when he picked it out.  Matt and I both really enjoy Tom's style of art.  Its very bold, bright, and geometrically abstract.  I have a Chvilicek eagle in my office, which was also a gift from my dad.
I bought Matt a piece of fabric art made by a women's cooperative in Peru.  One of the professors at the college where I work brought an exhibit of the amazing work to our campus art gallery.  Finding myself, just days before Matt's birthday, with no real gift in mind for him I thought it was quite perfect timing.  Each part is hand cut--with no stencils--and hand sewn.  Other than the blue sky all fabric is bought as bulk scraps.  The women had crafted some amazing and widely varying scenes.  It was hard to pick which one was just right for Matt, but in the end all the vegetables made this one win out over the others.

We had enchiladas for dinner at Matt's request.  We invited his brother, Ryan, and his wife, Bek, over to have supper, too.  Our dear friend, Derek, came and joined us a little while later.
Then the five of us journeyed downtown for a Gov't Mule concert at one of the local theaters.  Every show I attend at the Babcock Theatre makes me want to have more!  It’s a lovely  theater with sculpted gold moldings and that certain indescribable coolness that is found in older theaters.  It is also still small enough to provide for a pleasant viewing and listening experience from pretty much every part of it.  In fact I spent part of Gov’t Mule in the balcony and part in the third row at floor level, but the bulk of it was with the other enthusiastic dancers in the pit between the stage and row one.  Matt and Derek stayed in the pit the whole time.  Ryan and Bek found our assigned seats in the balcony.  Our other friends were scattered throughout the whole theater.  It was pretty great.
Having a superb concert fall on his birthday seemed quite the happy gift for Matt.  And then it got even better when just before we left for the concert we had a close encounter with a great horned owl!!  It was perched in our neighbor’s tree being thoroughly harassed by a flock of very noisy crows. Great horned owls are one of the crows most fearsome predators so they gang up on the owls in an effort to drive them away.  Ultimately the pesky crows indeed drove the owl to take wing, swooping low over our heads.  It made Matt and Ryan involuntarily duck it was so low.  We could look right into its glowing, dark eyes.  Thank you universe.  A birthday owl!  And we hardly ever see owls, for all our birding.
Matt seemed to have a really great birthday.  We came home from the concert in very high spirits and had cake with Ryan and Bek.  In fact, when we were making preparations for the a little dinner party the next day Matt told me that he’d already had such a great birthday that he didn't even really need a birthday party.  That it was just icing on the cake, as it were.  Birthday pun intended.
But, the Saturday gathering was more than just a birthday party.  It was also our quarterly celebration of the seasonal passage of time.  While technically the autumnal equinox was this past Tuesday we thought it would be more feasible to host a dinner party for our friends on the weekend.  We had half a dozen happy folks over for a simple meal of mostly homegrown fare.  We cooked up some chili with a variety of tomatoes, Carmen and jalapeno peppers, onions, leeks, garlic, and beans, the last two being the only exceptions to the homegrown origins.  Matt also made sourdough--including sourdough flatbreads cooked on the grill.  We played Apples to Apples around the fire in the waning light of Saturday with a new birthday bunting flapping in the breeze overhead. 
Games around a fire with friends and a full belly.  What a keen way to celebrate these annual milestones.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Glimpse of Eternity

Nature brings out the poet in me.  I don't often share them, but below is my latest composition.
My Glimpse of Eternity

Sometimes I cannot fathom my good fortune
Of being born into a paradise of bounty
With boundless prairie to run
With countless mountains to climb
With so few people
And such open skies
That I cherish.

Sometimes I cannot comprehend my blessings
Why my compass was turned to point me this way
To marvel at miniature miracles
To prize the interconnection of the forest floor
To wander with the bears and the bison and the bluebirds
Burning to know them
To live in their harmony.


Sometimes I cannot fathom my good fortune
Of being intimate with geysers
And infatuated with kingfishers
Bearing witness to my glimpse of eternity
As the deer and badger
As the ponderosa and lodge pole pines
And I am uplifted with these blessings of my life.

The blue jay giggles
The elk beckons
The trails whisper my name
It is within me and without
But I’m never the same.

All photos from Yellowstone National Park.