Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Garden Report

Result of Letting a Radish Go to Seed!
Beets and Tomato Bushes
One Wee Pumpkin, Three Vines
Nice Broad Basil (Planted From Seed)
Awesome Sage!
Not Parsnips! Rutabagas!
Kale Coming On
Brussels Sprout
From dirt farmer to water wielder, I am a gardener. Learning the soil and weather and seeds of Elmira Pond has been fruitful. Here is my official report for review this winter when dreaming what to plant again.

  1. Save seeds. In fact, start a club with friends and family who save seeds. How do I dry my wet seeds? I have left some beans and peas in pods to dry on the vine, but how do I dry zucchini and tomato seeds? Territorial Seeds is a good place to start. Might have radish seeds to transplant. After all, I grew a radish flower-monster!
  2. Plant earlier. Grow some plants indoors, things that transplant well. Stagger planting. Plant peas and other cool crops outside as early as the first showing of dirt. Planting peas after the heat came on was not great for the peas.
  3. Successes: potatoes! Squash, of course. Brussels sprouts, surprisingly enough. Rutabagas (that I keep calling parsnips). Rutabagas. Rutabagas. Tomato plants...but only a few ripe tomatoes as of the end of August. But fruiting like crazy. Lettuce; kale if watered well and in the shade. Mustard greens and seeds; dill. Sage is lush and tarragon a tree.
  4. Marginal successes: beans (okay, I killed one in haste by removing the germinating seed hull, and the wind snapped another full-grown plant in half). Pumpkins...gorgeous vine, lots of blossoms, one wee green pumpkin. Beets were hit and miss. Germinating wasn't always successful. Cauliflower resulted in three out of ten planted. Only one scarlet runner out of 30 beans actually germinated and grew...not an utter failure. Basil from seed...better than plants. Cucumbers yielded, but not enough to can and I think they have powdery mildew.
  5. Utter failures: what the heck, carrots? I soaked you, planted you ever so carefully...sigh. I will try tape. Radishes actually did well: I was bad at harvesting too late. Basil plants never produced any leaves of use. Containers might work better. Nary an asparagus bean came up!
While there is yet daylight in northern Idaho, I will try late planting of carrots (tape) and kale and broccoli. Not sure why, but Territorial Seeds will not ship garlic to Idaho (from Oregon). Overwintering onions and garlic is next on the sowing list.

My garden is a mass of plants and powdery black dirt. I like the un-row look, but plan to cover it with clover. Not sure what amending would help with the dustiness as it is simply dry.

So proud of the fact that no chemicals whatsoever were used and yet my plants grew as if on steroids and pest and disease has been minimal. Birds, spiders and bees actually seem to help keep down grasshoppers and aphids and wormy things. The garden spiders love green bean and tomato plants which have the healthiest leaves. No coincidence I am thinking.

Definitely scouting for Tonka trucks at garage sales. I will build roads and play in the dirt.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Littlest Gardener

Littlest Gardener
Perched Upon Beet Stems
Only a Few Holes

With feathers striped like truffles-in-the making, a mix of melted chocolate and cream, the littlest gardener of Elmira Pond toe-hops among the beet greens. Tiny enough to perch on a red beet-stalk, the bird rustles through the leaves with her beak. She’s a pine siskin, although her yellow is not so obvious. But, that’s how it goes with females.  Thus, I’m relying on the truffled streaking for identification.

Water-sprite is another way to describe her. The pine siskins listen for the hose, chirping from the trees, then alighting upon the fence with eager little bird eyes like teddy-bears. The littlest gardener showers in the hose-water, fluffing feathers and shaking wings. This is not a shy bird. Thankfully, neither is it aggressive like nesting kingbirds or crazy like window-attacking cat birds.

She’s welcome among my beets and watering.

Of course, I’m trying to figure out the snack or meal she’s finding. A few of my beet leaves look like tatted lace, and the lush rutabaga leaves have a hole or two like socks in need of darning. The rutabagas are full of wasps like soldiers marching up and down the ranks. While I’m not a fan of wasps evidently they are serving a huge purpose here. Grasshoppers? They abound in the pastures, even nibbling my roses, but not my garden. Well done, wasps.

Organic is not difficult when you let the little ones roam.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Crazy Good Gas Station Indian Fare

It’s a Monday and Todd is driving home from Moses Lake. Between watering, harvesting and writing for pay, I’m too busy to even think of prepping dinner. Yet, a thought occurs to me—Todd could bring home chicken skewers from the gas station near the hanger where he turns wrenches on 747s.

When I make the suggestion, my mouth is already salivating at the possibility. But he tells me that the hot counter sells out by the time he leaves. I’m bummed until he calls, headed home saying, “Bob fixed you something.”

Bob is most likely not the cook’s name. How he ended up, turban and spices and all, in a gas station in central Washington is a curiosity.  His English is coming about and maybe he was tired of people mispronouncing his name so he learned to say he’s “Bob.” Divine Spicer, Master of Chicken and Drool Maker are a few other names I can think of for him. His mastery of Indian fare is superb.

Todd takes his time meandering home, shooting at the gun range on Mica Mountain, picking up Cast Master lures in Spokane and shopping for a bottle of wine. I have work a-plenty to keep me busy and cucumber slices to ward off hunger, but distracting thoughts of Bob’s dinner intrude.

At last, Todd pulls into our dark driveway with headlights setting off both dog alarms. He walks into the house amid frenzied barking, carrying a brown paper bag. Bob’s dinner. "Is it skewers," I ask, drool pooling at my bare toes.

“Nope,” Todd answers handing me the bag, “Bob just said it was special. He was excited to fix you dinner.”

Opening the bag, I can already smell the layers of spices. In one container I find jasmine rice so perfectly textured I wonder how he does it. My rice always has a slight stickiness or is not soft enough. In the next container is a profusion of orange-colored chicken, sauced with spices, onions and bell peppers. Unwrapping the foil, I’m delighted to discover naan bread. Naan bread in northern Idaho! What a stunning occurrence.

Plated, Bob’s dinner looks like a feast of flavor. Using my naan bread to scoop chicken and rice into savory bites, I can taste the lemongrass among cumin and curry and peppers. And this from a gas station in Moses Lake, WA? Bob can cook me dinner every Monday Night!  
Bob, My Gas Station Cook and Hero, Can Fix Dinner Every Monday Night!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Swallows, Beets and Death

Fried Egg Sandwich
Barn Swallows
Harvesting Fruits of the Dirt
See Life
See Love
Seek God
The day begins with a fried egg sandwich--melted cheddar cheese on on an oven-toasted English muffin and topped with peppercorn bacon and an egg fried in bacon grease. It ends with tummy-shaking tears that come from the shock of finding out that a loved one has walked out of an oncology center with a certified ticket to eternity. Bacon and cancer like alpha and omega.

There are birds and gardening in between. There always is; life goes on. Barn swallows fledge their loved ones without worrying about the ginger cat, slinking into the woodshed. Instead they rapidly beak-tweet as if life emits from the lungs of swallows, and maybe it does. Maybe that's what the breath of life sounds like. Swallow chatter.

Dust to dust. It's a common funeral prayer--earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust--but not actually scripture. Genesis 2:7 reads, "Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." It's what we do when we are a living being that matters.

Gardening is an act of faith, believing that life indeed can be born in dirt. Seeds, water, sunshine, shoots, leaves, flowers, bees, butterflies and I'm eating zucchini every way I can think to fix it. My garden bursts with life and today I harvest beets, squash-on-steroids, a cucumber and beans.

Pulling the beets from the dirt, I realize--this is it. Life ends and I feel as though I need to pray over the hole it has left in the ground. That there are younger beets still growing--having staggered the planting--I am heartened that beets will continue to thrive in this dirt yielding life. And a messy life at that, so I tend to my messes and pull weeds and cull parsnips and decide to leave the rest of the peas on the vine so the seeds will dry for planting next season.

Thus are the choices we make everyday.

Death is a taboo subject. We ask in hushed tones, "Who is it?" as if it might be catching, as if there is anything we can do to stop the end. We talk obsessively of avoiding death, quantifying weight and nutrients and calories burned as if it adds a day of life to our time. Recently my Mom spoke to me of blood pressure and the importance of managing it. Her point was that her mother and grandmother both died of strokes.

My point is that they died, just as their mothers and grandmothers died. Just like she will die and I will die. I have yet encountered a remedy for death. Everyone dies, but we cover our ears and shake our heads and shake our fingers at one another admonishing, "You should do this, do that..."

Yes, managing blood pressure is taking responsibility for one's health and obviously I believe in eating fresh food and getting exercise and sunshine. I even drink water, believing it is good for my body when really I'd rather drink coffee all morning and wine all night.

But what if living means accepting that death is inevitable? What if it means getting that oncology report and asking, "Really? I'm going to die? Had no idea!"

What we need to do is not be ruled by the timeline. The key is breath of life. Yes, the key is swallow chatter  that God breathed into our dusty nostrils like spiritual CPR. That certificate to eternity is one we all were born with, and to think any one can give us an actual expiration date is profane. I don't look at my garden and see winter. I don't look at my green beans see dried leaves. I don't look at my field of potatoes and see dirt.

I cannot see death when there is yet breath of life.

Even the beets pulled from the path today are not done. They have purpose--pickled, sautéed in butter. For us it's a legacy, it's how we lived, not how we died. Did we teach children to read? Did we travel the world, drink beer in Germany, smile at a stranger in Italy, encourage others to dream? Scripture tells us to look at the fruits. My beets are hearty, but my loved one has shared his heart. I see the fruits in children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, marriage and art.

But there is more than dust to dust. There is more than breathing swallow chatter and leaving behind the spiritual fruits as solid as beets from the ground.

Do you know Jesus?

My saviour is yours to know, too. Jesus is not church, condemnation or crap. Jesus is bloody death on a cross to cover our sins. We all sin. Get over it. Get to know God through His son. Jesus overcame hell and shattered the shadow of the grave. All you need to do is ask Jesus to save you and call you out of death. Get lost in love at the cross.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Summertime Dragonflies

Dragonflies of the High Skies
Buzzing across the clouds with dual wings, a set of mechanical dragonflies pass over Elmira Pond. My husband will be disappointed to learn that I can't tell if they have radial engines or not. If her were here, standing outside in the uncharacteristic mugginess that hazes the sky with false clouds, he'd rattle off exactly what type of engines and planes these are.

Puttering Away
Maybe in all the dryness--yes, I realize that I just told you it is muggy--I'm seeing mirages. My brow may be sweating, but my garden is thirsty. Dirt is powder by now and one muggy afternoon isn't going to perk up my pumpkin plant. So I water and watch twin planes putter off into the distance like dragonflies headed to water.

Silence. No other birds in the sky. Late August. Where have all the osprey gone? Where is my Blue Heron?

So I watch and water until dragonflies come again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rock Monkey

How many disappointments, how much rejection can one take? I do not like August. Too much to do, not enough inspiration, prayer-time, just watching birds soulfully. Wasps buzz the apple tree, the sun pulverizes soil into powder. Will it ever rain again? I'm out of whack.

Spiritual adjustment comes at a place I simply call, "My Peace." Water gurgles, reminding me: As you come to him a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4). So I sit on worn granite along the Pack River, surrounded by rocks, breathing waters and stones.

It all washes away. Tomorrow morning is a new day. The dawn renews hope; God renews dreams. As if to tell me to lighten up, I see a smiling rock as I clamber out of the basin to go home. How I love miracles--who else but God would put "rock monkey" in my path!

Rock Monkey...Cousin to Sock Monkey

Monday, August 19, 2013

Endlessly Eating

Blackberries at Last
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Blackberries in Coffee Yogurt with Coffee (Redundant)
Woodchopper's Blackberry Jam
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Prepping Zucchini Boats
Asian Hamburger Stir Fry Stuffing
Four Boats, Enough to Feed the Navy
Frozen Blackberries in Prosecco
My hands smell like Berry Kix. It's that berry-so-sweet smell that overwhelms commercialized products from cereal to hand-soap. Only, my hands are saturated with the real deal; I'm picking blackberries.

It's the season of endlessly eating, when berries bloom on brambles, peas appear overnight and cucumbers replace cucumbers. Twice now I've picked a monster zucchini as if my plants are sneaking steroids. In the beginning, I said I was farming dirt. Well, I'm eating what that dirt unleashed.

Peas while I water, cucumbers with coffee to clean morning breath and blackberries in my Brown Cow "cream-top" yogurt. Today I picked my first tomato, one of the Russian heirlooms. It became breakfast, too.

I'm saving cucumbers to make another batch of pickles or maybe I'll just make cucumber dip with cream cheese and dill. That's the beauty of food flowing from the garden--so many possibilities. The fate of the berries, however, are predestined to freezer jam.

Grendel stays by my side as I glean; brambles stabbing my t-shirt and tearing at my finger tips. I feed him an over-ripe berry and he lolls it around his mouth, chewing lightly. He swallows and looks at me for another. Any spent berry becomes Grendel's treat. His sister, Bobo is pointing at grasshoppers and not interested in the picking. Setting down the bucket, Grendel dives muzzle first and I have to wrangle it away from his gobbling maw. He never liked raspberries, but blackberries he adores.

Unlike the prolific raspberries, the blackberries are slow and few. I learn to look for the dark ones that seem to have fatter bulbs as they slide off easier into my hands. By the time I've picked through all the brambles, I have just enough for a single batch of jam. I toss a few into a flute glass and set it aside in the freezer for later. The Jam I call, "Woodchopper's" because I will use it to gift my son-in-law who helped us chop winter wood last year, and perhaps the jam will encourage more chopping this year.

Digging through recipes I decide to bake a chocolate zucchini cake and make stuffed zucchini for dinner. The recipe I have is heavy on the Italian flavor--tomato sauce, oregano and Parmesan cheese. I don't feel like Italian; I'm craving Asian flavors. I have a recipe for an Asian hamburger casserole and decide to make up my own "Asian Zucchini Boats."

First I prepare some rice with garlic, about a cup's yield. Next I make a stir-fry with hamburger, sliced baby bella mushrooms, celery, red onion and the insides of the big zucchini and crook-neck that I just harvested today. For seasoning I add equal parts soy sauce to rice vinegar and sprinkle the mix liberally with French tarragon. I only have four "boats" to stuff with my mixture but they are so big as to fill a cookie sheet and weigh five pounds. When Todd is closer to home, commuting back from work in Moses Lake, I'll bake the boats at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. A complete meal.

In the meantime, I have run my route of watering the garden, roses, berries and weedy-grass that we mow into lawn. Time to retrieve my flute with the now frozen blackberries and add Prosecco, a sparkling Italian wine. And, I'll nibble some more cucumber slices.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Big Bad Bears of Trout Creek Road

Ancient Cabinets
The Blue Goose
Man with a Holster on His Hip
Adding to the Excitement--Garbage
Thick Enough to Cloak Bears
Not Huckleberries
Not a Huckleberry
Release the Banshee Hounds!
Someone Picking Huckleberries Before
Picking Huckleberries
Worth Life and Limb?
Where There is Bear Hair...
Not a Big Bad Bear
Hanging a Peace Offering
Frightened to Death by Banshees
Trout Creek Road cuts across the backside of the Cabinet Mountains which cradles the northern edge of the Clark Fork River like an ancient mother stooped over her flowing water-baby. Old enough for whiskers, the mountains are a bearded lady, hiding her face of metamorphic granite. She must be made of stone as the mountains shed boulders and pocket-rocks that tumble down gorges and creeks.

Our truck, Blue Goose, rumbles deep into the crags of the Cabinet Mountains and we wind around the gravel road as if lost in her wrinkles. The name of the road is promising to my husband who has packed his fishing rods along with dogs. Yet, higher and higher we climb with out seeing an actual Trout Creek.

What we do see early on is an ominous sign declaring that we are in grizzly bear country. We've seen these signs before on other forest service roads in the Kanisku Forest, but this one remains legible. In other words, it hasn't been shot to scrap metal as if it were a practice target for wanna-be-bear-hunters

The sign warns, "Hunters know your bears!" Thus don't shoot a black bear, mistaking it for a grizzly unless of course that black bear is attacking you at which point I don't really think it matters that you properly identify your toothy, drooling, clawed attacker. Either bear is likely to outweigh, outrun and outwit you. But no bear can outgun my husband, and I plan to stick close to his .45 magnum hitched to his hip. He will think I'm an adoring wife when really, I'm twittering scared of big bad bears.

Next the sign warns, "Campers keep a clean camp!" What this means, is don't eat. Best to camp without food to attract a bear that can open up your vehicle like a can a tuna. Hoist food up a tree? Not likely--bears taught squirrels to climb and their claws are what inspired Stihl chainsaws. So what do we do? Todd and I bring our garbage along for the ride into grizzly bear country. I know, crazy, but we forgot to stop at the dump along the way, which is becoming an annoying habit of ours--let's go fishing; honey grab the garbage!

The final warning on the sign is, "Hikers be alert on trails!" Are you kidding me?  I'm in grizzly bear country and that bit of knowledge is like downing a bottle of No-Doze. My eyes won't even blink. How all three of these warnings are meant to preserve the bears for future generations, I'm not sure. I want to live another day, and that's as far into the future as my mind is going.

With garbage in tow and no visible signs of Trout Creek we instead stop because Todd "sees something." After much debate within the cab of the the Blue Goose, we finally understand what huckleberry plants look like. Todd gets out, eats one and declares that he has indeed discovered huckleberries.This initiates us as almost-northern-Idahoans.

We have found huckleberries, and my husband grabs the bucket to pick. In known grizzly bear country. Great idea.

Huckleberries in Tillamook ice cream, and huckleberry milkshakes for sale in every little town to dot the map in northern Idaho and western Montana (including lil' ol' Elmira country store) is sweet and dear. Summer tourists headed to Glacier National Park or driving the great Selkirk Loop into British Columbia love huckleberries. So do bears.

As if our garbage isn't beacon enough, Todd lets loose the hounds. With boundless energy and curiosity, the two German Short-haired Pointers (GSPs) run fearless up and down the steep forested slopes. Through ferns and underbrush--you know, bear beds--the dogs run. If we don't stumble upon a bear, certainly they will. Todd is already hiking up the slope, and I reluctantly follow the holster on his hip.

To me, huckleberries resemble blueberries, just smaller and less blue. You have to pick a lot to get any kind of yield, and each plant has about five berries. Sharing the bucket between us, we manage to pick about a full cup of huckleberries, which means we are half way to a batch of jam. Okay, this is fun, my mind decides until it then says, hey what's that?

"Todd, is that bear hair?" I ask, standing up as if it might still be attached. Todd comes over to the clump of hair matted among the huckleberry plants and affirms my find.

Now my eyes are like super-sonic scanners as I scope every tree, fern and boulder for the bear missing a clump of fur. Is he full or did he leave these berries for a snack, or worse yet, a snare? Torn between fleeing the scene and not being able to move, I then hear a horrible cry.

The Irish believe that a banshee wails moments before death and it sounds as if death is rampaging down the mountain slope. Bursting out of ferns and brush, Grendel, our male GSP, is galloping and baying like a banshee. He runs past us and I cringe, waiting to hear the crash-boom-bang of an angry grizzly.

Crazy Banshee Dog
With the kind of calm that first-responders possess at the scene of a horrific accident, I ask Todd, "Do you have your gun?"

"Yep." His answer is tight and he's swearing in mumbled tones at the dogs who have brought death upon us all. The crying continues down the slope and now our second dog has issued the banshee's cry.

That's it for me. My legs begin to move and my feet barely brush the tops of huckleberry plants as I nearly make it all the way to the truck, writing a eulogy for both my dogs in my head. Then I see the garbage. What am I doing? I was supposed to stay with the gun, not the garbage!

Behind me, Todd is yelling, "Drop!" Drop? Does he really think a bear will heed his command? If it's devouring one of the dogs, well, that's just one less dog for us to feed. Maybe we'll still have one GSP after today. Hesitating, I turn toward the man with the gun.

Todd steps out of the brush and trees, onto the road, followed by two GSPs eagerly jumping at something my husband is holding aloft in one hand. It's a dead bunny, run down by two banshee-screaming GSPs. My legs become jello-shots, and I crave a whiskey. If the Irish truly do hear banshees wailing in the night, no wonder Jameson is so popular.

Throughout it all, Todd managed to keep the bucket from spilling and our dogs are alive. He never drew his gun once. What a man with nerves of steel. "Okay, time to go," I call to him, as he places the bunny high in the fork of a tree.

Maybe it's a peace offering to the big bad bears of Trout Creek Road. Or just a late afternoon snack.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Summer Harvest
Roosting Blue Heron
It's a Bird, a Hawk, an Eagle or Something Like That
Refrigerator Pickles
Into the Frying Pan Zukes!
Two weeks of travel and I'm ready to be a homebody, bird-nerd, barefoot gardener, writer again. From vistas of a real working ranch in eastern Montana to the Ireland of the Rockies, my eyes have charted new sights.

My garden grew without me. A zucchini big enough to bat a bear clung to the vine next to the crook-necked squash plant that burst with a bouquet of yellow veggies. I let one of my radishes bolt to see if I can harvest seeds. Right now it is full of pretty pink flowers.

Amazing how the pea-pods never make it to the house; I nibble as I weed. One lesson from this year's garden classroom is that peas can be planted much earlier. They are as cranky as me in the heat of full summer. And I'm cranky. It's hot and humid. Humidity is for the Midwest, or so I thought. My Midwestern friends say it's beautiful, even cool out that way. Somehow our weather swapped. I want my cool northern Idaho nights back with dry days. I feel like a late-season pea pod gasping in the heat.

Today I closed the windows, drew the curtains and sheltered in the cool dark house. Not the best way to reconnect with the birds, I know, but I needed down-time, scripture verses and mindless Mahjong tiles. I pondered big concepts, such as the importance of repenting before forgiving and tiny ideas like adding Aleppo pepper to pickles. I recalibrated.

Pee breaks for the dogs draw me closer to the pond. Despite the heaviness of the air, the pasture is crisp and dusty. The pond is looking stagnant, yet still full for this time of year. Blue heron greets me with sleepy eyes, neck tucked into his body for roosting. The hawk--or perhaps Golden eagle since I can't seem to tell the difference--perches high above us all in the tamarack along highway 95. At least two mergansers remain and one looks to be a young male. Wasps thrum ominously and grasshoppers pop like corn kernels in hot oil.

The feel of Elmira Pond is returning to my bones, my blood, my spirit. It is good to be home.

Refrigerator Pickles with Aleppo Pepper
(Aleppo pepper is a deep red Turkish pepper similar to ancho chilies.)

6 cups sliced, unpeeled cucumbers
1 cup sliced red onion
12 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of fresh dill
1 Tbsp. celery seed
1-2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1Tbsp. sea salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar

Mix cucumbers, onion, garlic and dill. Stack in quart jars or a large crock. Mix remaining ingredients and pour equal amounts if using multiple jars. Top with water to cover cucumbers. Store in the refrigerator.Gently swish jars upside down every day to blend. Best to eat after pickling for a few weeks. Good up to three months in the fridge.

Zucchini Patties
(Or what to do with all those zukes!)
Grate three to five zucchinis. Add two to three eggs and enough flour to form a stiff batter. Heat oil in a pan and fry globs of zucchini batter on each side until golden brown, about five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.