Monday, September 30, 2013

Lazy Bones

Mist in My Bones
Butter Motivation
Hot Ginger-Butter Popcorn
Bundled Herbs; Something Accomplished
More Rain and Mist
This is one of those days that nothing could be better than bed and butter. Even the dogs are reluctant open sleepy eyes to greet yet another gray and rainy day. My mind entertains all kinds of baking ideas that involve butter, but I've awakened to a serious case of lazy bones.

My body has melded with the mist and my bones are rusty; I don't want to move. Instead I hunker down into a sweatshirt and wait for Todd to bring me coffee. Usually if I don't peek out of my office for morning java, it's because I'm writing or on the phone with a client or resource. But this morning it is simply because both legs are in agreement not to take the stairs. Lazy bones.

It's time to up my vitamin B complex and start taking vitamin D. Movement is necessary, too, but the only motivation today is my craving for butter. Is this some primitive response to winter coming? It's not just me. Sales of baking ingredients skyrocket in the fall. Only I'm too unmotivated to bake. So popcorn is the next best medium for butter.

In my kitchen I see the projects intended for the day. Reluctantly, I get out the thick, waxy ballet-shoe thread--the only thread I own--and  bundle and wrap tarragon, curry and basil to hang for drying. Then I do the dishes from last night's stew and salad. Only in autumn can you eat a stew of winter root veggies along with a fresh lettuce salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. It's the last of one season and the beginning of another.

By now my bones are groaning. But I press on, step outside to breathe in misty air that feels frosty as I exhale. A flitting bird swoops down to seek shelter under my porch and we startle each other. I'm disappointed to not get a good enough glimpse to identify it. I miss the birds already and was hoping for migrators to stop at Elmira Pond on the way south but all fly high and fly on by.

The fresh air is only enough to get me popping the corn and melting the butter to which I add ginger sauce. Tomorrow is a town day and I hope that will cure my lazy bones.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

To Pea, or Not to Pea

Plant Now or Later?
Gardening in the Rain
Bitty Basil and Shed Pine Needles
Muddy Crook Neck Squash
Cornucopia of Kale, Lettuce, Curry & Bitty Basil
Tomatoes & Tarragon
Ahhh...Hot Bubble Bath with Cocoa & Sunflowers
That is today's question--do I over winter $3.95 worth of peas, or do I save my precious packet of organic pod pellets for spring?

My peas this year were grumpy at best. Truly a cool spring plant, I waited too late to sow peas. I got enough to snack on throughout the summer, crisp and sweet as they were. But few. And stunted. My hopes for a pea tee-pee never materialized.

The peas planted in the shade of the shed did best; those directly in the sun did not fare as well. I can set up a tee-pee of bamboo poles in that area only after I've harvested my kale. Unlike the peas, I planted the kale later and now that it is wet and cool, my kale is magnificent. My dilemma is what to do with all that kale!

Winter gardening sounded fun until the first hint of winter weather. Dirt is not as luxurious to dig in when sopping and cold. Just the thought of gardening today makes me crave hot cocoa and a bubble bath. Maybe that will be my reward. The bright orange, deep red and golden tomatoes need to come inside to become sauce. The summer squash plants seem to ignore the fact that summer is over; they keep producing. Which means I need to keep picking.

And the herbs--if I'm going to dehydrate them, I need to harvest first. Already my basil has bolted. Basil was not the best grower anyhow, but I have a quasi-cool "tree" with tiny basil leaves. My globes hardly put out leaves at all and for one shining moment my purple basil was full of promise until it got too dry and never fully recovered.

Days like this I feel like the guilty gardener. The thought of pulling out plants and winterizing my garden seems so harsh. Vegetarians that think it more humane to eat plants, have never had the heartache of harvest--sometimes it is a success, sometimes not, but the uprooting of a plant that you've sown by seed is just as hard as taking a steer to slaughter.

So while I delay, pondering peas the rain returns. It cleared up earlier, the ocean clouds had thinned and I missed my chance to garden cold and damp. Now if I go out I'll be cold and soaking wet. The weather forcast is bleak. It reads, "You live in the Pacific Northwest and a steady stream of wet storms will plow over you until May, gifts from both Oregon and Seattle, depending on the direction of the gale winds."

Maybe, I'll just plant a few peas and see what happens. That's always the best any gardener can do. And now for that warming reward...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This Moment

The greatest moments on Elmira Pond are those I share with family who visit. If you visit me, you're qualified as family. Who else would travel through towering tamaracks and pines, along valleys and waterways and over granitic mountain passes to near-British Columbia in such a remote location that stars still outshine city skylines? My beautiful heart-niece, Carly, picks late summer blackberries as her brother T.J. spreads the timeless joy of blown dandelion seeds. It is raining once again, but I close my eyes and feel the sunshine of this moment.

Join me and other bloggers today as we share {This moment}:
If it's raining where you are at, too (or snowing in Wyoming) fix yourself a cup of hot brew and explore some new blogs today. It's kind of like taking a virtual Saturday drive in the country.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Huckleberry Fever

Mapping the Mine
Huckleberry Gear: Bucket and Gun
Oh, Sweet Berry of the Northern Rockies
Autumn Glory
Fall Gold Upon the Berry Plants
Some Plants Still Verdant
My Private Picking Spot (Behind the Privy)
Half-way to a Gallon
Berry-Inked Hands
No Ferrets Here
Huckleberry Thief!
Or, Huckleberry Hound Dog
Score! Homemade Huckleberry Pancakes!
Breathe in sweet air and the fever hits. Huckleberries scent the air like warm Pop-tarts. Roman Nose, it turns out, is the--as in THE--place to pick huckleberries. We have found the mother lode.

Like miners with tin-pails and a shovel, we head out to get rich. Actually, we just want some berry-gold for our own pancakes and jam, but people really do make money as "berriers." On the street corners of Spokane and Couer D'Alene huckleberries sell for $40 a gallon. You'll find huckleberry shakes and pies all throughout the region during the summer, selling for $5 a shake or slice. Jam--if you can find it--can cost as much as $10 for 4 ounces. Yep, there's huckleberry gold in them thar mountains behind Elmira Pond.

We join the throng of berriers who are all locals. It makes us feel local, too. Despite the cold that has already hit the high elevations, huckleberries are still ripe for picking and hang plump on branches like purple gold nuggets. Grizzlies like the berries, too and these bushes in the bowl of Roman Nose mountain are so dense and vast that they could hide legions of bears, looking to add protein to their menu.

Some leaves are green and even budding. I'm in awe of the fecundity of these berries; so many for all of us picking. Some plants are golden in fall colors and others have deepened into cranberry hues. No matter the color of the plant, the berries are deep purple, almost black. They look like a blueberry. My hands look as if I've been writing with a fountain pen leaking purple ink. I feel like a child finger-painting. And then a child walks past me, picking with her parents, and she has finger painted her entire face with huckleberries. I show her my hands and we both smile.

But the berries are small and only a single one drops unlike clusters of raspberries that drip from canes. So you have to cover much ground to get a gallon. One berrier tells me to look for alders along the lakes (there are three at Roman Nose) and another says to go up the slopes. I discover a huge un-mined patch behind the forest service vault toilet of concrete. It's funny how sweet the air smells so close to the public privy.

Soon I've picked my way into solitude. Todd is casting flies at fish, babysitting dogs so I can pluck and pinch. Other berries have scattered. It is so silent in this cathedral of granite, pines and brush. The silence is broken by scampering through the brush with a distinct thud of feet to the beat of thumpa-thumpa-thump. Sometimes I hear it coming toward me; other times away. I can see the brush jostle where the critter is running and know it to be too small for a bear. Then it pokes its head out, slowly, looking at me looking at it. It comes out into the open then spins around into the brush and charges at me.

It's a ferret! I jump back to the trail, fast on my feet, bucket of berries in hand as it runs across my path. I squeak, loud enough for Todd to hear me across the lake. He calls, "Charli?"

"I'm under attack," I shout back. That's it; huckleberry fever or not, I'm out of here!

My husband never seems to get to riled when I shout things like that. He continues to fish. I supposed he'd fish  until he actually saw a snarling, drooling grizzly or a sprinting chain-saw-toting murderer. I'm breathless as I make my approach. "A ferret attacked me," I tell him. Anything wild that comes within mere inches of me is an attack in my lexicon. Todd sees that I'm not bleeding or carrying a torn limb from my own body so he shrugs off any attack.

"Probably just a squirrel," he says.  He continues to cast and I notice that huckleberries are all around him. Grumbling that it was a "ferret" and it was an "attack" I get the fever again and start picking. It's like a compulsion to clean the bushes of berries. You can't just pick one. Bobo dives into the brush and that makes me feel safe from ferrets. She emerges before diving into another.

Setting down the bucket, Grendel charges over to it and plows his head into the berries. I scream louder than I did at the ferret and he startles, dropping a mouthful of dog-spittle and berries all over the ground. He looks at me with guilty eyes and I grab the bucket. Evidently he likes huckleberries. Todd soothes Grendel's hurt feelings; GSP's are notorious for trouble but easily hurt if they think you are mad. And yes, he just grabbed about 30 minutes worth of picking out of my bucket so I am mad. Todd picks up the discards, wraps his arms around Grenny like a hug and feeds him berries. Neither of us can remain sad or mad after the sweet look Grenny gets in his eyes.

It takes four hours to pick a gallon of huckleberries. I suppose the experienced berriers are faster, more efficient. I see several with five-gallon buckets. Fast fingers and fearless hearts. We head home and look up the ferret online. Huh. It wasn't a ferret, after all. I explain to Todd that it had a weasel-like head...and, what do you was a long-tailed weasel. The description also said that they attack animals larger than they are. See. It was attacking! But the description said they are also very curious. Hmm...maybe it was just asking, "Whatchya doin'?"

The short answer, Mr. Weasel, I was struck by huckleberry fever. But now I have jam and frozen packets of berries for future huckleberry pancakes. Nom-nom-nom, Mr. Weasel.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Digging into Gratitude

Waves Crest the Ridge, Spraying the Pond
Season of Black Crows Returns
Only Rain Drops on the Pond
Necessary Gear for Examining Garden
For Now, The Garden Loves the Rain
Like ocean waves, the rain rolls over the Selkirks spraying Elmira Pond, my garden and everything up and down this northern Idaho valley. Mist clings to the ridge west of us like white sea-foam. If I were a scientist, I could better explain how the Pacific Ocean pools in the sky, all gray, heavy and wet before charging west, as if expanding the shoreline above the land, inverting the sea. I'm not even a poet to make an explanation rhyme with reason. But I'm a writer, and I notice its coming.

It is officially autumn in the Pacific Northwest. Not because the equinox has past and it's darker later in the morning. Not because pines are shedding cones and needles while aspens and alders are now leaved in gold and cranberry. Not because the summer tourists have gone home and the winter tourists have yet to arrive. Not because it's elk season, deer season or simply the season to fill the freezer with meat and venison pasties. It's autumn because the rain has returned.

Raindrops are all I see upon Elmira Pond. Black crows flock like gangsters realizing the streets are empty. Blue Heron might actually be gone. The osprey flew away into the mist, hopefully to emerge in Nicaragua or some other southern fishing climate. I need Todd's snorkeling goggles just to examine my garden which remains lush, soaking up the rain as well as it had the sunshine.

Trapped inside is not a bad place to be. I want to write, to dig into research, drink coffee and bake. A blog that I follow has offered up a gratitude challenge and that seems a good place to start acclimating to the rainy season. "Clean" is fresh following of country living, simplicity and peaceful parenting. The writer, Rachel, is also the owner of Lusa Organics which are crisply clean beauty products like scrubs and lotions. So, this blog post  is my answer to Rachel's call:

"I believe that cultivating gratitude can transform not only how we view our (beautiful yet deeply imperfect) lives, but transforms our lives themselves. Each week I will share with you seven things that I am thankful for. I'd love to have you join me in your own post or simply here in the comments. Because taking just a moment to appreciate what we have can change everything." (From "Clean," September 2013.)
 Digging into Gratitude at Elmira Pond as Autumn Returns the Ocean to Dry Land:
  1. I am grateful for huckleberries, for finally figuring out what they look like and where they grow at 7,000 feet among granite boulders, for picking an entire gallon the day before the weather turned.
  2. I am grateful for five Brussels sprout plants that emerged into glorious plants with huge green leaves lined in purple despite the seed packet warning of their difficulty to direct sow.
  3. I am grateful for grown daughters who show up to surprise their parents with the gift of presence, eating our food as if Mum's kitchen were Zagat-rated and driving in the Blue Goose on a cold day with no window was the ultimate in weekend fun.
  4. I am grateful my husband is temporarily laid off so he can walk the dogs in the rain while I stay dry in my bathrobe.
  5. I am grateful for writing and editing gigs that surface when needed and pay for the satellite Internet.
  6. I am grateful for a WI-college son who calls both Mum and Dad on his birthday as if it were ours.
  7. I am grateful for the patter of rain on a metal roof, for not having to water the yard, roses, berries, fruit trees and garden...whew!
What are you grateful for? Be sure to share here and on "Clean."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Road-Dancing Up to Roman Nose

Right Direction; Wrong Distance (Read)
Hubs, Like Serious Dance Shoes
Rocks and Brush on an Easy Part of the Road
Where Did the Dance Floor Go?
Dancing a Trail of Dust
Brown Blur to the Right is a Moose...Really
High Elevation Trees
And Everywhere Granite
Trail to Other Roman Nose Lakes
Fall Colors Turning
He Told Me I Made His Trout Look Small
Lots of Rocks
Eager to Run
Mirror, Mirror on the Lake...
Rock Pile
Sky Mirrored in the Water
Clear, Clear Water
Water, Trees, Rocks and Sky
Where I'd Like to Read
Mountains in the Water
90% of Fishing is Tying Knots
Want to Climb?
Left, Right, Huckleberry Bushes Galore!
It takes three to tango on the road up Roman Nose Mountain--me, Todd and a truck.

Road-dancing changes tempo according to the size of rocks. We pick up speed, sliding across packed gravel until that first switch-back comes into view and the tires turn but scud in the direction of the drop. Hearts pounding as if we nearly missed tumbling off the dance floor by mere inches, we gradually pick up speed until the fork in the road. The handwritten sign clearly identifies each fork, but the numbers are not so clear, or maybe its the windshield or my glasses.

Imagine seeing that sign and reading it as "Roman Nose 1.8 Miles." Yep, that was us. We read 1.8 not 18. Quarter tank of gas? Sure we can drive a couple of miles. It's like signing up for a dance contest thinking you have to be on stage for one dance, only to find out there are 17 more songs and you're already breathless and tenderfoot. And low on gas.

Road-dancing becomes all uphill; no more switchbacks and gentle inclines. At a flat spot carved out of the side of a 7,000 foot mountain, Todd tells me to hop out and lock the hubs. It's like putting on the serious dance shoes, the ones with the solid heals and arch supports. It means the dancing has turned dirty--time to slip into 4WD.

As if the road washed away years ago, only a jumble of cannon-ball rocks remain to mark the trail between mountain slope (down) and mountain slope (up). We bounce over the rocks to more rocks and upward we climb. If you think riding in a truck is just riding, then you've never danced in 4WD before. My core is aching and Todd complains that his arms are beginning to hurt. I tell him, "Don't drop me."

Leafy brush beats against my door as if the crowd has gone crazy, grabbing for the dancers. We have no choice as narrow as the dance-floor has become. Suddenly the rocks are gone, but this is not good news. Nothing but a wall of sand greets us, but we dip, turn into the mountain, slide and go over the swale of sand pale as a tombstone. We live to see the other side. More brush, more rocks.

Dust eddies behind us, the 16th song is nearly over and the road spits us out on a smoother gravel track where a meadow carves a green trench downward toward the valley. Two massive moose stand right there at the edge of the meadow. I've been so busy dancing, that I'm not ready with my camera. Nor is it set up for this close of a shot. With telephoto and hasty aim I shoot best I can and get a remarkable photo of a pine tree. The blurred mass of brackish-brown like old mud is the biggest of the two moose. I swear, on my dance shoes, it's a moose.

The dance is easy now and Todd pulls over again so I can unlock the hubs. He grins from the permanently open driver's side window and says, "Who's the real cowboy?"

I answer, repeating the wisdom found in a Michael Martin Murphy song and declare that Grendel is the real cowboy "because he sits in the middle, and doesn't have to drive, and doesn't have to mess with the gate" or hubs.

Two miles later we pull into one of three lakes that nestle in the bowl beneath the Roman Nose. It's craggy and clear with high-elevation pines and loaded huckleberry bushes. Todd fishes and I try to pick berries with leashed dogs but it's not working out. We enjoy the serenity until its time to dance back down the mountain in hopes of reaching a gas station before we end the night stuck on the dance-floor, passed out.

We did make it off the mountain with fumes to spare. Enjoy the beauty of the Roman Nose (note to self: when in the mountains a wide angle is needed, not a close-up).