Monday, December 22, 2008

In Teats We Trust

I know I am not getting out enough; I spend my evenings cooking and zoning out to primetime TV (it's free!), my afternoons playing guitar and doing crossword puzzles, and my early mornings talking to goats as if their floppy ears and misshapen pupils process my silhouette and the sounds that emanate from my mouth into a comprehensive personality with which they knowingly interact. I refer to them as "people" and "folks," apologize to them when I slice off parts of their hooves, and thank them when I return them to their pens. I am grateful to them for providing me with both a meager income and all of the near-expired cheese I can imagine consuming.

Biding my time at the farm is giving me time to work on my bilingual comedy routine; my audience is perfect: contained, relatively sedate, and a hair smarter than a chicken. They listen especially well when I wield a flake of alfalfa or a bucket of grain. The latter is the best; while my fellow goatherd sneakily fills the grain tray I can guide a flock of hungry kids in circles with an empty blue bucket to avoid her being trampled by extremely cute hooves. You see, I get very excited about the blue bucket as if there were grain in it, and the silly kids think it's true.

So I've done a lot of goat-related things lately. I have more goat friends than people friends. My right hand can now be officially described as "bigger than my left." My relationship with poop has become more intimate than I think it's reasonable to imagine. When I feel a nibble on my pants or have my hand slammed against a wall by the hoof I'm trying to clean, it's just another day at the office.

I talked to my brother on the phone the other day; he's still in that "disposable income" phase, the phase that would be heaven if not for the hormonal imbalances. He asked me why I had worked on so many farms (3), and why I was doing it. My response was, "well, I have to pay for food and housing and stuff." Something in the way he repeated what I had told him tipped me off: "So you mean you have to pay for housing and all your food and stuff??" He is in Fiscal Flatland; the third dimension of money is a nonentity to him; all he knows is that money is gotten and spent in straight, easy lines. The third dimension, obligation, has yet to be imposed upon him, and is finally coming upon me in ways I had hoped would never furrow my brow.

When I realized his cluelessness, I remembered being that way, giving my paychecks from Olsson's right back for CDs without worrying about gas or food money, much less rent money. Even after being bailed out by my folks for fiscal irresponsibility, it took a few years (and paying rent) for the concept to dawn. This last year I had a job and a living situation that afforded me plenty of extra money for both saving and spending proudly; I left that job and that house and that money (that three-month-long trail of money) to seek a fortune, and my fortune's embryo is a goat. Life is a goat. I'm not dismayed. I like goats well enough. My only hope is that my fortune's larva makes a little more money.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Morning

3: 40 a.m. First accumulation seen since a glacier in Colorado.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buxom Does Really Get My Goat!

I woke up at 4:00 this morning, grabbed a hunk of (delicious garlic rosemary) bread, put some muesli in a cup with some rice milk, and ran out the door. I drove past the exit where I was supposed to get off the highway and ended up being a half hour late for my second day of work at Fern's Edge Goat Dairy.

Goats. Where do I begin? My first glimpse of them was yesterday when I came in (right on time) to the milking room and was faced with six goat asses, dangling udders, teats being sucked into pulsating vacuum tubes, milk flowing into a tank. Somehow this didn't phase me, and I learned right quick how to clean, strip (get the juices flowing), and insert the teat into the tube. It's not a very complicated process, and although it's only about 80 goats that get milked (of 200 on the property), it's a very factory-like process. I suppose that's what happens when you mechanize. My prior farm experience involved nothing more mechanical than an auger I used to drill post holes. This is high-tech modernity!

I don't know if you know this, or want to, but teats are far out! Have you ever looked at 80 different sets of teats before? Probably not. They're like snowflakes, but more squeezable. Some of them are large and dangly. Others are small. Some are wrinkly. I think I must have very wide palms because I can only use two or three fingers to squeeze an average sized teat or I spray milk all over my hand. Some teats are in just the right place, and others you might have to search for and pull back a little bit. I don't know how the goats feel about this; they have their heads stuck between metal bars, munching away on grain and kelp powder or trying to bite their neighbor's ear.

The morning shift takes between five and six hours, and involves feeding the multiple pens, milking two sets of goats, twelve at a time, and then feeding all the goats and the cows. It's crazy how fast time passes when you get to work two hours before the sun. I still have most of the day ahead of me. I don't really have any gripes about this job, especially since I got rubber boots. I just gotta go to bed early. Well, my hands smell like goats right now, which is a strange combination of raw milk, hay, and ammonia. You have to deal with a lot of goat shit, which is a small step away from dirt. Also, goats use urine as a sign of posession. I haven't been peed on yet.

It's a relief to know that somebody needs my work in exchange for their money (and they really need me-- very short staffed-- though the pay's not great), and I'm looking forward to hearing the same thing from the U of O (if you take out the "of" it's just You Owe...) pretty soon. I'm pretty sure they're gonna want me.

Goat pictures coming soon.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Kitchen Spews Forth

Kitchen in America begins here.

My Mom once had a job at the National Children’s Center. She brought home some funny, if not slightly inappropriate, stories of the people there. One man would ask her every day, “What did you have for dinner last night?” That is the question I seek to answer here.

Last night was pretty special. I started in the morning, actually, with a poolish (2 c. water, 2 c. flour, ¼ t. yeast). That’s the easy part; it just sits there. Same with the soaking chickpeas. It was great to come out in the morning and see they had inflated so much as to pop off the lid of the yogurt container. The little successes are just as tickling as the big ones.

In the afternoon I cooked the chickpeas to the tenderness of a clump of dry soil; easy to mash (electric appliances here = toaster oven). I then created my dough:

2 c. poolish 3.5 c. bread flour ½ T. salt ½ t. yeast 1 T. fresh rosemary ¾ c. water

It turned out to be a really dense dough, and it took a very short knead to get that gluten developed (I haven’t worked with bread flour in quite a while). My original intent was loaves, but the more I thought about it, the more pita seemed the logical end. Turns out that pita dough is basically the same as bread dough. Go figure! I plopped the dough into a bowl with some olive oil and turned back to the hummus:

3 c. soft chickpeas 3 T. tahini juice of ½ lemon 2 t. salt 2 cloves of garlic any herbs you choose (I chose some paprika, pepper, and 1 T. rosemary, since our rosemary bush is HUGE)

Mash all that together, or if you’re fancy, process it until it’s as smooth as you want it to be (I like mine smoother than Smoove B., but the potato masher is no match for a metal blade spinning faster than John McCain’s head two weeks ago. Chunky it was.).

Back to the pita. It’s freaking easy. Preheat your oven to 475. If you have a baking stone, you know what to do with it. If not… you’re on your own. Divide the (risen) dough into as many pieces as you see fit, ball them, then press them into discs (don’t roll them yet) and wait 20 minutes (science note: the gluten has to adjust to the stretching it’s about to receive. If you don’t give it a preliminary squish, it will keep springing back when you try to roll it out.) Roll the pieces out thin, about ¼ inch. Let them sit (unstacked, if possible) for 10 minutes, then spritz your baking stone with water and put on as many as will fit. Now is the fun part.

I like to watch my bread rise in the oven. It’s like watching a fetus grow, but it takes just a few minutes and you can eat it afterward. Watching the pita has a cinematic bent to it; suspense builds as you see little bubbles form on the surface, and you’re not sure whether that’s all you’re going to get, or if it’ll go all the way and form a big steamy pocket. After three minutes, you will know. If it inflates all the way, congratulations, it’s a pita. If not, if your dough lacks some gluteny chromosomes and it miscarriages, do not worry; you have a darling bubbly baby naan! Carry on. Don’t let these brown or they’ll be too crispy and not moist and floppy.

This last bit I credit to Liz for the inspiration; she wanted tempeh. A quick sauté of red pepper, fresh-from-the-CSA-box specialty onion (I don’t know what specialty, it was light purple and shaped like a tamale), toss the tempeh in until brown, and garnish with some cilantro. That’s it! Make a bed of hummus on a plate, put the tempeh on, and serve with hot pita (that’s been sitting under something, keeping it warm and moist).

What a delicious meal; our recent cooking had lacked that Mediterranean flavor, and this was the perfect remedy. The rosemary and cilantro really perk things up, and the textures all went together so well. Filling, too; one serving was just enough.

Giada, eat your heart out.

Next: Tempeh-mental!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mushroom, Mushroom!

They poke their little heads out of the duff...

Or emerge like seashells from stumps...

This lobster used to be a russala until a parasite attacked it.

This chanterelle looks like a butt.

A slug: a more mobile, slimy form of mushroom.

These white ones were my favorite; they were soft, velvety, and looked like ghosts.

Eat 'em up, YUM!

Home Space

View into the back yard. Note apple tree.


Chardy chard!

The back yard looking at the house.

Living space.

First whole wheat bread and caraway/currant scones! Deeeeeelish!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Underdog Vs. The Invisible Snowball

This true, new babe from the woods, used to having income poured into his lap, knew nothing of what it means to be, still, Lost In America.

New intelligence:
job tentacles

New house! Gas stove! No cats! Garden!
Practically paradise in every way. Pictures coming when I stop stealing slow internet and go to the library.

Still waiting. Not tables. Just waiting. Turning compost, turning pages of my crossword book, turning slowly into vegetable matter via ingestion. Turning in applications.

I know I'm perfect for this job. That job is me, and I have to wait until the 2nd week of December before I know, unless they do the obvious thing: close the classified ad, toss out all the other applications, and hire me now, which is what they really ought to do. I'm gonna tell them so when I get the chance. In the meantime, I'm waiting for a call from a temp agency. And for Publisher's Clearinghouse to knock on my door. And for that CEO's extra tax money to enter my bank account. And for ... well, you get it.

Here's a very sappy ode to some people who deserve an ode (the odeious):

You are responsible for my cold toes;
your good vibes warmed my heart.

Michael Glaser, eat your heart out.

I'm no longer pacing the way I was a couple weeks ago; the move and the groove have kept me busy enough. Halloween had me dancing in drag in a house designed with the intent of having psychedelic raves. Since then I've been cooking and baking. Yesterday, the DIVA center showed selections from the Punto y Raya film festival, which should be an inspiration to anybody who loves electronic distortion and epilepsy (that's you, Noise Test!). Today... I will be thinking of ways to use the garden over winter, prepare it for spring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

American Abject

I've been thinking about abjection, about wearing your guts on the outside, the externalization of negativity, like barfing on a stage on a suburban cul-de-sac. I remember this movie, a Japanese movie called Pinocchio 964, that I was forced (ok, not forced, but encouraged) to watch in my Horror Film class a couple years back, and I remember hating it so much because the displays of abjection (violent, unceasing illness and deformity in populated areas) were so overblown, an onslaught of sound and image that, instead of being justified Hollywood-style, left nothing to reason with. As we discussed in class, it was an abjection of Japanese silence and internalization after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wonder what the American abjection could look like.

It may be like Total Recall, Fight Club, or the horse-head scene from The Godfather, or when Barton Fink wakes up next to a dead woman. Normally, when we think of abjection, it is of "abject poverty," which is sort of a redundancy; society excludes the destitute, and those within the society, speaking personally, have trouble identifying with it. Abjection is a surreal experience, having yourself projected, or ejected, from any frame of reference.

To situate myself in this discussion, I'm feeling a little bit abject, and I'm feeling strangely responsible for that feeling. Accompanying that are bits of regret, depression, and confusion that come from lack of future-certainty. My connections are mostly through the ether (the internet, phone), my current home is temporary, I'm separated from my family and friends, and I'm unemployed, tasty chum in a sea where the sharks are starving but not hungry. In some ways it's abjection, in others uncanniness.

There is a three-minute film festival coming up, and I'm having trouble visualizing exactly what I want to do, or how I can do it. All I've got is my digital still camera. This is not a new limitation for me; there are just ideas now to be parsed through, the transition from the mental to the physical image, the barrier of progress. And how to display abjection without seeming pathetic or trite, how to get over my own discomfort displaying my work, how to explain myself.

Imagine waking up, brushing teeth, performing morning rituals in a pile of nasty compost, preparing breakfast in industrial waste, shaving your face with a railroad spike without a look of disgust, but the normal, blank, pre-coffee stare. All conveyed in still images. . . I suppose that's a beginning.

This is all very unsexy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I run like clockwork; waking thinking coffeeing pooping biking internetting jobhunting cooking eating thinking biking cooking eating movieing thinking sleeping repeating. Basically. It's getting out of hand. Last night Liz and I went for a walk around the neighborhood before dinner. Tuesday I went mushroom hunting with Jason.

I discovered last week that the media network in Eugene actually exists; there is one, and it is in no way affiliated with craigslist. I think it avoids craigslist as a rule. So now I'm trying my hand at "networking," a method of making friends with the idea that they will lead you to money. I walk into places and chat for a minute before handing them my resume, but not before they tell me that "the economy sucks right now," and that nobody's really hiring, at least they aren't. And with a grimace they take my resume and say, "good luck," as I leave. Other companies that don't seem to have an exact address I've learned aren't worth a call. The "company" is a dude with some equipment, like me if I had equipment and people called me with personal projects like weddings and can-you-put-this-home-movie-on-dvd.

My days are full of cooking! I have just enough time to do all of this before I need to sleep. All of my food is cooked by me, not by someone else because it now comes in a plastic tub and still has root strands, bitter green tops, dirt in the crevices. I get to choose the combinations of foods that I eat, and I get to know how much of what is put in, and it all comes from a big little farm in Junction City; it's almost too much. Perishables sitting in a plastic tub in the shade outside my door, for lack of refrigerator room. I think life would be easier if that was my life. Life as a Napa cabbage.

My liquid bread turned out beautifully, just as a homebrew should. The hops leveled out, the body is palpable, the malt is refreshing, and the nose is somewhere between Wisconsin and Belgium. I think I'll call it The Fog. It's a hearty 7.3%, and is available only in bombers at my house in Eugene, so come'n get it!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shuddering in America: America Who? Government.

As the internet ambassador for campaignatorial absurdities, I am going to comment vaguely on comments put forth by the loquacious Shuddering Noise Machine on the last future-president debate. Here it goes:

It was about five minutes into this business that I was distracted by John McCain's blinking. It didn't stop. Every syllable, blink. Blink Blink Blink, those gray lids over vacuous irises, as if his own voice was a hammer landing on a nail driving into cheap, thin plywood, waiting for it to split with every blink. I decided from then on that he was either lying and knew it, or he was lying because he wasn't sure what the right thing to say was. To his right, Obama; composed, serene, articulate, yes, and he blinked at a fairly normal rate-- the only moments I noticed were when he stumbled over the "what are you going to cut?" question, and perhaps a bit on healthcare. I too wish your employer would give you healthcare. I wish I had an employer to give me healthcare.

What got me slapping my forehead and exhaling forcefully was that when McCain had the rebuttal: on healthcare and Ayers, notably, despite the fact that Obama "won" those rounds without breaking a sweat, McCain's choice of rebuttal was to state his original claim once more, giving the last word clearly; "we need to know the specifics of your relationships," etc. This, I am afraid, is what will stick in many a mind. Obama has linguistic power, but at times it goes over my head. Smart and capable as he is, we have to remember that W somehow got "elected" twice, and that focusing on trivial behaviors such as flip-flopping and b'yah!ing and other distortions have swung elections; it need not be overstated that it is likely that most people get most of their campaign news from The View and Entertainment Weekly. I know my housemates do.

On to Joe the Plumber. I kept hearing "Joe Strummer." Joe Strummer, you're rich, but you're dead. Sorry, your employer can't help you there. I will send him a fine. I think that Joe T. Plumber would be mighty confused and vote for Nader after the Abbott/Costello pickup routine that's just been put on him. Debates should not resemble Warner Bros. cartoons, nor should they target a single person out of 95% to give all of their well-researched policy changes. I want some. I want $5000 so I can pay off my college loan and I want the economy to change... but I don't want it to change in four years because I want to buy land reeeeaaaallllllllly cheap... if'n I can get a mortgage these days. Wait, who am I rooting for anyhow?

I think McCain said, in the same response, "we need to spread the wealth around," and then, "we don't need to spread the wealth around." Is that correct?

I wish that Obama had said, "Sarah Palin may have been a clever choice for running mate, McCain, and she may be governor of the largest territory in the nation, but she's governing fewer people than live in D.C. Oh, and she supports people who want to kill me." I'm not sure how he kept face on that question. If Sarah Palin is a role model for women, I guess we can erase the last 40 years of women's lib. Especially after McCain's remark that "her husband's a pretty tough guy, too." Does this mean that it would really be Todd Palin as VP, or that he would be holding her hand? Or does it imply that she is also a tough guy? Senator Government probably thought up so many good comebacks after the debate was over. I can imagine him lying in bed with Michelle and being like, "yeah, well if she's a role model for women, than I'm Mr. T. Ha! Take that. . . no, you're not Bush, but you're still an old white puckered-faced asshat. . . "

I would like to spend a day, or maybe an evening, with Obama, make him a pizza, have a beer, and talk about music. I think he could use a break; four to eight years as president is going to give him a lot of gray hair. He is welcome into my strange home any time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A brew update

I want to inform all listeners-in on this blog that, as noted before, I am back in brewing business. Next week I shall open what has come to be known around the house as "Over the Top Hop," which I may extend to be "Over the Top Hop Parade," and it will be hoppy. It will probably be the last hoppy thing that happens to my carboy for a long time. Plans for now are... well, last week I realized that a freeze is coming soon, and those grapes and apples in the yard aren't gonna like it much, so I better get them drunk 'fore too long. Thus:

a Pyment: honey wine (mead) with grapes


a Pyment with the juice of delicious apples

Just one gallon of each, each gallon also containing a pound of local honey and Blanc yeast, now going "blip, blip, blip," (as digital as fermenting gets) inside the insulated box in the kitchen, 'cause who knows what kind of temperature fluctuations go on in there. It should take about a month to finish, and a questionable amount of time before it's completely delicious.

Speaking of wines, Liz's mom is here in Eugene now; from their cousin's wedding they returned bearing three gallon-sized bags FULL OF CHEESE. Their cousin is a cheese broker. So today we took a little trip to King Estate winery and had lunch-- trout club sandwich, sweet potato chips with truffle oil, greens salad, honey thyme ice cream (wow), and the Alsatian flight which included a pinot grigio, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling; the Gewurtz the outright best of the three with the best body, mild tang, and peach/apricot hints that went well with the meal... and we bought a bottle to go with some of the cheese-- goat and manchego, if we have it. I feel rich. I have been cultureshocked. The mountains southwest of Eugene are refreshing, serene (apart from the visible logging), and a place I would consider steading.

I am in the public library at a table and I think there is somebody doing something inappropriate directly across from me, so I'm gonna go now.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Horse of a Different Crater

This has been a week of implosions. Had my car window smashed in on Saturday; saw the deepest lake in the country; learned of the collapse of a business that was my home and my family for many years, if not my whole life; and now I get to hear the national marketplace squeak and slither to a halt on the TV that blares constantly from the living room while I am in the kitchen experimenting with glutinous rice balls wrapped around sweet bean paste; they look like fried eggs from a charred chicken.

It's a lake that fills the carcass of the volcano called Mount Mazana, and it's so deep you could stack the Sears tower twice at its deepest point and, because of the water displaced, it probably would not stick above the surface. The water is, indeed, bluer and clearer than the sky, which happened to be quite hazy from forest fires burning a few miles off. Liz and I met Tony there on Sunday. The story of how we got there is exciting: My passenger window was smashed in sometime Friday night/Saturday morning, and we temporarily cancelled the trip because nobody could replace the window on Saturday. Oh, and nothing was stolen. So my housemate Trey suggested I go to the junkyard and pull a window; we first opened up the door's guts and extracted the bits and chunks, figured out how it all works. The junk yard happened to have the exact window I needed sitting on their shelves, so for $50 I got a new window and put it in myself (total savings: $110). So we uncancelled our trip to Crater Lake, which was fortuitous becuase Sunday night was the last night the campsites were open for the rest of the season. What luck!

It was a good trip; two good hikes, good beer, great jam around the campfire. Yep. So we got back on Monday. The beer seemed to have stopped fermenting after transfer to the secondary, but it had actually lowered four points gravity (a good thing; means alcohol is being produced) and tastes like... well, to put it mildly, it's DAMN HOPPY. I mean geez.

I can't say that it was a big surprise to hear of Olsson's closing. That said, I was in shock for most of yesterday after receiving links to the two Washington Post articles that gave brief praise and condolences to the passing of a former D.C. icon. So it went; the way of the Pony Express. You can't put wheels and an engine on a horse, and you can't make digital that which relies on physical space and material to exist; that is the Achilles heel of book and record stores that still rely on expensive retail space and an ambulatory customer base. And what could have been done? To compete with Amazon and iTunes is like... well, you understand all that. Monolith.

For Olsson's to not last through the spending season, though, seems to me a harbinger, a real live harbinger. This spending season will probably be deflated by media attention to the stumbling drunk economy and the "black guy or white woman" question (why it's even a question is beyond me; that person, that human being named Sarah Palin is an idiot, while that other human being named Barack Obama can form many complex sentences without tripping over his tongue). My expert prognosis is "not good," possibly "hunker down" in regards to the coming months as we watch Capitol Hill: The Reality Show Where Everybody Loses When One Person Fucks Up on TV.

As a person with EDS (Employment Deficiency Syndrome), I am sarcastically enthusiastic, gleeful to have moved to a place where jobs were already scarce and at a time when my interest lies in an area (making things out of wood, primarily) that requires oodles of money to start up. That's my whine.

I would like to say, to have said, "I have the perfect solution! This bookstore will no longer flounder at the whim of dispassionate corpo-nazis!" And to have had a new direction, some old-world method pulled out of an attic that would actually freshen the business, would force people to get off of the internet and walk, actually walk with their feet and legs and swinging arms, blinking eyes, sweating foreheads, into the store that they know is the best because it's been around longer than any other, because they know a bunch of people who worked there and see them on the street and at concerts, or who met their lovers there, or because it smells like paper acid dust that turns the music in the air into a blanket that feels so good you just have to bring the music home. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? The answer is "YES."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Little House I Live In

This here's our little section of house.

This here's our little section of yard.

This here's our little section of bed. Well... ok, we have the whole room. And the whole bed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eugene? No! Igene!

My pants are all dirty, the butt pockets and thighs streaked with wet flour handprints. Today I swept my hair off the patio and measured the inside of an old ice chest to make an insulated box for cooking beans and making yogurt. Liz and I joined a buying co-op, and yesterday I got $30 worth of food for $11. This is the news.

Eugene is treating us right. It is not pushy, overwhelming or smelly. . . ok, it is smelly, but when the smell is coming from a big grain mill and it smells like oatmeal for two blocks of the bike ride to the library, it's alright. The smell of thousands of apples in our yard and on our street, now there's a good replacement for the acrid dump truck smell that blasted me in the face everyday when I worked in Bethesda.

The smell of beer brewing in a garage across the street! That's the smell I'd been waiting for. I had my first Oregon homebrew a couple nights ago with none other than the president of the Society for Native Oregon Beers (SNOB; apt, no?), who has the most impeccable, jealousy inducing brew setup. Granted, he's been doing it for 17 years and he's a molecular biologist so he knows how. I'm just impatient to get to a point where I can brew like that. I suppose I need a kit first. And a job.

In the meantime, my occupation has been cooking for nearly every meal with local veggies and thousands of spices. Vegan carrot cake? Yes! Naan? Yes! Bread? Of course! And hopefully I'll be able to go mushroom hunting with Bert, a housemate, who loves to take newcomers into the woods.

Well. Now. Life has been far less interesting to write about since we stopped moving so much and have been focused on nesting and scouring craigslist for jobs every day. If something interesting comes up, or I try a really great beer (Marin IPA, as a matter of fact), I'll do a write up. . .


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everything is huge until you see the picture.

This is Tumbleweed. He is the most adorable donkey who ever lived.

Bryce Canyon

Nice shot by Liz.

One of those plants in full sexy mode.

Prickly pears in full sexy mode.

Something missed here...

Ribbon Falls, moss shawl.

At the top of the shawl.

Headed out in the morning; note the streak of sunlight illuminating the one rock.

At the very end of the hike. Notice the sweat.

I don't think I'll ever get out of Death Valley.

Those are the Sierra Nevadas blending into the sky there.

California oil field... right among lemon, grape, almone, oregano fields that stretch just as far.

Rolling hills just east of the coast.

Palm tree. Go figure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost In America: In Which Lost In America Falls Into The Grand Canyon

or: Been Down So Long...
or: That Ol' Sinkin' Feelin'
or: We Did Not Get Swept Away Like Those Other People

I had many titles prepared for this one. You can make up your own if you like.

Lost In America, the errant duo last seen walking among corn-bean-squash rows and stumbling through a Ninjutsu lesson, leave that crazy place about a week ago and return to the site of a festering, multi-billion-year-old gash in the earth. They dress as the sun pokes its nose over the hills, and then they begin a 4,000 foot, 7 mile long descent from the remote northern rim to a campground far below. The trailhead, at about 8,000 feet elevation, goes among pines, oaks, and maples. As the air gets thicker everything shrinks; pines become prickly pears and oaks are replaced by an aloe/yucca/agave type plant that, when "in the mood," empties its thick tresses of life and poots forth a 15-foot tall, arm-thick stalk with bean-shaped pods protruding from the top few feet in a sort of cone. These natural euphemisms can be seen growing in places where even rocks can't find purchase.

Finding themselves thoroughly out of breath, our heroes (well, at least this one) wonder 'why, oh why did we leave that magical farm and the free food and the people who shared so much knowledge with us?' But their descent is distracting; blue and brown and orange lizards scramble from under booted feet, Kaibab Squirrels (a distinct species endemic to the North Rim) chirp and echo, and silence is broken by a large spring tumbling from inside the rock wall. (Incidentally, this particular spring provides all of the water in and around the Grand Canyon, and it only requires pipes, no pumps.) Sweaty from the sun and its red-orange reflection, Lost In America pitches a tent under a stout, twisted cottonwood tree and lays in it for the rest of the day. Night comes with dinner and is cool from a ten-minute rainshower. Their calves and quads sleep off some of the day's wear, recongealing torn striations, tying little knots.

Cold waterfall, Ribbon Falls the next day, a short hike from camp and not the sort of thing you'd expect in a place that looks, from above, to be comprised entirely of orange tones with parched brown, sharp freckles. The water falls a few stories and slaps onto the top of a tall, calcified shawl covered in inch-thick spongy green moss that hides the water flowing down. The visitors there are all from Maryland. There is chitchat. A couple kids throw rocks at the moss wall and make dents, much to their delight, while this particular hero glares at them and wishes them back to Maryland, which he does not miss right now. He gets lost sitting behind the waterfall, up top of the big shawl where the water splashes have made craters, birdbaths, also lined with velvety moss; when the wind blows the waterfall shifts to a different mossy crater. Some of the mist frizzes off and never hits the ground, just evaporates. Maryland kids come up and one just climbs right into one of the craters, making more moss dents. Below, their mom does not want to get wet. What?

That night our heroes boil some water and rehydrate a packet of Mexican-style rice and half a packet of dry bean dip and add peanuts and raisins, wrap it all in flour tortillas and devour. Alarm: 4:30. They want to beat the sun for the return hike. The return hike is a breeze, even after a hot, tossing night, even when they cross paths with four mule teams that have made the trail soft and sinky, left grassy piles buzzing and small lakes of ammonia, wheeeeeeyeew! The top and the taking off of boots and packs is better than pie for breakfast. It's lunchtime, go time.

Las Vegas is a scary place.

The day after, looking at the map and hatching a special, bright blue dream, starting early again to beat the sun, just throwing everything on top of the waterproof cargo bag. Feeling awfully go-ey. The road they take goes up, back up to 8,000 feet, then down to 105 feet below sea level. Death Valley, California, bigger than Rhode Island, hotter than . . . well, hell. Soaked bandanas dry after about ten minutes; there is no sweat, it just evaporates. It's all sorts of colors out; purple, burgundy, red, orange, tan, beige-- a color scheme, if you will. Black rock piles, white salt plains. Mountains from the valley rise 8,000 feet again. The Sierra Nevadas appear around a corner; from 30 miles away they fade right into the light blue sky, and then we are in them, taking a route vaguely shown in the atlas, finding sequoias that get steadily taller, arrows pointing straight up. Those mountains last a long, long time, and we're told it's still a day's drive to our dream. What?

California has everything, kind of like Maryland, just more, bigger, etc. Once the road flattens out, straight west, the same day as the previous paragraph with desert and mountains, there are fields of grapes, red on the left, green on the right, that stretch to the horizon-- this is where your food comes from. Fruit trees grow their perfect afros in perfect rows, rooted into perfectly naked, light brown soil. Those happy cows that make the happy cheese in happy California? They are also rooted soullessly into naked dirt, feeding out of metal baskets. This is not what was expected. After more grapes and some almond trees (yep, trees. Never really thought about nuts like that), more mountains! Tan, dry grass, very rolly, and the sun goes below the visor in the truck. Ten miles from the end, we round a hill and see . . . a thousand-foot-tall wall of cloud where that dream was supposed to be. Ha! We made it, right? Right? Well, yes. That's where we're going now, to the beach to see the ocean. The other one, the Pacific. Ha!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

For Your Earification

8-22-08 - Right now there is a ramshackle bluegrass group forming on the porch of the Henry Miller Memorial Library. A wedding reception is being set up and the air is green with the clink of wine bottles. A couple days ago was deafening wind for 14 hours, too hot for music. I first recognized the pairing of travel and music as we were digested by Trailridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; a Mozart violin concerto put an exclamation point on every curve, italicized our gasps, a fairly emotional boilover. It was random, at the whim of my music machine.

Do not listen to the Beach Boys Pet Sounds while driving up coastal highway 1 100 miles south of Monterey; it is cloudy. Instead, I advise a more dangerous endeavor: The Firesign Theatre: Waiting For The Electrician, Or Someone Like Him. Civilization, HO!! The surreality of the mountains rising straight up from the seaweed salad with the absurdist commentary on European imperialism provides the proper counterpoint to driving and removes the dimension of time from your movement through the other three. Try to concentrate on both while steering.

The Arcade Fire's Funeral, the most melancholy pop album I've ever heard, is a good way to usher in or out a new phase of most anything; in this case, our departure from the Grand Canyon.

This is the most memorable of what could be a whole year's worth of listening. I'll take requests...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Utah!? No. Itah!!





Liz heard these words this morning. They were true. A bison had wandered over 20 miles from its pasture. Later, the mayor came by the farm wondering if we'd seen him. We've been here a week without a boring day; it proves one of the many phrases boasting the originality of Boulder, Utah: "something interesting every day." It is true. Sometimes you wake up to this:

Or sometimes you come home and find this happening (it might not be what it looks like...):

or this:

going on and you just have to wonder why it's not like this everywhere.

We've been still for a whole week; driven fewer than 100 miles, spent less than $100, which is really changing the stats on our trip, though not impeding us mentally from hitting the coast. The problem is that there's so much to hit before that.

I had my first day in a working kitchen today. I recall a story my grandpa told me (and this may not be entirely factual due to my memory) about being a smartass in his early and brief military career: in the morning inspection lineup, his attire, or perhaps his entire self, wasn't entirely ship-shape. When the inspector came by the admonishment given was, "Hop to it, Olsson!" And so my Grandpa hopped, and was given some large number of hours on KP, Kitchen Patrol, peeling potatoes.

Well, my first day in the kitchen was spent peeling carrots. 70 pounds of Holmesian (gigantic) carrots that I then sliced on the diagonal. Now, I'm not complaining; I asked to work in the kitchen and was given full warning of what I'd be doing, with the option of renegging should I find the task too demeaning for my haughty disposition. It was mostly fun; not fun in the yay-it's-playtime way, but fun in the repetitive-task-that-lets-out-your-obsessive-side way. I skinned those roots good, then sliced them to the rhythm of many rap songs that were blaring in the kitchen, keeping them within one millimeter of the pinky's width I was instructed to cut; the fingers of my right hand curled under, nails guiding the orange shaft as my left hand guided the blade forwards, downwards, then backwards to finish the motion. After completing a carrot I set the high-carbon stainless steel blade aside (good kitchens stock good knives), tossed the ends into a waiting compost bucket, and scooped the ovane discs into an empty commercial-sized sour cream tub lined with a half-gallon bag. I filled a dozen bags. My hands and fingernails are stained orange. Imagine what you would do with six gallons of beautifully sliced carrots.

So I lied. Liz and I both worked in the restaurant last night to help prepare for a wedding. We had been at the farm in the morning continuing our task of weeding, mulching with compost, and now planting comfrey, yarrow, and mint around the 25 or so young fruit trees that line the driveway and irrigation pond. This sounds great, right? It is in one's imagination, but when you get down there and find out that it is not worms that do the dirt-digestion but ants, your mind will change fast. These little so-and-sos have vast and myriad underground fortresses throughout the entire state, and their Capitol Hill and military base is on the farm. They are responsible for some great deeds such as, as mentioned before, creating dirt out of . . . well, other dirt . . . and making sure the hundreds of sunflowers scattered about don't get any other forms of life on them. If you so much as brush up against a sunflower leaf you are sure to acquire one or two quarter-inch black ants running down your collar to check your immigrant status. If you did not pass the citizenship test, ZAP!, you get a little pinpricky bite. Occasionally and undoubtedly you will step onto one of their tannish/pinkish mounds or walk near a sunflower and will instantly have a sandal and leg covered in ants, which is uncomfortable to the point of jumping up and down in a frenzy, even when they don't bite. This, so far, is the only drawback to living here.

As I was saying, Liz and I worked in the restaurant last night preparing for the wedding, observing how different people deal with stress, and learning how to stay out of the way of a stressed out, sleep deprived, hungover chef wielding a hot pan and wearing headphones. The night before last there was a ten-hour power outage in the entire vicinity due to the brigade of thunderheads that have been coming our way everyday for the past three days, unbuckling their steamy undergarments, and quenching the thirsty mosquito eggs that have been waiting for this, the monsoon season, to begin. The power outage is why the chef and several other cooks were hung over; I guess that modern conveniences, when nonfunctional, lead to heavy drinking at three a.m.

I should put a note here about alcohol in Utah! (apparently you can't spell Utah! without an exclamation point, it's just that great). This vast, multichromatic, Mormon-infested (no offense, unless you're a fundy...) land has a law that stipulates that beer brewed in this state (Utah!) cannot contain more than 3.2% alcohol by *weight.* This works out to about 4%, which is barely enough to be antiseptic, not to mention flavorful. So most people drink whisky, which can be found easily enough at any state-run liquor store (the only place you can find out-of-state beer, too). I think this is silly. That's my note about alcohol. Here are some more pictures:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whiffle Ball Wound

Day one. Slid into home on a foul ball. . .

Day .... 5? The scab thickens...

Just a couple days ago. Now Liz is obsessed with looking at it, and it's peeling like a snake.


Karen and me and Liz in our getups for the Thursday Cruise.

A fine example of the bikes and riders...

We rode to another park across the city and had a dance party!

Karen and Emma on the trail to Isabel glacier.

Lunch time!

This is where we camped outside of Aspen. It was surprisingly easy.