Friday, September 30, 2011

Greenies Came at Last

Here's a representative sample of the best of our tomato harvest this year. It's way better than nothing! The large "grapes" are Juliet tomatoes, the yellow are Sun Sugar, and - look! There are even five Green Grapes, which I put in the front of the tray close to the camera. The rascals didn't arrive till today, the last day of September, and they may be the entire crop.

My favorite this year might be the Persimmon, which are the large orange tomatoes. They are the largest of any we got; even the Better Boys, supposed to be Beefsteak-type, were tiny guys, indistinguishable from the Early Girls and New Girls, both of which were few and scrawny.

But I made a cherry tomato salad, and think I'll do some soup, too - both recipes I made up in a better tomato year. And those Juliets will be perfect slow-roasted!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bog Cotton and Other Book Encounters

It's been a long time since I've posted a real book review. I read, but never feel that I can do justice to any book. If it's bad, just what makes it bad? If it's at all good, how do I assess it thoroughly and convey the worth of it? I don't, obviously, do any of that lately.

Still, it is no fun keeping all the books to myself. So I'm going to try brief mentions of a stack of them, and tell only a little bit of what got my attention. So as to Get Something Done.

Bog cotton by Loch Glenbrittle
A Shine of Rainbows is one of many enjoyable books by Lillian Beckwith. Everything I've read by her has been set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, and most of her writing is light and humorous. This one was more serious, about an orphan who finds a good home, and the unwilling adoptive father who is eventually greatly helped by having a son. The thing I liked best about the story, which was fairly predictable and mostly an aid to falling asleep at night, was the mention of "bog cotton."

When I read that name immediately a picture came to my mind of the plant that Pippin and I saw in Scotland years ago. I scribbled the name on a post-it note next to my bed and months later got around to looking it up; indeed, it is the very plant, a fairytale sort we encountered on the Isle of Skye as we began to hike up from Loch Glenbrittle into the Cuillin Mountains.

It's also called Common Cottongrass: Eriophorum angustifolium. This plant is in the sedge family and is said to grow all over North America, but I've never encountered it before or since. These photos are by Pippin, from way back then.

Nothing to Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother is by Carrie Young, the author of a book possibly more famous, The Wedding Dress. It's a small book about growing up in a community of Norwegian immigrants in the Dakotas. The pioneer mother, Carrine Berg, grew up in the last decades of the 19th Century; the author graduated from college in 1944. Carrine was a plucky lady who homesteaded on the plains as a single woman, then married another homesteader in her mid-30's and managed to bear six children, of whom the author was the last.

All the stories of these hardworking people were well-told, but perhaps my favorite, that made me laugh out loud, was about when Carrine decided to raise turkeys as a moneymaking enterprise, in spite of the fact that her husband did not like the meat. The author and her sister were to "keep track of the turkeys" all summer long for four years, until their mother quit the business. "We soon learned that turkeys are congenitally indisposed to the principle of herding. Neither are they compatible with chasing, shooing, or rounding up."

I also enjoyed reading about the way this extended family celebrated July 4th, as a children's holiday focused on churning and eating as much ice cream as they could all day long. The vicarious experience of their family life makes me want to read The Wedding Dress, too.

Dust to Dust or Ashes to Ashes by Alvin Schmidt is a historical critique of the practice of cremation. This is likely the most poorly written book I've read in my life. The main points were well taken, but repeated over and over, with whole passages quoted almost verbatim from one chapter to another. The author has decent credentials, and I wonder why the publisher did not insist on some editing. Even the syntax is convoluted and confusing, and though Schmidt mentions the Orthodox view on cremation and the book is (I was ashamed to see) published by an Orthodox publishing company, he is not Orthodox himself and fails to convey the Orthodox understanding of burial.

Since I read that book, I bought another, newer book that promises to be a better treatment of the important subject: A Christian Ending: A Handbook for Burial in the Ancient Christian Tradition, by J. Mark and Elizabeth J. Barna. I also attended a lecture and discussion of the subject at a nearby monastery, which included the reading of many Bible passages that lament the breaking and grinding of human bones. One of the unchristian things about modern cremation is that it includes the grinding up of the bones. I still hope that some day I will find the time to organize all my thoughts on this subject.

Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman I had read about 20 years ago, a public library copy. This time I ordered my own book online and got around to reading it when my brain was too tired for anything more strenuous. "Mr. Mike" is a Canadian mountie who takes his very young city-raised bride to the northern reaches of America, where they live through a lot of adventure and suffering along with the natives whom they often serve. It seems to be based on the life of a real woman, whose story is told honestly enough to be believable and to keep me turning the pages. I was glad to read it a second time but probably won't again.

Echoes of a Native Land by Serge Schmemann: I picked up this book because it's written by the son of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, one of my favorite authors. Serge was able to spend a decade living in the land of his forefathers and even in the very village where his mother's people lived before the Russian Revolution, and this is the fascinating account of the genealogical history and the current residents, against the backdrop of 200 years of Russian politics and culture. Schmemann was a journalist for the New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the reunification of Germany. He's always very readable and fair in this very personal history, which I liked very much.

I will let myself off the hook for a while, having mentioned a handful-sized stack of recent reads. Now turn aside from these brief and dull accounts to hear George Orwell on the subject of book reviews, even if it might be hard to connect what he says to my particular assemblage:

Prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash but constantly inventing reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feeling whatever.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Of Earth and Altar and Lake

Mr. and Mrs. Bread joined us at My Lake for a few days. We canoed and hiked and ate a lot and sat by the fire. On the Lord's Day we sunned ourselves on the deck while singing hymns to The God of Earth and Altar, praising Him for his Wondrous Love that flows Like a River Glorious.

In the top photo you can see on the left margin the brown needles of a dead tree that was the subject of some discussion between Mrs. B. and me.

There's a lot of philosophy and theology in a dead tree, did you know? But I spent so much time doing the nature study while barely tackling the philosophizing, that my time-bucket is empty. Maybe next summer I'll look at it again and write, and figure out what I think.


Another dead tree (above), growing out of a hunk of granite that we christened Gumdrop Dome, was more strikingly beautiful. According to G.K. Chesterton, "Anything beautiful always means more than it says." As I was saying....?

A baby manzanita bush was hugging a rock in a most endearing manner. It's amazing how often I find a new and lovable manzanita bush in my view.

One night Mrs. B. was working out on paper what she thought about the meaning of things, as the dinner she crafted for us stewed in the oven, and we all enjoyed the fire her mister had built up to a controlled inferno. The thermometer got up past 60 in the daytime but at night dropped to freezing.

Wax Currant - Ribes cereum
Last year Mrs. Bread and I were roughing it alone up there, without our menfolk. I took more pictures then, though now I am finding that so few images in my Lake collection satisfactorily describe the lake itself. Next trip I'll have to climb to the top of Gumdrop, as I haven't done in years, and get the wide view with my camera. In the meantime, here's a picture we took from there Once.

For me the most blessed part of our stay at the cabin was when Mr. Glad and I paddled our blue canoe for a long time, early in the morning when the surface of the water was smooth. The sky was deep blue, and most of the time the only sound was of our paddles dipping. Peace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

California Mountains - How Not to Enjoy a Hike

If it weren't for our friend Crafty, this hike would have been a huge disappointment. As it turned out, it was a shared adventure that made me thankful for my friend and for my husband.

Just thinking about the hike to Feather Falls makes me very tired, and that makes me want to just write a short list of ways Not to Enjoy a Hike. Because I did not enjoy the hike itself -- only the companions. Sad to say, the short list turned into a pretty extensive one.

How Not to Enjoy a Hike

1. Pick a trail that has its descent on the way out, so that even during the first few easy miles, when you are at your freshest, you can be thinking, "What trail goes down, must rise again," making it possible to imagine the misery you will know later when you have to hike steeply uphill the last four or five miles back to your car. Even a vague dread of the near future can ruin the present pretty effectively.

Red Ribbons - Clarkia concinna
2. Do it in July and the weather will be as hot as possible. Don't bring too much water; you want to get dehydrated.

3. Plan to take your baking-dry and long hike just a couple of days after spending time in high places where you got used to singing rivulets of snowmelt all around you. This will encourage you to compare your lower-elevation hike unfavorably with recent ones, to keep your attitude complainy.

4. Hike on a trail that claims to takes you to a tall waterfall (the 2nd highest in California), so that when you are dripping sweat and collecting dust you can look forward to the cool mist that will revive you.

This way, when you discover that the end of the trail is at an overlook so far from the water you think it's a mirage, you will have the maximum letdown.

It helps, if while looking at the waterfall with your tongue hanging out, you have to sit down in the dirt to avoid sunburn and the jostling of other hikers.

Tincture Plant - Collinsia Tinctoria
5. If there is a choice of a routes, allow only enough time for a long-legged 20-year-old to hike the shorter of the two. This way, when you get to the trailhead and find that the short route is closed, your heart can sink right away.

6. Be sure to have a dinner engagement to be late for, or some other reason to hurry through your lunch and doggedly hike your legs off, with your heart doing double-time, on that last long ascent.

Now, the things that kept me from being a total ingrate:

1. The loss of two pounds in an afternoon (even if it was 80% water).

2. Flowers to take pictures of, many conveniently in the shade of the trees, and few enough so as not to be overwhelming.

3. My dear and faithful companions, who joked with me and gave me water and snacks, and carried the knapsack.

This outing was a sort of add-on to our Sierra Nevada summer vacation. We came home for a night and then drove north to pick up Crafty before going on to our trailhead in the foothills of the northern Sierras, in the Plumas National Forest.

While trudging up those last few miles back to the car we talked about how we'd like to hike more together in the future, say, in April or October. I know that any hike in the foothills would be more pleasant during those months, but I'll vote for going anywhere but Feather Falls.

Monkeyflower - Mimulus

Sunday, September 11, 2011

California Mountains - Tiny Finds and Large Views

My husband called to me as I was lagging behind on the loop trail, "Why do you keep looking at the ground?! Look up at the mountains, and the trees!" 

We were in the Patriarch Grove of the Bristlecone Pines, at 11,000 feet, in the White Mountains, with dolomite rock as far as the eye could see, as in the photo above. One might well wonder why I would look down at it.

But if you click on that photo to enlarge it you will see that there are vague greenish splotches all over the place. Those are clumps of wildflowers, hugging the ground in mats barely taller than my living room carpet.

I was finding whole worlds of flower gardens tucked under rocks, where several species of the most diminutive blooms would pack themselves together in a jumble. I noticed them, but the sun was so bright, and they were so little, that I couldn't actually see them very well, or know if my photo was decent.

And I didn't want to make us too late for dinner in Lee Vining that night, a few hours' drive down the mountain and up the highway. But now I wish I had taken more pictures.
Lewisia, I think...
I'm home, and the photos are uploaded to the computer where I can zoom in on them and reveal more details, but usually I find that they are overexposed and/or a bit blurry from the wind, and identification is hard. The plants seem to be stunted variations of more common forms, likely resulting from living where there is so much sun and wind, but little warmth and moisture. In this high place the temperature rarely gets above 70° even in midsummer, and frost can happen any night of the year.

milkvetch and an old cone
The purple milkvetch pictured (in the Astragalus family), for example, is a shy and minimalist version of other forms that grow above treeline; technically, we are not above treeline or alpine here, because the Bristlecones are of course trees, but all the wildflowers in this area are listed in the Alpine section of my guide, and the conditions are similar to those in the Sierras above 11, 500 feet.

Pippin sent me to a link from an area in Utah where more Bristlecones grow, and to the Table Cliff Milkvetch that looks pretty similar. But from my poor photo, I'm not confident to claim a perfect match.

Maybe it's even a version of the Whitney's Locoweed (Astragalus whitneyi) I saw in the lower grove. That one (below) was past flowering and was showing its crazily colorful pods, and this one 1,000 feet higher doesn't have any pods yet.
Whitney's Locoweed and Dwarf Alpine Daisy
Mr. Glad was trying to figure out which White Mountain peaks were which; on the way up to the Bristlecones we'd done a lot of that kind of thing when we stopped at Sierra View Point. Here is a movie I found online, showing what we saw across the Owens Valley: the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. We had been over there somewhere as little hiker specks just the day before.

 The starting image of the movie looks similar to the still shot Mr. G took, but not quite as nice, so I posted his version at the bottom of this post.

Another view that was a quiet and calming feast for the eyes was of these sagebrush-covered slopes, as we traveled that gravel road. The total effect was so much more green and lively-looking than what we saw going west up from Bishop. Maybe it's a different species of sagebrush?

After this day with the Bristlecones and their tiny ground-hugging companions, we went back over the mountains and then north for the last hilly adventure of our July vacation.

View of Sierras from White Mountains

Friday, September 9, 2011

California Mountains - Gnarly Patriarchs

(6th in the "California Mountains" diary of our July 2011 vacation)

If the Bristlecone Pines were humans, I'm pretty sure they would be ascetic saints like Father Seraphim of Sarov or Mary of Egypt, people who lived in the wilderness and had "meat to eat that we know not of."
Stanleya pinnata; Desert Plume

It was to visit these inspiring creatures that Mr. Glad and I drove up into the White Mountains that rise up east of the Sierra Nevada on the other side of the Owens Valley. The climbing part was a repeat of the previous day's experience of a quick uphill, and this time it took just 24 miles for us to traverse zones of desert and sagebrush steppe, and come to a land where alpine wildflowers live stunted lives.

Mormon Tea
On the way up through the forbiddingly dry and rugged desert region, waving yellow plumes were the first vegetation to get my attention. Now I know where Dr. Seuss got the images for some of his crazy drawings.

Purple Sage; Salvia dorri
Another drought-tolerant plant we ran across is called Mormon Tea, though it has other common names that aren't as folksy. It's a member of the Ephedra family of plants, perhaps milder -- and safer? -- than the Chinese herb. I didn't collect any.

The uglier plants passed from view as we entered the steppe zone, and we began to get our eye-fill of gorgeous purple sage, the very flower referred to in the five movie versions of Zane Grey's novel Riders of the Purple Sage; I haven't seen the the movies or read the book, but just now learned that there is a Mormon element to that story. This area is geographically part of the Great Basin Desert that covers much of the state of Nevada, and of which Utah's Great Salt Lake Desert is a part, so the Mormon connection to the natural history makes sense.

Bristlecone Pines grow in other areas of the Great Basin, too, and maybe on less steep roads. The ones in California aren't on the way to anywhere, but they are well worth the worry of hearing your car's engine groan a bit on the sharp inclines.

The longevity of these trees is the primary fact one learns right off. Except for cloning plants, the Bristlecones are the oldest living plants. The current oldest one is known to be 4,788 years old, and as many as 19 of them are over 4,000 years old.

Not only are they of great age, but they keep their vitality. While other trees show changes in their DNA or produce fewer cones, the Bristlecones are just as healthy and fruitful at 4,000 years as they were at 1,000.

They have ways of dealing with the severe climate, and with seasons that are harder than usual. How to determine what is a particularly hard year in their habitat seems to me difficult, seeing how they always have to do with very little water, and with freezing temperatures much of the year, and soil that is poor. Some of the oldest trees grow in "soil" that is a form of limestone called dolomite, shallow and infertile white rock. The sun is relentless in summer, and the winds are often brutal.

Clearly their youth is renewed not by superfoods and a friendly environment but by a meager diet and suffering -- and yes, by their genetic predisposition to "behaviors" that conserve nutrients and strength. For example, instead of dropping needles and replacing them every year or two, they hold their needles for up to 45 years, and it requires less energy to renew the old ones than to grow completely new ones.

If they suffer unusually severe drought or stress, they put some limbs into dormancy so that they can keep producing the maximum number of cones. If we compare them to humans, they are fertile even longer than the biblical patriarchs, or our mother in the faith, Sarah.

The white rock actually reflects some of the sun so that more moisture is retained in the soil, and the trees tend to live relatively far apart from each other in their forests, so they don't have to compete for light and food. In this way they are the opposite of redwood trees, which need the moisture that collects between trees in the grove if they are going to be their healthiest.

These trees make me think of Bible verses about youth being renewed, but also the ones about hoary heads and the dignity of age. The old and weather-worn patriarchs have a beauty of a sort we don't see in young upstarts or in overfed and coddled 20-somethings. Even in death the wood is so dense that it remains for centuries and doesn't decay, much as some saints' bodies remain incorrupt.

I so love the Bristlecones! I can't figure out all that they are telling me, but I know it's something about God and the Christian life. Maybe if I grow really old I will understand more.

The main grove is at 10,000 ft. elevation. After walking the loop trail there we decided to get in the car again and crunch over gravel up another 1,000 feet in a cloud of dust to the Patriarch Grove. It's only twelve miles, but takes at least 45 minutes. The next installment of this series will tell what I saw there.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Angora and Virginia

They sound as though they might be sisters, but really they are only linked by being part of an outing Mr. Glad and I had this week, up to Lake Tahoe to stay with our friends Mr. and Mrs. C. at their cabin. I took hardly any pictures -- too conscious of my backlog of unsorted photos at home -- and now regret it, because there are things worth sharing. So I found some pictures online to supplement my words.

The wild horses were the first thing that made me want photos. We saw them at the end of the day in Virginia City, Nevada, through the window of the (I hesitate to tell you) Bucket of Blood Saloon.

We were the only customers on the day after Labor Day, so we had the best table, with a view down the hill to the lower parts of town and a panorama of the mostly sage-green slopes. About a dozen horses grazed a few blocks lower down, and colts reared up to play-fight with each other, then prance off.

I knew that herds of mustangs still roam in the West, but I only learned today that "The historic Virginia Range herd, over 1,400 strong, can be found living wild and free between Virginia City, Reno, Dayton and Carson City." It comprises half of the wild horses in the nation. Getting a glimpse of this little group made for a highlight of the day for me.

We did a lot of browsing in shops, where I bought a dance skirt, and a bag of Sugar Babies for old time's sake. Boy, were they a disappointment. Certainly it is the recipe and not my memory that has failed. The lovely way the candy coating would melt into crystals is not to be experienced anymore. Corn syrup does not equal sugar, for one thing.

The next day our hosts introduced us to their family favorite Place to Go When at Tahoe: Angora Lake, or more precisely, Upper Angora Lake. These lakes gave their name to the Angora Fire that destroyed so much property here in 2007, on record as one of the top ten most costly fires in U.S. history. We approached the lake on a glacial moraine ridge, tree-lined Fallen Leaf Lake on our right and acres of burned-out forest on our left.

Looking south over the Angora Fire area (GJ photo)

After we reached the parking lot for the lake, we hiked another mile before reaching the lake and the sweet resort that sits next to it.

On one side of the bowl a wall of granite rises up, not too sheer, with plenty of ledges and crevices from which to high-jump into the deep waters. Mr. Glad was the only one of us who swam, but we ladies waded for quite a while and wiggled our toes in the fine granite gravel.

From top: Tahoe, Fallen Leaf, Lower and Upper Angora

Upper Angora Lake Beach
The mister rented one of those rowboats in the photo so that he and I could enjoy a lazy time rowing around the lake and examining the lichens and berries that grow on or out of the granite cliff; we all spent a good while sitting in the sunshine when it got through the afternoon mountain clouds, reading our books, and watching chipmunks scurry around.

Sulfur Flower, sage, and Mr. G

On the way back I took my own photos, so among other things you can see my view as our little excursion, and our mini-vacation, drew to a close. You can't see what a contented vacationer I was; you have to use your imagination for that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Funny Wasp Thing

The wasp approached in the afternoon as I was sitting on a leafy patio listening to my companions' leisurely conversation. He quickly got down to business and stung the back of my knee. I don't recall ever having been stung by a wasp before, so I didn't know what to expect, having seen and heard of extreme reactions.

I decided to go inside the restaurant and ask for some ice to put on the spot, to calm things down, and when I got back I explained what happened. Nearly all the people sipping drinks under the umbrellas were nurses or doctors, so they wanted to be sure I was o.k., but after I assured them that the ice was working fine, we went on talking about other things in the world.
Yellow Jacket

But I haven't got to the funny part. On the drive home I had to leave off icing that still-stinging place, and it did start hurting again; the heat was spreading and stabbing a little, too. I'll just have to take some Benadryl when I get home, I thought.

I switched on the radio in the middle of "The Flight of the Bumblebee," but perhaps because it was not exactly a bee that had got me, I didn't think anything of it. At the end of that piece, the announcer said that after that he felt he really must play "The Wasp Overture" by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

I couldn't believe my good fortune -- or what was surely a little medicine custom-formulated by God. The remedy seemed to work, because by the time I got back to my town, the site of the sting was not swollen or painful anymore, and there was only a little red dot where that (probably) yellow jacket had attacked. Mr. Glad called it a musical form of homeopathy: like cures like.

I didn't even take the whole remedy, because the overture was still playing when I had to turn of the engine and go inside. It was a beautiful piece, more evocative of the lovely aspects of a summer afternoon than the wicked wasp himself -- that is, what I noticed of it.

Mostly I was amazed, as I listened, that anyone would compose music with that title, and that I was hearing it for the first time after my recent insect encounter. Since then I've learned that it was written for a production of Aristophanes' play The Wasps, and is a fairly popular piece. But at the time all I could think was, Could Vaughan Williams have written such a thing if he'd ever known a wasp the way I did that day?