Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bacon and Whiskey

In 2008, a short essay I’d written was accepted by a progressive literary journal—one that published its pieces exclusively on YouTube. Shape of a Box, run by Jessie Carty in Charlotte, North Carolina (and now called Referential Magazine), encouraged me to submit a video that included me reading the piece and whatever artwork I wanted to accompany it.

Little did she know, there was a television producer in the house. Mike and I shot “Bacon and Whiskey,” still one of Shape of a Box’s most popular pieces, on our farm. As I mention on my website, I didn’t intend it as a commercial for any particular brand of bourbon. It’s not even my favorite bourbon anymore (though still a household staple).

So grab some bacon, sip some whiskey, and enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa1r010vtw0

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On Autumn, Pears, and Reclamation

Maybe it’s the equinox. Maybe it’s because Mike was away for a few days. Maybe I’m getting my groove back. But the day before yesterday, I baked a crisp.

A few weeks ago, I met up with my friend and former neighbor (who makes numerous appearances in Get Your Pitchfork On!), Sue, for coffee-dessert-catch up. Sue had a very successful garden this year, and she sent me home with three grocery bags full of food!

Beautiful Bartletts

The last of this bounty was a bowl of pears. I’ve been watching them get riper and riper, and worried that one morning I would find a pile of green fuzz instead of beautiful yellow fruit. The problem was, I have been unable to bake anything, or garden, since we moved.

When the Recession forced Mike and me to sell our beloved country property in 2009, we retreated to the city to regroup. The owner of the house we rented invited us to have a garden. But, I didn’t want one.

I was heartbroken. We had worked so hard to create our garden in the country: planting fruit trees, double-digging beds, putting up a fence with four gates, building a gazebo from trees cut from our land. The tiny strips of ground available around the edge of this urban backyard seemed insulting. To reference various cinema dramas featuring emotionally devastated children, I don’t want this crummy new garden; I want my old garden!

So, for the last three seasons, I’ve boycotted the soil. I cancelled my seed catalogue subscriptions, ignored the overgrown irises, and turned my back on the compost.

Ditto the kitchen. While I’ve never been the daily cook in the family (thank you, Mike) I had certainly put in my time behind the scenes: canning jams and fruits; painstakingly plucking and chopping every leaf off a half-dozen basil plants, crushing a pound of pine nuts, and pulverizing Parmesan for pesto; and cooking big batches of soup to freeze. I was getting fairly good at baking pies, especially pumpkin pies.

But no more. A year after we moved out, I half-heartedly made a pumpkin pie only to realize too late (at Thanksgiving dinner with my family) that I’d used evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed milk, so there was essentially no sugar in it. I went back into retirement, still heartbroken.

Last week, Mike was out of town for work. Each morning, I looked at the bowl of pears and thought, I need to do something with those. On Tuesday, I moved them from the bowl onto a plate. I moved the plate closer to the coffee press. I moved the plate closer to the sink.

There has to be a statute of limitations on heartbreak, I told myself. Are you going to pout forever?

Finally, on Friday, I faced the pears.

Facing the pears

These were not grocery store blockbusters but modest Bartletts that fit in the palm of my hand. The skins were so tender they peeled off without a knife. I added a couple of apples for tartness, and cardamom, ginger and a bit of cinnamon. (And sugar, of course.) After 45 minutes, I could tell it was done because of the wonderful aroma swirling around the house. I’d forgotten how good that smells.

Mike returned from his trip shortly after the crisp came out of the oven. He raised his nose and sniffed.

“Have you been … baking?”

Yesterday morning, the crisp was part of a hearty Autumnal Equinox brunch. The pear flavor was intense, the perfect thing to welcome fall.

It feels good to reclaim my connection to harvest. Come spring, I might even plant some tomatoes.

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Team Players

Sports are extremely important in the United States. School and intramural teams provide entertainment, activity for restless kids and a place for the community to gather. Professional sports is big business.

Many Americans are such great fans of sports that they want to live their political lives using the same framework. This leads to bumper stickers, t-shirts and infinite other bits of Made-in-China paraphernalia lauding one team or the other: Democrat or Republican.

Good thinking doesn’t split itself in two like that.

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a distinct smugness among my liberal friends. I’ve even gotten into trouble voicing this observation; one of my friends eyed me cautiously for an hour afterward, in case I had surreptitiously become a fascist.

I recently attended a public event in Portland celebrating a national environmental magazine. The host observed that at the recent Republican Party convention, the words “environment” and “nature” did not come up in analyses of the speeches. He followed this fact with the assertion that no Republicans care about the environment.

I did not hear even a murmur of surprise. Imagine how you’d feel if you were a Republican in the audience, someone who supports the magazine and chose to be there. Happily, one of the featured guests spoke of knowing some conservative women in rural Oregon.

“I disagree that they don’t care about the environment,” she said, facing down her host with an anecdote to illustrate the Eastern Oregonians’ warmth and generosity. “They just think about it differently.” I applauded loudly, ignoring the stares.

The issue strikes a chord with me because this “Us Versus Them” mentality is so pervasive, and so toxic. It might be fun to approach politics as one would a football rivalry, but it’s exclusionary and it’s damaging.

When the event host made his remark about the Republicans, he exuded confidence that everyone in the room was in agreement. I’ve seen this happen at parties, and I’ve seen it at work. It reminds me of what my friends who are people of color have described they experience in a room full of white people: things and ideas presented that are simply accepted as “normal,” which practice is actually, if unconsciously, racist.

People who have liberal views are not inherently better than those who have conservative ones. It seems elementary for me to say it, but conservatives love their children just as much as liberals do. They love the Earth. We all want more or less the same things; we just have different ideas about how to get there. To suggest that conservatives are Bad People is to be exactly as closed-minded.

So please, my liberal friends, please continue to think your thoughts. Continue to volunteer in your communities. Continue to talk to others about tricky issues. But please stop thinking your views are superior. More importantly, stop thinking you are superior.

Same goes for conservatives, of course. We are all in this together.

Instead, reach out to someone who is different from you and build a friendship, and then build on that trust to explore why s/he thinks what s/he thinks. Learn that person’s heart. Living in a liberal bubble is just as unhelpful as the worst conservative opinion imaginable, and vice versa.

I fully support debating issues. But being on one “team” and sniping at the other is, at the very least, bad sportsmanship.

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Wild Fire

On Wednesday night I was glued to Facebook—not because I was catching up with the latest antics of my friends’ children or weighing in about the Democratic convention, but because the hills east of my old farm were on fire.

Like many places in the western United States, the Columbia River Gorge gets bone-dry in the summer. So dry that all outdoor burning is banned until the rains return. No campfires, no bonfires, no burn piles. If you use a charcoal grill you put it in the middle of your driveway and you have a hose at the ready.

Why so stringent? Because the Gorge has the perfect combination of conditions to host massive, fast-moving fires: lots of dry grasses and timber; nearly constant wind; steep terrain. Once a fire gets going, it can take days to stop it.

When I lived in the Gorge, such a fire started near the railroad tracks, at river level, south of Underwood. It climbed the bluff that rose 1,000 feet so fast that people who lived at the top barely made it down the hill with their lives. I recall a couple of anecdotes from the local newspaper: one from a woman who threw her kids in her rig and had to negotiate the road’s curves from memory because the smoke had completely obliterated her visibility.

Another interview was with a guy who had been waiting to see if he actually needed to evacuate (there are always holdouts in these situations). He put a few things in his car as the fire came closer. I remember the quotation in the newspaper being something like, “I was going back in the house for more stuff, when the oak tree in my back yard exploded. I decided it was time to leave.”

In Get Your Pitchfork On!, I talk about how difficult it is to get breaking news in these situations. Most people these days turn to social media to communicate to each other, usually Facebook or Twitter. On Wednesday night I sat, transfixed, as different friends up and down the White Salmon River Valley posted updates and photographs.

My friend Jeff, who lives north of Husum and has become something of a one-man news outlet for valley residents, took this shot on Wednesday evening while driving in a small group of cars that were being escorted through the fire zone. On Facebook, he wrote, “This was a tree that was crowning (official fire speak for ‘going up like a roman candle’) only about 10 feet off the highway.”

Photo by Jeff Lemley

The next photograph was particularly unnerving to me. Shot by my former neighbor, Emily, it showed just how close the fires were to my old farm. The building in the lower right of the photo was the old shop on our property, which we affectionately called “The Shack.”

Photo by Emily Wanner

Even though Highway 141 lies between our old property and the burning hills, and our place wasn’t in imminent danger, thinking of it burning made me cry. The beautiful cedars and firs. The gazebo friends helped Mike and me build from logs in our woodlot. The chickens in the barn. It felt like losing our land all over again.

Four days later, the fire has scorched approximately 1,600 acres but is pretty much under control. Crews have defended every home in the area. It’s not over, but so far, so good. The fire’s source has not yet been determined though it was definitely human-caused, meaning anything from someone dragging a muffler on the pavement, to bored teenagers with a lighter, to a firefighter wanting to create a little job security.

As I write this, a new fire (started the old-fashioned way, by lightning) is taking off 20 miles further north, near Trout Lake …

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Blue Moon in Jackson Hole

I have been ending my public readings with a quasi love-letter to the land. It’s the introduction to Get Your Pitchfork On!’s Land Section, in fact. In it, I write: “The night sky in the city is like a watered-down, warm soda—washed out by light pollution of all but the brightest stars and planets.”

On Thursday night, in Portland, Mike and I admired the nearly full moon on a walk around Mt. Tabor. It was truly gorgeous, rising bright and confident above the reservoir and towering evergreens. But, it was not a country moon. Quoting again from GYPO:

“In the city, you can’t appreciate the way [a full moon] bathes everything in a blue glow because everything in urban areas is lit with yellow, incandescent lights—between the streetlights, house lights and car headlights, it’s amazing anyone can sleep.”

So, imagine my thrill when the last blue moon until 2015 occurred Friday night, shortly after my arrival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming! (Just so you get your blues straight: a “blue moon” means the second full moon in one month, a rare occurrence.)

Visiting friends (and recent newlyweds—mazel tov!) Meg Daly and Mark Llinares, I was so engrossed in catching up that I nearly forgot about the moon, blue or otherwise. Shortly after 10, we stepped out the back door to find that it had risen above the tall buttes to the east. Brilliant. Even though small bands of roving clouds occasionally passed in front of it, the moon lit up the entire south end of the valley—the foothills of the Tetons, the cow pasture on the neighboring ranch—causing the aspen leaves next to the house to twinkle in silhouette.

My only camera is in my phone, so the following photograph does not begin to represent the silver-edged beauty of the clouds and the ethereal state of “nightday” that the land takes during a full moon. I could have gazed at it for hours.

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