Archive for October, 2012


The kitchen window sill holds (from left to right): A bottle from my grandparents’ old barn (with a fused glass topper I pulled out of Mary K.’s flower arrangement because I liked it), an old jar with corks, a second old jar with dice, the teapot we use to brew herbal tea, and a vase from Goodwill with the last two roses of the season flanked by skunk figurines that Ernesto bought at the antique mall.

Oh, and I can’t believe that I nearly forgot to identify Ernesto’s special tomato, from our late harvest.

He named it “Simon and Carbuncle.”

What’s on your window sill?

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Last weekend the Jehovah’s Witnesses returned, reminding me of my plan to create Tracts for the Pleasant Life that I can force on people who come to the house uninvited.  Tract #1 was a solid success, and it’s time to continue the series—because you never know when the Witnesses might be mobilized again, and I need to update the tracts as often as they update The Watchtower.

Tracts for the Pleasant Life #2: Woodlands in Fall

There are wooded areas nearly everywhere. Even if you don’t live near the country, look for clusters of trees in parks, bands of trees running like stitches behind and between subdivisions, and tiny groves in your own back yard. If all else fails, and you find yourself fenced off from every stand of trees that you’d like to visit, go to a nursery or garden center and pretend the rows of root-wrapped trees are really a forest on its way to a new location.

Scarlet and gold with the fall colors, the woods beckoned me. …

As I walked along and the trees grew more dense, the light became more muted. I relished all the color about me and loved the great thickness of the tree trunks and the pleasing shapes of the oak and maple leaves.  – Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife or, The Star-Gazer

Woodlands do have a different air and light and sound, especially in fall when the leaves lisp underfoot and the sun, no matter where it really is in the sky, seems tangled in the treetops where it burns yellow, orange, and red.  And the scent of the woods in autumn is interesting, like strong brewed tea, tart fruit, and a hint of something like tobacco.

[S]eams of blood-red maple and dogwood shoot through the strata of golden beech, pale yellow poplar, elm and hazel, and the violin-browns of chestnut and oak. – Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

I love that line about the “violin-browns of chestnut and oak.”  I can practically  taste the trees in that passage, and it tastes like I’m munching on walnuts or pecans.

Now That I Am in a Wooded Area, What’s the
Most Pleasant Thing to Do?

There are many pleasant activities that you can pursue while in the woods. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Chase falling leaves, and save a colorful one that you particularly like.
  2. Climb a tree, preferably one with yellow leaves, and pretend you’re sitting in a sunny room. If you don’t care for heights—or if most of the leaves are already under the tree—sit beneath the tree instead. You’ll get the same effect.
  3. Swing—on a vine or on a limb by your arms. Test the limb for stability first, and try not to swing yourself into another tree. (Note: Don’t try this in the temporary forest of your local garden center.)
  4. If there is a creek in the woods, remove any fallen leaves that may be clogging the flow. This is a very satisfying activity, so be warned that you may lose a largish chunk of time while doing it.

Those are just the things that I like to do. You may have other ideas.

Speaking of pecans and walnuts, it seems fitting that I should continue to include a recipe on my tracts, perhaps as a tear-off card. So here’s my mom’s recipe for Spicy Pecans. They are simple to prepare and mildly addictive. They are also a lovely violin-brown and reminiscent of a violin in shape, too, I think.

Best of all, they are a gift from the trees.

Spicy Pecans

Toast 2 cups of pecans in a 300° F oven for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
As the pecans toast, melt ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of unsalted butter.
In a large bowl, mix 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of hot sauce into the melted butter.
Stir the pecans in the savory butter until thoroughly coated, then drain them on paper towels.
When dry, place the pecans in an airtight container.
Or eat them while you walk in the woods.

Photo:  The Missouri Botanical Garden, Saturday, October 20th

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Magic isn’t always pretty; sometimes it’s intentionally creepy. This weekend I carved our Halloween pumpkin—or, to be more precise, Ernesto used a 2″ bit on his cordless drill and drilled seven holes in about 14 seconds. This method meant that a plug was left behind in the pumpkin, which had to be extracted. And because it was difficult to get a good grip on them, and because they were still firmly attached to pumpkin pulp and seeds and sinew in the middle of the fruit, they did not come out willingly.

“Go get the corkscrew,” Ernesto said, wiping strings of wet pumpkin drool off his drill.  So I did, and when I brought it back outside Ernesto used it to quickly and efficiently remove all the plugs. Once that was done, all I had to do was clean out the holes a bit and then place my rubber rats (three for $1!) in various holes, in various positions. Don’t they look nasty?

Magic is nearly always unexpected. For the past several days Ernesto has been looking for a particular book—One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. We both love that book, and finally last night after several failed attempts to find his Spanish copy amid the ridiculous number of books in our attic, Ernesto asked me to order a Spanish-language copy for the Kindle. I did.

“Here it is,” I said, passing him the Kindle.

He looked at it, then handed it right back to me. “Read it out loud,” he said.

This was a surprise. Because I know the story, I could understand a lot of it, and as I read Ernesto would translate (and correct my lousy Spanish pronunciation), and when it was a wonderful piece of Garcia Márquez silliness we would both laugh. Here’s a sample in English:

At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Gypsies visit the village each spring, bearing magical things that they’ve found in their travels around the world. They bring ice to the village for the first time, and later a telescope and a magnifying glass. But listen to this description of the time the gypsies bring magnets:

A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquíades, put on a bold public demonstration…. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind the Melquíades’ magical irons. “Things have a life of their own,” the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. “It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.”

There are three levels of magic at work here—no, there are four. First is the simple magic of wishing you had a certain book, and then having it in hand five seconds and $5.99 later. Second is the magic of the story that Garcia Márquez tells. Third is the magic of sharing a book that we loved. Each line, first read in Spanish, then explained in English, gave us a chance to enjoy it fresh, and together. I am hoping that the fourth level of magic will happen, over time—that I will begin to learn Spanish, finally. (After Solitude, we have Spanish copies of Love in the Time of Cholera and Diary of a Shipwrecked Sailor, so there is a great deal of Garcia Márquez lying about to further that cause.)

For my final magic trick of the weekend, I made pumpkin pie bars. They have so many ingredients in them that it’s ridiculous—not a long list of ingredients, you understand, but they have an extravagance of certain items: two tubes of chocolate chip cookie dough, seven eggs, two blocks of cream cheese, two cans of pumpkin, and three tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice!  Add sugar and a splash of vanilla, assemble everything in a 13 X 9 pan, and you’re pretty much done. The cookie dough forms the bottom crust, and the spiced pumpkin and cream cheese mixtures are added separately and then swirled. Well, it seemed like too much, but I did it anyway only I held back one of the eggs. The finished product weighs about 30 pounds, but good?  Holy smoke, they are magically delicious. And we have such a huge number of them that I expect they will last for at least one hundred years. I wish I could magically come to where you are and give you some. 

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. 

– Roald Dahl

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If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in May time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone.

– T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Erin Rivers photographs places. She didn’t always. She used to be an artist in paint and ceramic, studying at Webster University and the Art Institute of Chicago. But in 2005 she inherited her father’s Hasselblad camera—and that camera took her in a new direction, on a route she likely would not have taken otherwise.

After learning to use the Hasselblad—which requires a far different set of actions and a vastly different timeframe than the simple point-and-shoot digital cameras and cell phones that we all use—Erin set out to retrace her father’s steps and visit some of the small towns and byways that he had once photographed. Along the way she discovered her own rough roads and special places.

Eagle Cliff/Miles Cemetery – Monroe County, Illinois

The cemetery has quite a history. It has been heavily vandalized over the years, including broken and knocked over headstones, theft and general destruction of property.… At the top of the cliff I spotted the mausoleum that I was looking for. For the first time that day I took the Jeep off-roading and double backed to what I thought was a cleverly hidden path that led to the top of the cliff. Then up a very steep, winding road, that at times, narrowed down to just one lane. After much more back-tracking and off-roading incidents, I looked off to the side of the road and noticed a large wood plank propped up. In reflective letters, the words “Eagle Cliff/Miles Cemetery” were clearly spelled out. I don’t know why I was still unsure. Maybe the crude “No Trespassing from Dusk till Dawn,” sign. I decided to just get on with it, and after passing the “No Trespassing” sign, found another sign (handwritten) that said “Visitor Parking.”

Burfordville • Bollinger Mill  Baptists

I made my way to the Burfordville Covered Bridge, but I was on the opposite side of Bollinger Mill. Crossing the bridge is an interesting experience; it is dark of course and you can smell the passage of time and many other unidentifiable things. Light passes through the splits and holes in the wood and creates an interesting pattern along the sides and the floor. Known as a Howe Truss, the Burfordville Bridge is the oldest remaining covered bride in the state of Missouri.

The architecture of the mill itself caught my eye, the stone base combined with the brickwork and several windows located on the upper floors. I was able to peek through the windows and see a little bit of the machinery that is on display, but nothing that I could really identify.

After a few more photos of the mill, an old bus and a caravan of cars squealed into the parking lot, honking their horns. I learned later that this was a Baptist church group getting ready for the day’s Easter egg hunt. I never would have guessed this based on their entrance.

For the Mind, Body & Spirit

Toward the end of “Little Gidding,” Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Erin’s photographs help us get to know some of the small towns and hidden places scattered through Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri—Fairmount, Burfordville, Atlanta, Greentown.  Nearly deserted, they often look like temporary backdrops that could be dismantled in a few hours and trucked away.

But you never know what may be about to happen, just outside the frame. There could very well be a passel of Baptists about to tear it up at an Easter egg hunt.

I think that the best part of picking up processed film and finding out what you have created is the moment just before you open the envelope.


Quotations were pulled from Erin’s travel log, and are reprinted here with her kind permission. To view more of her wonderful photographs, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/erinrivers.

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