Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Stinkin' Rose

He doesn't have running water. Half mile away at the base of the ridge that runs around the entire twenty mile valley is a spring where he gets his water in five gallon containers. On one of many trips to here or there, he asks me to stop across from the derelict and rundown trailer house across a gravel road. Disappearing down a ditch and into the weedy woods, he comes back with a mug of cold clear spring water. All I see is a few squashed plants at the base of a muddy pool.

It's garlic harvest time. Garlic is currency. At $6.25 per pound for organic garlic up in the cities, these large heads of "Stinkin' Rose" are gold. I slice four cloves and add them to mustard seed, dill and peppercorns in my short brine pickles. The odor is overwhelming.

His uniform is baggy sweat pant shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, size triple XXX. When he lifts his arm you can see ripples of flesh from armpit to navel. Garlic oozes from his pores along with the sour smell of sweat. In his hands are two quart jars of yellow fluid. Homemade canned chicken broth from free range chickens. He tells me there's a wild rooster running free. He hasn't been able to catch the critter. Each morning at dawn it perches on a woodpile and crows the beginning of day. The feral cat hanging out in the neighbor's barn stalks the rooster. Having lost chickens to mink, raccoon and fox he has no truck with a feral gray cat with white paws.

The law of the wild prevails. He reaches for his gun, sights through the screen door and rips off a shot. Feral cat leaps five feet in the air. The bullet trajectory is off a mite because of the path through wire mesh. Cat disappears, appearing later on the the hay field across the road. People down the ridge road have a similar kitten. Must be a male with a wide range.

Nine cabbages salvaged from an overgrown weedy patch that bring instant swarms of thousands of mosquitoes over your neck, arms , back and every place that one can't reach to scratch are hustled into a plastic tub. Harvest is quick cut and run. It rains every three days. Wave upon wave of mosquitoes are born, feed and die. Only the heat of midday squelches their hunger. The cat and dog shake heads, freeing ears of the irritating pests. Twenty pounds of cabbage make eighteen pounds of saurkraut. Sitting on a metal card table chair, he flicks an occasional earwig out of the kraut. Shred, salt, mash and repeat.

Later it's sweet corn by the tub full after the prep area is swept and hosed down. Sixteen quart freezer bags filled to the three quarter mark. One and a half pounds each. Twenty four pounds of sweet corn, blanched, cut and bagged. Sweet, milky sap covers the cutting board attracting swarmy flies. Husks and cobs fill a plastic tub.

Two plastic Wal-Mart bags full of cukes and pickles are tied to the tractor along with the five gallon bucket of sauerkraut. It's mid afternoon. After four hours of food prep for the bitter January winds in a plywood cabin up on Hunter's Ridge, he heads home to short brine his pickles.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drive up the road that's pictured above. It's a town road, but in reality it's our drive way. At the top of the hill it connects with a state highway. There's another town road on the other side of the highway directly opposite our driveway/road. Part paved and part gravel, it follows the lee side of the Kickapoo River. To the left of the town road is high ground. Part of a connecting series of ridgetops, smart folk bought and built on this side of the road. On the right side of the road is a steep incline leading to marsh, river and swamp.

The dog and I take West River Road which connects with another main highway that will end up on the outside of town. I need a tank of LP gas. The outside food prep area is shut down. We ran out of gas in a twenty pounder. Canning and cooking inside on hot humid July afternoons is counterproductive to my efforts to keep the inside cool by drawing drapes and curtains.

Ducks paddle back and forth in open areas of water. An bald eagle flies slowly across the flooded low ground on patrol. I'll stop for a moment to deliver sweet corn to a couple living a few miles down the road. I met them when I first moved here as they drove down our lane to greet the newcomers. The Mrs. excitedly gives me a little of the history of our place, the location of her grandparents home and farm across the road from our schoolhouse.

When we moved in the only sign of a previous building was a rubble filled depression in the ground. I contacted the local excavator to haul two truck loads of sand to fill the hole. In late summer the sandy spot is the perfect site for a 10X20 foot white canopy where I dry the onion crop. A few stone blocks pop up here and there. A few hardy peonies planted by Grandma still survive frequent rototilling in garden plot number one. Mr. is a quiet reserved man who I'd see at Wal-Mart. We discuss local events. His wife promises to bring pictures of Grandpa's place and the surrounding area. I am still waiting for the pictures.

Approaching Gordy and Carol's place a weasel scurries in the ditch at my left and runs across the road. I'm driving slow, noting blooming wildflowers. The weasel looks like a mink, however, I've never seen a mink except on a coat so I'm guessing about this dark brown fuzzy slinker. He has plenty of time to cross the road, but as I cross what would have been his path, I hear excited squealing. What the hay. Did he try and double back? I see nothing in my rear view mirror. I may drive back the same way to soothe a fear that he got run over.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cold Coffee

I've run out of steam. With good intentions and one salient thought, I boot up the computer to follow-up a phone conversation. One e-mail, two forwarded jokes, a quick check of the headlines, a look at the last post in another blog of mine and I'm ready to shut down the computer. I started at 5:30 on a foggy, dead-still Sunday morning. Fed the cat, tussled the dog's fur and heated up a cup of coffee.

I should have swiped another two hours of sleep like my wife. Blame it on a book. I stayed up later than usual reading a memoir of a woman living in a dysfunctional family. It ticks me off that the person has a best seller, probably makes tons of money off a well written but degrading story of her life. I think I may be a little bit jealous. I don't want fame or fortune. I'm doing OK. So, I tell myself the road to a journey starts with a first step. "Quit side-stepping."

The idea, you ask? When people screw up or something negative happens, they'll say, "I didn't mean to..." It's a half assed-blanket apology. I'm not searching for answers on this though either, so save the comment. Guy is standing in front of the judge. He's receiving the maximum sentence for manslaughter in a hit and run case. "But your honor, I didn't mean to hit him/her." No amount of apology is going to bring back the dead person.

That's the most flagrant example. Others, less serious, are equally offensive on my scale of stupid f-ing apologies. Does this person think that by saying, "I didn't mean to..." it absolves them of responsibility for their actions? It just burns my shorts, always did.

And did you notice how I began this short diatribe?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flash Flood Watch

What do you do when it's not just raining, but hard driven pelting slanting rain drenches an already rain soaked area? You sit on the garage floor peering out the half open overhead door. It rains. It pours. Every two days. This is nothing new. You jump on a rocking chair, but first you test the old mattress pad covering the seat with your paw. You're not sure what this white fuzzy felt thing is all about. Then, you jump on the workbench and peruse a scattered collection of left-over junk. An old belt buckle, two air pillows from a FedEx shipment, junk and more junk. Finally, out of total boredom, you jump on the dog house roof. Mist from the driving rain covers the rear portion of the roof. Rain runs down the house siding. You get as close as you can to the edge of the roof. That way, you can monitor the dog inside the carpeted dog house without getting wet. It works well for several minutes. Then the rain increases. The roof isn't dry and safe anymore.

The dog walks out to the gravel road, shaking her head as the rain pummels her ears. Not a thing is stirring. No robins hunt for worms. Convinced that any further exploration will lead to a thorough drenching, she retreats to her house. Head placed upon curled paws, she waits for that "ride". She heard the word, she's sure. Her man said "ride". The word later doesn't register.

The man is walking back and forth between garage and house. Yesterday's four bean salad canning frenzy in which he ran out of solution: hot vinegar,water, sugar and spices late after midnight in his sleep, is now a dozen pint jars labeled 7/10. They're put on the bottom of the wood shelves in the kitchen area separated from last year's bean salad by a large, open space. Two stainless steel pots, a water bath canner, several plastic bowls and a stainless steel strainer are returned to their final resting place in the summer kitchen. The five gallon plastic bucket of sugar, a smidgen of cider vinegar and the bag of mustard seed are returned to their proper places. The stainless steel pots are nestled upside down so that earwigs don't have a dark hiding place to call home. A dozen glass pints jars capture his attention. It's a good day for mindless activity.

The pint jars have wax in the bottom. At least he thinks it's wax. Placing a half dozen jars in the microwave, he hits the auto cook function for one minute. The wax remains opaque and off- white on the floor of the jar. Then he hits "two" on auto cook. Reaching for an oven glove because the jars are too hot to touch with a bare hand, the wax has melted partially. "Hmm. Must be soap or some wax /soap combination."

More button punching and melting followed by a quick grab of a glass jar with the oven glove. Turned upside down on a kraft paper bag, the wax or soap immediately turns hard. The next step is to soak the jars in hot soapy water. But what else is there to do?

There's a flash flood watch because of the heavy rain. A quick check of river levels and the map overlay of villages and towns along the river shows no immediate danger. River levels are far below flood stage. All that will change in just a few hours.

Stepping outside to monitor the progress of the thunderstorm, the air smells like caraway. Dog and cat scurry to the back door anxious to get out of the rain.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I traded three fishing reels, a dip net and an old tackle box belonging to my great uncle Dick for this dog. She is from a large litter of Amish blue heeler/border collie mix. She knew her name before I took her home. The Amish family said this runty dog was different than the rest of the litter. Walking ducks-in-a-line following a daughter, the puppies were very obedient. Then, there's my dog. She turns and walks in another direction. She was named after her mother and recognized the name when called before I traded the dusty fishing gear sitting in a girl's bathroom in the basement.

I work at home. She's with me all the time, not only because I'm her "pork chop"-the person who feeds her-but also because I take her everywhere. See those pointy ears. Mention"ride" to her and they perk up even more than usual. To show she's excited with the prospect of a car ride and head lolling out the back windows, she'll make a mad dash at a bird, a butterfly or pace a car on the highway along the north fence line.

My wife and I talk to her as if she were human. Sometimes I don't talk. I just stare. I think she can read my mind. She tries the same trick on me. Most of the time it's while I'm eating breakfast. Routines are prescribed. I hate routines, however, they are very comforting for my two animals-the blue heeler and a gray, raccoon tail cat. In the morning we go outside. The cat is watchful. The dog sniffs the morning air carefully. I marvel at the natural world. We live in a valley surrounded by small hills. Fog is frequent in our coulee. The dog stares at a bird on the gravel driveway. Since the bird is more than a hundred yards away, I tell the dog,"You're wasting your time." She looks at me, turns and walks back toward the open garage. Mosquitoes are thick this damp morning. I swat the first of many. "I'm going in the house," I tell the "kids". "Is anybody coming?" The dog follows and stops abruptly at the storm door. At first it appears she is sniffing the door edge. "Come on," I say. She won't budge. She's waiting for the cat. Routine dictates that the raccoon tail cat must enter first. He trots past the dog. She whiffs his butt and follows him inside. While I heat up a cup of leftover strong coffee, the cat waits for his raw chicken liver breakfast. Brushing back and forth on my bare legs, the cat lets me know, "I'm hungry." He's a man of action. His speech is confined to an assortment of mews , grunts, errps and meows. I hear a thank you meow as I place the clear glass saucer on the floor for him.
The dog waits for a morsel of buttered bread as I read while eating my omelet. I give her a few pieces. When it appears that there are no more morsels to be eaten, she retreats to the couch. She places her head on the armrest and watches me.

I'd heated up some leftover turkey from a carcass I boiled yesterday for broth. I place it on the floor next to me. I glance over at the dog. "You're not getting any more buttered bread. Eat your turkey." She jumps off the couch and walks over to the bowl. She finishes all but a mouthful. While I'm working on breakfast, she carries her stuffed rabbit around by the ears. I pretend to chase her. I crouch down and lurch. She runs away wildly. We chase around the kitchen . To signal the game is over, I call to her. "Come here." I repeat the command several times. She knows the tone of my voice. Instead of playing keep away as she does with all her toys, she sides over to me. I rub her flanks,"Good girl." I stroke her ears and pet her on the head.

She disappears. I hear her upstairs and wait for the sound of her paws on the bare wooden steps. She carefully walks down the steps with her blue fleece "blankie" in her mouth. Time for some calm meditation with blankie.

And thus the day continues. I marvel at how well she understands me, anthropomorphizing every action of the dog. Some actions are learned by observation. When we get to a certain stretch of gravel road on the ridge, she moves to the side of the car closest to the road. She knows she is near the "barking dog" at Burdette's house. Some behaviors are learned by careful observation of my facial and body movements. Some are responses to sounds. I laugh when she barks at a certain sound I make, a sort of hiss. It annoys her and she lets me know immediately. Kisses are wet slurps to my ear. I pat my knee and she jumps in my lap. She's no longer a puppy. It's like holding a squirming piglet, while she gnaws my hand. The hand gnawing is a leftover from puppy days when I'd hold a piece of rawhide. She'd curl in my lap and contentedly gnaw for 30 minutes while we watch television.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Waver

Ten years ago, we lived 15 miles south of the new age capital of the world-Sedona. The village of Oak Creek is a subdivision nestled around a golf course. In a 1966 Arizona Highways article about Sedona, the village of Oak Creek did not exist. The two page centerfold spread of an aerial overview of Sedona is a stunning visage of red iron oxide sandstone cliffs and rock formations. Off in the far distance one can actually see the snow covered San Francisco peaks in Flagstaff.

The aerial view shows a depression in the ground near highway 179 ( now the Bank One building) and a cattle ranch. The Verde Valley School Road extends west to Oak Creek. In 1976 a golf course was built. Modest homes of plywood and hardboard popped up in and around arroyos and cul de sacs. Near the golf course more expensive homes of faux adobe had backyards over looking the greens.

The waver walked highway 179 from the village to Sedona on a regular basis. After the business district in the village- a four block long strip of hotels, gas stations, restaurants, a hardware store and odd's 'n ends businesses-the terrain was Coconino National Forest. Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and more off the main drag subdivisions were the only attractions.

Monday, July 19,2010

After a prolonged absence, I'm back. In the coming days, weeks and months I'll be here engaged in my favorite form of self therapy-writing. There's no theme. No focused subject material. Just whatever rolls off my brain. Is there a purpose? I wish I knew. All I know is it makes me happy.