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Monday, July 27, 2009

Impromptu Backyard Camp Out



We were eating dinner at a friend's house, sipping our wine and attacking a roast chicken (you roasted a chicken?! In this heat? * * * * Hey, this is yummy. Pass the salt?), our kids doing what they're supposed to be doing in the stifling heat: dabbling around in a kiddy pool. Then, as we were finishing off every stray roasted potato, braised bok choy leaf, and commenting on the sudden congregation of flies on the chicken carcass, we detected a slight spray of water on our backs. Soon it was the drumming sound of heavier drops on the table. Then a healthy gush overturned a wine glass. No doubt about it: the Great American Water Fight had begun. By the time the deluge was over, the backyard patio appeared to have been situated precisely beneath a cloudburst; the kitchen and dining room may as well have been pool decks on the busiest swimming day of the year. Skirts were soaked. Tank tops, ditto. Not a dry body part in the house. 

And no one was complaining because for once, Seattle was actually hot enough to not require residents to don a sweatshirt, fleece jacket, and a windbreaker 'round about 8 pm on a July or August eve.  As we mopped up the floors, we knew it was the one night of the year we could not possibly sleep inside our house (we don't have air conditioning; almost no one in Seattle has air conditioning. Why? Because most July and August nights we are trying to figure out how to stay warm, not cool). 

But yes, indeed! It was a night for camping out. So we raced home, set up the tent, dug out all the sleeping bags from storage (which no one would actually be sleeping in, but it seemed necessary and fitting), and began playing ghost tag (10 o'clock, 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock midnight: I hope I don't see a ghost tonight!), but pretty soon we were too exhausted to chase or be chased, and pretty soon we were demanding a story and Ruby was kicking Riley in the head, and Riley was punching Ruby in the back, while Alec was crying (why can't you two say you're sorry so we can get back to the story???). The story was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Jeezus, I had no idea what a shaggy dog tale it is, or how weird Ichabod Crane must seem to an 8-year old). But do I know any ghost stories to bust out during impromptu camp nights? No, I do not, because I never understood the render-me-scared-shitless-around-a-campfire thing. So they had to settle for Ichabod Crane. I had to skip over at least half of each page (details about how the town got its name, what his beloved was wearing, etc.), but I have to hand it to ol' Washington Irving for successfully putting all three of my charges into hard-snore stupors within ten minutes of opening the book. 

They're out in the tent, and I'm in here . . . trying to imagine what Louisianians think of us and our EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING, after just one or two days of 90-degree temps and a touch of moisture in the air. I mean, they must think we are about the biggest wimps around. I mean, I know it's a good idea to check on elderly neighbors, but what up with the "Precautionary/Preparedness Actions?  Since when is "dangerously hot" 95 degrees? Have any of these forecasters ever been to Tucson? And, excuse me, but are they calling this slight bit of moisture humidity? They must not have ever been to New Jersey in August. The only "dangerous situation" around here is anything coming between us and the Magnolia Community Pool. STAY OUT OF THE SUN AND IN AN AIR-CONDITIONED ROOM.  Surely this is some sort of joke.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

End to the Unprecedented, Unprofessional, and Very Un-100 Top Poetry Blogs-like Hiatus




It wasn't intended. Really, it wasn't. But what with the spotty wireless service, the nights camping in the shadow of a large volcano (Mount Shasta), at the base of a granite mountain (Mount Wheeler, Great Basin National Park) and along rivers (the Gunnison and the Green), it just couldn't be avoided. Then, once we got to a Motel 6 in Vernal, Utah, there were other more pressing concerns, such as firing up the coin-up washer and dryer in the hallway. 

I offer my sincere apologies, my great and mighty hordes of fans (approximately eight of you), but I am not sorry that I took five weeks off from moi petite petite petite station in the Blogoshere.  
While my vacance did include one  week of lying flat on my back and taking a nasty painkiller known as Tramadol (from one-to-many times obliging my daughter's plea to ride "on shoulders"), the other four weeks were full of the kind of scenic beauty one is too entranced with to even think about writing home (or blogging) about. But I will not bore you with details (who wants to hear about people's travels, anyway, right?); instead I will turn to the newest issue of The American Poetry Review, and a poem by Gary Snyder that summarizes well my odyssey from Seattle to Fayetteville, Arkansas by way of Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, & Oregon quite well:

Out West

There's all the time in the universe,

And plenty of wide open space

Lots of space, in fact. Worth preserving, for sure. But I return home feeling less anxious about the noxious spread of big-box stores into our great American wilderness. Less anxious, as I saw nothing but wide open space (sometimes for 500 miles at a time) but more fired up than ever to work to preserve the small farm/er and the right to grow food that can actually be eaten in its natural state (not as highly refined high fructose corn syrup or what's left after the oil's been dredged from a soybean). 

While we drove, sight-saw, visited friends and family, hiked, swam, caught fish and crawdads, botanized, birdwatched, picked and ate aspen boletes, counted marmots and turkey vultures, watched a coyote in the distance, yelled cantaloupes! each time we spotted a small herd of antelopes along the road, I was reading Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating  Locally, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It seemed the proper reading material as we did our best to do the same whenever we could, feasting on whatever local provisions we could get our hands on (elk meat in Telleride, orchard peaches near Montrose, crawdads in Steamboat Springs, and watercress in a lovely desert oasis on the Utah/CO border. 

I didn't have much time for any kind of writing at all, in fact (just a few notes jotted down every few days in my journal about where we were, what we were seeing/learning, and/or something one of my kids had to say about it all), but I did learn my unpublished manuscript is (for the third time) a finalist in a national contest (it's also been a semi-finalist twice). It's fine news to wake up to (especially when you're heading off to take a swim in an outdoor pool at the Best Western in Baker City, Oregon), but actually being chosen as the winner (a 1 in 32 chance) is about as bound to happen as convincing my daughter that a sherbet push-up is at least as tasty as a Haagen-Daz bar. 

But we are home now, and the blackberries are ripening, so that's what I will focus on. The lowly Himalyan blackberry, the one most folks don't deign to pick because its ubiquity renders it invisible. 

A cup of them will take you about 10 minutes to pick, cost you perhaps a bit of stain on your hands, a few prickly jabs. Eating what you've collected will set you back just 62 calories. In exchange, you'll take in 8 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 50% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C, along with trace amounts of magnesium, copper, manganese, folate, calcium, iron, Vitamin K, and potassium.  Eating them, you will find yourself wondering what it is about that which grows wildly and in abundance (add to this list dandelions) that we humans find so darn offensive.  

Last night my husband brought home a bucketful, and together we fashioned a cobbler you can find on his blog, Fat of the Land. This our repast after a dinner of grilled wild salmon and braised kale (the latter from our garden).

Winning a prestigious book prize? Okay, it would be nice. Feasting on our country's abundance both literally and figuratively? I would choose it any day over any modicum of publishing success. After all, I can always join the likes of Walt Whitman and publish the damn thing myself.