Monday, April 30, 2012


Seven years ago this month, I starting this old rag (that's what they used to call newspapers, except that blogs are the new newspapers). My third post, on May 6, 2005, was about the beating that our national forests were taking under the Bush administration's attempts to revert to the olden days of natural resource management. I'm delighted to see that our country's natural resources are faring at least a little better under Obama's watch, although perhaps these days the problem is more about what we're not doing.

But maybe we're just getting more creative about it. On Saturday, I went to an Unplug and Explore the Outdoors event at the Idaho Shakespeare Theater. It was a family-friendly activity intended to encourage everyone to appreciate the outdoors. Lots of kids were there, learning about bees and birdwatching and kayaking and growing your own food. The Peregrine Fund brought an American kestrel, a short-eared owl, and a Swainson's hawk for display. I've never been that close to a live owl before, and it was delightful. I have a soft spot in my heart for owls, not sure why. I also saw a pair of American coots in the river, a bunch of red-winged blackbirds, and (I believe) a pair of yellow-rumped warblers.  

Anyway, the best part of the event was the presentations by a bunch of local high schoolers who had worked with designers from the American Society for Landscape Architects to develop ideas for the new educational trail in the Barber Pool Conservation Area, located near the theater in southeast Boise. Their designs reflected all of the values that natural areas encompass - conservation, responsible land and natural resource use, aesthetics, recreation, education, and equal access for all. We're certainly failing our planet in many ways, but at least we're thinking outside the box about how to communicate the importance of nature to the next generation in ways that help them understand that we can incorporate nature into our daily lives. Going out into the wilderness is certainly special, and kids should experience that too, but bringing it closer to home, giving nature a regular presence, and making it seem less wild can be an important door-opener for more people. Designing a trail for the masses is a neat way to get kids thinking about why we should both protect these areas and share them with others at the same time.
On the subject of the blogiversary, I'm feeling the seven-year itch. I started this site to engage others in discussions about current events and other random interests and concerns. Over time, it has morphed into something that isn't actually interactive and is now more about personal expression. As if anyone out there is at all interested in what I have to say, but then again, it's what we all do these days. (I'll be honest: I turned off the comments long ago because the only one who ever commented was my mother. And the spammers.) This has also been my experiment in letting people in, allowing them to see the deeper parts of me that lie beneath the curls. It's something I've struggled with for so long, so thank you for indulging me. All along, this blog has been about bringing into my life the things I felt were lacking. But I yearn to write something more meaningful, to craft pieces that really do say something, now that I'm in touch with my world and with myself. I'll never be a journalist (too timid for investigation), nor a current events blogger (everyone else has already said everything there is to say), nor a novelist (not creative), but I'm toying with the idea of essays. Perhaps that's kind of what I do here already, but most of what lies on this screen isn't...good. It's sufficient for communicating to my friends what's going on in my life and my mind, because we don't actually stay in touch by phone or email anymore. We read each others' blogs and social media feeds and feel sufficiently informed about each other. But I want to write more, with prose and insight, and bigger words. Something that someone might deem publishable someday. So please bear with me as I play with some ideas out here, make some rough sketches or piece together some digital scribbles. After all, "essay" means "try" or "attempt". Allons-y.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A foodie post

Some random food-related thoughts of late:
1. Making something savory? When in doubt, add some fresh lemon thyme. It will rock your world, I promise. No need to use a lot - a couple of sprigs goes a long way because the flavor is very distinct.
2. My turkey meatloaf kind of rocks. I make it differently every time, without a recipe, and it always comes out moist and flavorful. It never gets old. I usually use a mix of 1 lb ground turkey and 1 lb ground chicken, plus an egg, some whole wheat bread crumbs, yellow mustard, sauteed vegetables, other random wet ingredients (ketchup/BBQ sauce/salsa/canned tomatoes/milk/whatever might taste good), and a mix of dried and fresh herbs. Last time, I added some lemon thyme and it rocked my world. See? Told ya.
3. Last time I made meatloaf, I also made this mushroom kale noodle kugel as a side dish, in my one nod to Passover. Guess what I added. Yeah. It was perfect.
4. Now that the weather is warmer, I take all my meals out on the porch. It makes everything taste even better. Just wait until I invest in a grill - then, there will be no reason to go inside, ever.
5. Although my new favorite beer type is the black lager (aka Schwarzbier - try the Kostritzer), I'm totally digging the Widmer W'12 Dark Saison. Fruity and floral like a farmhouse ale but balanced by some maltiness.
6. Flavored bread, olive tapenade, canned sardines in mustard or tomato sauce, and an orange make an excellent hot-weather meal.
7. Fresh lilacs from the backyard brighten up any table.

Monday, April 23, 2012

We, Earth

My ode to the Earth is a day late, but I have a good excuse. I was appreciating the Earth with a hike in the foothills and up to Table Rock, then down through my neighborhood, which is aglitter with flowers and foliage. It was hot though, 91 degrees, a record for the day and for the earliest 90-degree day in the year. An appropriate milestone to remind us of both the fickleness of the weather systems that have shaped our planet, as well as the impacts we have on the planet by slowly altering those systems over time. Just as we should show each other love every day, not just on Valentine's Day, we should also show our planet love every day, not just on Earth Day. And it deserves a lot of love. I am often in disbelief that such beautiful places exist at all, and I feel so fortunate to be experiencing them. When it comes to the existence of a Higher Being, I am agnostic, meaning undecided, because not being sure about how this all came to be adds an extra level of magic, makes it even more special. Because how can our feeble brains possibly conceive of the full force of energy that made any of these miracles possible?

I feel at a loss of words for how to describe the deep blue of the sky, the soaring clouds riding atop the stratosphere, the daintiest of wild flowers, the trill of birds communicating across the air waves, in a way that fully captures the grandeur and immensity of it all existing in one place at the same time, not just parts but a swirling whole. How does one explain the feeling of being at once a part of the land, like a tree anchored in roots, stretching up to the heavens? Of living not upon the earth's skin but instead wearing it beneath our skin? We should honor the earth not just because we rely on it for our subsistence, but because of all the possible combinations of molecules and elements, billions of years ago the right combination occurred enough times to bring forth life unto this orb hurling through space. Somehow this mass of rock and gas went from the utter absence of life to the mind-blowing abundance of life we know of today, which is only a fraction of the abundance we know was once found in every corner of the globe. With all of the high-powered equipment we can muster, we have scanned the universe for other examples of such potent swirling masses and have come up empty. We are it, and look what we have done. Both good and bad have come from these collective hands, the hands that are so unlikely to exist in the first place. This connection to Earth that we all have, that we should all feel, isn't just about appreciating the clouds and the trees and the birds. It's about recognizing the ancient innate knowledge of a place we may never actually see, where we are the clouds and the trees and the birds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cow country

This is sheep and cow country, out in the Owyhees in southwestern Idaho. This area was seeded with bunchgrasses following a fire ten years ago, and ideally, eventually sagebrush will fill in the spaces. The rainforests of Washington and Oregon may be primitive and primordial and unreal, but the soaring clouds and wide-open skies out here make you feel alive.


Last weekend, I skedaddled out of town up I-84 a ways to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area along the Oregon/Washington border. It had been a few months since I'd been out of town and I needed a change of scenery, and even though spring is really coming on strong here in Boise, I needed that scenery to be thoroughly lush and green. I just couldn't imagine spending another weekend at home pulling weeds and running mundane errands. A friend had mentioned a visit to Skamania Lodge and the beauty of the surrounding area, which sounded like the perfect kind of long-weekend getaway. Except that Skamania Lodge is a little pricey for my tight budget, and not the kind of vacation I was looking for anyway, and during the planning stage of the trip, I came across the Cascade Locks Portland E KOA right across the river, and just down the road from the Bridge of the Gods. Kamping kabin + majestic bridge = exactly what I was looking for.
Home away from home
Bridge of the Gods, looking west along the Columbia River from Cascade Locks, Oregon
My mom and I had stayed in kamping kabins (hey, it's the KOA's spelling, not mine) in North Carolina and Virginia, and although there's nothing like waking up in a tent in the middle of nowhere, these kabins provide an adequate camping experience when you need something a little more civilized. It's still just a little too cool at night for me to tent-camp, and as a young female traveling alone, I appreciate the security of being able to lock a door at night. The basic kabins have bunkbeds on one side and a queen-size bed on the other side (think summer camp) with a small built-in table and chair, ceiling lights and fan, and two electrical outlets. This one had a small space heater as well. There's a fire pit and picnic table outside each kabin, so you can still feel like you're actually living outdoors. There's a central bathroom facility with showers, a sink to wash dishes, a soda machine, and a laundry facility - now with wi-fi. Don't worry, I did not avail myself of the wi-fi, soda machine, or laundry room. I unplugged, as instructed.

On my way out west on Friday, just after coming down off the Blue Mountains, I stopped in at the Prodigal Son Brewery in Pendleton, Oregon, for a tasty lunch and wandered around town a bit. The downtown seems lovely - a hopping main street, a river walk, even a tattoo parlor.

Pendleton is home to a huge rodeo in the fall, which explains why this town seems so hopping when other towns along this stretch of I-84 seem smaller and quieter. An hour or so later, the road slinks up close to the Columbia River, where gently sloping banks feature whirring wind turbines. Another hour later, I was at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Wasco County Historical Museum, which explains the natural history of the gorge and how it was formed, features artifacts from the Native American tribes who have lived along the Columbia River for thousands of years, and takes visitors back in time to the early settlements along the river where people fished, panned for gold and shipped goods up and down the banks via boat and railroad.

This is where the scenery really gets good. I expected sheer cliffs along the river, with bare weathered rock in all directions. Instead, the cliffs reminded me of an Andes mint - chocolate brown rock dusted with the early shoots of bright green grasses and other plants. And it only got greener as I approached my destination. I've seen plenty of photos and movies that feature this part of the world, but they really don't do it justice. The dramatic skies, the twists and turns of the river through the gorge, the waterfalls that can be seen right from the highway, Mount Hood looming overhead. It was definitely a change in scenery from the brownness of the bunchgrasses and sagebrush in the areas just outside Boise.

After checking in at the KOA, I paid my dollar toll to cross the Bridge of the Gods and pulled into downtown Stevenson, Washington, where I dined at the Walking Man Brewery. As I sat on the porch and sipped my beer in the cool, damp air, a man standing in the lot next door began playing the bagpipes. Ah, vacation.
Random sculpture in Stevenson
Saturday, I again crossed the Bridge of the Gods and hit the Hamilton Mountain trail, an 8-mile loop past some gushing waterfalls, to the summit overlooking Bonneville Dam, across a saddle, and down an old fire road. Clouds hung low in the sky and obscured the view of the area, and the damp wind gusted heartily, so I didn't linger long at the summit. 

Of course, it had cleared up by the time I made it back down the mountain, but by then lots of people were on the trail, and I was thankful for the relative solitude on the mountain. I had planned to do two hikes that day, at the suggestion of a coworker who knows the area well, but the first hike wore me out so much that instead I stumbled back into Stevenson for tea and a homemade cinnamon roll, then forced myself to stay awake by wandering along the locks back on the Oregon side. Following an overpriced dinner in Troutdale 20 miles west (I should have eaten at Skamania Lodge!), I built a campfire back at home base and sipped hot cocoa while reading by the light of the headlamp. I had been enjoying the solitude of my trip, not having to really talk to anyone, taking my time and doing whatever I pleased, but the weariness of the long hike got to me, and a touch of loneliness set in. I vowed to hit the road early in the morning and spend some quality time at Home Sweet Home, having done enough to fulfill my wanderlust for the moment. But I awoke refreshed on Sunday morning and decided instead to drive back east and stop at the Rowena Crest trailhead for a shorter, less strenuous hike. 

It was a good decision. I was hoping to hike the Tom McCall trail up to another peak, hoping to catch a glimpse of the other nearby peaks in the clear morning air, but the trail is closed until May 1st to prevent erosion on the wet trails. Instead, I wandered around the Rowena Plateau, marveling at the tender wildflowers popping up all over, the swallows darting along the cliffs, the turkey vultures and other raptors soaring the rising thermals, and the mint-chocolate greenness of the gorge itself. 
The hike was restorative, and after seeing both rainforest and mountain plateau, I felt that I had sampled a sufficient variety of scenery for such a short trip. This is the third vacation I've taken alone, and the first one in which I've had to feed and entertain myself for more than 24 hours. I liked living in my little cabin, building a fire first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. It felt like I was surviving, taking care of myself without any real chance of not surviving. The modern-day vision quest, just far enough away from civilization to feel the escape, but close enough to feel safe and not alone. Next time, there will be more waterfalls, more peaks, more campfire cooking, and more traveling companions. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Gardening update

The vegetable plants have been in the ground for two weeks now, and although it appears that someone had a bit of a snack on the bell pepper leaves, they're all still alive. The sugar snap peas are struggling though - I suspect that it's still a little too cool for them - and the rest of the plants, while still alive, don't appear to be growing yet. So, perhaps I was a little hasty in planting them outside, but all is not lost yet. The weather will be decidedly spring-like for the next few days, sunny and into the 70s, so maybe that will help. I bought a packet of wildflower seeds, which I'll sprinkle in the questionable area on the side of the house once it warms up a little more, just to see what blooms. I'm slowly making a dent in the dandelion population in the yard, starting with the ones currently blooming and getting as many others in sight as I can handle before my hand turns into a claw from gripping the weeding tool. There's something so satisfying and cathartic about digging the metal fork into the soil next to the weed, angling the handle back, and popping the plant up. Some of the root still remains, which means the weed will likely be back eventually, but at least if I get it before it blooms, it doesn't spread more seeds. The yard is a funny patchwork of dry grass, newly green grass, and tall, lush grass. It's not worth mowing the whole thing, and the idea of bringing in a couple of goats for a weekend seems amusing. Unfortunately because goats are not terribly discriminating eaters, that would likely be the end of the garden as well...The other sugar snap peas and the herbs in my window seem happy, but it's been so dry that I've had to water every day, inside and outside. I spread some pine needles around all but the broccoli outside (maybe they need it too) and that has helped keep the soil damp and the critters away.

Speaking of critters, I'm trying a new tack with the squirrels that have been raiding my bird feeder. I was going to try to keep them out, but when that seemed like a futile effort, and when I learned that one of the squirrels is a mama (or a mama-to-be), with six or eight swollen nipples, I figured it was time to welcome them into the family. The house finches seem to prefer the house-shaped feeder - they sit in the tray, rather than perching on the edge - so I filled that one with regular bird seed. The feeder that is advertised as squirrel-proof has, ironically, become the squirrel feeder. I filled it with sunflower seeds, and they climb up, grasp the bars toward the top with their hind feet, hang upside down and pull seeds out with their paws and eat them. I worry whether the mama squirrel should be attempting such acrobatics in her condition, but perhaps she knows best. In any case, I hope that the everyone will be satisfied with this set-up and the deck will once again be peaceful. The cat seems curious about the squirrels but doesn't seem motivated enough to go after them. Not that she could catch them, and since they're not much smaller than her, she must recognize that's a battle not worth fighting.

And speaking of the cat, last weekend some pine sap got stuck and hardened in the fur between the toe pads of her back left foot. She offered some very hateful words in my face while I tried to pick some of it out. I tried peanut butter, then vegetable oil, both of which mostly just made a mess. Then I tried soap and warm water, which softened the sap enough to pull some of it off. In the end, I just left it alone, and she's been pulling it off on her own. Unfortunately the fur comes with it, so her poor little paw looks naked between her toes. She's not limping though and still insists on playing outside during the day, so it looks like she'll be fine.

As spring moves in, the wildlife population seems to have shifted in the neighborhood. Mourning doves often pick at the seeds on the deck, more robins are nesting in the trees, and yesterday I heard some kind of raptor's screech echoing among the houses and the hills. The dark-eyed juncos, which winter in the lower 48 states, have all left for the cooler summer in Canada and Alaska. A coyote (?) was spotted crossing the road late one night, and a great blue heron has been hanging out in the little pond at the end of my street. I suspect that a pair of mallards has made a nest in the yard of a house across the street from the pond, because they often waddle across the road between the pond and the house. Must keep an eye out for ducklings.

This is the first time in my life that I've really noticed how nature changes with the seasons. I grew up in the suburbs but never paid much attention, and in bigger cities, the animals that live there mostly stay year-round. As mentioned in a previous post, in other places, the seasons change more abruptly, especially spring, and my allergies back east keep me indoors until summer is really upon us. Here, so far, there have been no allergic reactions, and it's nice to feel more connected to the natural world around me.