Thursday, July 28, 2005

Impressions from On The Road, part 1

I mentioned in a previous post that I would share some of my thoughts after I recently completed reading Jack Kerouac's classic novel, On The Road. This was not a book that I just put down after finishing it; it has lingered in my thoughts, the stories and images coming back, refining my own impressions to increasing clarity. Perhaps that is the true test of a classic work of art, be it a novel, symphony, or painting; it's not the initial experience of reading/seeing/hearing it, but the thought it inspires. This novel has certainly stayed with me more than anything I've read recently.

Kerouac's use of language is as vivid and rhythmic as anything; I am there, in the smoky jazz clubs of San Francisco, in the steamy bayou night of New Orleans, riding across the high plains of Nebraska in a flatbed truck. I am brought back to the cross country trips I have taken, to the excitement and mystery of the road. I am also taken to the depths of despair, at getting to the end of the continent, my destination, and still feeling empty somehow, beat, alone with myself.

The passage that had the most impact on me was this:
I took up a conversation with a gorgeous country girl...she was dull. She spoke of evenings in the country making popcorn on the porch. ONce this would have gladdened my heart but because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do. "And what else do you do for fun?" I tried to bring up boy friends and sex. Her great dark eyes surveyed me with emptiness and a kind of chagrin that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done--whatever it was, and everybody knows what it was. "What do you want out of life?" I wanted to take her and wring it out of her. She didn't have the slightest idea what she wanted..."What are we aching to do? What do we want?" She didn't know. She yawned. She was sleepy. It was too much. Nobody could tell. Nobody would ever tell. It was all over. She was eighteen, and most lovely, and lost.

I realized: That is my heritage! My whole family tree is full of people who know nothing, practice nothing but the idea of what one should do! I'm afraid there aren't even any interesting black sheep or skeletons in the closet! I grew up with this incredible naivety, not even knowing where to begin to ask questions, not knowing how to experience anything other than what one should do. I wrote poems, they were good ones, but they were only supposed to be good and happy and the way they ought to be; that bored me eventually but I did not know why, yet I did not know how to understand or appreciate poetry that strayed from these constraints. So I quit writing poetry.

Fortunately I must have had some kind of vision, to see beyond that protective shell. I am still shaking myself free from it. On The Road is helping me to crystallize the longings, the feelings of what I really want in life, and how depressing and constraining the modern, industrial-commercial model of the world is. We are beat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Pictures from the homestead

Gardening tip: For an easy garden that the birds will love, just don't mow or clean up under the bird feeder in the spring!

Our own "leaning birch", to borrow a name from one of my favorite blogs. I don't know why this little tree has issues with uprightness every time it rains; maybe its roots are in shallow soil over a big rock or something.

Status of the garden, 7/26. Some of the tomatoes are covered due to forecasts for temperatures in the 30's last night!

Russ working on the new house. He got the framework done for two sections of the back wall yesterday.

My 7 month old Siberian husky, Togo. I managed to get him to stop moving long enough for this photo.

A thump in the night

WARNING: Children should wear helmets when sleeping in the top bunk!

Vincent fell out of bed at about midnight last night. He's been sleeping in the top bunk for months, no problem, but I think he had too much stuff up there with him so he was sleeping too close to the edge. He ended up with an inch long gash just above one eyebrow, which he will probably get stitches in this morning. Russ wanted to drive him to the ER last night, to get stitches as soon as possible so there would be less of a scar, but I was a little hesitant to have him drive 25 miles, in the middle of the night and at bar closing time, for something that was not life threatening. I was awake for a couple of hours after that, rethinking the ramifications of my decision, but I was just going along with my instincts. Parenthood is never black and white, simple decisions. You just have to make a judgment call sometimes and hope it's the right one.

It was a cold one last night for late July: 39 degrees when I woke up!

UPDATE: Vincent is okay. He got four stitches, and it looks like the scar won't be too bad although there might be a little gap in his eyebrow. If that's the case he'll match me; I have a little scar in one eyebrow from when I was about his age. For being a good patient while getting stitches, he received some Twins baseball cards from the doctor: Kirby Puckett, Frank Viola, and Gary Gaetti--some of the heroes of 1987!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

near miss with a fawn

I had a close encounter with a deer on the way to work this morning. I was driving along Highway 23 just on the east side of the beautiful Kettle River. The road goes downhill and around a slight curve before crossing the river. As I approached the curve, suddenly I saw a fawn walk into the opposite lane. I hit the brakes carefully, then realized there was a pickup truck approaching in the lane the fawn was in. That fawn was in a tough situation, and most likely to run directly in front of me. I didn't have time to think whether or not I could avoid it. Suddenly, the fawn leaped across my lane, flying eye level with the drivers seat and just yards in front of the still-moving car! It cleared my lane, landing in the shoulder and disappearing under the guard rail. I wonder if the other driver was close enough to see the look on my face when that fawn was directly in front of me.

I had to pull over in the middle of the river bridge a moment to collect myself before continuing. It wasn't that I was consumed with the fear and shock of a near-miss, although the adrenaline was pumping. What I was thinking was "Absolutely awesome!" I mean, that fawn FLEW. I never knew a young deer could leap like that. It was a thing of beauty.

Of course, I am thankful that the fawn did not become road kill, the other driver and I were not hurt, and my vehicle didn't suffer a scratch.

fireweed Posted by Picasa

turk's cap lily Posted by Picasa

Four day weekend

It's been way too long since I've had the time to post here! Last week I was doing another fish population assessment on a lake an hour's drive away from the office, and it made for some long days. All I can say is, if you're not catching walleye, northern, largemouth bass, crappie, or bluegill on South Lindstrom Lake, you're not trying hard enough. They are there.

I took Friday and Monday off so I could spend some time with the family and Russ could get some quality house building time. He singlehandedly assembled the framework for the front wall, all 2 x 6 construction, in three separate sections. I think the house is 48 feet wide, and the front wall has a few openings for windows and a patio door, so it was a big job.

I had enough time to get things done in the garden; staking tomatoes, trellising cucumbers, and cleaning out and replanting my greens bed. I'm experimenting with succession planting this year, hoping to harvest fresh lettuce, kale, savoy cabbage, and spinach way into the fall. We harvested broccoli for dinner twice during the weekend; I've never grown such big, beautiful broccoli heads. I hope to have enough pickling cucumbers by the weekend to try making a batch of dill pickles. The whole garden is thriving, despite the dry July we've been having. Bees are buzzing everywhere, doing their job of pollinating and making me realize that this garden is part of a larger ecosystem, and in order for it to thrive I must think in terms of that system, not "what chemical can I apply to increase yield?"

Of course there was pond time. Vincent can now dog-paddle and backstroke his way across the deep parts, and Nina wears her life jacket so she can swim right along with him. Joe tried his life jacket yesterday but he thought the deep water was a bit too cold and was content staying where his feet could touch bottom. While the kids swam, I finally finished Kerouac's On The Road. To sum it up, it really spoke to me, got me thinking what it is we're looking for in life. More to come in a later post.

Friday, July 15, 2005

the pond Posted by Picasa

This is where I've been spending most of my evenings after work lately. We had this pond dug in 2003 to provide gravel for our driveway, which was a mess at the time. The front part of our property, towards the road, was at one time a gravel pit. You can still see some of the old banks and piles that were left from the gravel mining. I don't know why they stopped mining gravel here; maybe it wasn't high enough quality, or maybe since it is right at the edge of the gravel deposit, maybe there wasn't enough to be worthwhile digging. When we first bought the property, the area where the pond is was a low spot, too low for haying, and thick with willows.

The pond is maybe 10 or 12 feet at its deepest. We had the backhoe operator dig as deep as he could, with the idea of using the pond to raise fish. The depth allows groundwater to seep in and maintain the pond's level; in two years we have not yet had low water. It also provides water that is much cooler than the surface water, cool enough for trout. The pond has filled in somewhat with sand and silt but there are still parts that are over my head. The area where the kids swim is shallow enough for them, but it drops off steeply a few feet out.

The pond is home to numerous frogs, a few painted turtles, and some small fish, probably sticklebacks. How they got in there is unknown; after a heavy rain there is the possibility that something could swim up from Sand Creek through a shallow ditch and two culverts, but that seems unlikely. I hope to stock some trout in there some day, but it probably won't be this year. Ideally the pond should be dug a little deeper and bigger for trout, but I think the fish would survive as is.

The pond provides year round recreation; the kids spend hours splashing in the shallows, swimming or catching tadpoles during the summer. In the winter the pond is a perfect size skating rink. As you can see in the picture, it adds much aesthetic appeal to our land. But most of all, I enjoy lounging on the beach after a dip in the cool water, watching the reflections of clouds and white pines while sipping a beer. I have it all right here at home; I don't need to pack the kids in the car and drive to some overcrowded beach. This is heaven!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I haven't had much time to post the last couple of days. I've been out of the office working on a "fish population assessment", which means I've been netting fish on a lake and counting and measuring them. It's fun as far as work goes, although I come home covered with fish slime and algae. I've learned some interesting things, such as:

Freshwater drum (sheephead) actually make a grunting noise.

Channel catfish "talk" too.

Yellow perch have more pointy, spiky body parts than any other fish, but nothing hurts like getting spiked by a small bullhead.

Northern pike produce more slime than any other species.

Leftover grilled salmon is not the best lunch choice when you've been handling dead fish all morning.

Damselflies were out in full force, gathering in still areas where the pondweed grew to the surface. A loon silently approached within thirty feet of our boat. A solitary tern, maybe a Common or Forster's, perched on one of our net buoys. The lake was fairly quiet, although a few people were out on jet skis and pontoon boats. All in all, not a bad way to spend the work day.

Monday, July 11, 2005

hot and hotter

It was a hot weekend with the high dewpoints that make it oh so comfortable. I got sweaty just watering the garden and mulching potatoes; I quit mulching after two potato beds on Sunday. My body just doesn't take heat well. Despite all the sweating I still feel bloated; I even had to take off my wedding ring because my fingers are so swollen.

Despite the heat, Russ finished insulating and installing the plywood floor of the new house. That was a big accomplishment, and to celebrate we loaded up the van and headed to Park Point Beach in Duluth Sunday afternoon. About half the population of Duluth and a million tourists had the same idea, but we got there late enough that the crowd was beginning to dwindle. Nina the Mermaid spent nearly the entire time swimming in the waters of Lake Superior, which seemed warmer than normal. Russ and I lounged on the beach watching the kids and watching people. I decided I must be the only woman under forty that doesn't have a tattoo right above my butt.

The as-yet-nameless kitten has decided already who's the boss of the house. It likes to climb up on the bed at 3 am and walk all over everyone, purring loudly and cuddling. Nothing like a furry neck warmer on a hot night.

I finally picked up some pictures that I took last winter, so I'll be posting a photo once in a while. These were taken on Ektachrome Pro slide film, and I'm impressed with the color and resolution, but I'm still anxious to go digital. Having film developed is an expense and a hassle these days.

the other side of the year (yes, that thermometer was correct!) Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Amphibian encounter in the night, and a new kitten

As I drove up the driveway last night, Joe was out front waiting and he came up running to meet me. "Mommy! We found a cute little kitten! Come and see it!" Uh-oh. We have an abundance of cats in and around the house, we don't particularly need another, no matter how cute it is.

That is, unless it has some Siamese features. I'm a softie for Siamese cats, ever since I got my first cat, Mittens, at age 4. Then there was Lilith, and Lucy. I know there are some Siamese type genes flowing around in the way-too-active feline gene pool here; there is one outdoor cat named Snowy who has blue eyes, grayish points, and white fur. She is even a bit cross eyed. Well, the Siamese genes have struck again, and here's Mom gushing the loudest about how cute the little fluffball is. It has long cream colored silky fur, with darker gray ears, nose, paws, and tail, and paws and tail are tipped with white. Blue eyes, of course.

The poor little thing was hungry. It ate constantly for about a half hour after we brought it inside. I don't have a good track record thus far of sexing young kittens, hence Alexandria became Alexander (alias Whiter Biter) but I think this one's a male. Which is good, since it costs about half as much to neuter a male as it does to spay a female, and this kitty's going to be my new house kitty.

There was so much excitement over the kitten that the kids "forgot" to tell me about any other critters they had found during the day, or what became of them. I had to get up to pee at about 1 am, and as I put my hand on the railing at the foot of the bed I felt something small, cool, and moist. My startled recoil prevented me from squishing it. "What the hell!?"
"What is it, honey?"
"I don't know...there's something here...Agggh! I think it's a frog!" I felt something hit my arm as it leaped. "Turn on the light!" I don't like sharing my sleeping space with leaping, crawling, or flying critters.
"Where is it?"
"Over here...I felt it...awww, you probably think I'm going crazy."
"No, I forgot to tell you, Vincent had a tree frog in here today. It's name is Froggy. It got loose."

We found Froggy and set him free outside. As I settled back into bed, Joe mumbled, half asleep:
"Where's Froggy?"
"I took him outside."
"We have to find Froggy. I miss him."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

the new chicken tractor. If you look in the upper left corner, you can see my husband pulling a tarp off the floor of the house we are building. Posted by Picasa

evening in the garden Posted by Picasa

homesteading stuff

I spent the entire weekend at home, doing homesteading type things. Saturday I started doing laundry early in the morning so I could take advantage of the sunny, breezy conditions for drying. I did about three loads in the wringer washer, which is working fine now, and I'm starting to work out a system: heat up a pot of water on the propane burner, pour it in, add a small amount of detergent and whites/light colors, fill with more water. Agitate for a few minutes, run clothes through wringer into first rinse tub. Put second load of clothes into wash water, agitate, during which time I run first load through wringer into second rinse tub, which contains about half a cup of white vinegar in the water. Then, run second load of clothes through wringer into first rinse tub, add third load into wash water (which by now is looking pretty dirty, but amazingly still gets clothes clean), wring first load and place in basket for hanging up. Et cetera, et cetera. I was pretty satisfied with the results; the vinegar really does work as a fabric softener. Baking soda in the wash will help neutralize odors (I did have some stinky stuff in there! ) A drop or two of lavender essential oil in the rinse water adds a nice fragrance. When I use up the current supply of Tide (which will last a long time using this method), I am going to explore more environmentally-friendly or homemade detergents.

Russ spent a day and a half building a chicken tractor for the meat chickens. If you're not familiar with the concept, it's basically an open-bottomed, enclosed, movable pen for chickens. The chickens scratch and work the soil, eating grains and insects, and the pen can be moved to a new spot every few days, leaving a richly fertilized bed behind for next year's garden. Permaculture in action. On Sunday we set it up in the garden area and moved the chicks to their new home. At nearly four weeks old, these are hardly cute fluffy Easter chicks; picture 1-2 pound, scantily feathered reptilian looking birds with grossly oversized breasts and rumps. They know how to do one thing: eat. When it's feeding time, it looks like the scene from Chicken Run: "Chicken feed, my favorite!"

We loaded them from the chicken coop into a portable dog kennel, and transported the kennel in the trailer of the garden tractor, which my 8 year old son drove quite skillfully. Then we unloaded the confused birds into their new home. I had the job of reaching into the kennel and pulling out the chicks, one by one. The bottom of the kennel was slightly wet to begin with, and a few of the chicks had defecated along the way, so the birds were slimy and stinky and they all crouched towards the rear of the kennel, which was big enough I had to actually put my head inside to reach all the way in. I held my breath each time.

I didn't do too much intensive work in the garden, but I did weed and fertilize the tomatoes with my Stinking Nettle Tea, which made the beds smell like a freshly manured field. Quite an olfactory assault of a weekend here! The tomato transplants are producing flowers. The first potatoes I planted are starting to flower, and need to be mulched. One of the Diva cucumbers flowered yesterday for the first time.

Sunday night we had a bonfire and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. I didn't think it was anything special, but all of the kids kept telling me on Monday: "Mom, that bonfire was so fun! It was so SPECIAL! Can we have another one?" Ahhh, the simple pleasures.

Friday, July 01, 2005

at work

Well, I ended up having to go to work today after all. Our state legislature and governor finally agreed on funding for part of the state government, including the part that I work for. They have a four month session to get the job done, but in the end it comes down to partisan negotiations, trading cuts in health coverage for the working poor for no tax increases for the wealthy, and sneaking in all kinds of questionable line items that no one has time to debate about. Business as usual.

Okay, return to Sand Creek Almanac. I try to keep politics out of this journal as much as possible, because there are many more uplifting, less boring things to write about.

My washer is fixed and ready to go, thanks to Lehman's who still carries parts for old washers. I had a good talk with Grandma the other night when she called. I asked her what her method was for washing and rinsing, and I could tell she always preferred the wringer washer and line drying clothes over any other method. We even got into a little discussion about herbal medicine. She had seen a book on using herbs, and she thought that sounded much better and healthier than modern drugs. I agreed and told her what I've learned lately about dandelions and stinging nettles. It was so nice talking with her because most of my other relatives tend to have an unfaltering belief in science and if I told them I've been drying nettles for tea they would think I've finally gone off the New Age hippie edge.

The particular gourmet four-leggeds got into my garden last night, dining on red lettuce, spinach (which I was planning to pull and reseed anyway), and broccoli. From the way they eat the tops of the plants, I would say it was deer. It's probably foolish and naive to have a garden around here and not think the deer will get to it eventually, even though they have plenty of other stuff to eat this time of year.

On the way to work and daycare this morning, the kids and I had a good discussion. Vincent was asking me about rivers: the Kettle River that we cross every day, and the Mississippi, into which the Kettle, and Sand Creek, eventually flow via the St. Croix. He asked if any rivers in Minnesota were connected to the Missouri River. I had to think a minute, but yes, there are a few in the extreme southwest corner of the state that are part of the Missouri watershed. Then out of nowhere the thought came to me:

All waters are connected. We may live at the headwaters, near the divide, but eventually all the waters come together.

That will give me something to think about for a while.