Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yes We Can

Ah, August.

Today: Five quarts of vegetable beef soup, pressure canned ( a first!); four quarts of ratatouille, frozen; a full tray of 'Juliet' tomatoes dried down to about a quart. Yesterday: Seven quarts of salsa canned (plus a quart or two in the fridge), comprising two varieties of sweet bell peppers, three or four varieties of hot peppers—about half torch-blistered for that fabulous smoky flavor—tomatillos, tomatoes and onions, all from our garden. Even the coriander, toasted in a dry skillet and crushed in the mortar and pestle, came from a previous year's garden.

And man, is it good salsa! Flavorful and pungent, with enough heat to earn respect without being intimidating; I can't wait to see how this tastes in the dead of winter. And in a reversion to our old style, we cut up the tomatoes, onions and sweet peppers by hand (a process that in itself took several hours) so the salsa is chunky with recognizable bits in it, unlike the faster but somehow less satisfactory food-processor version.

By now, the freezer is filling up, and we are beginning to run out of canning jars. We're trying new things this year (drying, pressure canning) in order to balance our time with the bounty we have worked so hard to obtain. It's been quite a summer so far, and by the looks of things, it promises to be a plentiful fall as well. (That's a bit ironic; we just figured out yesterday that according to the extension service, our growing season out here is a full two months shorter than it was where we used to live. That's mind-boggling to realize in our fourth growing season.)

Keeping fingers crossed...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Small Sorrows

Sid is dead.

She was put to sleep just two days ago. A week before she had graced our grand party with her bright joyfulness, incessant exuberance and those comical eyebrows that framed her sweet smile. But just a few days later, she began faltering and became ill, and by the weekend a diagnosis of acute kidney failure—brought on by asymptomatic Lyme disease—told us there was no realistic hope for her.

Phil and Claire shared a last walk with her in the sunshine, some final simple courtesies, then in the close company of those who had loved her for far too short a time, morphine freed her from her suffering.

They brought her to us straightaway, and together they picked a spot to bury her within the fenced backyard, close by the flowers and gardens and shady wood. The hard dry earth defied our efforts; recalcitrant stone bit back at our blows. But in the end they yielded, and together, the four of us carved out a hole from the hilltop just the right size to embrace a small fine dog.

Phil placed Sid to rest, with her collar and leash gently arrayed on her. We brought the other members of the pack to see her one last time; Carrie nuzzled her for a moment while Schroeder watched from a small remove. Then we filled in the hole, and upon her grave we planted an apple tree—a Northern Spy. The stones wrenched from the ground together make a neat boundary for this site. We will think of Sid often—when the tree blossoms, when the apples ripen, when its leaves blow away.

There is a subtle and irreversible change in your relationship with a spot on the earth when you turn something you have loved into its embrace. It is a marker of significance, of lasting meaning, of profound attachment—a stake, a line drawn saying "this place means something."

The last few years have been difficult, and have slowly worn away at my ability to feel. But the small sorrows have a way of finding the cracks, of wending their way inside...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crossing A Line

I crossed a line last night. For the first time since we moved here, I deliberately killed a vertebrate—a black snake.

The suddenness and ease with which I chose to kill the snake came as a bit of a surprise to me. I am especially reluctant to kill snakes, because I have long believed they are worthy of keeping around for their beneficial attributes, because they are beautiful and elegant, and as a personal counterpoint to the blind, thoughtless ease with which so many people kill snakes without regard.

We found this particular black snake in the henhouse at twilight, jaws distended around an egg, as Mary was closing the chickens in for the night. Without thinking, I grabbed his thick mid-section, and he disgorged the egg whole, writhing as best he could in an effort to reach me and regain control of the situation.

Twice recently we have found black snakes in the henhouse; twice I have carefully put them in a cloth sack and driven them to the far end of the property to release them unscathed. I have no idea how many individual snakes were involved in these appearances, if they were related to the earlier wren depredations, or if this was all the mischief wrought by one determined individual.

Perhaps due to the added presence of a dozen new chicks nearby, or my awareness of the ongoing perturbation to our egg-producing enterprise made by the arrival of the previous snake, or knowing the inherent conflict of raising captive animals for food with the natural order of the wild, I understood the instant I grabbed this snake it was not going for a ride. I was going to dispassionately kill it immediately without hesitation, remorse, discussion or opportunity for appeal.

And in a single moment, I dispatched it. Barehanded. I felt an instant of regret. No, not regret—remorse. Everything I felt and admired about snakes was still present in the limp lifeless form of this particular snake, who I returned into the deep woods to feed what comes next. But in this particular case, I walked up to the line, paused, and stepped across it because that's what I had to do.

End of story.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why I hate motorcycles right about now

This does not concern motorcycles with a capital ‘M,’ but specifically the two-and-a-half lower-case motorcycles of which I am currently the curator/custodian/occasional rider.

About four months ago, I was adjusting the left-side rear view mirror en route when it decided to part ways with its stem and come off in my hand; I was able to secure it by jamming it in a jacket pocket until I reached my destination, and later reattached it with gobs of epoxy and a significant amount of electrical tape. Eventually I discovered the tape was the only thing keeping it on; a hard little lump of epoxy was rattling around inside the housing, just goin' along for the ride.

This was about the same time as the last really cold morning of spring, when I discovered that the switch for my electric jacket had failed, about 5 miles into very chilly 25-mile ride.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed the tiny little drip beneath the front end, and discovered a failed fork seal. On a telelever suspension—IIRC—one fork legs provides compression damping and the other provides rebound damping, and I don’t know off the top of my head which leg had failed, so all I know for sure is that half of the intended functionality of Beast’s front suspension is now compromised. And dirty, because of the grime that has built up on the film of fork oil.

Then this weekend, apropos of nothing, tired and slightly tipsy, I decided to move Beast onto her centerstand so I could perch on her and watch a demonstration of sabrage. For the first time in dozens, maybe hundreds of attempts to put Beast on her stand, the downhill centerstand leg punched through the floor covering into a hollow.

Beast slowly rolled over to starboard as I desperately clung to her, trying unsuccessfully to slow her descent. As she went, she took the Rockster with her; earlier that same day I had mentally noted the precarious list the Rockster had assumed, the result of a slowly deflating rear tire—but of course, trusted fate and did nothing about it at the time.

Like a proverbial domino, the Rockster went over to the right and smashed its right mirror on the workbench. Now with some assistance from the alarmed on-lookers, I righted Beast—and ripped her right hand mirror clean off, mimicking the exact same failure point of the left-hand mirror.

Furthermore, Beast settled down hard on the front right corner of the hard case, right where the plastic is already weakened and stressed from the hinge mounting points; the ABS cracked in several places, including through the hinge points.

Final score: 2 bikes, 1 working mirror, 1 busted hardcase, 1 leaking tire, 1 sheared-off reflector, Dennis 0.

Replacement cost for Beast’s mirrors? About $150 a pop, give or take. For the Rockster? About $50. Saddlebag repairs? Unknown, but probably a couple of hours of fix-it time, solvent welding the damage with acetone and melted Legos. Plugging the tire? Not a big deal. Odds are I will replace the mirrors with generic aftermarket mirrors, which according to some of the forums, will attach nicely using the existing boltholes in Beast’s fairing, cost a fraction of OEM replacements and are available pretty much anywhere.

But all this annoyingly uncalled-for stuff detracts from the simple pleasure of riding, and is money and time spent not advancing or preserving the beauty, utility or functionality of the bikes; it’s all just effort wasted to stay in the same place.

Right now, we've already had over a month of oppressively hot weather. It’s not the least bit conducive to riding the almost 50 miles to and from work. I haven’t tried on the new riding gear I got many weeks ago; I have not looked through the new scratch-free visor I installed on my helmet around the same time, and generally speaking, I’m just not feeling the love.

I know that for the next while, every time I walk out to the shed, I’m just gonna see the shattered mirror, and the empty mirror stalks, and the cracked hardcase, and the leaking fork seal, and I’m gonna remember not that long ago when Beast was new and bright and clean and shiny and crisp, and it’s gonna make me sad and just a little bit angry at myself. Both bikes stand in silent mockery—a pantomime of my own slow aging and creeping decrepitude.

Let’s hope the weather breaks soon.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

New-found Respect for Van Halen:

This is one of the funniest things I have read in a while. It gives me a new-found respect for Van Halen et al, because of its simplicity and elegance, and because I love this kind of thinking. Van Halen's notorious “Brown M&M” contract rider came about because (quoting David Lee Roth’s biography):

“…Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets…nine eighteen-wheeler trucks…where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors—girders couldn't support the weight, the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren't big enough…The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages…"

"So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say ‘Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…’ This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: ‘There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.’ "

“So…if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl… well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract…Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show…literally, life-threatening.”

“The folks in Pueblo, Colorado…took the contract rather kinda casual. They had one of these new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena. They hadn't read the contract, and weren't sure, really, about the weight of this production…I came backstage. I found some brown M&M's…and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars' worth of fun.”

“The staging sank through their floor. They didn't bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars' worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M's and did eighty-five thousand dollars' worth of damage to the backstage area. Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?”

From Snopes,com, by way of Boingboing

For the discouraged jobseekers:

If you are a discouraged jobseeker and have a spare hour or two, I would suggest you find a quiet comfortable place and listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Brandenburg Concertos:"

Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046*

Menuet-Trio I-Menuet da capo-Polacca-Menuet da capo-Trio II-Menuet da capo

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047
Allegro assai

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051
Adagio ma non troppo

Bach is believed to have composed these while Kapellmeister at Köthen in the first decades of the eighteenth century. They are considered the pinnacle of baroque music, and are among the most famous and popular pieces in the classical canon.
Bach, in his mid-thirties at the time, used these as his resume and application for the position of court composer to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.
The following dedication served as his ‘cover letter:’
“As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness,
at Your Highness's commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some
pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in
taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the
command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in
accordance with Your Highness's most gracious orders taken the liberty of
rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos,
which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly
not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and
sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather
to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble
obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.”

Then consider the following:

· Bach did not get the position.
· The Margrave never thanked Bach for the concerti nor acknowledged them.
· The scores were stored in a closet unplayed for decades.

…That kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

*BWV indicates the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue) number, a standard nomenclature developed in 1950 by Wolfgang Schmieder for the compositions of J.S. Bach