Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No more "...nice bright colors..."

No more greens of summer. Kodak has announced it is discontinuing Kodachrome.

Right now, there is one laboratory in the world that still processes Kodachrome film, "Dwayne's Photo" in Parsons, Kansas.

This makes me sad for a couple of reasons.

First, a year or so ago I shot half a dozen rolls of analog film for the first time in ages, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of taking real pictures, especially just watching the world go by through a long lens for minutes on end. There is a huge qualitative difference to analog photography versus digital photography, and despite the massive disparity in cost, I miss analog.

Second, when I first got a decent camera as a young man—not a Nikon, but a Nikkormat—I shot both Kodachrome and Ektachrome, mostly slides, and I confess to preferring Ektachrome for its slightly different color rendition. But I went through many rolls of both.

Third, "Kodachrome" is one of those songs that pretty much always makes me happy when I hear it:

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,
Its a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single,
And brought them all together for one night,
I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
And everything looks worse in black and white

Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph,
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Sigh. Sic transit gloria mundi.

"Kodachrome" lyrics by Paul Simon. Kodachrome, Nikon and Nikkormat are trademarks of their respective owners.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Don't get used to this

After a long evening of lightning and thunder, punctuated by sudden sweeps of fierce rain, this morning dawned clear, crisp and cool, with last night's rain sparkling on everything.

It is the middle of June, and time to make something I haven't made in decades—elderblossom fritters.

The first step is to mix up the fritter batter, because it needs to rest a while before it's used. I am surprised to see the recipe calls for flat beer; either I had completely forgotten about that or I used a different recipe in the past. Not surprisingly, we have flat beer on hand—several quarts of it in fact, in several different styles, all of them homebrewed by one of us.

As I had chosen the mixed dark beer/stout leftovers for a batch of early-morning beer bread (sweet, with cinnamon, raisins and cranberries), I decided Phil's flat lager would be just the thing to compliment the delicate floral flavor of the elder blossoms. And, there would still be plenty of both left over for the next beer recycling project.

We were lucky enough last summer to uncover a healthy elderberry bush near at hand, just off the cemetery. With clippers in hand, I cautiously navigated the maze of berry canes, poison ivy and greenbrier until I was able to gently clip a handful of lacy, pure white blossoms.

The secret to making good fritters is to remove as much surface moisture from what you are coating with batter; it lets the batter adhere to the surface and reduces the amount of grease spattering. But the night's rain had left water droplets lodged in every nook and cranny of the complex blossoms; placing them on paper towels did little.

So I did the only reasonable thing. I put a few blossoms at a time in the salad spinner, very gently spun it up to speed, and let it slow down in its own sweet time. By the time I was done, the batter had warmed up to room temperature and the oil had reached frying temperature.

The light blossoms resisted being coated with the thick batter, but with a little coaxing, they relented. A quick frying of about three minutes on a side, and they were golden brown, crisp and fragrant. And I was right about selecting Phil's lager—it made a subtle and delicate contribution to the flavor without overpowering the blossoms themselves.

So by about nine o'clock on a brilliant Sunday morning in mid-June, the lot of us were standing around the kitchen, sipping spiced coffee with fresh milk, eating beer bread warm from the oven, and munching on fresh Elderblossom fritters lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Not gonna happen often, but sure was good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grateful for Matt Taibbi:

What this country need right now is about nine Matt Taibbis for every David Gregory:

"TARP would never have been necessary if someone, anyone who wasn’t a greed-addled incompetent like Paulson had actually been regulating the economy in the last years of the Bush adminstration. If anyone besides Paulson had been running Goldman Sachs earlier in this decade — if a person with a serious brain injury had been in his place, for instance, or a horse, or a head of lettuce — we’d all be better off today..."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Summer Reading List

"Blue Highways," William Least Heat Moon
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Robert Pirsig
"Far Appalachia," Noah Adams
"Pilgrim At Tinker Creek," Annie Dillard
"On The Road," Jack Kerouac
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" Barbara Kingsolver


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Done and done!

Yesterday I bottled the ale I brewed mid-May. It's a simple, standard light summer ale, with a substantial measure of honey in the mix and a fairly modest hopping—a nice, post-lawnmowing quaff. While the total weight of malt and honey seemed enough as I was brewing, the initial s.g. surprised me at only about 1.035. I always forget that pound-for-pound, honey doesn't contribute as much as malt, though it attenuates nicely and adds a nice character. The final s.g. was 1.005. so the ABV works out to only about 3%, a little bit low for my homebrewing preferences but still in the ballpark.

However, if nothing else, it's a test platform for a new secret ingredient that I've been itching to try brewing with, and I don't recall seeing in many recipes. My intent is to introduce a flavor I've wanted to add to an ale flavor profile, but has never survived the brewing and fermenting processes. From my initial intra-bottling taste testing, I'd say it's a success, and I'm ready to move it outta beta into my next full-mash production: Brassy Kit! Coming soon to a carboy near you!

Which reminds me...

(From August, 2007:)

The blistering breeze sweeps over the plants sadistically, teasing and tousling them with its harsh kiss, stripping what precious little moisture remains from the desperate leaves and stalks. The stems flinch and shudder at its approach. All moisture belongs to the air now, every last mote gathered up by the sky from the dessicated dust below. Fields are withered, shriveled to nothingness; the farmers must feed the coming winter’s hay to the animals in the pastures; there is nothing green left.

The sky toys with the earth. On a whim, it sends down enough droplets to dampen the dust, then calls them back to its bosom as steam, in a cruel mockery of rain. The moisture-bloated sky wallows across the landscape, obscuring and obliterating the landmarks we know so well. The distant line of mountains are gone; the gentle intervening hillocks are removed in turn. The world now ends at the nearest treeline, with all else consumed in a milky white glare.

The jealous sun has no pity, no mercy. For all intents and purposes, through the full day it has a single setting comprising all the spectrum—a harsh and unremitting glare that drives all to cover and seeks to bring everything in its view to the same atonality. The world smears to a common dullness under the hazy sky. At the zenith, the clear air retains a faint and tentative steely blue; but as the eye descends to the horizon, color gradually bleeds away in the thickness of the stifling haze.

Color is defeated, shattered and smashed to pieces by the monochrome sunlight, its components cast aside in the dust. Fields of grass are dried to tinder, flailing helplessly like the thin and wispy hairs of an old man’s head. Though dry as tinder, they could not burn; they are too few and far between to pass fire from one parched neighbor to another. The dying fields falter at producing enough food for even that hungriest and least selective of predators; it would surely pass them by in search of a more productive target.

I have always loved the idea that lowly chickory was entrusted with preserving the color of the sky during the harshest days of summer, when the brutal sun is so eager to drain all color from our eyes. And after all these years, I have just been shown that chickory is even more secretive about the matter than I had previously understood. A homely, unlovely plant with raggedy leaves and a bloomstalk all angles and elbows, chickory hides its flowers during the middle of the day when the sun is high. It keeps the unassuming blossoms folded away, appearing dull and wilted and past its prime, easily overlooked along the roadside among its showier—yet washed-out—compatriots.

But in the morning, before the sun has come around, chickory offers a brilliant reminder to all of what the sky truly looks like without the strong-arming sun dominating. In this way, chickory retains the legacy of the sky during the sun’s summer fever dream, and safely returns it once the fever has broken and fall is on its way.

The blue-gray air is thick and deliberate, running its fat fingers through the trees to pick free the swallows lodged there. Rain is promised but yet to be delivered, our need of little consequence in this time. We have mocked too long, and must be made to understand. The thunder passes through without comment or effect.

Watching the river run...

When we moved to this little hilltop in the woods a few years back (less of a 'hilltop' than a puckered wrinkle of Virginia's piedmont) the whole region was deep into a prolonged drought. Trees were weakened and dying; wide swaths of field and pasture were shriveled and sun-baked; hot hazy summer skies mocked the parched ground with dry thunder.

The drought lasted through our first year here, and into the next, and only loosened in our third summer. Circumstances were dire for many farmers, whose withered fields refused to bring forth hay month upon month; the range of the drought was such that hay had to be brought in by tractor-trailer loads from the upper midwest. The only crops that prospered were the wine grapes, which were blessed with intensely concentrated sugars; everything else, animal and vegetable, suffered to one degree or another.

At the base of our little hill, through a narrow stream valley, flows a small stream, a pair of streams really. They join up shortly with the river proper a fraction of a mile downstream. Deep as we are in the puckered wrinkle, the sources of these streams may only lie a few hundred yards away in a neighbor's field; there are countless springs and seeps and rivulets that mass in the bosom of these hills, forming the upper reaches of the river that eventually empties into Chesapeake bay. So close to the source of the stream, we are keenly aware of its cycle. Within two or three hours of a heavy thunderstorm, we can hear the fleshed-out stream running full and loud; in another two or three hours it will quiet down and disappear from our consciousness again.

In the depth of the drought, the streams diminished to little more than a string of minor puddles connected with a path of damp gravel; in many places the water was gone completely.

On our little hilltop in the woods, we depend on a well for our water; we aren't really sure how deep the well is, or how dependable. Every gallon we draw cost us in electricity, and needs to be replenished somehow. If ever there was a time our well's capability would be tested , this would be it. So we watered our gardens sparingly and judiciously, and they grew feebly in response to that parsimony.

We installed some rainbarrels, recycled plastic drums that caught the runoff from our ample roofs. But rainbarrels do not magically produce water; they simply buffer what falls from the sky. And if there is no rain, the rainbarrels stay empty. But a brief downpour may fill them, and every little bit helps. Yet, for years one, two and three, there was not enough water to go around, and demand consistently exceeded supply.

Late last summer and fall, the rain began to catch up; things seemed promising. But then we went through the driest winter on record; almost no significant snowfall, no rain to speak of, punctuated by a brutal, almost unheard of sub-zero cold snap that finished off many already deeply stressed plants. Winter rainfall is crucial for replenishing groundwater; when plants are dormant they do not transpire the soil moisture back into the air as they do in the growing season, when a large tree may almost immediately rebreath the rain from a thunderstorm into the sky. Winter rain stays in the ground.

Things were not looking good for this summer. We added more rainbarrels, so at least a portion of the rain that fell on every roof would be captured.

Then, just a few weeks ago, something wonderful happened. We started getting rain.

Late in May, we started getting regular rains. June kicked off with a low-pressure system that moved in and took up residence, and for what seemed like several weeks, it rained day in and day out, interrupted by short, intense downpours laced with thunder and lightning. The ground took it in, replenishing supplies that hadn't been topped off in literally years. Moss and mushrooms grew on everything.

The deficit has been erased. We have probably gotten the better part of a foot of rain in the last six weeks.

Best of all, the stream now asserts itself with a constant, full-throated and unmistakable roar from far below our hilltop, rushing steadily from day to day. It has not flowed this way in the time we have been here. The water that fills its banks is not the murky, coffee-colored soup that the thunderstorms pulse so violently from the earth when they rake its surface—it is the clear, cold, sparkling water the earth gives up freely after calming and polishing it, taking it in and purifying it through its heart.

It is a gift to us, and we hear it singing as we watch the river run.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I told you I would, didn't I?

"People who ride motorcycles have gotten something right, and I want to put myself in the service of it, this thing that we do, this kingly sport that is like war made beautiful...The narrow mechanical things I concern myself with are in the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived."

"Shop Class as Soulcraft"
Matthew B. Crawford

Phrase of the Day:

"..Shit-colored bike cheese..."

"Shop Class as Soulcraft"
Matthew B. Crawford

Warning: I'll probably be quoting this guy a lot in the near future.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Saab story

Our current four-wheeled ride is a ten-year old Saab 9-3, by far the ritziest automobile we have ever owned. In fact, it is uncharacteristically ritzy by a long shot, the reason being that we didn't buy it. Our wonderful daughter, in need of a replacement for Gus the Jetta, found such a bargain online that it made more sense to buy more car than pay the same for less car.

Now wonderful daughter has moved on to an automobile-free lifestyle and turned her interest in the Saab over to us, leaving us the proud owners of a car that...we never really picked.

Now, it is a beautiful car, a wonderful car, and a far nicer car in many ways than I would ever have bought for myself, knowing my proclivity for spilling sticky stuff, and gouging upholstery with sharp-cornered objects, and my general disregard for taking good care of nice things.

It has heated leather seats, fog lights, wipers for the headlights, all kinds of neat touches. But it also has some...quirks. I mean, annoying, designed-in, intentional features that drive me absolutely insane and make me want to ask the Saab engineers "What exactly were you thinking, Sven?"

The first inkling of this peculiar design attitude came early on. We would park the car, turn it off, and then hear a peculiar rustling noise from deep inside the dashboard...the sound an old cassette tape makes when it's rewinding and is just about to slam to a stop, a papery rattling rushing sound, that would only stop on its own after a few minutes no matter what we did.

I finally tracked it down to an inconspicuous opening in the dash which I had assumed to be decorative. Oh, no...it was a sensor intake for the "Automatic climate control system;" the noise was made by a small impeller in the dash that sampled the temperature of the cabin air. I stopped the noise by simply jamming the innards of an old pen into the impeller blades, and as the French put it, WA-LA.

But then the Saab guy (not Sven, but the local Saab guy who I like so well I've bought him a powerboat and paid for his kids to go to college) tells me this is not an optimal solution, as the ACCS will get confused about what's really going on in the car. So about half a spray can of contact cleaner and a little bit of WD-40 later, the impeller quiets down.

Now, you may have noted the mention above of the Automatic Climate Control System. In the old days, this was known as "The heater" and, if you were posh, "The Air Conditioner," or if less posh, "Roll the Fricking Windows Down." Nothing so downscale for the 1999 Saab 9-3 owner.

There is not a "Heater" or an "Air Conditioner." Hell, at this point, there's not even a "Roll the Fricking Window Down" for 25% of the car (fixing that = grad school for the Saab guy's daughter). There's a console with many cryptic icons, and arrows, and diagrams, and a 'red' arrow and a 'blue' arrow, all united by a small, dysfunctional LCD display. There are several sensor intake points, there is a sunlight sensor (!!) on the dash, there is an "Auto" button, and an "Off" button, but apparently there isn't a "I'd-like-to-handle-this-by-myself-thank-you-very-much" button.

No, for the 1999 Saab 9-3* driver, the only choice is to suggest to the ACCS what you'd like to feel, and let it interpret that however it may. I say interpret, in the sense of 'interpretive dance,' because what you think you are telling it, and what it renders, are frequently so widely disconnected that if defies credulity.

And part of the problem is trying to comprehend the information provided to you--the driver, or perhaps, the middle management of the ACCS--via the tiny and corrupted LCD display.

Saab appears to have a thing for LCD displays in the 1999 9-3. They must have seemed like a good idea at the time, very cutting edge. (And in Saab's defense, they still employed good old analog gauges--big ones, three of them--for the information that really matters: Speed, RPM, and a triple fuel-temp-turbo dial. ) But as we all have come to realize in time, LCD displays fail (predictably) in unpredictable ways, pixel by pixel. Our erstwhile microwave began depixilating during a series of power flickers brought on by a hurricane, and for the majority of its life, displayed information in an ever-coarsening dialect of Klingon.

The Saab at this moment is somewhere in the same progression. Sven, et al., elected to provide all kinds of important, but non-critical, information via an LCD display mounted high on the console. Even better, many system warnings appear there every time you start up, and a light notifying you of this crucial information lights up in the critical data area alerting you; you must manually clear the display to turn the warning off.

But it is almost always gibberish, missing those crucial pixels that let you infer one consonant or numeral from another, so you are reduced to primitive guesswork to elicit this vital information. In the best of circumstances, to view all the information available, you must toggle through a combination of button pushes to go to specific menus and obtain specific data--which is then, of course, displayed in gibberish.

Did I mention that the 9-3 Owner's manual runs to over 220 pages? You might as well bind it on all four edges and stamp "DO NOT READ" across the cover as expect anyone to bother trying to glean any relevant information from it. Charles Dickens—paid by the word—managed to define Christmas As We Know It in fewer pages.

Saab made its name building excellent and feared fighter jets for Sweden. Now I am not current on the exploits of the Swedish Air Force, but I can hardly imagine a fighter pilot, closing fast on an unseen enemy at 30,000 feet, having to look at his head-up display, then "...okay, menu, menu, up arrow, up arrow, enter, missile...no, not seat height, back, back, menu, menu..."

So when the 1999 9-3 wants to tells us something important, a little chime goes off, the display-warning-light lights up, and the console shows us something like this: "lU_] [ -+ChTHULU-#ptHaGN!!ia!ia!end]" which, really, is not very helpful. And there is the inherent humor in trying to decipher a cryptic, yet presumably somewhat important, or possibly urgent, message, IN A MOVING MOTOR VEHICLE.

Eventually, we will likely sell this car, because we have more vehicles than we really need, and frankly, this little gem--which is wasted on people like me, (pearls before swine and all that) will fetch a lot more than any of our other vehicles would. But the next time I am looking for a car, I will prize above all things:

1.) Analog gauges
2.) Analog window cranks
3.) An analog 'heat' dial
4.) An analog 'cold' dial (if the clunker has an airconditioner at all)
5.) Total absence of LCD displays

*At this point, can I just simplify the designation and call it a Saab 6?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mission creep

Okay, so I started writing about riding, and more and more things have less and less to do with riding. That's too bad. I'll write about riding again when I think I have anything interesting to say about it. Or not interesting for that matter--it's my damn blog.

--The Management

What we have here

1. I spent many hours cleaning up the shed. Late in the afternoon, I am sitting quietly, admiring the fruits of my labor, when the empty Sigg bottle suddenly topples down from its place on the shelf. Puzzled and curious, I pick it up to return it, and see that it was knocked off the narrow ledge by that large electrical cable that is draped in through the window...the cable that at this moment is slowly moving up onto the ledge above the window opening...wait a second...

2. I clear the new spring growth from the lower end of the trail with a brush cutter attachment on the strimmer. I spend twenty-five, thirty minutes slowly walking the trail, occasionally shooting sparks when I accidentally let the blade strike the bare rocks. As I return down the trail to where I began, I note the fawn curled up in a tiny little bundle, a mere foot or so off the trail I just cleared. I had no idea it was there.

3. Birds make many sounds, and among those sounds, alarm is unmistakable once you have heard it. As we worked in the warm sun one afternoon, I began to take note of the shrill and persistent cries of alarm in the background.

I walk over to where a pair of wrens flit back and forth agitatedly from the mouth of a growtube. A growtube is a translucent plastic tube about the length and diameter of a man's arm, used to protect newly planted saplings from extreme weather, dehydration and browsing animals. In this particular instance, the growtube was protecting an apple tree sapling.

Cautiously, I looked down into the growtube, and saw what I expected to see: the back end of a black snake, coiled downward, face into a pine-needle bird's nest. The nest still held several nearly-fledged wren chicks; one chick was already fully in the snake's mouth.

I pondered the circumstances for a few milliseconds/an entire lifetime. We created an artificial situation by placing the growtubes; the wrens, in their foolishness, exacerbated the situation by building a secure, sheltered, warm cozy nest—in the very bottom of a slick-sided tube their babies could never, ever, hope to fly out of .

I did the only thing I could do: I slowly pulled the tube upwards; the snake flopped out awkwardly, and chaos ensued. The wren parents fluttered about screaming ferociously; the snake writhed about in confusion, and two fledglings fluttered away from the now-exposed nest.
I picked up the snake and figured things were about fair at this point, with the snake having had a decent meal at the expense of the foolish wrens—but at least it was not a total loss for the wrens. I carried the writhing snake off to the edge of the nearby woods, and gave him a gentle (but firm) toss.

The snake landed in the pine needles, regained his composure, and slithered off with great dispatch into the deep cover of the woods. Delighted at my little role in this passion play, I returned to what I had been doing in the garden.

Within a few short moments, the wren wruckus wresumed. I walked back over to the scene, and sure enough, the black snake had returned; by the time I get there, it has already grabbed the sole remaining chick, one that for whatever reason, was less mobile than its siblings. This time, I grab him and walk him further away, to the very edge of the clearing. I toss him into the underbrush, and this time, I watch him carefully to ascertain his motives. To my satisfaction, he heads directly into the undergrowth, away from the wren nest.

For a moment.

Then he slowly begins a right turn.

For the next few minutes, the snake gradually heads back towards the wren nest. Anytime he senses my presence, he diverts slightly; but the net result is always back towards the nest. Within ten minutes or so, he has found his way back, in an arc of about fifty feet or so. When he arrives, the chicks are gone; he spends several minutes nosing the remnants of the nest apart, meticulously searching for some trace. Once convinced there is nothing left in the nest, he begins to track the scent left by the fleeing fledglings.

The young birds are capable of some semblance of flight, but are not truly ready to be on their own; they can get airborne for a few feet at a time, but fly with the grace of frogs, more bumping along than actually flying. Their parents are valiant—but somewhat hapless—coaches in this respect. But their ferocity in the face of this menace cannot be disputed. They light within six inches of the monster, squawking and feignting to distract him from their offspring, flying off just as he strikes. At one point, a wren screams at the snake from a fence rail just above it; the snake began to rise up and rear back; and at the very last instance as the snake struck, the wren flew off, out of range.

But the snake has now attained the fledgling's trace in earnest—he follows their course relentlessly and mercilessly through tufts of grass, weeds, and across the wide gravel drive, into the cemetery.

At this point, we take pity on both the vulnerable fledglings and their agitated parents. Mary finds one of the chicks hiding in a thick clump of grass, and as she tries to pick it up, it flops awkwardly onto her shoe.

She walks it to the edge of the woods where it might be safe (having not left a trail for the snake to follow) and releases it into the good graces of its parents, who shepherd it along a safe distance into the forest.

Mary's action was correct; by picking up the chick and moving it, the trail has been interrupted and the snake has nothing to follow.

Or so we thought.

Mary stands in the driveway, as we both watch the snake consider its next move. Slowly, deliberately, the snake begins moving—directly towards where Mary stands. Tongue flicking, it moves this way and that, tasting the warm air for a hint of baby bird. It continues towards Mary, weaving back and forth in consideration. To our—shock? horror? amazement? the snake crawls directly—DIRECTLY!—to the very spot on Mary's shoe where the chick lighted so briefly. It samples the air at that spot with its tongue, seeking so desperately that morsel of chick. It reconnoiters, and for a moment rears back to look up at Mary, not sure if this is an unbelievable windfall or its worst nightmare. We both are horrified for an instant, expecting the snake to begin crawling up Mary's leg...

At last, discretion seems to be the better part of valor, even for snakes, and it begins to head off. We decide this represents the end of the wren event, and if there will be an epilogue, we do not want a part in it. As far as I recall, we did not hear any further calls of alarm that evening.

4.)The boulder wall was in need of remodeling; we knew when we first constructed it that it was a prototype, and was subject to later revision. As we rolled one large rock onto its back ,we both simultaneously made the same comment:

"THAT'S a copperhead!"

A beautiful, unmistakable creature; elegant in color, markings worthy of a moorish palace, and the distinctive head shape that is burned into the DNA of any higher animal. This particular individual was not as long as my arm, and moved with an admirable quickness that few snakes display. Copperheads are equipped with a hemolytic poison, based on a protein common to many animals, that destroys cells and causes sure death in smaller animals and terrific pain in larger ones. Unfortunately, this individual decided to move from where it had been quietly and comfortably resting (under one rock) to under the bigger rock where we planned to work next. So for the remainder of afternoon, we worked...delicately...to say the least.

And this evening, when we went out to survey the boulder wall...there he was.

5.) A fawn almost ran me over this morning as I left for work. I didn't even have the chance to get that metallic taste in my mouth; it was very matter-of-fact, over in half a second, done and gone. So there you have it.

6.) Addendum: Late this afternoon, torrential downpours amid ferocious lightning and thunder; the greyhound is beside herself with nerves. The porch gutter is clogged with pine needles, and I get a ladder to help reach the downspout to unclog it.

As I climb the ladder, I place my hand on the roof to steady myself—directly onto the head of a very peeved black snake. The snake pauses a brief moment to glare at me, then ever so gently, curls about and crawls majestically up the roof and back into the steamy sunshine.

Dinner, June 2nd:

A salad of romaine lettuce with radishes, fresh from the garden.
Steamed radish greens with fresh green onion, sauteed in olive oil; both fresh from the garden.
Steamed green peas, fresh from the garden, served with homemade butter.
Grits casserole, incorporating fresh cheese, fresh eggs and raw milk.
Homebrewed beer.

Doesn't get any better than that.