Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How One Thing Leads To Another...

Saturday was a day chock full of overlapping errands, interconnected tasks and nested interruptions—a typical Saturday, made more hectic and frazzled by the expectation of company’s arrival in the coming week.
But certain things cannot be ignored, and the irrepressible enthusiasm of a house-bound dog who believes a walk on a sunny afternoon is imminent ranks high on that list. At one point mid-afternoon, we set our cleaning and other projects aside to take Carrie and Schroeder out for a brief walk, if for no other reason than to calm Carrie down a bit.
We set out down the gravel driveway for the usual round of peeing and sniffing (Schroeder marks, Carrie examines). As we dawdled into the pine woods—where much sniffing was required—we could not help but notice the pine litter everywhere erupting with mushrooms. The piney ground was an undulating carpet, where the pine needles were pushed up and aside by countless clusters of tan mushrooms.
They looked like ‘short stacks’ scattered through the woods—mysterious little clumps of glossy golden brown discs, some perfectly round, others missing a chunk here and there, where some woodland creature had nibbled on them. They were beautiful, and looked utterly benign in the afternoon light.
But the mystery of the mushrooms did not concern the dogs, so we pushed on through the pines, and down the lane, and wound our way back to the house and the chores and cleaning and errands, stopping to chat with the neighbors along the way. But later that afternoon, as the shadows lengthened and the evening light cooled, we revisited the pine grove, guidebook in hand.
Kneeling in the cool fragrant litter with sample mushroom in one hand and taxonomic key in the other, we carefully worked our way through the key, learning proper mushroom nomenclature, mushroom physiology and making a few false starts before tracing our way to a definitive identification: Dentinum Repandum, (also known as Hyndum Repandum, sometimes called 'Hedgehog mushroom' for its teeth on the underside of the cap)—an edible mushroom!

The 'Hedgehog' is our fourth foray into the world of wild fungi: a massive sheepshead mushroom in Pennsylvania decades ago, a solitary morel in Arlington, and another solitary morel a few years ago here.
We picked a handful, marveling at their oddly sticky surface and beautiful coloration. They became the centerpiece of our dinner, sautéed lightly in butter and folded into the center of an omelette made with a handful of the day’s newly gathered eggs. The mushrooms were delicious, delicate and tender, with a mild, subtle yet distinctive flavor.
We survived the night without ill effect, and returned Sunday evening to pick a small basketful. Some of those became part of Tuesday’s dinner, along with fresh pesto and braised carrots; with luck, we will dry enough of the bountiful crop to supply us through the winter. We even recommended some to our neighbors, who were trusting (or bold) enough to take us up on the offer—though, now that I think of it, I haven't heard from them since...
There’s something pleasingly…empowering…about trusting your land and your judgment enough to identify wild mushrooms. I'm very happy we did this; I hope we continue making discoveries like this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Assert your Individuality:

An oldie but a goodie from "Basic Instructions" by Scott Meyer, pretty much the consistently funniest webcomic out there.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Noted without comment:

From the New York Times:

As recently as late December, Monsanto was named “company of the year” by Forbes magazine. Last week, the company earned a different accolade from Jim Cramer, the television stock market commentator. “This may be the worst stock of 2010,” he proclaimed.
Monsanto, the giant of agricultural biotechnology, has been buffeted by setbacks this year that have prompted analysts to question whether its winning streak from creating ever more expensive genetically engineered crops is coming to an end.
The company’s stock, which rose steadily over several years to peak at around $145 a share in mid-2008, closed Monday at $47.77, having fallen about 42 percent since the beginning of the year. Its earnings for the fiscal year that ended in August, which will be announced Wednesday, are expected to be well below projections made at the beginning of the year, and the company has abandoned its profit goal for 2012 as well.
The latest blow came last week...Monsanto’s newest product, SmartStax corn...was providing yields no higher than the company’s less expensive corn...Monsanto has already been forced to sharply cut prices on SmartStax and on its newest soybean seeds, called Roundup Ready 2 Yield, as sales fell below projections...Sales of Monsanto’s Roundup...have collapsed this year under an onslaught of low-priced generics made in China. Weeds are growing resistant to Roundup, dampening the future of the entire Roundup Ready crop franchise. And the Justice Department is investigating Monsanto for possible antitrust violations.
Until now, Monsanto’s main challenge has come from opponents of genetically modified crops, who have slowed their adoption in Europe and some other regions. Now, however, the outspoken critics also include farmers and investors who were once in Monsanto’s camp.
“My personal view is that they overplayed their hand,” William R. Young, managing director of ChemSpeak...They are going to have to demonstrate to the farmer the advantage of their products.” Brett D. Begemann, Monsanto’s executive vice president for seeds and traits, said the setbacks were not reflective of systemic management problems and that the company was already moving to deal with them...Begemann said that Monsanto used to introduce new seeds at a price that gave farmers two thirds and Monsanto one third of the extra profits...But with SmartStax corn and Roundup Ready 2 soybeans, the company’s pricing aimed for a 50-50 split. That backfired as American farmers grew only 6 million acres of Roundup Ready 2 soybeans this year...and only 3 million acres of SmartStax corn...So now Monsanto is moving back to the older arrangement.
Monsanto has also moved to offer farmers more varieties with fewer inserted have to buy traits they do not need — such as protection from the corn rootworm in regions where that pest is not a problem — in order to get the best varieties. This issue has surfaced in the antitrust investigation. ...The yield of a crop is mainly determined by the seed’s intrinsic properties, not the inserted genes...Mosanto is bound at some point to face diminishing returns from its strategy of putting more and more insect-resistance and herbicide-resistance genes into the same crop, at ever increasing prices.

Monday, October 04, 2010


I'm pretty sure I was the only motorcyclist heading from the piedmont to the suburbs to go riding on such a beautiful Sunday morning. It was a classic fall morning, cool and crisp, with broken grey clouds hugging the horizon while they massed their forces for a late-afternoon assault. Outbound bike traffic was steady and constant, and included some relative exotics, including a beautiful Moto Guzzi, along with the usual assortment of sportbiker and hog herders. I think I even saw my first S1000rr, but it went past so quickly...

The point of my retrograde mission was to help BroT inaugurate his new 2003 R1150r. New to him, it's a low-mileage beauty fully equipped with everything you need to have an outstanding riding experience. We met at his house, giving me the opportunity to watch him don his also-new custom Roadcrafter suit-in fluorescent yellow. The suit, combined with his strobing brakelight, nearly sent me into epileptic convulsions as I rode behind him. But the bright sunlight helped overcome the dazzling suit/brakelight combo, and we were on our way.

We left Falls Church and wound our way through McLean, stopping in downtown McLean to gas up before heading north. We hopped on the beltway and wound the bikes out for a short sprint, savoring the thrill of the superslab oh-so-briefly, before exiting to the Clara Barton Parkway towards Great Falls.

I must say, as odd or counterintuitive as it may have seemed to leave the piedmont and head into the suburbs to go riding, it was a kind of homecoming for me. When I worked in town, by lunchtime most days I was ready to get out of the building and screw my head back on straight with a short-but-spirited ride, a condensed road trip that could be shoehorned into a workday.

These were some of my favorite riding roads for a quick out-and-back when I only had an hour or so to spend riding, and I hadn't ridden some of them in years. As we approached MacArthur boulevard, I knew immediately we would be turning left to ride the short-but-sweet, winding stretch of road from Old Angler's Inn-an ascending stretch of sinuous curves that allow you to gently accelerate all the way from bottom to top, and coast all the way on the return.

At the very moment we stopped to turn around, just short of the entrance to Great Falls, a peloton of cyclists launched themselves onto our return path; BroT and I fell in behind them obediently, to the amusement of some of the riders-"Hey, we get a motorcycle escort!" But they rode well, kept their speed up, and I coasted behind them without gaining or falling behind until we reached the bottom of the hill.

We parted ways with the peloton when they swooped onto Clara Barton and we continued on MacArthur, where shortly after, we paused in the warm midday sun for a styrofoam cup of coffee from the local quikee mart. We talked about our bikes (R1150r's, matched for all intents and purposes) and about riding, and watched the traffic pass-bicyclists and pedestrians, joggers with strollers, agitated car-drivers on their cellphones.

The dregs of the coffee watered the shrubs, and we were on the road again. MacArthur, Clara Barton, Chain Bridge, Kirby, Glebe, Williamsburg-all the old familiar traces, made new again. Through an odd set of circumstances, lunch became barbecue in the old neighborhood, signifying this was indeed a bona fide ride, because after all, what is a ride without barbecue?

We returned to BroT's, parked the bikes, and endulged in the obligatory post-ride tire-kicking and self-congratulations. Much discussion of this-and-what, hows-and-whys, what's good and what isn't, then all of a sudden, the sun is heading west-and so must I.

Such a small and quiet moment; yet it's hard to find words to express its immense import. Looking forward to many more such miles, well spent.