taking pictures 2011 – July “Exchange Virtual for Vivid”

10 months of favorite pictures:    October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011, February 2011, March 2011, April 2011, May 2011, June 2011, and now . . .

July 2011 – “Exchange Virtual for Vivid”

July saw the switch from Blogger to WordPress — and an explosion of pictures on both  why eye . . . .  and the re-geared Imaginary Bicycle

An ambitious plan to record everything I love about my town left me with almost too many photos.

Favorite bike-riding shots include:  “Make Hay While the Sun Shines,” “Climb by Night,” “Bike Clematis @ Evening,” “Love my Perennial Sweat Pea,” and “Bike into a Better Frame of Mind.”

My favorite picture this month, “Exchange Virtual for Vivid,” is from a slide show of a bike ride to Portland’s Farmer’s Market.  I think it may be my favorite picture of the year– all the bright colors, vegetal shapes and the communication of the hands.

Other shots that turned out well in July:  “Pay Nothing Just to Look,” “Bite into Berry,” “Softly Dream of Moth Mullein,” “Am For Sale,” “Finish at Last,” and “Ave Ava.”  Are these great pictures, or do I just love the color red?

taking pictures 2010 – October “Huckle Berries Local $5/pint”

I take my pictures constantly.  But not very seriously.  They’ve always been just a kind of focusing tool.  A quick shorthand to remind me what I’ve seen.  And they add a nice color to the page when I stick one in a post.

But lately I’ve been finding —  in all the writing I do — I’m always wanting to drop a photo into the page to give my eyes an image to dive into while I pull out the words and try to untangle the thread of what I’m saying.

I meant to post as a celebration of another blogal year — which for me begins and ends in October —  a year’s worth of my favorite pictures. Hoping they’d give you pleasure, too. 

Life interfered and months intervened, but I’m all for second chances.  Now rather than one huge picture post, here’s one month at a time.  Still hoping looking at some of these (again) will give you pleasure!

October 2010 – “Huckle Berries Local $5/pint”

“Huckle Berries Local $5/pint” comes from “all the things I’ll never tell you now”.

I love the purples and blues and that clear yellow, though it was a toss-up between this picture and “you come, too”

Looking through the past year’s pictures, I notice that I’m consistently fond of grids imposed on organic shapes or juxtaposed against them.  Something about the contrast. And of course, the ongoing obsession with the color, lustre, shape and texture of fruits and vegetables.

self-preservation

I have been here before.  The place where the squirrel-mind takes over.

Where nuts must be gathered from beneath the neighbor’s walnut tree, husked, scrubbed and frozen.

Unclaimed apples must be claimed.

Sacks of onions, heavy in their red mesh, must be hung in the garage.

Sweet Meat squashes pale blue — striped Delicata, brilliant Turkish Turbans — all piled on their wire racks in a dry cool closet with good air circulation.

I want everything safely gathered in this year.

Early this week I was seized with a need to find more peaches.

I’d already bottled my two boxes of Elbertas, soft and rosy orbs brought in on the Fruit Truck two weeks ago.  Once done up in clean glass bottles, they looked a paltry kind of sunshine, not nearly enough for the winter ahead.

It’s a month or more past the usual season, but someone had said they’d gotten peaches on the island this past weekend.

And so, in that window between ferrying Young to his school and getting myself to my own, I set out to find them.

I know my way to all the farms, because I’ve been here before in this place.  Though it’s been awhile.

Not just this physical place, this island, this farm where the wide, low peach trees I once picked from  — when my daughters still had to reach up to hold my hand — are already empty for the year.

A flatbed trailer now blocks the road to the peach orchard.  On it, gourds jumble beneath the peach trees’ point-tipped leaves.

click to see in greater detail

I have come back to an inner place, also.  Where the ambition to fill every empty jar seems sensible and within reach.

Maybe it is the economy. Or the uncertain and unsettled state of the nations.

Or the lingering summer that has extended the season long enough for me to wake up to second and third thoughts, with time to get everyone off to school, even myself — time to get medical trips caught up on for Grandma, time to clean out the downstairs pantry closet with its shelves and shelves of empty glass bottles.

“We don’t usually have peaches so late,” said Farmer Don — which is what he calls himself, and why not? — slicing an O’Henry open to give me a taste at my third stop.  “But these are from Yakima Valley.  And they have a good taste.  Slip skin, freestone.  The skin’s a little ugly but you peel that anyway.”

I went off to my class with three 26 lb. boxes of fruit in the back.

And the next morning awoke before dawn to a kitchen I’d laid out the night before — thick rag-towels on the counters, a bucket to catch the skins and pits, big black boiler filled with water, teakettle the same, a pan for the hot sugar syrup, a pan for blanching the peaches, a tub of water for cooling the peaches back down.

It was like coming home.  Coming home to a part of myself I’d thought I didn’t need anymore.

Maybe it is just that I have a kitchen again after a year or more without. Maybe it’s just I had underestimated my domestic powers until they were curtailed.

But now my powers are restored:  with extra pull-out cutting boards everywhere and the end of an echoing hallway recast as a much-needed pantry. (Thank you, my darling Fritz.)

I will not consider that the providence of my current season may be a desire to preserve also what was sweet and nourishing to me about my years at home with young children.  My years householding, home-steadying.

See, I am resisting the symbolism.

I am not saying how I’m standing not at the end of my years of raising children, but near it.  I haven’t said that I’ve crossed over into an unincorporated wild space between Mommyville and the town of What Comes After — but if I did, I’d have to say t’s not so bad here.

 (Someone please take this message back to the Emma J who mourned here before. 

 Let her know, the sun shines up ahead.  Even the rain is exciting. 

Tell her there is no need after all to make a franchise of her grief and set up stations for sorrow at each child’s departure.  That what she was grieving was the change, which is not at all the same as loss.)

I am standing in a new place, which is also an old familiar place.  A new day, which is not a stranger to other days I’ve chosen to build my life up from.

A day I begin standing at the counter, slipping the skin from blanched peaches, settling the halves into their bottles.

A day I end pouring hot sweetened syrup over the tightly packed fruit, easing air bubbles out with a long thin plastic spatula.

Waiting for one batch of seven full bottles to come out of their boiling-water bath so that the next seven can go in.

Until the last batch.

When I stand, in a quiet kitchen, eyeing the empty boxes, the pans of cooling water, the last steam from the big black pot, the serried bottles of summer sweetness.

Preserving it all.

Which has been — always — a preservation of more than fruit.

provide, provide

I live within a community that believes in home-bottled food.  Namely, that it is an unalloyed good, an outward sign of an inner virtue, a mark of those fit to survive.

I am not entirely convinced — having cleaned out a fair share of family pantries full of dusty Mason jars.  Relics to antique summers.  Bottles of grey fruits that survived their bottlers.  Outward signs only of time spent and the passing of same.

There are years I play the grasshopper and do not can a thing.  There are years I only can applesauce — and that only because I have a tree. And sometimes I can only salsa, and only because the peppers are so pretty.

Even in my most provident years, there are some worthy fruits and vegetables that I will never bottle up — i.e. green beans — i.e. pears.  A wonder in their own sphere and in their own season but too much like an over-stayed guest when presented in preserved form.

Most years I am a shame to my bottling neighbors and well-preserved kindred.  Even with my precious smattering of strange jams — rose hip, quince, Japanese plum — it is obvious I am a Ball Book dilettante.

But I do like the devoted attention to the change of seasons when tracking the sequence from apricots, cherries, to peaches, pears, apples.

I like handling the quantities of fruits — fuzzy peaches, bloomy plums, glossy hot peppers.  All those rounded globes of sweetness, all those worlds of varied fragrance.

And it was this community’s pervasive involvement with food in its basic state — the gardens, the fruit trees beside the driveways, the stacks of boxes of Ball jars in the hardware store — this general competence in laying the harvest by  that was one of the things I came here for.

It was to learn to live this way I chose to live here.

Many of my longest friendships here began in the kitchens where I learned to first make applesauce or world’s best salsa.

Many warm September memories I have, many quiet July mornings preserved  by heart now: gathering blueberries, picking peaches, climbing into cherry trees with these friends who were much younger then but just as beautiful as they are now — and our children flickering around the trunks of the trees — so small they once were — calling to us with their ungrown voices.

So I’m putting my bottles of fruit up, lining them up on table and counter like some proud American boast.

But you and I know — I’m only in it for the chance to play with quantities of fruit.  To glut myself with juicy color.  Indulge in the scents of it all, the shapes and weights.  And to do it to public commendation.

And then eat it  all up with a conscious sense of thrifty virtue.

it is still summer here

In my dreams it is.  In my plans it is.

And the days are still warm enough though the nights are getting cold.

I have not ridden my bike nearly enough.  I have not painted the second trellis.  I have not laid the gravel on the last walkway.

I love the fall, the frost, the end of the work of harvest.  But even if I do get the last box of peaches canned this evening . . .

. . . the last lovely fragrant bunch of Concord grapes made into jam . . .

. . . the last tomatoes and peppers, still beautiful and bright-colored in all their various squiggly shapes, all chopped and bottled into salsa . . .

. . . still I won’t be ready for fall to fall this year.

Classes have begun — with their safe structure and regular, reachable demands — but I still haven’t written up the great stuff I’ve been gathering this summer about local and organic food options . . .

Old Oregon Smokehouse, Hermiston Melons Farmstand, St. Helens Community Garden, The Fruit Truck, Columbia County Natural Organic Buyers’ Club, Kruger’s Farm Sauvie Island Store, Scappoose Fred Meyers, end of driveway fruit stand, Scappoose Farmers’ Market
***

What’s more, I still have “Small Town Revival” quotes collected . . . and recollections of past glories . . . and dreams of a better future.

I still have pictures from many many discovery rides around my town . . . forgotten corners . . . steps down to the creek . . . a painted door . . . laughing people at sidewalk tables under sun-brellas . . . the big empty windows of lovely old buildings . . . boats in the marina.

I still have notes from some of the sweetest escape rides — right within my own county — I’ve ever taken.  Am I supposed to let them fall and fade and crumble into a silver dust like last year’s butterfly wings against the screen?

And if we are already moving on into the autumn, what am I supposed to do with the whole file of wild sweet pea I gathered for a friend?

(Here, my friend — these are for you.)

Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24: 7½) . . . and Chickens

Enough dreams come true and I start believing I can see them all into reality . . .

For years I dreamed of having a bike I could ride wearing a skirt.  With a basket to carry fruits and flowers.  But now, if my bicycle dreams can come true — why not the chicken & egg dream?

Of course, like any long-cherished dream, this one has got embroidery.

I want not just any chickens.

What I really want are Marans who have dark mahogany, dark chocolate brown eggs — their shells so tough and delicately dense, with pores so tiny that supposedly salmonella bacteria can’t pass through.

Soft boiled eggs, raw egg eggnog, real mayonnaise, Bavarian creams, delicate meringues . . .

Except I also dream blue and blue-green eggs which means Auracanas with their feathery side-whiskers as well.

And storybook Little Red Hens and other old-fashioned heritage breeds

Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Barred Rock, Leghorn, Light Sussex, Delaware, Holland, Orpington, Austrolorp, Cochin, Faverolle, Silkie, Aseel, Old English Game, La Fleche, Barnevelder, Welsummer . . .

And what I really want is this rolling coop . . .

Or one just like it . . .

Could a widespread personal chicken habit be a necessary part of this Small Town Revival?

It’s at least another basket-filling Backyard Bounty.  It’s at least another way of Eating Local.

And with enough up-and-at-’em roosters chorusing from street corner to street corner it would certainly be a Small Town Reveille.

How would that be? If we turned into a whole town of early risers?

A whole citizenry who can sit down regularly to a golden-yolked egg, over easy, fresh and full of taste, pumped full of all those naturally occurring vitamins and minerals we are never going to get from the sad essentials added after the fact – how would that be?

Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24 : 7) Backyard Bounty

I sent out a survey recently and got back some great answers . . .

Q: What one change would you most like to see in our town?

A:  . . . that everyone in St. Helens would keep a garden along with a few trees and then insist that their children tend to the weeding, watering and harvest. It does not matter big or small. It only matters that the youth learn to work and to have responsibility for something.

That would be a good change.

What could be more local than eating from your own backyard?

Unless, of course, it would be eating from your front yard?

Or how about not-technically-your-yard but still right out front?

Or your side yard – as a compromise between front and back, and still more local than even the closest farmer’s market?

I used to think a garden, to be a garden, had to look like this . . .

But it could look like this . . .

Either size garden will grow beautiful beans.

And it’s amazing how much harvest you can get from a small garden plot.

And not just how much harvest.  It’s not after all square footage that matters.  It’s not even really the pounds of produce or the number of bushel baskets.

It’s the value of the harvest.

Say that I’m underwhelmed with the nutrients my family’s not going to get from fresh corn on the cob and so – though I love a good ear of sweet corn — say I’m less than eager to give that much time and place in my life and yard to grow it.

I may feel just fine about buying sweet corn once or twice from Sauvie Island or a local farm stand or even the nearest grocery store and being fully satisfied that I’ve tasted summer.  And all for less than the price of a bad movie.

But other crops are going to give me more bang for my buck.  If I want to freeze some berries for a little bite of brightness in the bleak midwinter, a berry patch is going to give me back far more of my money’s worth.

In fact, according to Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, berries and herbs and lettuce greens may be far more thrifty and profitable for you to plant if your space is at a premium.

On a relative scale of Most-Valuable garden vegetables “per square foot of garden per the amount of time that area will be growing the crop,”  Solomon rates herbs, carrots and lettuce greens the highest.

Top 10 Most Valuable Veggies to grow

  1. Fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, etc.)
  2. Carrots
  3. Beets
  4. Parsnips
  5. Loose-leaf lettuce
  6. Most other leafy salad greens
  7. Scallions
  8. Spinach (for salad)
  9. Kale
  10. Swiss chard

And for all that high value, herbs and lettuce have got to be some of the easiest plants to grow.

Have you ever checked out the price of fresh mint in one of those little plastic clamshells?

This year I bought a 4″ spearmint and the same size peppermint and stuck them in pots on my front porch.

They’re pretty.

And on this northern side of the house they stay green even when we forget to water them.

And now I have fresh mint whenever I want to put some in my pesto. Or chop some up for my vanilla yogurt dabbed on fresh fruit.  Or to sprinkle over watermelon.  Or to make this fantastic sauce (adapted from Fast Vegetarian Feasts by Martha Rose Shulman).

Fresh Tomato-Mint Sauce

2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1 small clove garlic

1/4 cup fresh mint

1/4 cup red wine (or balsamic) vinegar

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste.

***

Chop everything up fine.  Or blend together.  Or mash in mortar and pestle.  Then drizzle in the oil and add salt & pepper until you absolutely have to have another taste just to make sure it really is that delicious.

***

Serve chilled.  Or room temperature.  Or heated through over a medium-heat in a medium saucepan.

This sauce is — let us not be coy — utterly divine over cod or halibut.  Or Spanish omelettes (aka fritatta aka tortillas españolas).  Or even ordinary boiled potatoes.

And my pretty little mint plants (shown here at the front door with swooningly fragrant heliotrope and a new patch of parsley) will live from year to year, will even give me a few small leaves through the winter if it doesn’t freeze too hard, will come back strong come spring for never a penny more — except for maybe some fresh potting soil sometime.

Is this a good thing?

This is a very good thing.

Am I so pleased with myself?

Well, why else would I be bragging?

Like my respondent above, I too would love to see a food-garden in every yard in town.  But I do get that there are years where the full-furrow garden plot is just more than a person can bear to contemplate.

My dears, I’ve been there too recently myself.

When the best I could do was to stick a fuzzy purple sage and a pretty lemon-edged thyme, a handsome and self-sufficient rosemary and some pretty purple basil along the front path – at least they were handy for quick snips to go into soups or salads or baked into bread.

And for the least I could do, that wasn’t too bad.

But I realized this year I could save a significant amount of my grocery bill if I went beyond herbs.  If in addition to that cheerful sweet-scented lemon-flavored marigold I picked up at Ace Hardware (Tagetes lucida, aka ‘Lemon Gem’ and very edible) — if in addition to the parsley by the front step, in addition to a little patch of cilantro amid the flowers, a few quick-growing radish wherever there was an open spot  —  if  I also tucked some gorgeous lettuce up under the northern eaves of the house. If I also tossed down some seed for some tasty arugula and salad spinach in that swathe that never really dries out, that only gets a little sun first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Let me tell you — I’ve already recouped the price of the seed packet (still more than half full) several times over.  And I’m still picking satisfying salads almost every day from my first sowing.

Do you know how much money our family isn’t spending on Spring Greens this year?

And my salads are more beautiful (and tasty) (and ultra-fresh) than ever.

My dears, if I can do it, I don’t think there’s anybody who can’t.

(Even if I still don’t have the walkways in.)

Not that saving money is the only reason for growing a garden. Steve Solomon lists among the least bang-for-your-buckworthy veggies most of the usual garden lineup (in decreasing order of value per square foot per day taking up that precious space in your yard):

cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bulb onions, winter squash, sweet corn, watermelon, pumpkin.

But I know someone who uses both pumpkins and corn as an ornamental planting along her driveway.

And myself, I don’t mind making room for long-growing cabbage when not only is it wonderful in autumn soup, but makes such an exquisite ornamental.

So should you put a vegetable garden in your backyard?

That’s hardly for me to say.  After all, you might want it in the front.

And you certainly don’t have to wait until next spring to get started.

In Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Steve Solomon says August is a great month in our neck of the woods for planting

endive and spinach, overwintering cauliflower, loose-leaf lettuce and overwintering bulb onions.

According to Farmer Don at Kruger Farms, now is also the time to plant

overwintering broccoli, broccoli raab, kale, winter beets, and late spinach.

Even in September you can still put in hardy salad greens that will keep fresh food on your table all through winter:

like endive and corn salad.  Not to mention garlic and shallots for next year.

“Great garden, isn’t it?”  calls a lady from a neighboring yard when I stop on my morning ride to take pictures of someone else’s plot.

“I love it,” I call back.

“You know I’ve heard some people are even planting gardens in their front yards.  To make their yard more neighborly.”

And I love that, too.