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?

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.

bramble

In my ideal city there would always be berry brambles growing along the road.  And unclaimed fruit trees.  In fact, it would be an unspoken social obligation to maintain a strip of frontage with some refreshment for whoever passes by.  Some place to throw the bike down and yourself onto the cool green grass.

If not a hedge of blueberries, maybe just a patch of wild strawberry.  Or a swathe of arugula growing in the shade. Or cucumbers scrambling up a trellis.  Or a water fountain rigged up from a garden hose.  Or even just a wooden bench beneath a wind-chime that makes the sound of water . . .

Of course being the kind of creatures that we are, this kind of grassroots hospitality would immediately lead to lawsuits and excessive governmental oversight.

Rude!  You plant strawberries when I am so allergic to strawberries!

I have to inform you, ma’am, that you are in violation of code 732FZ – the only kind of blackberries allowed are the thornless.  And only one of these three non-invasive varieties listed on the website.

In my ideal city there wouldn’t be this kind of squabble.

Except there would be people.  And I’m not sure people and squabble can ever be entirely separated.  Even in an ideal city.

Maybe in the ideal city.  Maybe.

But in the interim, I go out early, take the dog  (quoting Emily Dickinson who always has so much to say about the kinds of things that always happen) and expect to be surprised by the blackmarket “Hsst-over-here!”  scent of ripening blackberries dangling from unlicensed brambles arcing up, thrusting thuggishly up through the sweet cream-soda froth of Queen Anne’s lace at the roadside.

This week, for the first time since this same time last year, blackberries are sprawling either side of the city limits, setting up places of refuge without a city ordinance, drawing blood from unsuspecting passersby, enticing people with places to go off the path.

Grumbled at, weed-whacked, mowed down but never quite wholeheartedly eradicated by anyone because everyone, being the kind of creatures that we are, secretly admires and desires . . .

. . . this juicy rebellion against regulation, this unruly regularity that brings such unpaid-for unvoted-on sweetness glimmering so beautifully black, as lusciously deep as a deeper spot of shade and right when and where we need it at the end of a long hot hill . . .

. . . at the end of summer.

thanks, Nicole, for the question:

“What word do you like?”

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.

Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24 : 6) Eating Local

A while ago I spent a year of Fridays helping out at a local organic farm.

I loved the fresh air, bird calls, rich dirt on my fingers.  I loved the hot midday meal cooked by turns and served out under the trees on big tables.  I loved the provident feeling of piling up cabbages in the walk-in cooler.  The sense of communal connection packing up boxes that would go out to restaurants and local families.  I even loved the all-weather 20-mile bike ride back home along the river in the afternoon with panniers of complimentary –and freshest of fresh– produce.

But as much as any of those, I loved the wide-ranging talk among the young apprentice farmers.

The young farmers at Sauvie Island Organics talked poetry, film-making, nutritional justice, farms-in-the-schools, teaching English in Nepal, beekeeping, local restaurants, local music, good names for dogs, best ways to keep deer at bay, bike rides, books we’d read, rebuilding engines to run on used french fry oil.

(Like Middlest said after one day when she came to work with me, “These are my people!” — but then we had to laugh because we just have so many “people” who feel like they belong to us, we to them.)

Because I was at the farm those Fridays to learn organic farming — and because I was curious how this strand of sustainable agriculture played in the everyday — I listened particularly to the back and forth between these intelligent and widely educated young farmers about the pros and cons of the locavore movement – eating only what’s grown within a 100-mile radius of where you live.

The consensus among these young people — who had already deeply committed themselves to small and local farms (two years working all day, year-round at the farm), who largely hoped to have farms of their own someday —

 wholesome and environmentally responsible eating is a complicated issue.

As one farmer pointed out — her hands quick and capable snapping beans into her tray, body pivoting efficiently in a slow, deep lunge from one side to the other — it’s true that some of the food we eat, grown on the other side of the world by ox and hand-plow, and shipped here to our local grocery freezer actually has a smaller carbon footprint than the same thing grown with the best organic practices here in our 100-mile radius and then trucked into the farmer’s market, scooped up by people from the suburbs and SUV’d back home.

So the question is complicated.  But those young farmers’ conclusions chimed with what I’d observed myself: 

  • local grown food feels deeply right,
  • often tastes better,
  • is often less expensive when you consider total costs (including government subsidies which we taxpayers foot the bill for),
  • creates an enthusiasm for healthier eating and more wholesome growing practices,
  • creates safer public spaces,
  • creates a more authentic sense of place.

Local agriculture used to create local jobs, too.

One of the responses I got over and over when I asked some of my townspeople this past month what they think is missing here was a lament over the disappearance of summer harvesting jobs for teenagers:

Money was easy, we could pick strawberries or raspberries or cucumbers or beans. Simply get on a bus, pick til noon and get rewarded immediately.

Many old strawberry fields are left unplanted now – one in particular, according to the story I hear over and over – because the farmer couldn’t afford to keep the farm up and pay the new minimum wage requirement for summer pickers.  So that farm and too many others folded.

And now, in the place of somewhat-below-minimum wage summer jobs, there aren’t any summer jobs.

Now the harvesting that remains is gathered by the family who owns the farm, occasionally by apprentice farm-learners, or more usually by legal (and/or not) immigrant workers.  (Another complicated issue.)

The solution could be very simple.

Who wouldn’t want to see local farms become more profitable to the locals – supporting farming families, providing healthy outdoor work for more of us, including high school and college kids? Who wouldn’t want to see more local farms period?

And why aren’t there?

Forgive the earnestness, but why not more farms here?  Why not farms all along our river and up the hills? Specializing in particularly delectable local varieties of fruits and vegetables?  Our town sits in an area of particular fertility — as one respondent put it:

If I harvest cherries, apples, corn, tomatoes, kiwi or gooseberries from my backyard, I know there will be a new crop the next season.  If I plant a tree and it dies or becomes diseased, a new one will be tall and straight as soon as planted. If we cut down a tree to build a home or make paper, 3 more will be planted in its stead.

When my Oregon grandfather passed on and finished life on this earth, a grandson resolved to carry on the name in Oregon and to make him proud. Spiritually, mentally and physically.  Everything grows better in Oregon.

I’m not saying farming is for everyone, but that’s not the issue.

There are farmers enough who would choose to farm full-time if they could keep body and soul together and support their families, many ready right now, many already putting the sweat in to learn best practices, braving sun and rain to learn from older farmers.  They just need a market that will support them.

We are that market. 

The choices we make when we buy food to feed our families is what shapes the town we live in, our region, our nation – and really our world. 

But buying local, not to mention eating local, can be another complicated issue when the costs at the superstores over the hills are so much lower:

I don’t go to Saturday Market. I’m not a thrift store shopper, either.  I just want to getter done.  Price also talks for me.

For groceries, WinCo wins. It is worth the gas money to drive there. Safeway is way overpriced, Red Apple is sad but I do drop in for produce now and then, Fred Meyer gets my business when I do buy groceries locally but they can’t beat WinCo either,

explains a a dear friend of mine.

I could say that, for me, the local grocery comes out ahead because I can bike my groceries home and save not just a little gas money, but all of it.  But that’s not going to be the answer that will work for her.

Nothing I could suggest will be the answer for everyone.

The good thing is – we don’t need an answer for everyone.

One of the things I love about our town is that there are lots of answers, lots of ways to eat locally: from our own gardens to farm share to organic co-op to farmstand to farmer’s market to local produce showing up in some of our grocery stores.

In coming posts I’ll highlight some of the local food options in my town — and even if my town isn’t your town, I’d still really like to know:

How local can you go?