Eating in August

Dad pulled an old Weber Kettle Grill out of the tree line a few years back. I cannot believe what we have pulled out of the nearby woods. Most of it has not been useful, we once brought in a dumpster to dispose of much of it. On the other hand, this kettle grill has served great purpose. We keep starting fires in there and cooking stuff in it. Last week it was chicken thighs. But this year it has already cooked whole chickens and hamburgers and meatballs and bratwursts and shrimp and mushrooms and beets and Brussel sprouts. We roast onions and garlic in there. We fire roast eggs in the shell. I am sure there are more efficient ways to cook, but for a long time now I have been content with a Weber.

 
Talking about food, we have been picking zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. Our strawberry bed is full of a variety called Seascape. They are a day neutral berry that apparently starts to ripen in late July and will continue into Autumn. So far, we have kept the critters from them.

 
Elsewhere on the property, there are other critters looking for food. The trail cam has caught a coyote, red fox, and raccoon searching at night. There are multiple deer, including three different fawns, that have been showing up at all hours. Only one buck has made himself known at this point.

 
Recently, we have seen more rain. Often it comes along with a thunderstorm. Limbs, some of them heavy, have been falling, one right in the middle of the lane. This is what August is like back here, at least this year. At least the garden is getting some water. Back to eating, I recently had a tomato sandwich. No bacon, no lettuce, just tomato. No Weber necessary. It was a Brandywine and it was delicious. Not all food needs to be cooked. I am looking forward to the next one.

Bruschetta

It is the fortunate time of year that tomatoes are plentiful and a good time to look for ways to use them. This is simple and tasty. Slice several garlic cloves thin (don’t be skimpy). Toast the garlic slices in olive oil and set aside. Cut four to five tomatoes in half, remove the seeds (easy to do with a teaspoon). Chop the tomatoes, coarsely chop a quarter cup of basil and add to the tomatoes. Add two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, and coat with toasted garlic and oil. Let marinate while preparing toast, rub bread with half of garlic clove. Top with marinated tomatoes.

 
Strangely, I love bruschetta for breakfast. Guaranteed to taste like summer.

Along Came Summer

Summer has arrived and it brought some things along with it. It brought the heat, right on time according to the calendar.

It brought along some wildflower blooms; bluets, mountain laurel, daisies, pink lady’s slipper, and orange daylilies. Others are on the way, I added three new Purple Coneflowers to the herb garden. Black Eyed Susans will soon follow.

Summer has brought multiple garter snakes. I am not sure what is bringing them in nor what is causing them to grow so large. I have never seen so many that exceed twenty inches in length. I like garter snakes but would like to see some other varieties sometime. Come to think of it, the only other snake I have ever found here was a red bellied snake.

Summer brought more wood frogs and some spotted salamanders. Maybe those things are what cause the garter snakes to get so big. Mom found a box turtle in the yard. Keith found one on the sand mound and Jennifer said she saw one in the lane. Joe once saw a snapper just before it dove into a pool of water. I am glad to hear about all this turtle action, but feel a little cheated. I have never seen a turtle back here (not a live one at least).

Summer brought the sounds of gray tree frogs, catbirds, barred owls, and the song of the wood thrush. It brought two spotted fawns into the yard. It brought two nest boxes full of twigs. The male wren makes multiple nests and the female comes around later to decide on which one she likes best. As it turns out, she didn’t like either of the nests that are in the boxes. Fickle wren.

Summer found me in the poison patch. Usually this doesn’t bother me so much, but it woke me in the middle of the night thinking it might be better to remove the outer layer of skin between my fingers. That prompted me to counter attack. That battle isn’t yet over. Summer also brought the start of a new hornet nest. That will be much easier to get rid of than the ivy.

Summer has crept north of Shade Mountain and along with the usual pulling of weeds and watching the hummers and turning the compost, it has brought some other things with it.

Time for Grasshoppers and Tomatoes

In between Jacks and Shade Mountain, the cicadas are singing their summer song. Many of the trees that were marked to be taken down are gone. The blackberries have been eaten. The trail cam is revealing the activities of White Tailed Deer. A Garter Snake has found a home in the compost bin. A number of herbs have thrived over the summer. And vegetables need picked nearly every day. That is good since Mom has developed some sort of addiction to carrots.

There is a nearby nest hornets have been working on that now resembles an enormous football shaped piñata. We will probably wait until Winter before we take a closer look. Interestingly, these critters we call hornets are actually large members of the wasp family.

I walk through the yard with a one hundred eleven pound German Shepherd who came across a toad. Whenever he got close the toad would jump, and so would the dog. It was like they were practicing some sort of backyard choreography.

We both were kicking up grasshoppers. Interestingly, scientists tell us grasshoppers have been around long before dinosaurs. They jump out in front of us and then fly even further. I hope they don’t decide to swarm. If they do and eat the veggies, I guess we’ll eat the grasshoppers. (If they are good enough for John the Baptizer, I guess they are good enough). Still, if given a choice between one of these and a freshly picked Cherokee Purple Heirloom, I’ll take the tomato.

My Connection with Emperor Shen Nung

It is Tuesday morning. More often than not I spend Tuesday mornings at a café where they serve Earl Grey Iced Tea. Honestly, its an acquired taste. But now it pulls me in on a fairly regular basis. (I also like this café because everyone wears hats).

Legend has it that once upon a time in China a flavorful leaf fell into water being boiled for Emperor Shen Nung and he loved it. Not only did he invent tea, ever since then everyone who drinks the stuff feels like royalty. Iced tea, the real treat, became a hit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It was hot, kind of like 2019, and Richard Blechyndon added ice to his tea samples. Genius!

Drinking iced tea is not new for me, just drinking Earl Grey is new. I have also picked up a liking for Green Tea and Yellow Tea and a vanilla infused iced tea that is called a Paris Blend. I have always liked tea brewed from various mints and sassafras and even mixing those things into a standard black tea. But my palate is expanding. Perhaps someday I will become incredibly cultured and refined, but probably not.

Iced tea drinking goes back to my childhood. My Aunt Chuck (you read that right; I have an Aunt Chuck) used to brew a syrup from tea and sugar and freeze it. When it was time to make a gallon of her sweet tea, she just added water. I loved it. My sweet tea fascination continued for a while; I would drink it when I traveled south of the Mason-Dixon line. But now my fascination with sweet tea is limited to song lyrics “ask Miss Belle for some of her sweet tea.” Does anyone else think song quality goes up when iced tea is mentioned?

I have brewed it on the stove top (the standard way), in the microwave (the fastest way), and in the sun (an earthy way). But the best way (trust me, I’ve drank a lot of tea) is to cold brew the stuff. Yep, here is an iced tea connoisseur letting you know that iced tea is brewed best in small batches right in your refrigerator. Drop ice in some of that while you’re sweating this summer. You will thank me.

Taking On July

July is a battlefield. At least it was in my youth. I would wake in the morning only to wonder what was out there. What could be found in the woods today? Is anything hiding in that rock pile? What will be down at the creek? I wonder if the berries are ripe?

A child knows that something it out there. There is always something out there. Every day is something new to explore. Adults go soft, sitting in cushioned chairs in air-conditioned rooms. But a child knows, there is a lot going on. Someone has to find out what it is.

Still, it is a battlefield out there. Crawling under barbed wire. Falling from a tree or onto rocks. Thorns stand between you and the berries. Sunburn, bruising, and blood are all part of the experience. There are poisons everywhere; ivy, oak, and sumac. Coming home with a rash is normal. Bees will sting, so will yellow jackets, and hornets. Ants will bite, so will deerflies, spiders, and snakes.

Leeches and ticks  are looking to suck your blood. Chiggers will cause you some miserable nights. Mosquitoes will nibble on you all summer long. July is a danger zone. It is a war out there. I still have scars from some of those battles. And I would do it all over again.

It’s Summer Here

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain there is a new deck on the backside of a residential property. Jame, Joel, Joe, and Keith did the bulk of the work. We all climbed on top for a picture when it was done.

Three Chickadees have flown from the nest and four new eggs have replaced them. We can hear them singing inside the forest along with the Wood Thrush and the Catbirds. Catbirds sometimes hide in the tree line and make that sound that gave them the name catbird. Other times, they perch on a branch and cut loose in a mockingbird imitation (and a pretty good one). We can still hear the Gray Tree Frogs and have recently begun hearing Green Frogs.

Everything is growing. Vegetables, flowers, and herbs are looking good.  I am especially interested in the carrots and the sweet potatoes. Mountain laurel came into bloom this past month. The state flower, it is in abundance back here. Wild berries are starting to come on. We are marking a lot of stuff to be taken out. Growth gets thick quickly. I have begun cutting down some trees with a handsaw from Wicked Tree Gear. It is hard work but I think I just like the name of the saw. Seriously, I am using some Wicked Tree Gear.

The smells are outstanding. We pull sassafras up to smell the roots. We scratch birch and it smells like root beer (around here, they call it birch beer). I look up at a blue sky and a song comes to mind. Electric Light Orchestra sang “Mr. Blue Sky” first in 1977 and it never gets old. I think I’ll add that to my summer soundtrack.

Deer have started to be more visible. They don’t hide well this time of year when their coats are golden brown and the background forest is bright green and their velvet is showing. Rabbits are living under the shed and love to play in the yard. I suspect they also play in the garden.

The Hummingbirds are having fun. It is amazing to me that they fly so far. It is interesting that they spend time in tropical places but they always return to this valley. I have started to see Monarch Butterflies also. I wonder how many creatures travel the world but come here to get their game on? The weather has been getting hotter. For a while, it was like a vacation destination. Fifties in the morning, seventies afternoon, cool again at night. Book your flight.

August on Parade

Last week I was stuck in traffic on route 581 and wondering if people have simply forgotten how to use an exit ramp. Out of nowhere came the bouncy flight pattern of a bright yellow bird. Who would have expected to see a goldfinch right here and right now? I should have got out of the car and cheered.

A monarch flies by. I have been seeing a lot of them lately. I follow it to a milkweed patch where I find a future monarch full of colorful black, white, and yellow stripes. This is where monarchs, future and present, go for dinner. I am not much interested in joining them for dinner, but I think it would be fun to join them for an adventure to the Sierra Madres. This is what the fifth generation of monarchs do for a good time.

I watch a cormorant swimming on the surface of the lake when suddenly he is gone. Only to appear again about thirty yards further ahead. Cormorants are excellent divers and capable swimmers. They also appear to have quite an appetite. I also like the orange color of his chin. Not too far away I find a Wood Duck blooming into his fall colors.

While near the water, I can’t help but notice the number of Whitetails. They are in front of me, behind me, and on both sides. They fly by and hover close as if they are trying to figure out what I might be. Of course, I am referring to a black and white dragonfly called the Common Whitetail.

Not far into the forest I find a spider web. At first I don’t even notice, but on the way by when the sun hits it just right, I am greeted with an incredible work of art. How did she know I would be passing by this way? I wonder if she finished it just for me? Is she looking for applause?

I was walking a trail when I spotted a peregrine falcon. This is undoubtedly the fastest creature on earth. As soon as I get close enough for a look, she flies off. Surprisingly, not too far ahead I catch up to her and again when I get close she flies away. Unbelievably, I find her again further up the trail. I begin to think of how the tortoise became so famous when he beat the hare. What are people gonna think of me when they find out I am keeping pace with a peregrine?

A loud crack gets my attention and I quickly look to where the noise came from. I expect to find something large looking my way. Instead I watch as a tree topples over. (So if I weren’t here to hear it  – would it have made a sound)?

I am astonished at the colors I find on the forest floor. I am talking about the fungus. I have found golden yellow (and it was shaped like a butterfly). Glowing oranges and burnt oranges and bright whites. Strange shades of purples and reds, some of them spotted. Crayola should take a field trip into the forest and take notes.

Early one morning I find a snake on a rock and turtles sunning on a log. They don’t move as I pass but I wonder if they are cheering as I walk by. Like I cheer the finch, the web, and the falling tree. And the whole time the August sounds of cicadas by day and katydids at night are like a band playing for all our comings and goings.

It is as if creation is on parade. Sometimes we walk right past it, other times it marches on by. We watch and we are being watched as the band plays. We join August on parade. And we wonder, did we walk through August? Or did it pass us by?

Summer Stuff

This morning, I was standing in the middle of Sherman’s Creek under a clear blue sky. There are so many reasons to love summer. One of them is fishing on days like this. Another one is berries. And I have tasted the first wineberries of the season. It has been a great year for berries, I have been eating black raspberries. But it will be hard to beat this year’s mulberries. I remember spreading a sheet under a mulberry tree and climbing it to shake the ripe berries out. (For the record, that is effective). This year I did not use a sheet, but I did think about standing underneath a tree with my mouth open until a ripe one fell into my mouth. (For the record, not so effective). This past week, we ate blueberry and mulberry pies. They tasted like summer.

We also grilled asparagus and corn on the cob and spiedies. I was introduced to spiedies while living in upstate New York as a teenager. They are tasty marinated meats and quite frankly I can’t believe they are not a nationwide delicacy by now. Anyway, spiedies cause me to reminisce.

It has been hot, a perfect time to roll the windows down and belt out what happens to be playing on the radio. Recently, I have been enjoying Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song.” Yes, they remind me of Led Zeppelin. It was a Led Zeppelin song that became the theme for our senior prom. I did not attend prom and did not listen much to Led Zeppelin. Not because I disliked them, at the time I pretty much listened only to Waylon Jennings. And of course to Willie Nelson, whenever he sang with Waylon Jennings. Anyway, over the years I have become a Led Zeppelin fan and that is probably the reason I like Greta Van Fleet.

I really like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.” What can I say except Chris Stapleton rocks. He reminds me of one of my favorite singers, Mac Powell. But I suspect the real reason I like him is because he does a great job singing covers of Waylon Jennings.

The more I think about it, summer seems like a time for reminiscing. And I recently heard a song I would hear once in a while when in high school (when I wasn’t listening to Waylon Jennings). Gerry Rafferty sang a song called “Baker Street.” It was never my favorite, but I could listen to the Foo Fighters sing that song all summer long. I especially like the live versions. What is not to like about the Foo Fighters?

The more I think about it, I am a reminiscing fool. All this thinking about school and music makes me think I should put on my Angus Young schoolboy shorts and scoot across a stage while singing “Thunderstruck.” But, Lebron borrowed that outfit and hasn’t returned it yet. Anyway, I will be leaving next week to go back to school. Hope the berries are ripe in Kentucky. Hope I get to wade in a creek. Maybe being back in school is the reason I am so reminiscent. Whatever the reason, I know what I’ll be listening to on the ride. Hope Lebron gives my clothes back before I have to leave.

Summertime Serenade

There is something enchanting about the forest at night. I was gathering firewood and setting up the tent when I first noticed the volume of background song being offered by cicadas. This continued while I took a short hike, while I read by the fire, and while I cooked meat on a stick. Cicada song is so common in the summer that we do not always notice when it is there. What is even more surprising is that I did not notice when it stopped. It was nearly dark when I realized the only song I could hear were katydids. It made me wonder what this sounded like at the transition. Is there a moment at dusk where harmonies can be heard as cicada song fades into a katydid chorus? The katydids were still singing after I had laid down looking up into a starry sky.

I awoke in the middle of the night, startled by a light shining directly into the tent. I turned slowly to see where it was coming from and was relieved to find the moon had positioned itself perfectly overhead to wake me with moonshine (don’t tell my mother). I lay back down and noticed the katydids were quiet and the constant background sound was now provided by the nearby stream. A whip poor will added occasional notes as I faded back to sleep.