Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quill Pigs and Blue Jay Kabobs- A Five Course Meal

     This is a re-posting of a blog from 2009. Sometimes, I like to look back at old work. I hope you do, too. ' Tis the season for nostalgia!

    I love cooking shows.  One of my favorites is the cooking competition “Iron Chef,” in which a challenger competes against a previously chosen champion. The chefs must create a five-course meal in one hour using a ‘secret ingredient.’ At the last minute, the show’s creator, with a dramatic, theatrical flourish, reveals the secret ingredient. The competition points are based on flavor, presentation and creativity in the use of  said secret ingredient. Each course, including desert, must contain the secret ingredient, which can be something obscure like Sea Squirts. Often, the secret ingredient sounds incompatible with all of the necessary courses.
     I just watched an episode where asparagus was served as an ice cream. Asparagus used as an appetizer, deep-fried and adorned with a chip of fried pancetta made me drool, but they lost me on the green ice cream. So now, ladies and gentlemen, I reveal to you the secret ingredient - PORCUPINE!
   One of my favorite dishes made by my mother was “Porcupines.” There wasn’t any porcupine in it, only meat balls made with rice in them. The ends of the rice stuck out of the meat resembling the quills of the porcupine. As a kid, I loved the adventurous idea of eating a porcupine, though to date, I have not.
     Endemic to the Old and New Worlds, porcupines are the third largest rodents on the planet, coming in behind Capybaras and beavers, which are all edible (I’ve eaten Capybara and it’s delicious). Porcupine is generally only eaten in desperation as it’s fatty and mineraly tasting. The wood pulp, bark and leaves they consume are astoundingly high in potassium imparting that flavor to the meat. One of the reasons they are so destructive is that they constantly seek sodium to offset the potassium they consume. In addition to trees, they eat ax handles, gloves, or anything else that has absorbed salt from sweat.
     The word porcupine comes from the French porc d’epine or “thorny pork.”  Consistent with the reputation of the pig, the ‘Quill Pig” has a voracious appetite. Because tree parts have less than 2% crude protien, less than most breakfast cereals, porkies have to eat a lot! The greatest wild predator of the porcupine is the Fisher.  To avoid the quills, they circle the porcupine repeatedly biting its vulnerable face until it succumbs. A Quill Pig can have 30,000 spines, each with a viciously sharp point and barbed end.
     The quills of North American porkies are two to four inches long, but the African Crested Porcupine’s spines are eight to sixteen inches long!    Long ago, the shafts of birds’ feathers were used as pens called ‘quills’ for their resemblance to hollow porcupine quills. The African porky quill could surely be used as a pen. Porcupines do not throw quills, contrary to popular belief. When threatened, they raise the spines up to make themselves look bigger and will run backwards towards an attacker. Easily loosened from the porky the quills quickly lodge into the attacker’s flesh. Working their way inward at the rate of an inch a day, the quills can be fatal.
    There are reports of Great Horned Owls, Ruffed Grouse, deer, bears, pigs, even a trout, and of course, dogs with embedded quills. I have not found reports of any Blue jays with quills, so this one that appeared at my feeders, may be for the record books.
   Omnivorous Blue jays are also hogs of a kind. I have had an enormous flock of 30-45 of them at my feeders this past week. I’ve had to put food out twice a day to keep up with them and they have driven off most of the other feeder birds. To slow them down a little and to amuse myself, I took a whole peanut in the shell and tied dental floss around the middle, securing the end to the feeder. The Jays try repeatedly to take the peanut only to be hauled backward. It doesn’t hurt them, only humiliates them. I wouldn’t hurt them, no matter how much they ate. I wouldn’t hurt a porcupine, either, though they have chewed on my house in the past. However, I do wonder how they would all taste in a savory pie.


                                          A Blue jay kabob with quill skewer - yum!

With thanks to Wikipedia and Marty Stouffer's Wild America
  1. Woods, Charles (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 686–689. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  2. Macdonald (Ed), Professor David W. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-920608-2.

Friday, December 9, 2011

FLYday- American Black Ducks

American Black ducks take flight in snow, Phippsburg Maine

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Friday, December 2, 2011

FLYday - Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated hummingbird, female feeding at Impatiens

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

SCENIC SUNDAY- Phippsburg, Maine


The Branch, Small Point Harbor, Phippsburg Maine
November 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SCENIC SUNDAY - Tip Toe Mountian, Vinalhaven Maine

View from atop Tip Toe Mountain, looking down on Crockett Cove, Vinalhaven Island, Maine
November 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fire In The Fall - Inaba Shidare, Family And Friends

Inaba Shidare in my garden
This Japanese maple is by our kitchen door. It rewards us with this fire every November. We rescued Inaba Shidare from a big box store at the end of the season several years ago. Languishing in a gallon pot and all but dead, it had suffered a season of being under watered and over watered. Many of its branches had been snapped and torn, so it was also badly miss-shaped. It was a homely wreck of a struggling tree. 'Shidare' means cascade in Japanese, but there was no cascading going on there. Had we not spent  the five dollars, it was headed to the dumpster that night. This variety of Japanese maple has been cultivated in Yokohama since the early 1800s. Inaba Shidare won the prestigious Award Of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. A dumpster would have been an unceremonious end.
Inaba Shidare is unique amongst the Japanese maples as it is an upright grower. They reach between five and seven feet in height. Ours is about six feet now.
My husband gave this fountain to me for my fiftieth birthday. My daughter dubbed it "The Puking Fish."
The Puking Fish and Inaba Shidare greet visitors at our front door. I see them from the kitchen, too.

These Japanese maple leaves are from a different tree in our yard. Unlike Inaba Shidare, it has a horizontal form. It was also a rescue from the brink of death and destruction. One August, we dug it up from a property where it was hours from being bulldozed. I don't know what variety it is, nor do I care. It thanks us every fall with this outrageous crimson. Ferns grow at its feet and this Pulmonaria volunteered amongst them. Who could blame the Lung Wort for wanting to be with them? 
The iron pagoda was given to my husband by a dear, elderly friend, Louise. Louise died. She was ninety five and had lived a rich, bawdy life. We loved her and she loved us. Louise would have loved being in the middle of this riot of fall color. The Japanese Painted ferns by the pagoda, the dwarf, false cypress and the hostas were also end-of-season, big box cast offs.

Japanese maples do well here in agricultural zone five. They like humidity, of which we have plenty on the coast. These trees thrive in the conditions that make your hair frizz. They do not do well in wind, nor too much sun. The leaves dry out very easily, so they must be protected. We have seven of them on our postage stamp sized property, each tucked into a protective nook with afternoon shade. Every one of them is a rescue, nursed from the brink of death to the glory that was intended for them. 

      I am a gardener. It's a hobby to which I have been deeply devoted for decades. For money, I garden for other people in the summer. I call it "Weeding For Dollars."  I am also, by license and education, a Registered Nurse. I don't work in health care anymore, though I still have a license. I'll probably always have it. It was a hard won token and nurses don't give it up easily. For more than half of my life, it was part of what defined me.
     You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that I am a nurturing, caring person. I have such a bad case of helping hands that I spent three years in the Peace Corps! I was twenty-two and thought I could save the world!  And, I did save a couple of people. But in the end, most of my energy was spent on trying to save myself. I was profoundly depressed and physically, seriously ill more than once. It took a lot of work simply to survive that experience.
     I've always felt guilty about that, too. Somewhere in my dark, little heart I've believed that I should have been able to do more, to save everybody. That didn't go away with the Peace Corp, either. All my life I have been driven by a fix it force from deep within. It would lead me to marry a physically and emotionally abusive man, a destructive force with whom I stayed for eighteen years. I clung to the belief that I could repair his life.
     It has inclined me to collect friends who are wounded, crippled people. The weak light coming from their little planets gets sucked right into my orbit. Then, we are stuck with each other forever, spinning around in anguished, late night phone conversations. We huddle on each other's sofas, deep into bottles of wine and tales of despair. We clutch cups of coffee in each other's kitchens, the crying kitchens.
     I love my friends as deeply as I have loved my sisters, most of whom have had horrific problems in their lives. I've been drawn into their pain as if it were my own. But while listening to their stories, I have been strategizing solutions. Though I've listened to them, in the back of my mind a play has been going on. On the stage, I am the heroine who saves them all. 
     When I was young, I believed the screen play ending. But as I've gotten older, I've learned that there's damned little I can fix and less that I can save. The most that I've got for anybody is listening to them with a lid kept on the advice - a windless nook with shade. I wish for us all it was as easy as the little broken trees.

Friday, November 18, 2011

FLYday - Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper in flight, Phippsburg Maine October
These birds are very fast fliers and are difficult to photograph in flight.

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Friday, November 11, 2011

FLYday - Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings In Flight

Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds and European Starlings on flight take off, Maine

Flyday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Hoarding Heart - DeKay's Northern Brown Snake

DeKay's Northern Brown snake, Phippsburg, Maine October, 2011
The brown blotch on the side of the face is an identification mark.
To give you an idea of how tiny this poor thing is, here it lies against a measure. Four to five inches sounds like a lot. But, in my hand it barely had presense at all. By the way, it was not made in Japan.
The rows of little spots running parallel along the body are identification marks, too.
The underbelly of the DeKay's Brown Snake.

   This bitty, DeKay’s Brown snake was brought to me by a neighbor just two days ago. She found it while she was raking her yard.
     My neighbor, Belinda is obsessed about the leaves; autumn drives her crazy!  She can't stand it when there are leaves around. At night, she lies awake listening for the leaves to fall; before they hit the ground, she whisks them up. Here, the oak leaves are the last to release, so are often bound in snow and ice by the time they flutter from the canopy. Because the oaks' abscission is delayed, leaf clean up goes on for weeks driving Belinda to the brink of distraction.
     A fastidious person, she needs everything in its place and a place for everything. To her, leaves that aren't on trees are in florid disarray. It's as maddening as if someone had taken a dresser full of clothing and dumped the drawers’ contents onto the floor. She can't abide a mess of any kind. Belinda does have a dog, but amazingly, there is not a stray dog hair to be found in her house. There are no piles of newspapers, no crumbs on the counters, no dishes in the sink. She becomes so agitated it makes me wonder what she is really trying to clean up. Is this near-mania to put her external environment in order driven by the some internal filth that she can’t quite reach?
     I'm not an ardent housekeeper. Dog hair blows around my floors like tumbleweeds on the high sierras. Cob webs festoon my curtain less windows and drape from every corner. My kitchen counters are strewn with unimaginable clutter - coupons I think I'll get around to using, newspaper clippings I plan to read, notes with phone numbers, empty jars, wine bottles, you name it.
     Additionally, there are assorted containers housing caterpillars, pupae, frogs and sometimes snakes. Everybody is being tended until hatch day or photo shoot day. Eventually, I release them. But some of them are there through the winter waiting for warm weather to come around again. The jumbled muddle does get on my nerves sometimes. But, generally I have a high tolerance for ambient disorganization.
     It's not that I object to house cleaning. But, there’s so much other interesting stuff to be doing, like reading about snakes. I embrace mind over clutter, because there is only so much time in the day. And mine isn’t going to be spent in the pursuit of nasty neatness.  Besides, bad as my housekeeping is, I probably won't find anything as interesting as a snake. I may have a messy home, but I’ve got a clean heart. At least, that's my current rationalization for my state of affairs that some would call frank hoarding.
     The concept of hoarding in a diagnosable way has gotten a lot of attention lately. There are a couple of television programs devoted to it. The workings of the minds of people who wind up living on top of trash heaps in their own homes fascinates me. Neuro chemical disorders such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder are at the root of it for many people. But, that's only where it starts. The swirling chemistry internally becomes insurmountable chaos externally. Every one of us has this chemistry in our brains. It’s just a question of quantity and what degree of control we may have over it in any given moment. It can start with something as small as a spider in a jar.
     If given the opportunity to survey my kitchen counters, Belinda would declare "Disgusting! Get rid of it!" She doesn't fathom the anxiety it provokes in me to toss things. Because, I might not get that one great photograph or a morphing caterpillar, or web spinning spider. Nor do I understand the turmoil that falling leaves cause her.
     She does get some things about me, though; she brought me the snake. Had her guts not been in a knot over the leaves on her lawn, she would not have found it. Before knowing me, she would have killed it, too. There are probably plenty of these snakes in my yard. But, I've missed them all because they are hiding under undisturbed mountains of leaves. Now that bothers me! Deep inside, Belinda's heart and mine aren't so far apart.
     Pythons are being studied because of the astonishing capacity of their hearts to grow large, quickly. Pythons can go as long as a year without a meal. Their metabolism becomes very slow and their organs small while they endure periods of starvation. When they do eat, their metabolism jump starts, putting huge demands on their organs. Their hearts may grow as much as forty percent in a matter of hours, much as an athlete’s heart grows large over time, to meet the human body’s metabolic demands. Scientists are studying the enzymes in pythons’ hearts. The enzymes may have applications for the human body in treating heart disease. Could a drop of snake’s blood mixed with your own save your life one day? Perhaps so!  
     This is a baby, DeKay's Brown Snake. It was probably born in September. DeKay's snakes only grow to about ten inches or so long. It was on the brink of hibernation, so barely moving. Almost frozen, it did jiggle the end of its tail when disturbed. Like a starving python, its metabolism had slowed to conserve energy. These secretive snakes spend most of their lives underground, but during heavy rains they will sometimes go out into the open. This usually happens in October and November and during late March and April when they are moving to hibernation or breeding spots. 
     DeKay's have adapted to areas inhabited by humans and favor living under trash piles. Widespread and common, they can be found across most of the United States. Because they are small and nocturnal, they are not often seen. They are non venomous. When they do feel threatened they’ll flatten their bodies out to appear larger, position their bodies in an aggressive posture and release a musky smelling fluid. “Snake juice” on your hands has a distinct smell. I know. Though not endangered, the Maine Department of Inland Fish And Wildlife lists their conservation status as of special concern.
     They eat tiny mollusks, slug, small salamanders and worms. They have specialized teeth and jaws that enables them to pull snails out of their shells and eat them. Gardeners should regard them as beneficial for their slug and snail preferences. DeKay’s Brown Snakes are eaten by dogs, cats and hawks, crows, Jays, weasels, other snakes, frogs and toads. James Edward DeKay, for whom the snake was named, was an American naturalist in the 1800’s. He identified over 1,600 species.  Mr. DeKay must have spent a lot of time raking leaves. So, maybe I’ll go out and rake some leaves after all, and maybe find a snake. 

 Thanks in part for some of the information:
Jonathan Mays, Herpetologist Maine Department of Inland Fish And Wildlife
Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2008. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed at
    Phil Roy, Adopter Maine Herpetological Society
Seaholm, L. 2000. "Storeria dekayi" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 07, 2011     

Friday, November 4, 2011

FLYday - Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron in flight Phippsburg, Maine

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FLYday- Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicenis, Phippsburg, Maine

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scenic Sunday - Dromore Bay

Dromore Bay, Phippsburg, Maine October 2011

Dromore Bay is tidal. It is near the mouth of the Kennebec River on the west side. The salt marsh provides important habitat for birds and other wildlife. Waterfowl are abundant. Raptors which hunt other birds and small mammals cruise the marsh grasses looking for prey. Osprey fish here. Animals that eat mollusks and crustaceans frequent the marsh. White-tailed deer, raccoons, mink, fishers and foxes are abundant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Tiniest Kings - Ruby-Crowned and Gold-Crowned Kinglets

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula Phippsburg Maine October 21, 2011
The red smudge on the crown of this bird's head raises up to a nice, ruby crest when it's trying to attract chicks during breeding season. It does not fully display its crest often. It's not as flashy as its cousin that sports a golden crown no matter what it's up to. Maybe because it's smaller, the Golden-crowned feels the need be ostentatious.
Gold-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa Phippsburg, Maine October 24, 2011
(this bird was a window strike. It lived to rule the forest another day)

     This tiny bird is sitting on the end of my index finger. I have small hands and often wear children's gloves when I garden. It's hard to find gloves that fit so that the finger tip doesn't fold over. That should give you an idea of just how diminutive this bird is. Next to Ruby-throated hummingbirds, these are our smallest birds The Golden-crowned Kinglet in the bottom two images is about four inches from bill tip to tail tip. The Ruby-crowned is a smidge longer at four and a quarter inches. Given how small they are, it must be hard for them to find crowns that fit.
     I feel their pain. Not only are my fingers short, so are my legs. I'm wearing a "petite" bathrobe that is slightly too long. When the Golden-crowned Kinglet hit the window, I leaped to its rescue and almost fell on the floor, hobbled by the hem of the robe. My inseam is only twenty seven inches. To buy pants that don't drag on the ground, I have to shop in obscure places. I can't walk in to a store and buy off the rack and expect a positive outcome. Even when a garment says "short" or "petite" on the label, I can't assume that means short enough for me. Lately, I've been buying pants at Denim & Company, an online  QVC store. Because I have found this source for pants that fit perfectly, I have anxieties that suddenly, the next time I need a new pair, Denim & Company will have vanished. It is a universal rule that when you find a product that you love and become dependent upon, it will  cease to be available. I appreciate many of the challenges these precious birds face out there in the wild. I wonder if the Kinglets have problems while crown shopping. Is there a crown outlet somewhere amidst the vast malls of New Jersey ? If a Kinglet wears a crown that is too big, thus slipping on its head, it could be fatal. My crown has slipped a few times nearly killing me. I get it.
   There are six species of kinglets on the planet. We have two in North America, the ones you see here. The scientific name Regulidae comes from the Latin word regulus for "petty king" or prince. That comes from the colored crowns of adult birds. Loosely, these little guys fall into the class of Old World Warblers along with Thrushes and some of their buddies, the Tits and Dippers, which doesn't sound very classy at all if you ask me! They sound like performers at a strip club.
     Kinglets have an elongated fourth, hind toe for suspending from branches. However, this still doesn't make them good at pole dancing. They perform in the tree tops preferring mixed woods. The Golden-crowned especially likes the tops of conifers, though I often see them in birches and alders. Both kinglets are insect eaters. They will also eat the eggs of insects and the pulp of berries. Their rapid metabolism and small size mandate that they eat constantly, even while nest building. Kinglets that can't eat can lose a third of their body weight in twenty minutes and may starve to death in an hour.They flit and twiddle around at the ends of branches, hovering as they glean bugs from the leaves. Ruby-crowned kinglets are recognizable by their constant wing flicking. Keeping the crown firmly on the head is an imperative during this kind of acrobatic food hunting. They are fast moving, energetic birds that are hard to photograph. They don't sit still for studio work very well, unless stunned like the Golden-crowned shown here.
     Kinglets aren't endangered, though some studies suggest population declines due to habitat loss in some areas. Many of them, though not truly migratory,  move further south from their breeding areas in the winter months. But, many of them stay here. They eat insects in the tree tops all winter and especially fancy the caterpillars of moths and snow fleas. Rumor has it that during the winter, they wash the bugs in their mugs down with single malt Scotch. For me to stay in the top of a spruce tree for the winter, it would take Glenfiddich. And, you could keep the crown.

Sibley, David A, The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2000, Pg 394
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

And, Dr. Herb Wilson, Judy Scher, Robeta Lane, AnnieO, Kristen Lindquist, Julia, Sean Smith, Sharon F. and Joel Wilcox for information and resources.

This post just recieved Editor's Pick on Open Salon ( It is my twelfth Editor's Pick.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

FLYday - Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile, Bald eagle, Phippsburg, Maine
(I took this photograph while wearing my bathrobe!)

FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Saturday, September 24, 2011



Antique pickle jars from the 1800's. Before Ball, Kerr and Mason came along, these are the kinds of jars that were used for food storage.

      “Oh God,” I thought, and this from a person who probably doesn’t believe in God. But, I knew I was in a lot of trouble. Compulsively, I kept checking under the blanket I had thrown over it, as if it would mysteriously disappear. But, no. And now, crushed by its own weight, thin, serious fluid was beginning to ooze from it. Lividity was obvious.  A fly appeared on the window ledge.
    I walked out of the room to try to think. I paced; chewed my cuticles. Why did I have to do it? If just this once I had screwed up the courage to say no, I wouldn’t be in this damned mess. It was going to take me a long time to unravel this if I could get out of it at all. And that was looking less likely by the minute. “Think! Think!” I said aloud to the walls and gathering flies. Was it me, or was it getting hotter in there? I pulled my shirt away from my neck. I swear I could hear the wall clock ticking louder and louder. Time. I needed more time. That, I knew I wasn’t going to get. Decomposition waits for no one. 
     I should have known when they said they were leaving town the next day to just say no. What the hell was I thinking? Not thinking was my problem. They said do it; I said yes. It never entered my head to say no, even when they said it had to be done right then. I tried to beg off, stall, but no. I didn’t know Alice well, but I had always thought she seemed like a nice person. “Nice person,” what does that really mean? Nothing, clearly, because she was capable of being as forceful as need be. She got me to go over there didn’t she? Even though I didn’t want to, at least not right then. I didn’t even want to get involved in it, but I did. And I did it to appease a woman whom I didn’t even really know.  “Pathetic, just frigging pathetic,” I mumbled to myself. Sweat beaded on my forehead.
    Alice and Erland looked like average, middle income, middle aged, middle everything people. Boring people. Harmless people. I met Alice when she started taking care of Fannie. I’m Fannie’s gardener. Every year, I plant a few hundred marigolds in her front yard and keep them weeded for her. She used to do it herself, but for years she’s been moving slower and slower with a rolling walker in front of her. Alice started coming to help her around the house. Eventually, she was there for a few hours every day. I would see her only enough to say hi when she came and left. Erland started plowing up part of Fannie’s back forty he said for a garden. Erland liked to grow things, Alice said. Fannie said they didn’t have enough land at their place and she kind of liked having the old farm used. The farm had lain fallow for nearly fifty years, since her father died. Erland put a tall fence around the area he’d tilled. He put a lock on the gate. 
     Once or twice, Erland showed up to work the garden while I was pulling weeds at the front of the house. I’d nod and wave hello. He never spoke. Hell, he barely even looked at me! I figured he was shy or stupid, or both. Didn’t matter to me. He always drove his truck straight across the field and right up to the gate. I couldn’t see what he was actually doing over there as he loaded and unloaded God knows what. I could just hear him banging and thumping around. I always noticed when he left because I’d hear the shovels jouncing around in the truck bed as he drove over the old furrows long hidden by tall grass. 
     One time, he stopped the truck and stared at me while I worked. I was bent over, ass to the air pulling miles of sorrel roots from the sour ground. I hated working there. It was always hot and buggy. It was a job I had because, once again, I hadn’t had the starch to say no when I should have and I hated it. I stood, hands to my low back. I was uncomfortable on two counts: my sore muscles and his intense stare. “Hey Erland,” I hollered over. His right hand reflexively darted to the ignition. If he was going to be watching me, we were going to chat for a minute. I’ve found that usually, reducing anonymity cuts down on creep behavior. When I started across the yard toward him, he hesitated one second too long to make a clean get away. He dropped his hand away from the key. “There’s loads of Bluebirds coming through here, Erland.” “You ought to put up some Bluebird houses around that garden,” I said.
     His stare shifted from my face. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at my body or my tool belt. Either way, I didn’t like it. “Bluebirds, that’d be nice wouldn’t it?” I said, lamely. When he opened his mouth to speak, I noticed his teeth were bad. “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birds,” he said, reaching for the truck key.  I should have known right then. If I hadn’t been too hot and bug bitten to pay attention, I would have been smart enough to not get involved. 
     My rhythm for weeding broken, I decided to ask Fannie for a glass of water.  Fearful of being robbed, she generally had the place locked up tighter than a vault. But today, Alice was in there with her. Alice insisted that Fannie let fresh air in though the screen door. They usually sat at the kitchen table gabbing about I couldn’t imagine what. Sometimes they said prayers. Alice never missed church. Back in the day when Fannie could walk, she was cut of the same cloth. She never missed a mass or high holiday. But now, it was too hard for her to get in and out of a car, so she didn’t go. And she missed it. Alice’s religion compulsion was another thing that should have tipped me off, that and her insufferable tidiness and helpfulness. 
   Leaning against the door jam, I pried off my dirty boots. I always took my shoes off before I went into Fannie’s house. If I didn’t, Alice would have come right behind me with a dust pan and whisk broom. Padding toward the kitchen in my socks, they didn’t hear me coming. “Alice, just ask her when you go out, why don’t you. Maybe she’ll do it,” Fannie said. She sounded nervous.  “Well you know Erland ain’t gonna say nothin’ about it. That you can count on!” Alice’s declaration had a hint of nasty to it. “He’s always leavin’ the hard parts up to me. I got to find all the means for getting’ things done, “she groused. 
     When I appeared in the kitchen door, Fannie jumped and made a little whooping noise. “Oh! Lord! I didn’t hear you! Come in, come in,” she motioned. “You must need water, hot as it is out there. Hot as blazes! Help yourself,” she pointed to the sink. Normally, Alice would be chatty, but not this time. When I smiled and said hello, she looked down at the table top, obviously uncomfortable that I had walked in on their conversation.  “Alice, why don’t you just ask her?” said Fannie.  Alice reflexively picked at an invisible spot of dirt buried n the floral pattern of the table cover. She didn’t respond more than to make a little cough. “What on earth is going on here?” I wondered to myself, turning to the sink. I ran a glass of water. I turned back to the table just in time to see Alice vigorously shaking her head at Fannie, cueing her to silence on whatever the subject had been.
     And that’s how I got into this mess. I should have pushed them to tell me what was going on, but I didn’t. So, when the phone rang, I was caught totally off guard and said yes, I’d come help them. When I got there, Alice was waiting in the yard twisting her apron in her hands. Who even wears an apron anymore? She looked like a frightened deer. “You’ll take it won’t you? Fannie said you’d help. Erland’ll put it in your car. We’re leavin’ town tomorrow and it’s got to go today!” Erland appeared from around the house. Without speaking, he opened my car and started loading it in. I’d have to clean it out later. I wondered how I’d get the stain out. Red’s a hard color to deal with. Bleach? Would bleach work?
     I’ll admit that I panicked. Not knowing what else to do, I put it in the bathtub and covered it up. Fearful that someone would show up, I threw a blanket over it. All I needed was for somebody to see it! I’d never be able to explain. Maybe David would help me. I knew about spousal immunity. He couldn’t be made to testify against me, could he? No sane person could explain this away.  Could I make a jury believe that I was a victim? In the mean time, I went onto the Internet to see if I could find some ways of disposing of it.
    The second he came through the door, David knew something was wrong. “What’s going on?” he asked. “And where’d all these flies come from?” He waved a few away from his face. I knew if I spoke, I’d say too much. I took his hand and lead him to the bathroom. I had closed the door as if to keep it in there, not that it was going to move on its own. When I opened the door, he said “Oh, god, what the hell have you got in here?” I walked over to the tub. I could see the form under the blanket, a bloated corpus lying in state. Red fluid seeped from under an edge of fabric. This was the moment of truth. I couldn’t hide it from him any longer; I had to show him what I had done. I took a corner of the blanket and flung it back revealing five, hideous bushels of ripe tomatoes. May God help me!

These are killer tomatoes! This harvest business can be bad for your health.

We will be eating tomatoes into the next century. One of many tasty dishes I have made with them  has been tomato pie. It goes like this:

One nine inch pie crust cooked. Don't let it get too brown. You need to cook it just enough so that when you put the tomatoes in the juice doesn't soak into it and it make it a soggy mess. It's okay if you forget to cook it first, too. I've done that and it came out fine. My mother used to put sesame seeds in her pie crust. That gives it a lovely nutty flavor, esp. good in a savory dish. If you use cheater crusts (pre made from the supermarket), you can still add sesame seeds. Roll the crust out a tiny bit before you cook it. Sprinkle the seeds on before you roll it which will press them into the dough.

4-5 ripe tomatoes. Slice them. Put them into a colander and sprinkle salt on them. Let them drain for about 15 minutes. You are trying to reduce the juice to pulp ratio a little so the pie isn't a juicy, soggy swamp.
1/2 of a big, fat red onion. Yellow or Vidalia will work, too. Cut into rings. I like them thick so that I know there is onion in the pie. To each his own. Lay the onion slices into the bottom of the cooked pie shell. Then put the tomato slices on top of the onions to cover the pie bottom.
Fresh herbs: as much basil, loveage and oregano as you can scrounge from your garden to make about 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs. I love lovage. Basil is especially nice with this, but anything you have fresh that you like will work.
1 Cup cheddar or Jarlsberg or whatever you like that's in the fridge and has strong flavor. You want something to hold up to the tangy tomatoes, herbs and onions
1 Cup Mozzarella. Be mindful of moisture. For this, the cheap, shredded super market stuff is better because it's dry
1 Cup of mayo. I like the kind made of olive oil, especially since I have a cholesterol problem and the cheese is already really pushing it
about 1/4 Cup of cream. I actually use non dairy creamer for this, another cholesterol thing, and it works great. Mix the cheeses, mayo and cream together. Mix the herbs in with it and the cracked pepper. It will be stiff. You want that because the tomatoes will be very juicy when they start to cook. The cheese stuff will sort of settle down amongst the tomatoes as it cooks. Don't put in too much cream! You just want enough to make the cheese and mayo mixable. Put the cheese stuff by blobfulls (French culinary term) onto the tomatoes. 
cracked pepper to taste. You already salted the tomatoes, don't do that again!
Bread crumbs, enough to cover the top. I like Panko. It's crispier.

Bake the whole mess at 350 for about an hour. Be sure to let the pie set for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven. That way all of the contents will coalesce making it easier to serve. It tastes great even if you don't.

This link has a really interesting article about food storage containers,  A.K.A., "pickling jars" and their history.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

IS THE WORLD REALLY MY OYSTER? The Etiology Of Retail Impulse

     If I’ve missed saying thank you to you for reading my work and looking at my photographs, I’m sorry. I need every one of you to keep reading and responding to what I do. I spend part of every day answering e mails and thanking total strangers for their positive regard for my writing and photography. I try to acknowledge all the thumbs ups, comments and ratings. I’ve had a good year selling photographs and receiving acclaim for my writing. But, so far, no one has offered me a book deal. My dream is to combine my photography and writing into a package that would earn a little money. That hasn’t happened, and I find it discouraging. 
     I try to just shut up and write, but occasionally I falter in the faith that if I stick with it, one day my dream will come true. Usually, when I whine to my husband and girlfriends about this, they suffer though it, knowing that I’ll shut up eventually if they just let me go on. It usually goes like this: “I’m just not good enough, apparently.” I try to deliver this as a matter of fact, not an emotion laden bomb, nor an opener for my neediness. Unconvincingly, I say it like I don’t care, like I’m bigger than that, like my ego doesn’t need more than doing the work for the work’s sake alone. Artistic types lie about that all the time. “I don’t paint for other people; I paint for myself.” Ya, sure you do. If that were true, you’d never show your withered water colors to another living soul.  
    I whine and snivel on, often after too much wine or when fatigue weakened.  “My biggest fear is that I’ll never amount to anything, that I’ll never create anything noticeable, that I’ll just disappear into a cloud of artistic mediocrity. People will even remember Barry Manilow, but they won’t remember me!” I’m usually crying by this point and dangerously sloshing a glass of red wine around. On one of such occasion, a girlfriend snapped unsympathetically. “Oh for Christ’s sake! What the hell’s the matter with you? Look around, will you?  You are famous! Look how many followers you have on your blog! And people already know who you are when you are introduced; they know your name!  That’s never happened to me! And, all those Editor’s Picks on Open Salon for God’s sake! That’s millions of people! I don’t know what you want, lady. Look around you –you’ve already gotten someplace! You’re there! What more do you need anyway?”
     I don’t know the answer to that. But, I do know that whatever it is, I don’t have it, yet. My seemingly bottomless appetites disgust me. I’m a greedy, needy, dissatisfied little, piggy person. The best I can do is confess to it in the hopes of being freed from it (And who says I don’t understand Catholicism!). I will work at fearlessness in the face of my deepest, darkest fear that no one will ever know me - whoever I am, whom ever you are. 
     A few years ago, I had my first oysters on the half shell. I only had a couple shared from someone else’s restaurant appetizer, but I was hooked. I wanted more someday. My husband recently came home with a big, fat bag full fresh from a local oyster farm. He shucked while I looked on the Internet for preparation guidance. We laid the oysters on their shells nestled into a bed of crushed ice to keep them cold and stable. If they fall over their delicious liquor spills out which would be a shame. My husband pried them open, and then delicately released each one from its fleshy hinge. The ecru morsels were floated back into a personal pool of brine and pearl shell.
     Oysters are best slugged down in one gulp, like a shot, juice and all from their own shell spoon. Purists don’t add anything to them. I can’t leave well enough alone, though; I always need to tinker. I squeezed on a little fresh lemon. On some we had a squirt of brilliant, red, Tai hot sauce. Some I served with a dollop of cool, cucumber Mignonette with shallots and rice wine vinegar. Rice wine vinegar added just the right acidic sweetness complimenting the oysters’ sweet meat. The cucumbers married the earth and sea. We tried several with both the Mignonette and the hot sauce.  Each way we had them was more divine than the previous. They tasted like mouthfuls of the sea, the sky and the earth combined, floating in briny oceanic goodness. They were so delicious that we ate three dozen! I would have eaten more had there been more. There will never be enough oysters for me. We sat on our deck, looking out to the southward sea, savoring oysters and the last days of summer. What more could I have wanted? I don’t know, but something.
     I also know there will never be enough shoes for me. My husband likes to razz me about how many pairs of shoes I own. He says I have shoe stashes all over the place, like a drunk that has bottles of booze hidden around the house. He doesn’t’ really care how many shoes I own but rather sees it as a personality quirk. He also thinks I have a sunglasses fetish which may be true. When I came home with another pair recently, he said “What, more sunglasses?” “How many do you have anyway?” “Not that many,” I defended. 
     One of my girlfriends has told me I have a shoe problem, too. I winced when she said this, having assumed no reasonable woman would have thought such a thing. Wounded, I examined my shoe piles. There wasn’t one set I was willing to part with. They all have different purposes, moods, practicality, or total lack thereof to support their existence in my space. I need them all.
     A few days ago, I went shopping for a pulse meter for exercising.  Next to the pulse meters were pedometers. Logically, I went from the sporting goods store to buy a pulse meter to the TJ Max shoe rack. And it was not my fault, either. Some evil temptation entity put the pulse meters next to the pedometers to prod me toward the shoes in the next retail establishment. I can’t be held responsible for that.
     I came home without the pulse meter. But I did get two pairs of the coolest, sexiest, hottest boots ever heeled. When I put on those boots I felt like a rock star! Who needs a pulse meter when you’ve got great boots! So that was that: I had to have them. Winter is nigh upon us and I’ll need something appealing to mince through snow and then slog through mud season. I’ll need something that will help me to look better than I will feel. Then, while working on my retail rationalization, I saw it: the most must- have, to die for, out of this world accessory ever fabricated.
     Imagine a sort of boa, a silky, soft, begs-to-be-touched shawl-ish wrap of fur. Close your eyes and conjure a cuddly, delicious scarf of Finlandian fox died in every color of the rainbow. Slung around my shoulders, the colors came to life as I moved; I was a goner. I would have defaulted on my mortgage before I’d pass up that chunk of lovely luxury. “Winter will be coming,” came to my mind again like the words of a song.  
     When I got home, I had to try on everything.  I had all the makings of a great outfit. I slung my wrap around my shoulders, put on my new Jackie-O sunglasses then sashayed out onto the deck. I felt taller in my boots and I’m sure I looked younger. I looked out to sea. It was calm. The water surface undulated softly, a satiny blue color, like the shells of oysters. Every color of the sky breathed in my scarf -pink, purple, teal, midnight blue, and tangerine. For just a few minutes, I felt like a famous writer.

Winter Point oysters (Crassostrea virginica) served three ways, with lemon, Tai hot sauce (Sriracha is a common brand of Tai hot sauce) and cucumber Mignonette.

Oysters are an important form of aquaculture in Maine. These came from J.P.'s Shellfish in West Bath, Maine, just up the river from us.

For more on Maine aquaculture, click here.
Read this for an interesting article on local oyster farming:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"LIFER!" Green Snakes And Birding Trash

Opheodrys vernalis, or Smooth Green Snake to the rest of ya
"Oooooooh! I declare: this looks like a Chateau Grasshopper if I ever saw one!"

Smooth Green Snake moving on from dinner reject. Note that the snake has its tongue out. Snakes communicate by smell and tasting chemicals in the air released by other snakes. They also communicate with body language. This one may have been looking for other snakes or food.

And here, it may have found its true love!

     I just spent most of two days on Monhegan Island. Monhegan is ten miles off the coast of Maine from Port Clyde. The island is on the eastern flyway, so it's a birding hot spot. I was hoping to add to my paltry, birding life list with a new species or two. But, no such luck. It's already a touch late into migration and the weather was not on my side. The first day was socked in with pea soup fog and drizzle. The second day, though the sun was shining brightly, the wind was blowing steady at 35 MPH with gusts higher than that. My husband and I were there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. So, additionally leaping from bed at the crack of dawn and running into the woods seemed like bad form. I lingered with him over coffee and love talk, so probably missed some really good birds in the early morning. "Good birds" are what birders say when a birder sees a rarity or a bird out of its usual range or season. I don't believe in "bad birds," though I know some who do. European starlings, Mourning doves, House sparrows, Mute swans, and other "trash birds" which have been introduced from other continents are regarded as bad birds. I like all of them. That makes me birding trash, I suppose. Monhegan feels like another continent, and I was definitely a foreign introduction.
   Another thing that makes me birding trash is that I'm a photographer. I am more interested in great photographs than I am in ticking birds off a list. Don't get me wrong: I've got enough ego that I groove on adding to my Life List (the list of species a birder tallies), but I'll sacrifice a bird tick for a photo tick every time. I am also every bit as drawn by other species of wildlife. I think ideally, we should all have wildlife life lists, not just confine ourselves to one type. After all, birds and snakes and insects and all the kids in the pool are connected to one another as food eventually.
     It was my husband who saw these snakes first. He has a major aversion to snakes, though I wouldn't call him a full blown herpetaphobe.  He knows I love snakes. Ahead of me on the trail, he motioned to come quickly. "Look! Snakes!" He hissed, pointing to the ground at his feet. There were three, Smooth Green Snakes staring each other down and circling a grasshopper. I could not have been more delighted as I had never seen one before. "That's a Lifer for me!" I declared with glee while shooting photographs.
     Green snakes are common in Maine and throughout most of the United States. They are not endangered, but for some reason, I had never seen one alive. When they are born, they are brownish to olive green. A few of them keep that coloration into adulthood, but most turn the brilliant green you see in these photos. They have a creamy yellow belly that is slightly whitish on the most underside. When they die, the yellow and green skin pigments turn to blue. I have seen dead, blue Green snakes after which I was blue, too.  
     There are two species of Green snakes, Smooth and Rough. You guessed it: the scales of the smooth are smooth and the other rough. The Green snake is the only species of green snake. They grow to around two feet long. Females are slightly larger than males, which have longer tails. If you can figure out what part of a snake qualifies as tail, you're a better herpetologist than I am. Other than the head, they look like all tail to me. Green snakes breed in the spring. They lay about 8 eggs which hatch in August and September. It takes two years for Green snakes to be old enough to mate. No one really knows how long they live. It is reported that one in captivity lived to be six years old. Don't try to keep one as a pet, though. Usually they refuse to eat and die. You wouldn't want that on your hands, would you? You and your Green snake would then be blue.
     Green snakes' preferred habitat is grassland, which their color gives away. They are most active during the day, so that's when people usually see them. If it's hot, they will be about in the mornings and evenings. Green snakes are also found in forest and rocky areas. We were on the wooded trails on the east side of Monhegan when we saw this trio.  Eventually, we tallied six of them, all in the sun on rocks. Green snakes are solitary for most of the year, so it was odd to find three together. In the winter, they hibernate in groups, sometimes with other species of snakes. Perhaps everybody was getting together to go under ground to the ant hills and empty rodent burrows where they hibernate. They might have been taking a supplies inventory for the long winter. "Larry, have you got extra flashlight batteries?" "And Joan, you were supposed to get a box of granola bars. Did you?" There would be a snake like me that made sure there were enough bottles of Merlot to go around and maybe some dark chocolate. The other snakes would look at each other and roll their eyes. But, come February, none of them would be shy about swilling my wine and nibbling my shared chocolate, either.  
  Green snakes usually eat insects - crickets, spiders and grasshoppers being tops on the list. They're general carnivores though and will eat small amphibians if they find them. They use smell and vibration to find lunch. I was sure that the snake in the top photo was going to snag that grasshopper. It did give it some consideration, but then slithered by. Maybe the grasshopper looked like a screw top or a bad vintage. Milk snakes, another Maine native, eat Green snakes. So do cats, foxes, raccoons, and birds. The Green snakes' only defenses are a musky smell emitted if the snake is handled and its camouflage color. They are not venomous. 
While you are in the natural world,
Looking for the lovely bird,
Cast your eyes from the sky
To the lowly ground.
If luck be with you,
A slithering Green snake may be found.

For more information, look here:
Green Snakes in Maine Provided by    
Maine Herpetological Society
J.D.'S Herp Page  This is an interesting web site with a load of information and great photos on assorted reptiles - snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders and the like. The author has a herp. life list, as I think we all should to be thought well rounded.

For more Monhegan images from our trip, click here.

SCENIC SUNDAY - Marshall Point Lighthouse


Maine scenic, Marshall Point Lighthouse where a scene from the movie Forrest Gump was shot, Port Clyde, Maine

Friday, September 16, 2011

FLYday - Sandpipers And Plovers, Maine


Sandpipers and Plovers in migration, Phippsburg Maine, Popham Beach 2011
FLYday is an homage to what our feathered friends do best, fly.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Caution To The Wind - Hurricane Hype Fatigue

     -The Center of a sunflower-

For a week, we were bombarded with media coverage about the hurricane advancing across the ocean and up the coastline. Speculations and computer model analysis were endless. Hearing about it was as inescapable as the storm itself. The meteorologists and broadcast weather reporters had important work to do, but I was sick of listening to them. I had hurricane hype fatigue and it was my own fault. I checked the weather channel constantly, checking on the progress of the approaching storm. "What number is the weather channel," my husband asked. "Three sixty-two," I responded without hesitation. 
     When I can’t sleep I watch inane television. I recently told my husband that I have been watching “Toddlers And Tiaras.” It’s a show about little girls competing in beauty pageants. Three year olds have their eye brows plucked, false eye lashes applied, make-up slathered on and Dolly Parton mega do’s piled on their heads. Sequined dresses costing in the thousands are worn only once for a single pageant. Moms and dads teach their little dolls to twirl, shake their booties and throw kisses to the judges. Breast inserts are put in the bathing suits of toddlers who stick out their chests enticingly like worn out old hookers. It’s ghastly. “Who watches that crap?” my appalled husband asked. “I hope you don’t tell anyone you watch it!” he chided. I held back that I also watch “Sex Change Hospital.”   
     The week before the storm filled me with building anxiety about what was coming and what we should do to prepare for it. I couldn’t sleep. I watched Toddlers And Tiaras and was glued to the weather channel. I quick clicked the remote back and forth. The storm jargon, “Cat One, Cat 2, wind field, terrain effect……” soaked into my brain. Click, “Her little personality really comes through on stage,” said a helmet haired judge with overly rouged cheeks. Click. The storm advanced.
     Over and over, I watched the reporters across the entire Eastern seaboard pelted by sheets of rain and wind. I came to know them and have preferences. Jim – the short guy in the L.L. Bean rain gear, Stephanie was the new girl that had to keep looking at her blowing notes, Long Beach -the town covered by the fat guy who didn’t need to worry about being blown away. Slickers, notes, hats and hands flapped and chattered across the East. I was transfixed by the satellite views spinning and grinding up the coast. I was nauseous. I had a headache. But, I kept watching.
     Four of our family members, including my daughter, were evacuated from New Jersey and Virginia. Each time the phone rang, I was thankful that it did ring, a good sign that the communications infrastructures were still intact.  The cell phone towers were predicted to be compromised. I got a physical address for where my daughter had “evac’ed” to. I would need it if she went missing. I wondered, would it be too much to tell her to tell her to write her Social Security number on her forearm? Each time the phone rang, my primal brain sounded the alarm, “Oh no!” The calls were status updates from loved ones, not bad news. But still, each time I was lurched. I almost wished it would come already and get it over with. The earth was going to hell! How much would it matter what I did or didn’t do to mitigate the effects? The gloom and doom prognostications were too much to get my head around. Almost too big to handle, the anxiety bar had been set high this time. We told each other to stay indoors. “Stay safe, I love you,” was chanted like a mantra. 
    We live seventy-five feet from the ocean. Additionally, we care-take numerous properties for absentee home owners. They also called us and sent e mails, anxious about their assets. For days, we’d been securing other people's patio furniture, planters, flags, beach toys, trash barrels, bird feeders - the list was endless. “I’m taking my boat out of the water, just to be safe,” one said.  “Can you see if Larsons took theirs out yet?” I looked across the water. Not a boat to be seen, the cove was strangely desolate for August.
     Then, we hustled to put our stuff away. We lashed down our boat. We deliberated about procuring plywood panels for our huge windows. Some might ask, "What's the question? Put up the panels!" The answer is expense, labor and denial. We just don't want it to be bad enough to warrant that. Boat owners don’t want to lose one precious day of the craft in the water. When the boat comes out, it won’t go back; summer is over. We want the good times to go on forever. Pushing back the fear some poor choices would be made - boats left in the water, windows left unprotected, or evacuation notices ignored.  Surfers and sightseers will go to the beach.
     Tra-la, la, la! Is that danger I hear at the door?  “What kind of idiot goes out in this kind of thing?” The question was heard over and over.  I confess: I’m that person. I’m the person the governor of New Jersey was hollering at to get the hell off the beach. I’m the person who would go sightseeing and have a tree fall on my car crushing me. I’m the person who would go surfing. I’m the person who would stand on the rocks in the face of a monster wave, blithely watching the magnificent earth wreak havoc upon itself.  I don’t want to come to terms with the world being a dangerous, sometimes horrible place. I embrace hope and denial.  I throw caution to the wind and go out in the storm.
     This time, we got away with it and I’m thankful. Our top wind speed was forty-six MPH with sustained winds of thirty or so. Those stats don’t even make a “Cat One” hurricane. The great, muscled seas roared in swinging punches, but did not connect. Our house vibrated and groaned, but nothing was ripped away, no damage nor loss. Our day for plywood will come, but not this time.  I’ll say loftily that these storms are good things. Sounding like a phony Old Salt, I’ll say “Storms clean the earth.”  Then, I’ll click to Toddlers And Tiaras.
Phippsburg, Maine shipwreck October 26, 2008