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.