Friday, July 24, 2015

Bless Men


 "Would you help me?" she asked. "My battery's gone dead."

I was just about to turn the key in my old car and sat flummoxed, wondering what to do.

"Uh, be glad to help, but I don't have jumper cables."

Just then a man ambled by and she called out asking if he had any. This set in train: man-with-a-plan. 

The fellow pulled out a set of tidily-stored jumper cables. By then I'd pulled my car next to her compact junker, full of two little kids, a baby stroller, toys and car seat, and a small sack of groceries.

The good Samaritan eyed the distance; I'd need to angle my car in. "I'll guide you," he said, waving me in; signaling bear left; stop. In a minute he had her engine started. I leaped in the air and shouted, "YES." 

Nothing to it! He waved over his shoulder as we thanked him.

We two women looked at each other and grinned, grateful for quiet competence from a stranger.

Interesting tides of change, as women have fended off gallantry and turned rude to men trying to help--a milieu in which I remain ungrateful for the liberation of pumping my own gas! 

Thank you, guys, for opening doors and helping with heavy loads.

There's a catalog comes in the mail with sturdy women's work clothes. The women pictured are wielding chain saws, hammers and kayak paddles! Now I've done all that, and admire can-do, but let's hear it for good-hearted men.

When the young woman asked me for help, my own car had been a mess earlier in the day. Scared the heck out of me, with red warning lights, thumping and missing. I'd alerted a friend that I dared not drive anywhere till I got it into the shop.

Her stalwart husband and good neighbor arrived at 7am. He listened to the cacophony, raised his eyebrows and followed me into town, to be sure I made it to the mechanic.

Bless men and their skill sets, their problem-solving and care. 

From the photo essay,
 The Family of Man

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Books to Treasure; Books to Ban


Homeless in a tent, sleeping on the ground, I lived in wild topography without cell phone reception. Not just I but others read books, or settled into easy conversation around the campfires, the only sounds, fire crackling, fish leaping in the river, raptor wings and the wind.

People also sat on rocks not talking at all, seemingly listening to the earth herself. We watched black bear and big horn mountain sheep on the steep ledges across the river.

Climbing on "my" side of their habitat, I found petroglyphs from long ago and big critter scat. Feeling watched, I caught glimpses tawny, russet, and black bear wild from peripheral sight.

Paperback books became treasures we shared; sometimes stories read aloud and stories told. Am remembering that time in the wilderness and the celebration of "Banned Book Week" by fairly wild librarians.

When the towers went ashes, ashes, they all fall down, and the so-called Patriot Act burst in its hundreds of pages, unread, from the jutting brow of Congress, we began to hear its contents.

A classmate, with whom I'd actually studied American History with a fiery black Irishman, was particularly incensed at the wee intrusion into the tidy world of librarians.

They were suddenly expected by "law" to function as instruments of police-state and report the reading preferences of those with library cards!

My classmate suggested that everyone we knew should check out Mao's little red book as an up-yours to petty bureaucrats pulling on jackboots for size.

Meanwhile, librarians at the much-loved public library where I served as children's reader turned their desk into a stage set. All draped in pirate-ship faux-chains, including the black table with a selection of banned books--on offer for check-out!

Hullo to readers overseas, today celebrates American independence from the tyranny of British Empire, long ago and far away.

The founders were literate men in colonies still dominated by wilderness. They had splendid multi-lingual libraries, including ancient languages. They studied history, and world-shaking minds, aflame with independent thought...

Fast forward to government-mandate schooling, which now excludes history, including that of courage.

We forget the personal risk dared by those who signed the Declaration of Independence---repudiating the alleged divine right of kings, including King George, their current demented outrage upon liberty.

Signing meant flagrant treason to the Crown. Have you ever wondered, at what cost?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. 

Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War. 

These men signed, and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor! 

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers and large plantation owners. All were men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty could be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. 

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.
Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring examples of "undaunted resolution" was at the Battle of Yorktown. Thomas Nelson, Jr. was returning from Philadelphia to become Governor of Virginia and joined General Washington just outside of Yorktown. 

He then noted that British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters, but that the patriots were directing their artillery fire all over the town except for the vicinity of his own beautiful home. 

Nelson asked why they were not firing in that direction, and the soldiers replied, "Out of respect to you, Sir." Nelson quietly urged General Washington to open fire, and stepping forward to the nearest cannon, aimed at his own house and fired. The other guns joined in, and the Nelson home was destroyed. Nelson died bankrupt. 

Francis Lewis's Long Island home was looted and gutted, his home and properties destroyed. His wife was thrown into a damp dark prison cell without a bed. Health ruined, Mrs. Lewis soon died from the effects of the confinement. The Lewis's son would later die in British captivity, also.

"Honest John" Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she lay dying, when British and Hessian troops invaded New Jersey just months after he signed the Declaration. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and his grist mill were laid to waste. 

All winter, and for more than a year, Hart lived in forests and caves, finally returning home to find his wife dead, his children vanished and his farm destroyed. 

Rebuilding proved too be too great a task. A few weeks later, by the spring of 1779, John Hart was dead from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates. 

New Jersey's Richard Stockton, after rescuing his wife and children from advancing British troops, was betrayed by a loyalist, imprisoned, beaten and nearly starved. He returned an invalid to find his home gutted, and his library and papers burned. He, too, never recovered, dying in 1781 a broken man.

William Ellery of Rhode Island, who marveled that he had seen only "undaunted resolution" in the faces of his co-signers, also had his home burned. 

Only days after Lewis Morris of New York signed the Declaration, British troops ravaged his 2,000-acre estate, butchered his cattle and drove his family off the land. Three of Morris' sons fought the British. 

When the British seized the New York houses of the wealthy Philip Livingston, he sold off everything else, and gave the money to the Revolution. He died in 1778.

Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward Jr. went home to South Carolina to fight. In the British invasion of the South, Heyward was wounded and all three were captured. 

As he rotted on a prison ship in St. Augustine, Heyward's plantation was raided, buildings burned, and his wife, who witnessed it all, died. Other Southern signers suffered the same general fate. 

Among the first to sign had been John Hancock, who wrote in big, bold script so George III "could read my name without spectacles and could now double his reward for 500 pounds for my head." If the cause of the revolution commands it, roared Hancock, "Burn Boston and make John Hancock a beggar!" 

Read  a banned book lately?

Happy Independence Day to us everywhere, including the Greeks who began it all.

To read about life in the wild:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lucky the Child Who Meets a Mentor


My elderly and vigorous Hispanic neighbor across the way--his family farming here for centuries, and a wonder source of story--calls my name.

I look up from weeding flower beds.

"Where are you?" 


" I'm on the way," closing the garden gate and waving.

He has a marvelous tool for me to use which he rescued from the mine that closed north of here; calls it a "Pulaski." His version is like a grub hoe/shovel combo.  

Pulaski was a mid 19th century "ranger, miner, inventor and heroic fire fighter" who devised a tool for first responders in forest conflagrations. The original is like an axe and grub hoe.

Pulaski's famous for saving most of a fire crew of 45 men by ordering them into an abandoned mine tunnel and flat on the ground; don't move. Lost two horses though, who couldn't lie on their bellies to avoid the smoke inhalation.

My neighbor had just built a shrine in the back yard with his Pulaski, flowers planted all around a vivid statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Above it are single pink roses in bloom; some of the oldest brought here from Spain long ago are double. The valley is rich with wild blossom. I have my eye on future rose hips to gather this fall.

"Do you know their name," he asks?


"Rosa de Castilla."

I tell him I have heard that sightings of the Holy Mother are often accompanied by the fragrance of roses. A kindly and generous man, he beams.

He offers to help me with getting acequia water to the gardens I'm tending. He has arranged a gravity feed/pump inventiveness to bring mountain spring flows to his fruit trees and roses.

We talk apricot jam and how to dry the wild plums, still green but fruiting in staggering profusion.

The river bottom land below my adobe cottage and the casita itself used to belong to his family; went to his sisters. 

He grew humongous potatoes in the bottom land, but his sisters sold their portion, the family legacy.

"I should have bought it," he mourns.

"Oh, dear God, rich land--I once had a farm--it's the wealth we're beginning to remember, as real.

"Young folks are apprenticing on the organic farm north of here," I tell him, "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and it fills me with hope." 

Old knowledge and an ever-new adventure. Photo below taken at cold spring planting time:

"5 apprentices & 
2 old farmers"

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Chive Blossom, Dandelion & Yarrow


I've moved to a rich-earthed river valley, with many fruiting trees and edible/medicinal wildings. The chives, I moved from the former high desert setting.

We think of chives snipped into sour cream topping for baked potatoes or stirred into cottage cheese, with chopped parsley and radish perhaps.

But chive blossoms offer a fresh-tasting treat for winter salads. They grow on a stiffer stalk. Slide thumb and finger down to its point of origin and snip with thumb nail or shears till you have a bouquet of the lavender flowers.

Taking just the blossom, drop them into a lidded jar and cover with vinegar. White vinegar draws out an amazing rose color and a fresh onion-y flavor. This year I tried apple cider vinegar and the color deepens to a ruddier shade.

Let steep a couple weeks out of sunlight. A glass-lidded jar or plastic lid might be a better choice; vinegar fumes can corrode metal. Alternatively, place plastic or waxed paper between metal lid and jar. Strain and squeeze or press out liquid. 

Funneled into a pretty bottle with a bow, you will have made lovely little gifts.

Dandelions have a bad rep and for many decades "we" have been bent on eradication.  We have drenched golf courses, city parks and suburban lawns with Roundup and 2,4-D.

An organic farm and garden supply place, Gardens Alive! has come up with a non-toxic dandelion solution. There will be others as we find our way back to common sense.

If you can find non-poisoned ground, dandelions are both food and medicine, one of the bitter greens good for spring cleanse, digestion and liver/gall bladder health.

My Pennsylvania-Dutch father grew up eating spring salads of dandelion greens. Amish farmers-market bacon was cooked in a cast iron skillet till crispy, and crumbled. Bacon crumbles and hot fat were poured over the big bowl of fresh greens and drizzled with apple cider vinegar; tossed together.

The root, raw or roasted, can be simmered into a rich brown bitter tea for liver health, or left to tincture in a bottle of spirits, a spoon then taken as a tonic.

In quieter rural living, dandelion blossoms were gathered for a pale country wine. 

Before we got the hare-brained idea to herbicide pastures and roadways, domestic and wild critters have always sought out mixed wild herbs and thus enjoy more robust health.

A useful source on restoring wildings and their use for better land stewardship and animal husbandry: Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable by the herbalist, Juliette de Baïracli Levy.

Am blessed with yarrow in my new locale. The botanical name, Achillea, is to honor Achilles, said to have used the meadow wilding to staunch wounds at the Battle of Troy.

The herb is intensely bitter, both blossom and feathery leaves and smells pungently medicinal if rubbed. The smell is a good clue to distinguish it from Queen Anne's lace.

The tea is styptic and healing to cuts and helps fend off infection. 

If off camping, the leaves can be chewed (gackk) and applied as poultice to a bleeding injury (rolled up spider web also will stop bleeding.)

In times before sulfa drugs and antibiotics, yarrow was administered by physicians to break a fever/infections. A tea usually combined 1/3 each of yarrow, elder blossom and peppermint. A little honey for better patient compliance! It actually tastes pretty good. Nice to remember in flu season.

Yarrow is also a midwife herb of ancient usage, the tea given to slow and hopefully stop postpartum hemorrhage.

If you consider a closer to the land adventure this year, check in at your local farmers market or food co-op, and join an herb walk. You'll meet old friends from grandmother memory.

For more herbal lore, 
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