June 22, 2006

out of the romance, deeper in

A little over a week ago I was likely bit by a brown recluse spider - three times. It looked really bad for a few days there, but now it is starting to get better, so I'm hopeful that my leg isn't going to fall off.

Then last week, a f*ing huge bull snake came into the yard. Bull snakes aren't aggressive or venomous, but they look a heck of a lot like a rattlesnake and can sure scare the crap out of you. [Especially when they are 6 or 7 feet long and as big around as my arm!] Grandma used to always say that bull snakes come in pairs, so I keep expecting to run into the OTHER bull snake.

There has also been a garter snake (or two...or eight?) lurking around the front door. We crossed paths about 4 times on Monday - once I nearly stepped on her with bare feet. I've decided to just start thinking of garter snakes like toads. I wouldn't want to step on a toad with bare feet either, but if I did...oh well.

And then on Tuesday, I was picking mulberries in some pretty crazy wind. Well, technically, I no longer 'pick' mulberries so much as 'make fall' onto sheets spread on the ground. I was climbing up in the tree to shake some of the higher branches and I was being very careful, because the wind was nearly strong enough to blow the ladder (and me with it) over. Safely back on the ground, I was adjusting the sheets and putting rocks around to keep them from blowing away, when the ladder fell...on me...knocking the wind out of me - from behind...and doing a real number on my spine. It pretty much hurts a lot.

Also, I'm at battle, in the kitchen, with MICE. There is some crazy mutant mouse that has started eating plastic and wood - all the wood handles on the knives have been chewed on, the spatulas are basically un-usable and the measuring cups have substantial nibble marks. That's not to mention the foodstuffs they've been getting into...and all the 'tracks' they've been leaving in every drawer and cupboard. So I got out the traps. The first morning after setting them, I was kind of hoping that I hadn't gotten one. I had. But also, one of the traps was clean of it's peanut butter and hadn't been tripped! That was when I started to feel less sympathetic. The second day, I got another mouse. And a different trap (set in the same place) was yet again clean of peanut butter, but no mouse. That little trickster is gonna get it...eventually.

It has also been really hard to be a letterpress printer out here, thus far at least. My studio isn't quite set up and I no longer have a paper guillotine, which has led to a few fiascos already. It has been a little frustrating to try to integrate my letterpress-life with this new ranch-life. And I think I am a little resentful of the printing projects that I have looming -- I need to be planting tomatoes and putting on the window screens and making mulberry jam. I think this place is going to necessitate changing the type of projects I take on. The cottonwood fluff and bugs and dust fly through my studio and I LIKE IT, but I imagine fancy folks won't want cottonwood fluff marks inked onto their wedding invitations.

So yeah, it's not all sunsets and berry-picking and adorable canine companionship. I haven't stepped completely out of the romance. But I have dug in a little deeper this past week or so. Deeper into the muck and darker spaces.

But also...
Yesterday, two of the cats let me pet them. And the toads came out of hibernation and started making their way into the yard (with a little encouragement from me). And soon I'm heading to Omaha, to see my brother, and then to fly to New Orleans! I'm excited to see Sarah, but I really don't want to leave this place and Gus and my baby basilico and the ripening mulberries...or even the little garter snake. By the time I get back, the sweet peas will have sprouted, the tomatoes will have blossoms, and mulberries will be about finished for the season. Everything moves so fast, this time of year.

June 19, 2006

June 17, 2006

Mulberry Jam

'The Joy of Cooking' says, "Purple-fruited mulberry trees are best suited, in our opinion, for varying diets--and flexing the muscles--of marauding schoolboys." Cute, Irma, but I'm not so high-faluting as to deny mulberries the effort of jam or cobbler or pie.

I can remember, when I was too small to reach even the lowest branches, climbing up on the fence and balancing precariously to reach the most perfect berry that was   just   out    of    reach. They look sort of like a blackberry (no relation), but have only a mild tartness to them. And a different texture. The seeds are more tender and the green stem is actually kind of tasty. The purple mulberry is closely related, but not to be confused with the white mulberry, which is the tree that silkworms feed on. More romantic, but less tasty.

Not all the berries ripen at once, so it takes some work to pick enough to do much with. But I couldn't help myself today...I just reached up for a snack, but then one thing led to another and the next thing you know I had the big ladder out and an ice cream bucket draped over my arm...

I picked about a gallon of berries. There is a real art to picking mulberries. If they fall, they pretty much squish and aren't so awesome anymore. But if they are really ripe, then they will fall off the tree so so easily. So you have to get good and judging which berry is most ripe - and be ready to catch the ones nearby that are also ripe enough to fall when you brush by...I think the next time I pick mulberries, I'll just put down a sheet and shake the branches. 

Despite "the Joy's" admonition, I decided to make mulberry jam. I saved a few back for tomorrow morning's pancakes and put the rest in a big pot. Then I covered them with sugar, until none of the berries were showing. (mulberries are pretty sweet, so you don't need to use as much sugar as you might for blackberry jam - maybe half as much volume of sugar as berries) Then I squeezed in the juice of three lemons. I had a couple of oranges to use up, so I grated the rind of one orange into the pot and also a bit of orange juice (honestly, I couldn't resist drinking most of it). I boiled it for maybe an hour. The longer you cook - the thicker the jam will be. A neat trick: put a plate in the freezer, then when you want to know how the jam is going to set up, drizzle a little on the cold plate. After a short bit, the syrup will be cooled down enough to get a sense of how thick it will end up. Once I was satisfied with the thickness, I funneled it into just-boiled jars, wiped the rims, and put the tops on. A little over a half-gallon of mulberries made 3 and 1/2 pints of jam. They are cooling right now. I SO love the 'pop' sound of canning lids sealing down. I have my music turned down low so that I will be sure to hear them pop once they've cooled down enough.

June 15, 2006

THIS morning

I don't have a clock, really, except on my computer. I am getting pretty good at knowing the time, when I wake up in the morning, from the way way the light looks. But this morning had me fooled. I figured it was around 6:00, maybe a bit earlier...it was 5:15. When was the last time I got up that early because I was actually awake then and WANTED to?? Um...kind of never.

I went outside to feel the morning, and this is what it looked like:

monday, June 12th, evening

June 12, 2006

my neighbors and friends

Monday, June 10th, 6:48 PM

Gus is my dog. Well, my parent's dog, but she lives out on the ranch with me now. She mostly follows me around. Finds a shady spot to keep watch. At night she defends our home from wild beasts with her fierce bark. (Which is why my parents sent her out here actually - more on that in a minute.)

There are also a dozen or so cats around the place. All descended from our recently-deceased siamese, Sara. They are all beautiful cats. One mama had kittens over Eastertime when I was here to visit. Now they are wild, as barn cats should be. But I'm doing my best to warm them up to me. Slowly slowly they are inching closer. I doubt they'll ever come jump in my lap to cuddle. But they may eventually let me pet them. We'll see. I take them a little cat food and food scraps everyday. And a little sour milk when I have it. I always say "kitty kitty kitty kitty" when I go out there. In that tiny little voice that is reserved for kittens and babies. Hopefully they'll start to associate "kitty kitty kitty kitty" will milk and stop being so damn skiddish.

The other day a box turtle trundled into the yard. The hired man's idiot-dog wouldn't stop barking at it, so I moved him over near the pond. He was pretty shy, but peeked his head out while I was carrying him. He'd probably never covered so much ground so fast before.

Other animals I see everyday: horses, cows, deer (though I haven't taken a picture of one yet, a young doe has been waltzing through the yard in the mornings and I took a picture of her tracks)...

...and mourning doves. I think there are mourning doves all over the United States. But they sound a little different everywhere. Just like humans do. I always notice their cooing, whenever (wherever) I hear it, because it is a sound that I associate with this place so much. I remember mornings in Berkeley waking up to the sound of mourning doves and being transported here - in my hazy waking mind I would half expect to open my eyes to cottonwoods, instead of palm trees. The way the mourning doves sound out here on the ranch is particularly unique. Particularly soothing. I used to think that they were "morning doves" and was always confused about how they got their name, as they were just as often singing in the evening, as in the morning.

There is one other animal about the place that I have yet to see in person: a bobcat. The day before I got here, my parents came out and found the screen to the entryway window all tore up. After talking to Matt, the hired man, it seems that something tore off the screen and drug it across the yard. The window had been left open and the big bag of cat food was knocked over. Luckily Matt noticed that the window was wide open without a screen. He walked through the house to be sure whatever broke-in wasn't still in here. A raccoon would definitely be capable of smelling cat food through the screen and ripping it open to get to it. But there is no way a raccoon could have drug that heavy wood-frame screen across the yard. I guess Doug saw a small bobcat one morning a few months ago, walking out of the barn. So that seems the likely culprit. A bobcat isn't likely to attack a human, unless they are cornered or otherwise provoked. The only worry is that I might not see him and could inadvertently make him feel trapped by my presence. But Gus will let me know when the bobcat is about, and protect me if it gets too close. Good ol' Gus.

June 10, 2006

magic rain

Saturday, June 10th, 6:57 AM

The first thing I did this morning (even before making coffee!) was go check the raingauge. Three-tenths of an inch. It doesn't sound like much, but rain is far more valuable than any amount of watering by sprinkler. I got here on Sunday evening (the 4th). There hadn't been rain since I was last here - at Eastertime. That's almost two months! And these sandy hills just don't hold water, so things were really starting to look worse for the wear. As we were slowly creeping over the trailroad with my trailer-studio in tow, I reassured my parents that I would conjure the rain. I had been concentrating on it for a couple of days already and felt sure that rain was on its way. I had imaginings of creating big fires to have a rain-dance around (well, and also to send up condensation nuclei for raindrops to form around). But instead I just unpacked my things and went to bed in my new home. Before I had fallen asleep, the thunder started rolling. The wind came up and lightning lit up my room, light as day. It felt so f-ing good. So good. The best thunderstorms happen HERE. And I've missed them about as much as anything, these past eight years on the west coast. The wind was blowing raindrops through my window screen, but I couldn't bear to close it, so I just let blow through and dampen my pillow. And it felt like a crash-boom-flash welcome home serenade. My first night on the ranch, alone, miles from another human being, I fell asleep so so happy, to the vibrations of thunder and the fine spray of rain on my face.

It has rained here every night since. Sometimes just a quiet sprinkle. Last night with even more dramatic pomp and flash than my first night here. My dad said it was a little spooky - there hasn't been any rain forecasted - but I kept saying it was going to rain, and I haven't been wrong yet. A couple of nights, it seemed as though this was the ONLY place that got any rain. It still hasn't rained much in town, 12 miles to the southeast. And even some of the closest neighbors haven't had rain every night. It is magic rain - that is for sure. And it is doing such good work.

Though I'm not religious, a few morsels of spirituality remain tucked away, from all those years of Catholic Mass. Anyway, I sometimes feel like this magic rain is being sent by my Grandmother. She is pleased that I am here and proud of how I'm sprucing up the place and giving me the most precious gift of rain to help. I'm sure that Grandpa and Doug are also glad that I'm here - and that Adam will be soon. But my mother noted that, though they're just as dead as Grandma, it's the women who have the power. And I agreed with her - if this magic rain is being sent to us, it is being sent by Grandma. She was a strong, artist, nature-woman. And rain was the most precious precious thing to her. Yesterday, dad and I were sitting on the porch having a beer and the flies were biting me. Grandma and I used to sit out there together a lot. And when I'd say "The flies are biting.", without fail, though I'd heard it a thousand times before, Grandma would counter "That's a sign of rain." Sure as hell is.

Mom and I pulled an old table out of the bunkhouse yesterday, to use as the new computer desk. When my parents headed back to town last night I asked them to put it inside, because it was going to get rained on. "It's going to rain" is the new joke around here. Because, as improbable as it is, I just keep being right. And dad said, "I hope so. Let it rain and rain and ruin the damn thing for all I care. More rain!". I expected to see it still on the lawn this morning, but I guess they believed me and put it in.

My dad just called. "How much rain did you get?", he asked with muffled excitement. I guess they got some rain in town too, finally. A big storm swept the whole region. It was Glorious. And silly and self-righteous as it seems, I have a faint sense of pride. As though my unwavering faith in more rain was somehow the condensation nuclei for the raindrops to form on.