Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Warm Fuzzies - Notes from the meadows

Dusk is a magical time up here in the mountains. The temperature drops with the disappearing Sun; a light sweater is welcome when I sit out on the deck with a glass of wine to watch the early evening activity in the meadows and on the pond.

I notice movement in the tree line to the west.  Through binoculars I follow a group of around 50 elk cows moving rapidly into the open grassland. Calves, the size of Great Danes, skip along behind mom. One cow breaks from the herd and heads back to the trees - a lone calf straggles into the clearing - mom races to the little one and they nuzzle.  A wildlife biologist told me that when the cows calve - they leave the calf and stand off at a distance watching - apparently some primitive defense mechanism to lure predators away from the new born. It explains why people frequently report finding 'abandoned' new born. Not so. The mother almost always returns.

On the deck I'm dive-bombed by the aggressive Rufus Hummingbirds who come in to "tank-up" before nightfall.  The dogs move under chairs, out of the way.

 Families of Canada Geese hustle to the water leaving ripples as they cruise in formation across the silver dappled pond  for the safety of the island where they stay overnight - safe from foxes and mountain lions.  Most of the little fuzzball goslings have lost the fluffy feathers and are now pale grey.  A lone Great Blue Heron is up to its "knees" in shallow water fishing. There's great debate around the meadow as to whether or not the supposedly sterile grass carp introduced a couple of years ago to control weeds have spawned. Something breaks the water in - trout? That's the really burning question amongst the guys - "Have the Rainbows survived?"

On the deck with me, Hamish and the "cousin" dog who is staying with us, Rana, follow every movement on the pond. They look at me hoping I'll open the gate and let them go and and play. I don't allow them out off leash at this hour, nor after dark,  too many predators.

I'm never lonely up here - there is always something in nature to keep me company. Last night as I pulled my sweater around me and contemplated moving inside, a Great Horned Owl called to his mate who responded. They have three fledglings this year.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bone Chilling

Dog has taken up a major obsession with gophers.  On our late afternoon on-leash walk down the lane as opposed to rollicking through the meadow and around the ponds morning routine, before I could stop him, he snatched a gopher from its hole and devoured it in two gulps! I await with trepidation the end results and I'm certainly not kissing him goodnight. Too bad that we have a 4 plus hour drive into Tucson tomorrow - I'll be a nervous wreck.  I worry that the bones (maybe even the tail and cute little feet) will get stuck and impact his digestive system. But - why am I obsessing - he's probably eaten a dozen of them out of my sight. "Let him be a dog" - rings in my ears. Oh but do dogs have to be so gross!

This whole episode has me reminiscing on bone adventures.  My youngest brother lives in an National Heritage Trust  village in England.  Excavating footings for a new barn he uncovered a skeleton but not before his pick axe had dealt a blow to the skull. Dutifully he called the Trust and reported his find. An earnest young man and woman loaded with clipboards, cameras and pens surveyed the scene. "Orientation suggests burial around 1170. Subject suffered severe blow to the skull." Martin didn't have the heart to tell them about his mishap with the pick axe.  Since the property was originally owned by the Church of England and recorded in the Doomsday Book, they technically own from "the earth to the heavens" - he was , after much research and paper signing, granted a certificate by the Church allowing him to continue excavation with permission to re-inter  this specific subject.  In the course of his excavation he uncovered upwards of six more skeletons and personally broadened the scope of the certificate and permission to encompass all.

My own bone encounters have been far less personal.  I remember my first effort at pressing a duck. My ex-husband was finishing his residency. The NYT magazine - my then bible for exotic culinary adventures - featured a Pressed Duck Breast layered with Cassis sauce. Despite not having the elaborately described, and horrendously archaic and expensive duck press - I determined to make the recipe for 12 guests. In lieu of the big, brass press - I wrung out the carcass in a series of clean (definitely clean) kitchen towels - my hands were bleeding, the mess was incredible and in tears I finally sacrificed five ducks to the garbage and made a duck "bits"  lasagna.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson. No. Julia Child came out with her first beautifully presented big paperback - can't remember the exact title - probably Cooking with Julia.  One recipe ( no, all the recipes) drew me in. It was boned capon, stuffed and re-formed, tied with kitchen string to resemble a melon that was my culinary Olympus.  I did three of them for a dinner party crying the entire time! Have to admit they were an epicurean  triumph  - too bad I lost the faith and have never re-created that particular tour de force.

My final attempt at boning ended in tears of laughter and lots of wine!  We were living in England for a year and joined another of my brothers on his catamaran to cruise the south coast of England. Two couples, two , two year olds on running harnesses, and a seven year old who put her head under a blanket for the entire trip. We took turns cooking. In Chichester harbor I bought just-caught lemon sole. They were lovingly basted with rich Devon butter and lemon juice and grilled  over our small charcoal fire.  Pumped over this gorgeous meal I decided I would bone the first one - flipped it right into the water. It was a moment  out of Fawlty Towers.

But I digress - back to the gophers. My daughter-in-law's parents are not only dear friends but wine and cooking buddies.  Jim and Chris have a remarkable kitchen partnership . They have traveled the world and nothing in the kitchen daunts them. Together they create amazing international menus. I treasure one story however. Chris decided on a menu for 12 of boned, stuffed game hens. The unsuspecting Jim asked, "What can I do" -"Oh honey, just bone these". He did and vows he'll never fall for that one again. But - I'm wondering, since he's really fond of Hamish the dog, if I can get him to bone a gopher or two.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Have you seen my glasses ....

 Elk in the pond
I made a Thai style shrimp curry for dinner the other night and learned there is a big difference between 1 tsp and 1 tbs in measurements.  Recipe called for 1-2 tsp. of Thai chili paste - without my glasses I read that as tablespoons and added an extra for good measure! Wow - talk about hot.

I need my glasses for a lot of things these days - reading labels in the market, reading the dials on the dishwasher and oven - long distance vision is great. I can spot an elk a mile away but my that close-up stuff is getting closer and closer - I'm beginning to wonder if my sense of smell will compensate and I'll find myself sniffing my way through the day much like dog does.

Hamish the Mighty Warrior

Dog - aka Hamish -  has discovered his inner hunter. This is a nine year old mutt who when the cat would bring offerings of choice mousie parts and lizard bits would all but shriek and jump on a chair. I'm really not sure what has unleashed his hunting instinct but he has discovered gophers and is dog seventh heaven.  Biggest problem is that the circa 1989 carpeting in the cabin (wood floors next year - window blinds this year - ordered through Connections for Women Shopping Deals at Just Blinds and saved over $4K on identical Solar blinds) could pass for a dead giraffe and the gophers blend in perfectly - really not sure how many might be lurking in that pathetic squished nap.

I received a gift at dawn yesterday morning that I can't put a price on but I could see! I woke around 5:15 am to first light and the sound of female elk trilling.  I wandered onto the deck and there at the bottom of my meadow five elk cows gathered around a sixth one who had literally just given birth. Within minutes that little thing - no bigger than a large dog - was on it's feet and suckling. I watched for about 15 minutes until the group dispersed over the hill.  Our valley is a major calving ground for elk. Two evenings in a row last year's juveniles came down to the ponds to frolic - I get so much joy in watching these bucolic scenes play out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One Small Step

July 21 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and his words "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind" are among the most quoted words in America.  On that day my daughter was just seven months old. We didn't have a television so along with friends went over to the math department at the USNA where my husband was an instructor.  We gathered around a black and white TV screen, entranced, amazed, excited. At the very moment that Armstrong took his first step - my daughter crawled for the first time. Still not sure which action gave me the greatest thrill!

That baby has grown up to be a fine woman - mother of two rambunctious boys, active in her community, an Arizona Superior Court Commissioner.  Spending this last weekend hiking with her I reflected on  the privilege of giving birth, raising children in a free society.  I read a NYT article about child brides in Afghanistan, at the punishments meted out to children who attempt to escape marriage to older men, who are beaten, killed, by their own fathers, brothers. I count my blessings on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

I support the work of the likes of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn  who in their book, Half the Sky, document the plight of women worldwide; of Greg Mortenson and his mission to educate girls; my daughter-in-law, Annie Wallace  working in Ethiopia on issues related to women's health. I think of all the small steps taken daily to bring about change in attitudes towards women.

Small steps aside, Lisa and I embarked on two ambitious hikes this weekend in the Escudilla Wilderness of north eastern Arizona. We joined hikes lead by The White Mountain Conservation League. What fun we had and oh my aching calves! First day we headed up towards the Escudilla lookout through groves of newly green aspen trees.  We cut off, contouring a grass covered ridge line over Profanity Ridge topping off at an elevation of 10,600 feet  for spectacular views stretching all the way to Mount Graham, the Chiricahuas, and the Catalina's that are my backyard in Tucson.  We scrambled down Crankshaft Hill ( a seated position part of the time - I'm not proud!) and into the woody shelter of Tool Box Draw to follow the creek back to the road. Profanity Ridge, Crankshaft Hill, Tool Box Draw - all names given by the Forest Service in the early days of managing this land.

Monday's hike, according to the memo was  far less ambitious - a stroll. Hah! We took the boys and dogs and bushwhacked to a "two-track" - a disused logging road - to  spectacular sandstone bluffs and from there picked up another old trail down to Paddy Creek. Along the way the boys picked up a bleached jawbone from an elk; a fellow hiker pointed out lion tracks;  we heard stories of the days when this area was one of the most heavily logged forests in the US.

Purpose of the two hikes was not only recreational but also to continuing taking small, citizen lead  steps toward encouraging the Forest service to declare more of these precious lands as Wilderness Areas.  I was surprised to learn that the Forest Service has an almost philosophical antipathy towards designating Wilderness Areas - conflicts with their training/mission to "manage" the forests as opposed to letting them be wild.

(Lisa took the really pretty photos! including this one of a stunning aspen grove.)