Category Archives: work

Modest milkmaids by the creek.

The main thing I brought back from my hike with friend Polly — our first-ever such outing together — was tired feet. We had walked on a hilly trail for a solid two hours, along an unnamed creek, around an unnamed pond, through areas that were burned in the fires of 2017 but are healing.

Or was that truly the main thing…? We didn’t have an exciting adventure, though Polly did spot a salamander and then a snake down in the grass where the sunlight dappled, and I managed to see them, too before they wiggled or slithered away.

The pictures I carried home in my phone were nothing extraordinary, because flowers are just beginning to appear in the oak forest. But this morning I began to identify the lily pictured at top, and for the first time opened the phone app “Seek” from iNaturalist. It showed me seasonal flora and fauna “species nearby,” and right there, in the first photo they showed me, were the modest and sweet blooms I had bent to peer at yesterday while Polly waited patiently. They are milkmaids, Cardamine californica, said to “invoke the promise of approaching springtime.”

It was a beautiful and sunny day, nearly 80 degrees, but most of our walking was in the shade. When we saw familiar clumps of leaves from which we know that heuchera flowers and iris will emerge in their time,  we agreed that it would be best to return every week to watch these developments. But neither of us wants to hike alone in these hills; we don’t want to be without a friend if we should happen to encounter a cougar or a crazy human or whatever. It remains to be seen if Polly and I can manage to hike together very often. If we do I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

The last thing I noticed just before we got back to the trailhead was a bay tree, and a healthy patch of newly leafed-out poison oak. Its leaves were still shiny and tinged with red, trailing down from the path to the rocky creek bed.

The tired feet I brought home are fully recovered, and now I see that I’ve gained less tangible but longer-lasting things from our outing, two plants with whom I’m more familiar by having names to go with them. The lily is a fritillaria, probably Mission Bells.

Another achievement of the hike was of a sort that needs to be re-gained frequently if it’s to be of much value, but it will endure a few days on its own. That is the good feeling akin to stacking firewood or swimming a half hour in the pool, the satisfaction of pushing myself and using whatever strength I can muster, hopefully without the injuries that so easily intrude and become their own challenge to recover from.

So I don’t know what the Main Thing was, that I gained yesterday, but I know it wasn’t the tired feet!

Fire and cake and cloudy days.

Yesterday I made a successful cake in my Nordic Ware honeycomb pan. My first attempt a couple of weeks ago didn’t work out; it was a honey-and-lemon cake recipe not designed for the pan. There wasn’t enough batter to fill it properly, so the pieces of cake that were supposed to be pull-apart on a plate, instead fell apart coming out of the pan, having no foundation, you might say.

I put the lemony glaze on some of them anyway, and gave most of the little ragged pieces away.

 

This week I found an earring that I had given up for lost forever, so I decided to bake a cake in honor of St. Phanourios. I noticed that the recipe called for three cups of flour, and that is the amount I had deduced I needed for a honeycomb cake, so I tried it in my pan, and it came out perfect. I substituted honey for the sugar, because I want every cake I bake in this pan to honor the honeybee in every way. I was going to a study on the book of Romans at church last night, preceded by a potluck, so I took my cake to share.

Today I had a load of firewood delivered, half a cord only. Last December I had bought a whole cord, and we used most of it. I don’t know why I didn’t do that again… some deep psychological reason, I’m sure, having to do with — what else? — this remodeling project. The electricians were working upstairs all day, by the way.

I didn’t have a plan for who would stack my wood. In the back of my mind I had the idea that I might just cover it with a tarp right there in the driveway because anything beyond that was too much to think about. But it wasn’t raining, so I thought I might as well put a few logs where I wanted them before covering it. I carried some into the house, filled up the wood rack in the garage, began a neat stack in the utility yard… and before long, I had stacked it all! I had also covered the stack outside with a tarp, and swept up the driveway. And it only took two hours. Just as I was finishing I felt some raindrops on my head.

Truly cold weather isn’t forecast to return as long as the rain is hanging on,
but when we’re ready to get cozy by the wood stove, we’ll be ready!

Lavender and little scythes.

The nuns at a nearby monastery harvest lavender every summer at various neighbors’ properties up in the hills and mostly at the end of long unpaved and/or winding roads. They had asked the young people from parishes in the area to help them today, and when some families had to back out at the last minute, several adults including me pitched in.

I had to get up before 5:00 to get fueled up and make the drive to arrive early enough for the sisters to give us a hearty breakfast. But even before that, we learned that Mother Anna who recently fell asleep in death had still not been buried, and we might go into the church and say good-bye to her. Mother Angelina was reading Psalms at the head of the casket when we went in; we all filed past and kissed the little icons that were next to her, and the Gospel. It was sweet to have this opportunity.

After breakfast and chatting we caravaned to the first and most scenic spot, where we picked from a big clump of lavender bushes stuck in a low spot among olive trees at a vineyard. We were given little scythes, which seem the perfect tool for any bush you want to grab hunks of and slice off, to shear it. I plan to get one for my own garden right away, so I can give a break to my finger joints.

As we were packing tools and water, and applying sunscreen and bug spray — the sisters said they had been “chewed up” by chiggers one year — Mother Tabitha was on the phone a lot trying to arrange for Mother Anna to be buried this afternoon.

One of the lavender friends, with the most to pick, cancelled our visit because they didn’t think their insurance covered children on the property, and they had seen a few rattlesnakes lately. But the monastery had already this season delivered 200 pounds of lavender flowers to the distiller, so they were not worried. Some of what we were tackling was past its prime and too dried out to use. We sheared it off anyway but put it in the discard pile.

We eventually filled the back of a pickup truck with the blooms. Bees were thicker on them in the truck than they had been in the field. The farmer lady gave us plums and peaches for a snack, and insisted that the sisters take buckets of dahlias and gladiolas for the burial of Mother Anna.

The second, smaller harvest was at a house that had barely missed destruction in the fires of 2017. Most of their lavender bushes, which had formerly lined the long driveway, had burned and not been replaced. To the south and to the north, close to the front and back of the house, were patches of blackened trees where the wildfire had swept through erratically.

Soon we were headed back to the monastery, hot and dusty, and again they fed us very well! But Mother Macrina drove the pickup load straight to the distiller, to have its essential oil extracted. The by-product hydrosol, the lavender water that is left over, they also use, to make sprays good for cleaning and dusting, and deodorizing. Next time I have a chance, I’ll buy some lavender products from them. And maybe tomorrow I’ll look at my own lavender bushes and see if they are ready to harvest!