Tag Archives: California

The face of the earth ever renewed.

common yarrow

This sunny morning my neighbor Kim and I drove separately to the coast and met for a walk. On my winding way through the hills, I noticed Queen Anne’s Lace swaying in the breeze along the roadway. Trees, grasses and shrubs were painted in the gentlest pastel colors of lavender, green, and yellow-orange. The Psalter played through my speakers, and one of the Psalms I heard was 104, which is part of every Orthodox Saturday Vespers. It begins:

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

O Lord my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,
Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters,
Who makes the clouds His chariot,
Who walks on the wings of the wind,
Who makes His angels spirits,
His ministers a flame of fire.

beach suncup

Once we set out at our brisk pace, I was distracted somewhat from my surroundings, except through my bare feet, which kept me tuned to the cool and firm sand under them, or the waves that splashed over. Though lots of people walked close to the surf, the beach in general wasn’t crowded. I had the feeling it must be the healthiest place around, with the quantities of sea air flowing freshly in and around us all.

I lost track of time. Eventually we parted in the parking lot, and then I wandered by myself in the dunes for a while looking at flowering plants known and unknown to me. I’ve managed to identify most of them — I think.

Ribwort Plantain
Silver Beachweed
non-native sand spurry
what we call ice plant – native of South Africa
Buck’s-horn Plantain

O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.
There the ships sail about;
There is that Leviathan
Which You have made to play there.

These all wait for You,
That You may give them their food in due season.
What You give them they gather in;
You open Your hand, they are filled with good.
You hide Your face, they are troubled;
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.

Yellow Bush Lupine

If I hadn’t had another obligation in the afternoon, I think I would have meandered up and down the coast till dusk. I’ve never been more thankful that I live close enough to be in the domain of the sand and the sea and the flowers, on a warm and sweet June day.

 

I admire Brodiaea and Clarkia.

Our California hills start turning golden crisp even before the rainy season ends. When a bright wildflower pops out in contrast it seems a little miracle, especially when it’s as exquisite as Elegant Brodiaea:

Brodiaea elegans was one of the wildflowers I saw this month on my two walks with a friend. But the photo above is from the same week, five years ago, with a different friend, same county. I must have taken it with an actual camera, before I started using my phone’s camera exclusively. I had a difficult time getting a good shot this time. This one I settled on from recently is not as clear:

I also saw Mariposa Lilies again, many of them dotting the slopes on one side of the path…

And other places, California poppies:

This pretty flower with a pretty name might be brand new to me; I don’t have a previous photo of it in my files. My Seek app helped me to identify Ithuriel’s Spear:

Winecup Clarkia, Clarkia purpurea, also is not familiar:

…but I have one of Pippin’s photos of it in my files, taken in California on Mount Diablo:

They have loosened restrictions on the county parks, so I’m hoping to visit others in the next weeks, and to discover a few later wildflowers along the trail.

Not codes, but cookies!

This morning I started gathering and measuring ingredients for a few of the cookie recipes I like to make at Christmas. I was afraid to start mixing them and actually cooking, afraid I would make a mistake, with so many distractions of carpenters and tile-setters coming and going, asking questions.

The truck that brought the new sheet rock had a boom so long and mighty that it reached all the way from the street up to the second-story window, which was the easiest route in. The delivery was two hours late, so it arrived about the same time as the contractor and the inspector.

While the inspector was here I was on pins and needles from the suspense; she was returning to inspect the “corrections” she had noted on Monday. I opened the door to the wet back garden and looked out there without seeing, and prayed. It is scary what power these inspectors have, and in California the building code provides a endlessly shifting and growing body of regulations to draw from so that it is easy to find lots of things that need correcting, which translates to extra hours and money fixing things that aren’t broken. But enough about that — I started out wanting to talk about cookies!

And sugar. I know that sugar is BAD, but I find it hard to come down too hard on the stuff, partly because I have a historical family interest in C&H (California and Hawaiian) Sugar Company, for which my great uncle was a chemist.

Have you heard that cane sugar is better for you (or, more precisely, not as bad for you!) and makes better-tasting baked goods than beet sugar? I don’t know if either or both of those are true or myths. But I do always buy C&H cane, when I am buying white sugar.

When I poured a fresh bag into my sugar jar today I noted how pretty it is. I wonder if I ever showed you the jar that I have kept sugar in for decades; it came from my husband’s family’s cabin where I think they were using it for sugar when I first saw it.

Do you remember this picture from when I was in India,
of women buying coarse sugar from bulk bins?

This year I’m experimenting with making a few of my traditional cookies gluten-free, for the sake of a family member who I’d like to be able to eat them. But when it comes to sweetening, I don’t worry whether it’s fructose or sucrose or honey or beets — I just try to keep the sweetness to a minimum so we can taste the butter and other interesting flavors.

I eventually got the dough made for the Ginger Spice cookies, but I haven’t got one cookie into the oven yet. The kinds that I’ve started measuring out ingredients for are:

Chunky Ginger Spice
Double Pecan Thumbprints
Apricot Macaroons

I was going to link you to the recipes…. Oops — I’ve never transcribed the recipes here! But the link on the Thumbprints above will take you to the recipe eventually. The photo of a cookie platter at top is from a few years ago. I hope tomorrow I can make a little more progress. It soothes my nerves to bake Christmas cookies.

The inspector signed off on all the corrections. She was surprised that “we” were able to get them done so fast. 🙂 I wish I’d had a plate of cookies to give her as she went out the door.

The balm of thistles and a mighty tree.

tarweed

“Mmm-mmm, star thistle and tarweed — the scents of fall!” That’s what my daughter Pippin said as we started out from the trailhead on our latest outing together. Every time I am outdoors with her I learn something new. I should say, I don’t remember being introduced to tarweed  before, and that feels as exciting as brand new.

Pippin and the Professor had come from their home in more northern California for the weekend. Saturday we hung around my neighborhood in the morning, and went afield in the afternoon.

Ivy adopted the doll Madeleine for the day and took her out to gather strawberry tree fruit. Scout dissected the ripest-looking dwarf pomegranate, and we decided it was almost sweet enough to be worth the bother. We walked along the creek path to the playground at the park, but probably the “playground” on the way was the most fun. In two places kids had hung rigging from big trees, from which you could swing out into the space where the ground fell away steeply toward the creek channel. Pippin was the only one with the strength and length to hoist herself up on to what seemed to be a launching platform. Jamie tried to be patient, but reminded us, “Let’s go, to the park!”

Our destination in the afternoon was a giant California bay laurel tree that may be the largest of its species. I had visited this particular tree at least twice before, but probably not since the 80’s.

Our short walk up the hill stretched out, as we stopped to observe lichens and poison oak, the tarweed and star thistle. Two of us had painful feet that slowed us down. We saw a wild buckwheat, Eriogonum, taller and bushier than the species we were familiar with. From my reading today I think it might be California Buckwheat. But as you can probably guess, the first photos below are of star thistle, a plant you never want to have to break a trail through.

Eventually we came out of the woods onto the grassy hilltop where lots of cows were grazing with their calves, and bellowing almost without stopping. There was The Tree on the horizon, and a smaller companion alongside.

Umbellularia californica is the only species in its genus, in Oregon known as the Oregon myrtle. It’s been called by several other names including pepperwood and balm of heaven. The flavor of its leaves is similar to the true bay leaves from Laurus nobilis, only stronger, and most of my life I’ve used leaves from the abundant local “bay” trees in cooking. For a long time I didn’t know they were not the real thing. The map shows its natural range.

Umbellularia californica range map.png

I hadn’t read that nickname “balm of heaven” before our outing, but standing under the massive canopy with thousands and thousands of leaves exuding their aromatic oil, I definitely felt the olfactory presence as a balm, its scent filling my nostrils as hugely as its image filled my vision.

The children right away began to climb, and to stake out their “houses” in the several neighborhoods that have been formed under branches as thick as big tree trunks, some of them weighing themselves down horizontal with the ground. The adults took pictures of the wide views of the landscape below. Pippin and I studied the tree’s flowers, trying to figure out where they are in their bloom cycle. If it hadn’t been late in the day it would have been the perfect place to have a picnic and linger a while.

In the last few years I’ve been buying the few bay leaves I need. But I brought home a handful of the mega-flavored, special California-and-Oregon pepperwood/balm of heaven leaves, and will simmer them in a winter soup. When I get a whiff of their essence in the steam that rises from my bowl, it will keep me connected to that magnificent tree until I can get back for a longer visit.