Tag Archives: grandchildren

Waiting right around the corner.

Succulents and mustard are related by their mutual membership in the plant kingdom, but also by being bright particulars of my weekend that also included lots of ocean watching.

“Why pay a premium for organic brassicas like kale and broccoli at the farmer’s market when all the free wild mustard you could ever ask for is likely waiting right around the corner?”

This question was posed in an article about food foraging that I read last weekend. Pippin’s family was here and we had opportunity to explore the topic. On Saturday we took a long drive to Salt Point State Park, farther north on the coast than I have been in many years, and passed by many vineyards looking like this:

We tried to remember whether the mustard we are used to seeing in springtime in California is at least a near relation to what one buys prepared in a jar, and that night we researched further, finding once again how many good edibles are in the Brassica family. We had no idea we’d get the chance to taste some very soon.

Yes, that mustard above is mustard, and in this context it isn’t considered a weed that needs eradicating. It actually helps suppress the nematode population among the grapevines, because mustard contains high levels of biofumigants in the form of glucosinolates. Evidently the sharp flavor isn’t appreciated by the nematodes. However the mustard got there, it’s ubiquitous now, and beneficial.

At Salt Point the sun shone on us brilliantly, and made us squint. The wind pushed us this way and that, and the sound of crashing surf thundered up the cliffs to where we walked along the headlands. Some of us had gaiters around our necks, which we pulled up to keep our hair out of our eyes and our cheeks warm.

We wanted to climb that “castle rock,” but Pippin thought she better go scout ahead for poison oak. She found a lot of it, so we gave up on that idea.

Most of the plants out there hug the ground or the rocks where they are growing. Even the milkmaids stay under cover. When Ivy took off her gaiter scarf, her hair needed re-gathering into its scrunchie; once we accomplished that, she bounced off musing, “Some people say, ‘Another day, another dollar;’ but we always say, ‘Another day, another hair out of place!'”

Milkmaids
Some brassicas are likely in this mix.
sanicle
lupine

Where the trail dropped down close to the shore, we explored the sandstone that has been carved into strange shapes by the wind. The surface of the rocks with the smoothest appearance, where I grabbed when I felt buffeted off balance, was like the coarsest sandpaper.

The children all napped on the way home that evening, but slept long in their bags after they went to bed again later that night. Before we knew it we were all up and going again, but southwest this time, aiming for a hike along the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the one just north of San Francisco County/City, and it soon became evident that this destination, so much closer to a large population, was going to be too crowded. There was nowhere to park at the trailhead.

So we went into the town of Sausalito and looked at boats in the harbor, and ate our lunch at a little park with a view of Angel Island, and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.

The first wild thing we found to eat that morning was oxalis, or sourgrass, also called wood sorrel. Once I told the children about it, they continued to break off stems and chew on it for the rest of the day, it being everywhere we went. Ivy liked the flowers best, but most of us preferred the stems.

Plantain was growing everywhere beneath our feet, mixed in with the oxalis. Scout told me that if you get a rash from stinging nettle you can chew some plantain and put it on the rash to soothe it. But there were no nettles in this neighborhood, and we left the plantain alone.

The water was glittering, and the children discovered countless crabs as they peered into their dark caves among the rocks. While the more agile folk spied on crabs, I admired the colorful minerals in the giant specimens bordering the sidewalk.

Big pine trees with gorgeous trunks shaded us at the park. Ivy and Jamie took on the challenge of climbing one of them. Their mother gave them tips from time to time; eventually Ivy gave Jamie her knee for a footstool, and he was up! Pippin then helped Ivy, and they finished their lunch in an elevated position.

We drove to a different access point for the Marin Headlands and ended up at Point Bonita. Here is a map on which you can see the point, right where a lighthouse needed to be, outside San Francisco Bay at its north entrance. The lighthouse itself is closed currently, but we walked down the little peninsula as far as possible.

We stared and stared at the Golden Gate Bridge, from that perspective that we rarely get, looking in toward the bay. That narrow entrance to a huge bay was named the Golden Gate Strait by John C. Fremont:

“In 1846, when soldier, explorer and future presidential candidate John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fremont used a Greek term to name it: Chrysopylae – in English, Golden Gate. In his 1848 ‘Geographical Memoir,’ Fremont added another layer of meaning: The rugged opening to the Pacific, he wrote, is ‘a golden gate to trade with the Orient.'”

Here is another map of the bay from 1909, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

A couple dozen harbor seals were sunning themselves on rocks in Bonita Cove. We could see Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the south, and the skyline of the city with its new, tallest building, the Salesforce Tower, and indeed it towers over the others. I don’t think it’s as ugly as its name, which speaks volumes about our society. But let’s get back to more interesting things…

… And what do you think we saw at our feet? Mustard! I wouldn’t be surprised if these plants or their grandparents have been hanging around these bluffs for a hundred years or more; they are obviously robust and venerable.

Quite recently they’ve had baths and blow-drys, and the leaves looked so juicy…

… it’s no wonder Pippin wanted to taste a leaf. I of course had to follow suit… Yikes! That is the strongest tasting Brassica I ever hope to sample.

Ivy tried a periwinkle flower and spat it out. Then, the kids interacted with their environment with hands and feet, making their way up the rocky wall to our west.

We walked back up the path and drove around the corner to the former Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. From the batteries we could see north up the coast and south to the lighthouse.

Another Brassica lives on that side, the very common wild radish, raphanus raphanistrum; shown here with violet blooms, though white and yellow are common, too. I used to notice these flowers as I walked home from the bus stop as a child. We didn’t taste this one.

wild radish
California Manroot

The last Brassica experience of the weekend was the next morning when Pippin took a little tour of my garden before they started home. She told me she’d eaten some of the flower buds of my collards. How did they taste? “Like broccoli.” I don’t normally eat my collards raw, but I decided to snap off all the developing flower stems, and I ate them right then. Mm-mm — they were so sweet and tender. And just around the corner of my own house.

Of course goblins can’t hurt him.

While at Pippin’s I had the great satisfaction of reading Christmas stories for a total of several hours during my stay. The genre seems most appropriate for reading aloud, but when we have our larger family gatherings, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for it. Meanwhile, my collection grows.

Recently I acquired Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien, though in this case I think “recent” means 10-15 years ago. I’d glanced at them myself, but I think I was waiting to share the experience — to peek in on the Tolkien family and the stories that Tolkien the father created every year for his children. He wrote and illustrated them for over 20 years, starting by writing to three-year-old John, and continuing until he was only writing to his fourth child, Priscilla, with hopes that she will be hanging up her stocking “just once more.”

It is particularly interesting to me how Father Christmas refers to world events, in terms that place them in the context of the ages-long attempt of evil spiritual forces to destroy humanity once and for all. He first mentions goblins in 1932 and ’33, after he has written letters for about 12 years, and his goblins remind me of those in George MacDonald’s stories. They are a nuisance, and sometimes very scary  —“Goblins are to us as rats are to you,” — but if you stand up to them they flee. They have no real power.

Most of the letters from the North Pole are about the mischief and adventures of all the people and creatures who live there: elves and snowmen, reindeer — and the North Polar Bear, who drew a bath, climbed in, and fell asleep with the water running, flooding the cellars full of toys.

But in 1932 the same bear had an encounter with a goblin:

“…he smelt a goblin! and became interested, and started to explore. Not very wise; for of course goblins can’t hurt him, but their caves are very dangerous.” In the next letter things are still heating up:

“Another Christmas! I almost thought at one time (in November) that there would not be one this year. There would be the 25th of December, of course, but nothing from your old great-great-etc. grandfather at the North Pole.

“Goblins. The worst attack we have had for centuries….”

More than once he mentions the last worst battle with these creatures, “the goblin-war in 1453, that I told you about.”

From then on the goblins show up regularly. The children are old enough to understand about the world situation as it affects them, and in 1940 F.C. writes more plainly, “We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks, and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I’m glad you are still at home!” 

The text of the 1935 letter above reads: “[North Polar Bear] says that we have not seen the last of the goblins — in spite of the battles of 1933. They won’t dare to come into my land yet; but for some reason they are breeding again and multiplying all over the world. Quite a nasty outbreak. But there are not so many in England, he says. I expect I shall have trouble with them soon.

“I have given my elves some new magic sparkler spears that will scare them out of their wits. It is now December 24, and they have not appeared this year — and practically everything is packed up and ready. I shall be starting soon.”

I’ve interspersed Tolkien’s illustrations with the last images from my northern adventure. Pippin and the children and I walked by the lake, and the stream flowing into it. We came home and snuggled again on the couch, with cats, and finished the last letters. I think we were all sad that the Tolkien children grew up!

Splash of fall – then Christmas.

The dwarf pomegranate bushes that are at the four corners of the fountain, are just now at their most beautiful. You can see how they contrast with the dark corner where the greenhouse spends winters, in the shade of my tall house. In spite of that darkness, I have hope for a more favorable growing environment in the greenhouse, because I got it wired with outlets for heat and light and even a breeze when needed.

Many unripe figs  held on to the tree, until they turned purple from frost and had to let go.

The day after I took this picture, I drove north to Pippin’s, for a sort of early Christmas. Here there is also some color — mostly forest-green and white; the snow began to fall just as I was arriving! But also some bright spots like this pumpkin.

The snow on the road turned to ice, sending one of our vehicles into the ditch. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t hear about it until everything was resolved. Pippin baked a pie with Honeycrisp and vowed Never Again. Pippins (the apples) are the best! But the deer relished the peelings; I watched the doe repeatedly kicking one fawn away from the bowl in which they had been served. Other humans liked the pie very much and it was beautiful and tasty — just not appley enough.

We had the best sort of evening with a few family members I haven’t seen since last Christmas, and even sang carols — for a blessedly prolonged while. (We had already sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” around the Advent wreath before dinner.) Enough of us could carry a tune and even lead off, that the two pianists present were glad to be able to sing rather than play, and it was truly joyous singing.

The cousins made paper airplanes together, and Scout told his uncle all about the latest novel he is reading. He also played his newly learned guitar piece. He has been busy cutting Christmas trees in the mountains and then selling at the Boy Scouts’ lot, and their tree was one of those. It is so pristine and elegant, and pointing straight to the heavens, that I could not believe it was real. It is a red fir.

Several of our group have been working really long and odd hours lately, and it seemed a miracle that the logistics worked out for us to be together. I am joining two church school meetings on ZOOM in two days, which meant that both teachers of our high school class and the special guest we had were all participating from a distance. If we weren’t meeting online I’d have had to get a substitute. So that worked well, too.

Too soon, I’ll be driving back down the road and home again, and will proceed with Advent. I think I might add to my preparations a new tradition, and start singing remotely — but oh, so closely — with my family, a nightly round of  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Ivy, Nicholas and Keith.

Last week I made a quick trip up north to be with granddaughter Ivy on her eighth birthday. At first I thought I would be driving out of our newly cleared and clean spaces into the smoke again, but the skies turned blue there, too.

…Until the evening before I came home, when we went to a lake and it was a little smoky again. But we pretended it was from campfires.

I taught Jamie how to use a needle and thread, and Ivy the blanket stitch. They were very intent on their work and did not want to stop even when Grandma had to go on to other business. I can understand; it really is fun to make lines and designs in different pretty colors while you chat with fellow stitchers.

I gave Ivy her Aunt Kate’s childhood sewing basket which we sorted and organized together; from we don’t know where Kate had acquired many little wooden spools of bright silk thread, the colors of which Ivy began to name on the spot: Cold as Steel, Easter Egg, Pumpkin Pie, Red Osier (which I learned is a species of dogwood), Gold Mine… and many more. I didn’t want to stop sewing myself to write them down. Those silks turned out to be tangly and not very strong, so they were abandoned in favor of the modern spools and adequate colors.

Hoping for someone to bring down crabapples.
Jamie’s desk that serves as the top of a cave.

The last morning, minutes before my departure, I visited Pippin’s always fascinating garden that is mostly behind a tall deer fence. The zinnias are outside, because the deer don’t always eat them. But the dahlias must be inside, because the deer would always eat them.

Tired of fighting aphids and rats who attack my vegetables, and inspired by this celebration of a showy species, I began to think of growing some in my planter boxes next spring. Keith H, above, and Nicholas, below, particularly captured my heart. I used to grow some gorgeous dahlias here, but didn’t really have adequate space in the previous setting, and eventually gave them away.

It only took a little bit of reading about dahlia culture to make me realize that I don’t need another project. No, a much nicer plan is to take the easy and fun route, which is Highway 5 all the way to Pippin’s every fall, where if I time it right I might take in a birthday or two and a dreamy visit with her beautiful garden.