It was heady work, tying up my Oregon Blue Lake beans, with robust, large-leaved basil plants on one side, and exploding sweet peas on the other.
It was heady work, tying up my Oregon Blue Lake beans, with robust, large-leaved basil plants on one side, and exploding sweet peas on the other.
Is it unnecessary and even unprofitable to analyze my reading habits? Why not just read what I like? Because I don’t seem to know what I like, or what I have the strength for. In times of stress, such as in my current bereavement and during my husband’s illness before that, the intellect still jumps at the chance to read books of theology or philosophy, so I have gone on acquiring stacks of them… only to find that my mind will not be engaged enough to get through the first chapter.
Or, I try a “good novel,” hoping to be pulled into the story and have some vicarious excitement. Aha – that is the problem, as I realized yesterday, sick and sitting by the fire with a quiet book. I need rest, not excitement. I need, as I wrote a few years ago about another novel, to embark on a reading journey “as one takes a needed vacation or The Cure at a sanatorium.”
Rumer Godden is a writer whose presence on the pages of her fiction or non-fiction is always strangely comforting and nourishing to me. I suppose my recent acceptance of weakness led me to take her China Court off the shelf, after passing over it for years. Lately it seems that I have almost daily been wandering among the four rooms that house parts of my library, as I look for the Right Book. As I held this one in my lap I mused about why it is that.
When you need to heal and build strength, where do you like to be? Me, I like to be either alone in an orderly and comfortable place, or with kind and gentle, competent people who take care of the place and might even cook for me. If there is a garden attached, and lovers of trees and flowers who might stroll its paths with me, all the better. I could sojourn in this place indefinitely, until I felt in my bones the renewed energy that would prompt me to go home and dig in my own garden or clean house.
Being in Rumer Godden’s books is like that. And China Court is especially so, because it is about a well-appointed house and the generations who have lived and worked and died there, servants making up beds with fresh, age-softened linens and a grandmother who secretly hand-picks little bouquets for her favorite people to find on their nightstands. It has the drama of stories going back a hundred years, if you want that, but it is mostly about being there with real humans, many of them quite sympathetic, and of course none of them requiring anything of me.
I haven’t read too far yet 🙂 but I was charmed by this one scene and wanted to share it:
In the big house in Cornwall the large Quin Family gathers downstairs while breakfast is being cooked in the kitchen nearby. As the father Eustace reads from the Bible and prayer book…
The smell of bacon drifts across the Lord’s Prayer — always for Eliza, the two are mingled, though she does not, at that age, get any of the bacon — and as the smell rises Eustace increases his pace….breakfast is waiting; the children, upstairs, have porridge and milk, white bread and the second best butter; but for Eustace and Adza the morning-room table is laid with porridge in blue and white plates, cream, brown bread, muffins, honey and rolls, while the bacon keeps in a silver dish over a flame, with another dish of kidneys or sausages or sometimes kedgeree.
-from China Court by Rumer Godden
Do you wonder what kedgeree is? I had never heard of it, but when I read on this page Kedgeree and saw the picture, it made me want to try making some myself. Sounds tasty!
Last week I was frying something using bacon fat left over from our Christmas feasting, and the smell of it warming in the pan brought back happy memories of my father and his mountain cabin, my grandma’s kitchen… it was curious how nourished I felt, before I had taken a bite.
I enjoyed reading about this Victorian Era breakfast and the well-supplied kitchen and staff that produced it. I sipped my tea before the fire, glad that I long ago graduated from the Porridge Upstairs stage of life, because I do like a little meat with my breakfast, though I haven’t tried kidneys yet. Winter days are cozy when taken with Rumer Godden, some bacon — and of course, prayer!
What is proper footwear for a mountain cabin? My sisters and niece showed me how to dress properly, and even provided the gear.
I had a very full long weekend. Unfortunately it necessitated me driving two exhausting days for the sake of enjoying two layover days with family, at my sister Cairenn’s cabin that I was experiencing for the first time.
Good thing I had little I needed to do on my recovery day but look at photographs and write sentences to go with them. While I’m still in a grouchy mood I’ll get the bad parts of the excursion off my mind first. That way I can have pleasant pictures at the end and maybe go to bed feeling more elevated. But, okay, before we get to the bad parts, a beautiful jay. And a close-up of his blueness:
Drought. Here in the lower elevations of the more southern Sierra Nevada, the lack of adequate snow and rainfall for several years in a row is evidenced by the sight of many dead trees. And on my way up the hill I saw Lake Success, which is at about 4% of its capacity.
Camp Nelson is a small community at a much lower elevation than our family cabin that is also in the Sierras. This town stays open all year, and the roads get plowed every day when it snows. The last many miles going in are so curvy, I got carsick even though I was driving. Of course that made the drive seem even longer.
I haven’t been in the High(er) Sierra since July. Maybe the trees there are also yellowing and dying by now, but I suspect that these at the lower elevations and farther south are suffering more. At least one big tree on Cairenn’s lot needs to be removed safely before it comes down dangerously. It’s the one on the left in this photo with the peak of her cabin below.
In many cases it’s not the lack of water that kills the trees, but the bark beetle that does it. A USDA article explains: “Under normal conditions, trees produce enough resinous pitch to drown and ‘pitch out’ the beetles that attempt to enter. When trees are stressed they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of defensive pitch and the beetles are able to bore deep into the trunks of trees, eventually killing the tree.”
One plant that was a new discovery for me has always been disagreeable to my sister Nancy. When she first pointed it out to me on one of our several walks together around the village, I leaned up close and she cried, “Don’t touch it!”
She didn’t want me to be contaminated by its notoriously clinging odor. This wildflower in the rose family, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, is also not appreciated by most animals because of its smell. In the forest’s ecosystem it plays a complex role, as I read about in this article. It’s very drought-tolerant and recovers quickly from fire, too.
What else is super drought-tolerant? Our beloved manzanita. I took almost as many pictures of manzanita last weekend as of Steller’s jays. The ones in Camp Nelson get so tall! They all looked particularly healthy; I think they have the added protection of not being the sort of material the bark beetle prefers.
In this picture on the right we have just discovered a manzanita seedling growing in the bank, and it is about to be transplanted by group effort to Cairenn’s lot.
We looked at trees a lot during our Sisters +1 Retreat. Those huge pine trees, Ponderosas and Jeffreys, are both found in this area. I have written about them before on my blog, but as often happens, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know…
They resemble each other in so many ways. I hadn’t even heard before that the bark of one smells like vanilla; ah, but which one is it…? Both, as I read when I got home. The ones we sniffed did have that yummy scent.
I could tell by the way I was frequently lagging behind on these walks, that we didn’t have enough of a group mindset to do an intensive tree study, and anyway I’m not encouraged to spend a lot of time on the questions myself when I read that even experts have had to correct their identification errors.
On our walks we saw donkeys and mules and deer. One evening we saw seventeen deer on the “meadow” that is a sort of town green.
And a bear track! I circled it in green below, looking something like a thumbless human handprint.
As we relaxed at the cabin, eating, playing games, eating, reading and chatting, eating, the Steller’s jays and squirrels entertained us and kept me busy with my camera.
After I took about a hundred pictures of the jays I got down to business and did some sewing. I sewed a button on to my fleece jacket, which I then hung on a hook and left at the cabin – ugh!
I worked on one of my patchwork potholders, and started to take apart a pillow that was made for Pippin by her grandmother 30 years ago. I hope to spiff it up and re-stuff it.
I even did some coloring with my sister and my niece Jelly. The picture I chose to color was one of the simplest in the book, and it reminds me a little of the elderberry bushes that I have admired so often up in the mountains. I didn’t see any in this area, though.
What I did see were mountain sunflowers and their seed heads.
Two days with dear people went by so fast… Next thing I knew, I was driving back down that curvy road, early enough in the morning to get some more nice pictures. I had been taking vitamin B6 for two days, and maybe that was why I didn’t get queasy on the descent.
Just a little lower down there were fewer conifers and more desert-y plants to be seen, and wildly painted rock cliffs to highlight their drama.
Below is another plant I didn’t take the time to research today. It looks like some kind of berry bush, growing out of a rock cleft.
…and I have to admit that yes, its leaves do somewhat resemble those of manzanita. I guess I have a fondness for leathery gray-green Survivors.
As I wound my way down, off to the south the morning light came over the ridges and fell on forests of manzanita bushes that spread in rough bands across the slopes.
The last mountain scene I captured was of more rock, with late penstemon blooming out of it. I was amazed, and honored.
When I arrived on the flats of the southern Central Valley, I kept taking pictures, because of the olive trees. More gray-green and hardy specimens! Tall ones dwarfing the orange groves…
…and just a few blocks from my old high school, old gnarly and knobby ones like this:
I was grateful for the chance to walk around in this grove, and the brief encounter was very satisfying. Just hanging around the trees must have given me the strength to soldier my way up the Interstate for the remaining hours that were required to get me home. I like being home.
It feels good to have our favorite baseball team playing in the World Series, and as I type the San Francisco Giants are playing the third game against the Kansas City Royals. I come over to the computer during the commercials and sometimes also when I am too nervous watching the Royals at bat.
We went to one of our favorite nurseries today, driving through vineyards and brown fields and clumps of oak trees, under a blue sky. As soon as I heard that we were headed out into the country, I was so excited, anticipating strolling around in the pleasant air. It felt good to wash all the dishes that had piled up – then we were off.
At the big nursery we were the only customers for a while as we browsed the perennials for a few drought-tolerant plants to use as ground cover in the front yard. One of the plants that was suggested to us was this verbena that we knew was already blooming all over the sidewalk at home, where I later took this shot.
At the garden center I had to keep reminding myself that we don’t have space for this or that beautiful or interesting plant, but I did remember to buy a little bay tree, inspired by some of you who mentioned that you grow them in pots. It’s a Grecian bay, bearing the type of leaf one buys in the spice section of the market, and not the California Bay Laurel that is native around here, which would outgrow a pot too fast, I think.
On the way home we stopped at our favorite fruit stand where they had a contest going to guess the weight of this pumpkin. We tried to recall the size of that ton+ pumpkin in my recent post, and put in our guesses for this one at about 1300 and 1400 pounds.
Last week I found some of my all-time favorite Pippin apples in a store and made some killer apple crisp to share with friends, and my love for apples was rekindled. Cooking and eating apples when they are in season, coming off the trees in our local orchards, is the way to go. Too many times in the last year or two I have tried to make something appley with apples from across the world, or fruit that had been languishing in cold storage. I hope I have learned my lesson now. Today I bought some more Pippins at the fruit stand and once again have a stockpile of substantial, useful, and of course tasty emblems of the harvest season.
Here are the plants we came home with. Left to right: Australian Astroturf, Scleranthus biflorus; Lawn (flowerless) Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile; Pink Chintz Thyme; the bay tree.
Our project is to put some steppingstones and ground cover into an area of our dead lawn not far from the front door, in the lower right-hand corner of this picture that is mostly taken up by just half of the sweet olive (osmanthus) bush. It’s a pleasure to work close to the osmanthus, because it’s so often bearing its tiny perfumed blossoms that I have gushed about in this space more than once. They are doing that right now.
A couple of weeks ago I dug big clumps of orchard grass out of this lawn area, and this afternoon I got a little more done removing the grass thatch that is embedded in adobe clay. Eventually I will add some compost and the new plants.
Meanwhile the trailing zinnias are thriving in the slightly cooler weather. They are my autumn decorations and I don’t at all mind not having a pumpkin or a gourd out front. Anyway, I already have a box of plants taking up space on the front step and who knows how long the will have to hang out there.
And look at this darling portulaca blossom. It is so little that I didn’t notice the much tinier insect inside until I had enlarged its picture. Since I planted it the cistus nearby has grown by leaps and bounds and overshadowed the portulaca, so I have to poke my camera underneath to catch a flower.
I’m sorry to say that between the time I started writing and now when I am finishing this post, Kansas City won the game. But tomorrow is another chance, and Sunday, too. We will watch one of those games with some friends, and maybe eat apple crisp together. I’m feeling good about it already.