1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recipe Roundup from the Heart of a 4-H-er

Daughter's heart-healthy Christmas gift basket, emptied of its goodies

After some discussion with my sister and many requests by Daughter to put favorite family recipes online, I will begin to do just that. I mention my sister because I wanted to check with her first in case she had any objections. She has been wanting to get a family cookbook published for some time now with entries from all members--at least the adult ones--but we, as a family, can't seem to get our act together and comply with her wishes. Daughter wants her favorite recipes in one place where she can find them with a few keystrokes rather than searching through a wooden box filled with worn-out, food-stained index cards. Some of them get misplaced too, stuck in between pages of cookbooks to mark some other recipe.

Two of my all-time favorites--most often prepared--are for piecrust and sweet roll dough. Both of them are versatile. The piecrust recipe can be used for dessert pies or main dishes (quiche, for instance). The sweet roll dough can be prepared as dinner rolls or filled with fruit and sugar/spice mixtures for breakfast or dessert. I've been preparing this recipe since my stint in 4-H when I was a teenager. I won a trip to the Illinois State Fair as a prize for winning third place in the Jackson County food demonstration. Whoop-de-do! As I recall, "heart" is one of the H's in 4-H. Does anyone remember what the other three stand for?

As you can probably tell from the ingredients, these recipes would probably not qualify as being "heart-healthy," but if comfort and joy have any value for keeping the old pump working then maybe they shouldn't be entirely eliminated from a diet. Everything in moderation is my motto. It works well with just about anything, including cooking:

Water-Whip Double Piecrust

3/4 cup vegetable shortening (I use Crisco)
1/4 cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon milk
2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1 teaspoon salt

Measure the shortening in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and milk and whip with a fork until mixture resembles sour cream. Stir in flour and salt until mixture "rounds up" into a ball. Divide in half and place one-half between two pieces of wax paper. Wipe counter top with a wet dishrag and place paper on the moist (not wet) surface. Roll out dough with rolling pin until piece will fit into a 9-inch pie plate and overlap it slightly. Dough will probably be about 1/4-inch thick. Peel off top paper and invert dough onto pie plate, letting it settle in, and then carefully remove other paper. Roll out the other half similarly. It may be used as a top crust or as the base for another pie. Trim and crimp edge as desired. Fill and bake as directed by recipes calling for empty pie shells or double crusts. This recipe is fairly "forgiving" (doesn't usually get tough), but it shouldn't be over-whipped or rolled out repeatedly. You don't want to develop the gluten (glue-like stuff made of proteins in the flour) like you would in the next recipe:

Sweet Roll Dough

Two packets of active dry yeast (not rapid-rise)
1/2 cup of hot water (not boiling but more than lukewarm)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups milk, heated to more than lukewarm
2 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour (may use half whole-wheat)
2 teaspoons salt

Dissolve yeast in water. Set aside. Combine sugar, shortening, and heated milk in a large bowl. Stir vigorously for a couple of minutes. Add eggs and beat them into the mixture. Add dissolved yeast and about half of the flour and all of the salt. Stir until mixture is thick. Add almost all of the remaining flour and stir until mixture "rounds up" in the bowl. Put some of the remaining flour on counter and turn dough out of bowl. Begin kneading, adding flour as necessary to keep dough from being too sticky but don't be extravagant with it. Depending on the humidity level in the kitchen and type of flour used, you may need a little more or less than 4 cups of flour. Whole-wheat flour makes the dough a little drier, so less is better. More economical, you might say. My dad once told me that peasants used to console themselves with the thought that their dark bread was healthier than what their "betters" were eating. The whiter their bread, the quicker they're dead was a little rhyme from childhood that still comes to mind today when I make food choices. Continue kneading until dough is smooth and not sticky. Wash mixing bowl and dry. Add a little olive oil to the bowl and place dough in it, turning it over until oil covers the dough. This will keep it from sticking to the bowl. Cover dough lightly with plastic wrap and then a dish towel. Place in warm, dry location to rise for about one and a half hours, until dough doubles in size. Lightly punch the dough down and let rise again for about one-half hour. Divide dough into about four pieces and roll out as desired. I usually make crescent rolls by rolling out each piece into a circle, buttering it, and cutting small wedge shapes which are then rolled up, beginning from the wide end. Place rolls on ungreased baking sheets and cover with paper towels and then dish towels. Let rise until double (about 30 minutes) in a warm, dry location. Bake in a preheated 400-degree (Fahrenheit) oven for about 8-10 minutes. Remove immediately from baking sheets, cool on rack for storage (they freeze well), or enjoy them hot from the oven, slathered in butter! 

Cryptothecia rubrocincta, Christmas lichen, seen at Leon Sinks Geological Area

Mushrooms, maybe Lepista irina, seen at Leon Sinks Geological Area
If my recipes aren't heart-healthy, at least Mother Nature comes through with spectacular results. According to this site, HeartHealthyOnline, researchers have discovered that mushrooms of all things have heart-protective ingredients in them. For starters, there is ergothioneine (isn't that a mouthful?), an antioxidant. Yes, it's true: we start oxidizing or "rusting" inside as we get older. No wonder I creak so much when I move. Then chitin, which is a cholesterol-lowering carbohydrate, helps out. And let's not forget beta-glutan (a chemical associated with healthy hearts), high-quality proteins, vitamins, and unsaturated fatty acids. Selenium is another "ingredient" that protects against cancer.

Mushrooms have never been high on SAM's list of favorite foods. I usually have to sneak them into my quiches and other main dish pies. He doesn't complain too much as long as I don't get carried away. The sweet roll dough, though, is definitely not mushroom territory, unless I use it to make calzone. Now there's a thought!

The writer of this blog does not assume any liability whatsoever for readers' overindulgence and possible weight gain. She's too busy trying to control her own voracious appetite. Please eat responsibly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Heavy Metal Holidays--All I Want for Christmas is a Little Irony

Plumbago auriculata, suffering from the effects of cold weather and subsequent iron deficiency
"When the mercury drops to record lows in Florida, plants like my Plumbago auriculata (Cape leadwort) start to lose their luster." Did you notice all of the various heavy metals mentioned in that statement? Leadwort got its name from some enterprising herbalist who thought it would prove useful for chelation. There's even some gold (auri-) in them thar plants. No, not really, but a few ounces right about now sure would come in handy. The one metal that's obviously missing from this picture is iron. According to the Floridata site, yellowing of the leaves may indicate a manganese deficiency, but for once I know better. Or at least I think I do. The recent cold snap we've endured has compromised the plant's normal iron uptake, and the youngest leaves are exhibiting classic signs of interveinal chlorosis. Note the distinct fishbone appearance of the leaves' veins. Without enough iron, the plant has trouble making chlorophyll and carrying on all of its other normal functions. The plant's location near a brick wall, which has kept it warm enough to hold onto its leaves and keep blooming through December, is nevertheless even further limiting its iron uptake because of the higher pH level there. About the only thing I can do for the poor thing is to prune it back now so it will conserve what energy it still has. That way, since it blooms on new growth, it will--according to Floridata--"smile" for me again next year. I'm sure as heck not going to move it. It likes it where it is and so do I. Remember, I only know better once in a while.
 I get help from Peanut when it's time to do some trimming in the flower beds. She offers moral support and gives me an idea of where my boundaries are. I've been thinking about changing the header photo since it's now officially winter and something wintry would be more appropriate. Something strange about the picture, though, keeps me from performing the necessary operation. The camera captured something in the woods, behind the blurry looking leaves, that's eerily focused and catlike. Can you see it? No? Someone with soft eyes--or maybe it's just me with the soft spot still on my head--should notice it almost immediately. This site, Seeing Anew, has given me some new insight into why I think and write the way I do. Of course, it could be the result of strabismus I had or the eye surgery I underwent as a five-year-old kid to correct it. Was it something about seeing an anesthesia mask about to cover my face and having to be restrained on the operating table that affected my perception or worldview? I'm pretty sure that experience and others like it have tempered my resistance to people who claim expertise or superior knowledge of something and then expect unswerving devotion to their Weltanschauung. "Don't ask questions, just obey and accept" doesn't set well with me. I enjoy observing a little irony now and then, thank you very much.
 Like: how do you reconcile a three-year-old cat's normal, youthful vigor with what you see in this picture, an all-too-familiar sight that greets me whenever I return home for a visit?
I've put the recycled tire feeder up outside the apartment, not at home, so maybe a lack of visual stimulus is to blame. I wouldn't want the cat to get too excited.

Santa's Gone Fishin' Near Lake Jackson
 Somebody I know who likes fishing will probably get excited when he sees this image. He's only three-and-a-half years old so I doubt that he will recognize the irony in it just yet.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Man of His Word

Secret Aging Man on the road again in his Ford pickup truck sometime in the late 1970s

SAM's fluorite story card

Having finished Carolyn Haines' Greedy Bones over a week ago, I decided to write a little review before details started fading. If I get something wrong maybe SAM will point it out to me. He's reading the book at my request, though he's never been much of a fiction reader or writer, for that matter. That's not to say he doesn't know how to write. As you can plainly see above, he's pretty good at putting words together. Most of the writing he's done over the years has been work-related, technical stuff that's all in a day's work for a professional geologist. From oil prospects to environmental assessments, he has produced enough reports in the last 30 years to fill a small-town library. (I've edited quite a few of them.) Somewhere along the way, I guess about 15 years ago, he got the urge to break out of the mold and came up with some story cards to go along with rock kits he had assembled. One side of each card describes a mineral's physical and chemical attributes, and on the other side SAM applies what he has learned over the years. I think it's pretty amazing what he's learned.  

SAM on duty, after work, at his other job--as Daddy, 1982
While SAM has been reading Greedy Bones, I decided to take on Anna Quindlen's novel, Every Last One. Click on this link to a review of it in the New York Times. The two novels don't have much in common, except for a few details. For one thing, they're both written by women, probably middle-aged or at least with some experience under their belts. Then there's the fact that men are secondary characters in these novels. They're more like props than anything, definitely not prime movers, muscle bound though they may be. If you want to think in anatomical terms, they might even be considered antagonistic, resisting the female protagonists and throwing monkey wrenches into their lives--marriage, kids, and that sort of thing. I tend to do that--think anatomically, not throw monkey wrenches--when I'm dissecting a novel. It's probably a good thing I never became a surgeon. You would think that female protagonists in this day and age would be, though. Instead, they're amateur sleuths/actresses (Greedy Bones) or professional landscapers (Every Last One). Not that there's anything wrong with those occupational choices. It's just that according to what pundits from the last few decades would have you believe, they're a few bricks short of a full load of ambition, a half a bubble off the feministic ideal of a woman. But don't expect to find any air heads in these novels. Even the female villains/victims are canny.
SAM, the Prime Mover, behind the wheel of our once-upon-a-time, 15-passenger van. We bought it for transporting the church youth group in the mid 90s when gas was still cheap!
Holiday social event, December 2009
I don't know what to make of novels these days, especially those written by women. They're difficult to pigeonhole, even if you do manage to dissect them. I've tried, believe me. Is Haines' protag, Sarah Booth Delaney, today's version of Nancy Drew, now empowered by the sexual revolution and a hefty inheritance?  SAM's comment about her tendency to hop on a plane or jump into dangerous/awkward situations at the drop of a hat: Unrealistic. Okay, that's coming from a conservative businessman/bureaucrat's perspective. I shrugged it off as just another supernormal power that socialite heiresses enjoy, besides the ability to communicate with dead family members/friends. Calgon, take me away!

I'll admit that Quindlen's novel worked me over emotionally. Its subject matter is pretty intense from anyone's perspective--anyone that has a heart, that is. Besides the M&MM (murder and maternal mayhem that follows), I had the wind knocked out of me when I thought: what's really at stake here, literally and figuratively? Fatherhood/philosophy, sanctity of marriage, music, poetry--Glen; Glen/MaryBeth, et al; Max, Ruby. All of them on the chopping block at once. Scary!

It seems that some authors are beginning to take Deleuze and Guattari to heart: Write a rhizome. Let it become more than the sum of its parts. We are working on it.

SAM's rock kit, disassembled, outside of the box.
"We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied." (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)

Monday, December 6, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to Market Days in Tallahassee

Every other weekend or so, now that the Bahia grass and other weeds lie dormant at home in Santa Rosa County, Secret Aging Man and I spend our time and other limited resources in and around Tallahassee. We found plenty of things to spend them on this weekend at Market Days, a major source of revenue for the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science. The event also affords an opportunity for shoppers weary and wary of the mall and its collection of imported, cheap-yet-overpriced gifts to look for handmade holiday bargains. This little piggy went to Market Days with the rest of her piggies in tow. Now a resident of Florida, she doesn't drive anymore in all that ice and snow.

She loaded up on fresh produce like navel blood oranges, turnip greens, field peas, green beans, and potatoes. And let's not forget that item most important to her soul nutrition--fresh flowers to fill the planters, aka the apartment garden. Pansies aren't as wimpy as their name implies. They're hardy enough to withstand the occasional cold blasts of arctic air our neighbors up north are more than willing to share. You know who you are; bare your toes if you dare!

After going to market on Saturday, this little piggy stayed home the next day and cooked up a mess of fresh veggies to go along with SAM's grilled chicken. Somehow knowing there's a limit to too much of a good thing, this little piggy had roast beef (prime rib) Saturday night at Julie's Place, one of her favorite Tallahassee restaurants, and wanted something different to eat on Sunday. She had planned on preparing a cozy dinner for two at the apartment after shopping, but then she and SAM got stuck in traffic because of a Christmas parade downtown. Those two dollars a glass drinks of happy hour house wine (yes, please, Burgundy) washed down the beef and fixin's just fine.    
Besides the fresh stuff for sale at market, there were plenty of other things to buy, and some were even "green," like this used tire turned into a bird feeder/watering bowl. It's a clever, attractive way to re-purpose and keep at least some junk out of the landfill. Lauri Hall and her husband design and craft all kinds of things out of tires for their business, Tire Swings and Garden Things. One Florida blogger I know, Julie (not associated with the restaurant but also a fine cook as well as artist and creator of A Succulent Life), isn't afraid to use tires in her garden. Why not take advantage of stuff that's already used and give it new life? It's the sort of attitude that my grandparents and parents had, and it served them well, saving money and the planet from a lot of unnecessary waste.  

Mrs. Hall didn't mind posing with some of her waste-preventing handiwork. After reading The Florida Blogger's post regarding a St. John's River tour (offered free if he blogged about it), this little piggy had none of her usual shyness asking a favor from a stranger. Wanna be featured on my blog, Mrs. Hall? There really is no danger. (For that bird feeder I did pay and for another one, someone's gift for Christmas Day.) 
We might not have gone to Market Days if not for the invitation from one of SAM's co-workers. Her mom, owner of Simply Elegant by Michelle, LLC, was one of the many talented artists and craftspeople who took their wares to market. SAM hates to shop, but he does like to show support for friends and their families. I do too.

One thing I didn't buy on Saturday was a poinsettia. I'm not sure why, but I've lost my appetite for it as a holiday plant. Maybe it has something to do with learning about its association with the conquest of Mexico. Luckily, this vendor had other plants for sale. Remember the pansy? It's no shrinking violet, though it does share some characteristics and a genus name with Viola. Pansies in some form have been cultivated for hundreds of years but were given their common name not long after the 4th century by someone who spoke French. The word pensee means thought or remembrance. It's no wonder I like them so much, especially now that I've learned something about their history. After making our last Market Days' purchase from the flower vendor, as you might imagine, SAM was fed up with shopping. He asked me if I wanted to take a hike, and this little piggy went "Oui, Oui, Oui!" all the way home--after a short drive to Leon Sinks Geological Area, after the long wait in downtown traffic, and after a satisfying meal with wine. If ever you come to Tallahassee, I'll advise you on where to walk and dine: with me, of course, and mine.

Dry "swamp" at Leon Sinks Geological Area

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Mo' NaNoWriMo--How a Flood of Words Became a Trickle

I took on a challenge at the beginning of November (NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month), knowing full well that I could not (would not?) attain my goal. You see, I had promised myself and thousands of other writers all over the world, a veritable flood of them--as if they could possibly know or care--that I would write a novel consisting of not less than 50,000 words in 30 days. My mind simply will not allow me to write like that. I can't force the words to gush out and somehow assemble themselves into a story. It would be like expecting a cypress tree to reach for the sky without any roots or "knees" for support. I did manage to start writing my first novel, but it's going someplace I didn't expect, and I'm not sure that I like it. Who's the boss here, anyway? Me or the story? 

Sometimes I need to walk more than write, especially when the leaves turn color--yes, they do that even here in North Florida--and the trees at Torreya State Park whisper that winter is right around the corner. If you listen closely enough, there might even be a whisper or two from Miss Chaffa. Remember her from the last time I posted about Torreya? She might look a little scary peering out of glass-covered bookcases, but she used to live around here, and you can trust her judgment. Ya'll come on! It's cool enough now to walk in the woods, and them bugs are takin' theirselves a break. Okay, so I've also been reading more than I've been writing. Right now I'm on Chapter 6 of Carolyn Haines' Greedy Bones. So far, so good.

Let others tell the Paradox,
How eels now bellow in the ox;
How horses at their tails do kick,
Turned as they hang to leeches quick;
How boats can over bridges sail,
And fishes do the stables scale,
How salmons trespassing are found,
And pikes are taken in the pound.

But I, retiring from the flood,
Take sanctuary in the wood;
And, while it lasts, my self embark
In this yet green, yet growing ark;
Where the first Carpenter might best
Fit timber for his keel have pressed;
And where all creatures might have shares,
Although in armies, not in pairs.
--from Andrew Marvell's "Upon Appleton House," 1651--
There may not be a flood to be found at Torreya these days, but a trickle of spring water draws SAM down a steep path that I would rather not try. It looks like a bum buster, and I've broken my tailbone before. No thanks! I'll embark myself on paths with gradual declines. I fit right in with that milieu.
If there were a flood here, the swamp would welcome it with open arms. I'm thinking Miss Chaffa would too, with bony fingers beckoning.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Al Dente Writing: To the Teeth or a Little Chewy?

Speckled Trout (Speck), October 30, 2010

Would you believe that it has been seven score and seven (147) years ago since Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address? I decided to keep track of important dates in history so I subscribe to and get daily e-mail updates. It's hard to believe that in this day and age--or any age for that matter--people could actually get writer's block and not be able to come up with something to write about. How is that possible? A fellow blogger and gardening mentor, TC, The Write Gardener, recently asked his faithful readers for some help with his problem of writer's block. Of course, he was referring to something very specific, which was coming up with 52 articles for a weekly gardening column in a newspaper. In case you haven't noticed, I don't write professionally, and I keep my blog open to many different topics. It's amazing that my gardening friends still like to visit here. I guess they don't hold it against me that I have a serious problem: too many ideas begging to be set free. And then there's the other problem of what form they will take. What subjects will they broach? (That's an interesting word, by the way) Politics? Nature? Fishing? Gardening? Even when I do settle on one topic--or more--the words I choose to describe it/them might seem a little chewy. Kind of like conch. It goes all over the place in your mouth but isn't easily swallowed.

I blame it--the writing, not the conch--on growing up with card catalogs in the library and an unabridged dictionary in the form of a book. I would start out looking at one thing and end up discovering something completely different. The Internet is okay, I guess, as a research tool, but it just isn't the same thing. Blogging is probably the next best thing to a card catalog. Take a look at my Blog List, and you will understand what I mean. Don't stop there, though. Take the time to read a few of the posts I've linked to (don't forget to leave comments) and then come back and read some more. Don't stop there. If you've already got a blog, link to the blogs you like. If you don't have one, what are you waiting for?

I don't normally look to Wikipedia for information about a subject, but this article is the most comprehensive and interesting one I've found about Lincoln's famous speech. He wrote it himself, and there are several different versions or drafts in existence, as well as firsthand accounts written down as the words were spoken. Just imagine: there were no recording devices available then besides a pen and paper. So much has changed and yet so little since those words came from the mouth of a famous Republican President. It wasn't so highly regarded then, as his political opponents were eager for him to be booted out of office. The Peace Democrats, known as "Copperheads," were deadset against the military draft that Lincoln had instituted earlier that year so that the fallen soldiers could be replaced with fresh ones. They wanted an end to the war and were willing to make concessions to the Confederacy to make it happen. Lincoln wrote and made that short and to the point speech to make it perfectly clear why our country was fighting the Civil War. I think he did a dandy job of it. It was most definitely "to the teeth."

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Snow Ball's Chance in Florida

Snow gardening in Wentzville, not Florida, Winter 1990-91

Snow takes a permanent holiday in Florida. Well, at least there's not enough of the stuff to stop the school buses from running and make the kids want to play outside all day when it's finally bone-chilling cold enough to kill the mosquitoes. They--the mosquitoes--have been multiplying like crazy in this time of high unemployment and foreclosure when properties must be vacated and untended swimming pools serve as breeding grounds. An evening walk had best be kept at a brisk pace now. It's also a good idea to continue that walking conversation with a talkative neighbor indoors instead of standing underneath the streetlight outside her house. Anyway, it's nice to think about the snow covering up the drab dullness of a Northwest Florida Winter landscape. Escaping the reality of a soon-to-be-frostbitten garden is now just a click away.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sweet Potatoes are Taking Over My Garden and My Thoughts--'Remember, Remember the Fifth of November'

Sometimes I wonder--and maybe you do too--if I tend a garden just so I can use it as an excuse to cultivate my convoluted trend of thought. The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is a good case in point. A close cousin to the morning glory in the botanic family of Convolvulaceae, it has such interesting and varied ties to history, literature, and folklore that I couldn't wait to include it in my garden earlier this year. A lady waiting in line with me at the garden center where I purchased a six-pack of plants this past April warned me it might take over. She was right, but I'm not sorry. It has handily covered most of my barren plot of earth, not suitable for growing much of anything else I've planted, and I've already "robbed" the six original plants of their sweet tasting and nutritious roots. Next year, there will be even more, haha.

When I woke up this morning, I fully intended to write a post strictly about my sweet taters, concentrating on information about their nutritional value--they're packed with beta-carotene and potassium for starters--and maybe throw in a few ideas for preparation. Thanksgiving is on its way after all, and how dull would it be without a sweet potato casserole or mashed sweet taters to add some inexpensive color, flavor, and much-needed fiber to the traditional, weighs-heavy-on-the-stomach-and-budget feast? There would be yammering like nothing you've ever heard if I left these beauties off the menu. Or at least there should be.
 So, where did that simple post about nutrition and preparation go? By the wayside, as soon as I picked up one of my favorite early morning reads, Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. It reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, celebrated as a national day of Thanksgiving in England--Guy Fawkes' Day in years past and more recently as Bonfire Night. Who? What? Guy Fawkes was a Catholic fellow who lived in the time of King James I, and he didn't like the way things were going with the Protestants in charge of everything. He was a key member of a plot to blow up Parliament using barrels of gunpowder strategically placed in the building's cellar. The plot was discovered in the nick of time--Spurgeon calls it a "great deliverance wrought by God for us." Fawkes did not meet with a happy ending, it seems. He leaped off the steps leading up to the gallows, breaking his neck and thereby preventing a slower, more painful death by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Terrorists were not afforded the luxury of mercy in days of old when knights were bold and a king's rule on earth was conflated with God's stature in heaven. It's a good thing for them that times and attitudes have changed.

Thank goodness for things that don't change, like sweet potatoes, among other things. According to this site that touts healthy foods, they've been cultivated and consumed since prehistoric times. They were introduced to North America, the West Indies, and eventually Europe by those forward-thinking Spaniards who discovered them on their gold-seeking forays into Peru and Ecuador. The Spaniards didn't like them much at first, but other Europeans soon found good uses for them. It seems that some health practitioners decided that they were aphrodisiac, and word got around quickly, as it usually does where sex is concerned. It must have been common knowledge by William Shakespeare's time. Some of his contemporaries called it the "venereous root." Shakespeare even gave the taters some notice, complete with severe-weather idioms. What better way to emphasize the climacteric plight of middle-aged men and women and their often tempestuous rage against age--and each other--in his comedic play The Merry Wives of Windsor?(Shakespeare was a player, all right--with words, of course):

Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of "Greensleeves," hail kissing-comfits, and snow eringoes... (Falstaff in a nighttime tryst with a married woman who plays a trick on him, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 18-20.)
As much as I'd like to say that sweet potatoes were a regular part of King James' diet, lusty ruler that he was, I find no evidence to support that idea. I can say they will be a regular part of my family's garden and diet, now that I've discovered what a useful and interesting veggie they truly are.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Book Review: Taking Evans' 'The Walk' Across Florida and to Ichetucknee Spring

I've always believed that the quickest way to a man's heart and maybe soul is not through his stomach but through his love of nature. When SAM the Saluki man and I first met at SIU 32 years ago, it was our shared love of all things outdoors that sealed and nourished our relationship. Walks in the woods, climbing glacial-era sandstone boulders at nearby Giant City Park, and studying each other between classes on a park-like campus filled our memory banks with more riches than any exalted career path ever could. When I picked up Richard Paul Evans' The Walk at the library a couple of weeks ago, the title, the cover, and the jacket description of it as a "life-changing journey, both physical and spiritual," captured my attention. Here, I thought, would be the perfect traveling book. We had a journey of our own to take across the state of Florida, and I figured Mr. Evans might have some insights to share with us through his fictional characters. For instance, would the protagonist change his plans to suit an irascible sister-in-law and keep peace in the family? Probably not, since he's hell-bent and trauma-warped enough to insist on doing it his way. Doing it means walking all the way from Seattle to Key West, after he has "lost everything," and he's "taking with him only the barest of essentials." Like a debit card to draw on a hefty account administered by his attractive personal assistant? So he can buy energy bars, trail mix, Pop-Tarts, and beef jerky to fuel his passion for walking. And later to pay for meals at roadside diners and then a night's stay at a luxurious bed-and-breakfast. Some things in this book don't ring true, and I think it might have a lot to do with the walk itself.  
 Before we took that tandem kayak for a float down the Ichetucknee River a week ago Monday and before we ventured across the state to visit the Irascible Sister-in-Law and other, more easygoing relatives, SAM and I felt like we needed a walk in the woods. We stayed in High Springs on Friday night at a cheap but mostly clean motor inn for a couple of reasons. First, the bigger chain motels don't consider it worth their while to locate themselves so far off the beaten path (Interstate 75). Secondly, we thought we might do the float on Saturday morning before heading over to the East Coast. Then the phone call was made on Friday evening to firm up plans for the weekend. The ISIL made it clear that she was fixing a roast for Saturday supper and that the other family members from Australia were going in the afternoon to visit SAM's mom at the nursing home. Wouldn't we like to join them for both events? Black sheep though we may be, SAM and I decided to keep the peace and not make waves, at least not this time. We would swing back by Ichetucknee on the way home to Tallahassee, hoping the sunny, dry weather would hold on for a couple more days. It did. Getting back to the walk, though, we headed out early Saturday morning to O'Leno State Park where we found a swinging bridge to cross. This one was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. I don't think anyone has too many complaints about the way that particular stimulus plan worked. We're still enjoying the benefits in 2010.
We hadn't planned on staying more than an hour or so walking on the trail, but you know me. Once I start breathing in that lovely pine smell, and looking up at the lofty canopy towering overhead, I'm hooked.

Who needs to buy Pop-Tarts and beef jerky when you can survive in the woods on pine bark and seeds with a side order of pine needle tea? Getting back to The Walk now, I find it ironic that a physical and spiritual journey gets fueled by store-bought fare. Nature is the best provider as well as healer.
I'm not sure what I expected to find between the pages of the book, but product placement was the furthest thing from my mind when I first started to read it. It didn't take long for the name-dropping to begin. By Chapter Two, I knew that the protag, Alan Christoffersen, drives a Lexus and fell in even greater love with a woman who once operated a Kool-Aid stand. Of course, all of the hype could be explained by the fact that he's an advertising executive. He pitches products for a living so brand names belong in this book, right? Not so fast. Maybe they do before he begins his walk, while he's still caught up in his fast-paced, high-falutin' lifestyle, but once he begins preparing for that spiritual journey after losing everything, those brand names should disappear like water down a sinkhole. Not so. Ray-Ban Wayfarers and an Akubra Coober Pedy hat purchased in Melbourne, no less, adorn our hero as he sets out to leave his life behind.
Water never really disappears down a sinkhole. It just reappears somewhere else, downstream, hopefully in better condition than when it sank. (That's probably not the case, though, considering all the organic and inorganic pollutants that somehow find their way into the groundwater and recharge system.)
For some reason, I expect a good book to do that too--reappear downstream, away from the polluted mainstream, I mean. It has a path for me to follow, and even if it starts out a bit awkwardly, I want it to take me somewhere extraordinary.
So when I read on the first page of Chapter One "The water before me [Gulf of Mexico as seen from Key West] is as blue as windshield wiper fluid," I figure there's still time for this book to find its footing. The journey has just begun, right? Well, no, actually the protag has already reached his destination and the story begins at the end. He tells us that he has "come a long way to get here--nearly 3500 miles." On foot. Where does windshield wiper fluid fit in with that picture? Maybe it's the author's voice squeaking through the veil. Evans tells us on his website that he couldn't "write the book without experiencing the path" his protag takes. So he flies to Seattle and rents a car to drive that path. Whatever happened to walking a mile or 3500 in someone else's shoes?
Or floating down a lazy river in someone else's kayak?
Remember I told you that we waited a couple of days to take that float down the Ichetucknee? I'm so glad we did. If we had gone Saturday, the course would have been clogged with many more boats and people. Now, I'm not antisocial, but when I'm in need of peace to do some serious thinking, the fewer people around the better. 
"What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one--that my body might--but I fear bodies; I tremble to meet them..." --Henry David Thoreau, Maine Woods, "Ktaadn," Part 6

I do like Evans' use of a journal and famous quotes to keep the novel flowing, but I wish he had chosen some better ones than this:
"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it." --Kierkegaard
The Ichetucknee begins with one head spring, and it becomes a mighty flow not far downstream as other springs join it. Not fast moving, mind you, but flowing nonetheless. It takes hold of your imagination and gets away with it sometimes. Like something that Thoreau has written. Now there's a source from which to gather quotes. Who needs to walk away from burdensome thoughts? Take them with you, wash them in the river, and try them on for size again.
"What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature--daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it--rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?" --Henry David Thoreau, as above
Try as you might, you can't plumb the depths of a spring anymore than you can a human spirit's.
It has hiding places that not even its owner knows about. Someone once told me--or maybe I read it somewhere--that every human has a God-shaped hole in his/her soul. He/she yearns for it to be filled with something. It cries out like an empty stomach and is never satisfied with anything less than the real deal.
Nature was never intended to fill the hole. That would be counterproductive. It's not eternal, and I can't take it home with me. The Lobelia cardinalis I find on this trip down the river won't be there the next time I visit, and it's designed to thrive right where it is, not to be uprooted and thrust in some flower bed.
The Great Egret, Ardea alba, is certainly an object to be admired and maybe even studied but worshipped?
Even turtles like this log-hugging River Cooter seem to know when it's time to cut the crap or the tree so that the river's flow continues unobstructed, and as a bonus he gets a place to hang out and catch a few rays.
Where I am going with this train(wreck) of thought as I float down the river, past the Great Blue Heron intent on catching his dinner? To the latest news about a solar installation in the Mojave Desert. According to an article in the Huffington Post, a couple hundred permanent jobs will be created once this project is completed. Woohoo! I'll bet Californians are excited about that prospect. Though, maybe the creatures calling the desert home won't be so thrilled about it. Ah yes, the price we all must pay for progress. Solar Millenium, a German company responsible for designing one of the 14 fast-track projects approved--for permits as well as funding--by the federal government, "will be required to mitigate the project's effect on more than 8000 acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard, as part of an agreement with federal officials." Unfortunately, the animals were unavailable for comment on the mitigation plan. The same could be said for the vegetation and various insects inhabiting the region.
We knew our trip down the river was nearing its end when we saw the power lines spanning the water. Was it the hum of electricity and towering symbol of man's interference with Nature that told us so? Not exactly. The lady at Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins told us to call her so she could drive the van over to pick us up at the takeout point nearby.
That's where this story began, with SAM the Saluki man, climbing outta the 'yak. And the river keeps going, flowing freely, past the point where we left it that day.