Last Letter 99b, 21 May; This Letter 99c
Friday, June 18, 1999, Fishing for Something
to Write Home About
Bouillabaisse has yet to be on the menu here but this letter is going to look a lot like it. Across the narrow dusty dirt track from where The Cat Drag'd Inn, as a part of the brook on that side, there is a pond of a few hundred square feet inhabited by this club's pet trout. No swimming humans in this pond, it is reserved for the trout. You can feed them as long as there are no strings attached. There must be at least a coven of them in there, stiring up the frogs, bringing the surface to a roil whenever I toss them a few pellets of "fish food". They look like loaves of Wonder Bread swimming around in there.
Kaniksu use to have a perfectly good pond for swimming, albeit cold, with a grassy verge, water flowing through so no need for bleach. But for a variety of reasons the pond was let go to turtles and ducks and a heated pool was built; all this some years ago. The plumbing developed a fifty gallon a day leak last winter and so opening the pool this year has been delayed by lots of digging and plumbing. The usual coterie of volunteers have been here working on it, some on vacation time from their usual jobs--one guy just days following a heart attack was operating the backhoe: "If I'm gonna die I may as well be doing something I like."--while the greater part of the membership uses the pool being closed as an excuse to stay home, as if that was all there was for them to do here.
And that has engendered yet another discussion on the nature of naturists v.s. nudists and all the terms used to describe the various venues of activity: colony, camp, ranch, resort... I don't believe but very few call themselves communities; that would seem to imply a way of life which, despite all the posturing is not, it seems to me, what these clubs are really all about.
I'm confused about what I am supposed to wear--or not--whilst doing my several different tasks. This club is supposed to be NOT clothing optional--they expect you to be nude. Unless you say its too cold; but we all know the aphorism that one person's arctic, or antarctic in my case, is another persons tropic. However at the same time as one can buffily greet the UPS driver, or the grocery truck, one is required to be clothed in the kitchen (We don't want boobs dragging in the pizza dough, I was told, nor bums leaning against the counter tops.) Why does it have to be a rule that everyone must sit on a towel? One may as well wear shorts as carry a towel around all day--most of the kids (such few as there are in these families) do just that; it certainly makes more sense. I spend most of my time standing up, or sitting on the ground (so far it seems ok to sit on the ground sans towel) or I wear an apron in the kitchen. And if nothing else I have a chef's hat to wear.
This place is all mountain. Mountainous. The hills are so high and close
and the trees so tall that I have only a tiny patch of sky. I've been out
a couple of nights looking for the north star and cannot see enough of
the sky to recognise any of the constellations. Up until the last week
of May there was snow on top of some of the surrounding hills but it is
all gone now. I've been out riding on the trails, old logging roads, some
new logging roads, and some just walking in the woods. The trails and roads
are ok. Some are smooth and fast going down but so steep going up that
even with my lowest gears I end up walking (which really is not saying
much after the mostly flat riding at Arizona Oasis). But the woods are
so full of underbrush from new growth and slash from old logging that walking
is difficult and not all that pleasant unless one is grubbing about for
morels. The entire county is a tinderbox. Wherever I walk I can see old
fire scars, probly dating from the fires of 1910 that I am just reading
about in a book I'll Never Fight Fire with My Bare Hands Again.
I do really like it here. It is so different from the desert and given
the way of life (even with all the stupid rules) it is the closest I am
going to get to the big trees and brooks and hills of New England and make
any money at all. There is no such place as this in Maine or New Hampshire
or Vermont; at least none that I have found yet.
I use to say, shortly after my first time realising that I'd been and visited all the lower 48 states, that I still liked New England best. Now I am not so sure. It use to be that one could get from the snow covered mountains in the north of New Hampshire to the sun drenched sand dunes of Cape Cod in a long day of slow driving on the old roads. Now, with the roads having been made faster, and the people, and their cars, more, one can still spend a long day driving on the fast roads albeit at a slower pace in all that additional traffic. I am not so sure I like New England as much as I use to.
For all my searching for "home" tho, it is New England that I think of most often. But what I think of is "then", not "now". And so that is the basis of my confusion. Yes. Very mush so. Oops! Mush for brains... it is one of the items on the breky menu--mush that is, not brains--not too many brains. Its mostly a bacon and eggs, meat and potato crowd; I sort of expected that a bunch of family naturists would be more conscious of cholesterol but they pack it in: bacon eggs homefries, burgers sausage steak... So far the only concession I can see is 2% milk but there is no cereal to put it on but oatmeal (instant of course)--that's what they call mush--and Cocoa Puffs.
Since I first composed that paragraph I've been told these folks will pretty much eat whatever I prepare. I think I'm going to try Moose Turd Pie and Peanut Butter Soup.
The peanut butter soup went over very well except for one person who's most recent prior experience with this staple foodstuff was to see it combined with mouse poison and used to bait traps. She was very concerned, wondering just which jar of peanut butter I'd used.
Most of this part was written whilst I'm standing at the kitchen window-counter in my apron and chef's hat thinking about frosted buns for breky... This is an off weekend and the weather is not all that condusive to laying about in the sun. And the peanut butter baited trap under the kitchen range has caught three mice.
Monday, June 21, 1999, Commuting With A Squirrel
Every evening for the past week I have been sitting at table in the second class dining room of The Cat Drag'd Inn, which also doubles as writing desk and work bench, when at about 20h30, give or take ten minutes, a small black squirrel comes running and jumping along the road next to me. He is headed north and he always stops to look at the bus, as if to say --its still there, and then he hops along past the fish pond and the empty site next, where he stops again and looks both ways. After a moment he will move along the road to the site beyond the trees where an unoccupied trailer waits for summer campers, and then the squirrel stops again, looking around at the two roads and hiking trail that all meet in the borrow pit, before turning right and I can no longer see him.
Twice now I have been here in the morning when he comes down the hill. I'm sure it is always the same animal, if for no other reason than that I want it to be that way. Where is he going? And where is he from? And is he working the night shift?
Out here in this corner of the Kaniksu National Forest a silent secret
battle rages between loggers and environmentalists over the plight of yet
another endangered species with a unique and interesting life. This rare
life form of the vegetable kingdom lives in the forest where the woods
are lovely, dark and deep, and grows up to three feet in length and anywhere
from a quarter to an inch and a half in diameter before reproducing which
they accomplish en masse at night during the lunar interregnal.
The endangerment of the plant, to which some observers attribute the sentience of animals, revolves around the lovely, dark, and deep aspect of the woods which logging necessarily disturbs. Bright lights, loud noises, noxious gasses, all upset the obscure denizen; even the starlight let through to the forest floor by the absence of a crown of cedar, spruce, and fir is enough to upset the reproductive segmentation of a mature specimen. The young lie in the duff of old growth forest and mosey along through the tunnels of moles whilst they draw sustenance from the scat of herbivores. Logging roads interrupt their peregrinations and inhibit mating. The young are of a mottled ochre colour and as they mature the mottles agglutinate to become dark blackish spots on a light tan faintly striated hard smooth skin.
Research is on-going to identify mating and segmentation areas of old
growth forests and convince the commercial interests to set aside sufficient
stands of timber to assure a protected area for this unique specie and
at the same time provide logging road over-passes at known migration routes
to assure adequate cross pollination for viable continuation of the Spotted
Dowel. Your contributions to this effort would be a greatly appreciated;
Save Our Dowels welcomes your interest and support. All benefactors who
send ten dollars or more (U.S. funds) will be presented a hand crafted
replica Spotted Dowell. Please send cash and an S.A.S.E. affixed with two
units of first class postage to Oso con Migo, The Cat Drag'd Inn, Kaniksu
Ranch, 4295 North Deer Lake Road #5, Loon Lake WA 99148-9650.
Tuesday, June 22, 1999, Summer Solstice, Rose Moon
The rhubarb growing under the spruce tree in the far corner of the lawn was brought to my attention by a fellow connoisseur of homemade pie but by the time I'd finished the dishes, put up the leftovers, and washed the floors, someone wielding a weed-eater had decimated the plant. The few paltry leaves remaining would barely fill a turnover. But! right close by was a trash can nearly brim full of grass clippings, small sticks, dandy lions, and enough fresh-cut rhubarb to make three! pies. Yum! My mother use to make rhubarb pie from a plant that filled the alleyway between the kitchen and the back fence. It was a questionable chore to gather the rhubarb when she got it in her mind to make a pie--the broad green leaves kept her from seeing how badly the fence needed a coat of paint. My pies seem to be a mite runny, maybe we don't let them cool long enough to set-up. But then if I let them cool there won't be any left…
I know that in many respects I am living in the dark ages, some earlier time when life seemed more golden (in retrospect at least) when I could fix things that broke without resorting to a specialist, when humans spoke and wrote, read and listened, with a certain clarity now displaced by hype. Seems like several of my correspondents like to gussy up their mail with the fonts and colours that HTML affords. Trouble is it just about doubles the storage size and transmission time of a message while by and large their grammar and spelling are still atrocious. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, and I may be opening the door to critisizm of my writing but glitz and images are no substitute for lucid, thoughtful expressions. Well deserved or otherwise, one's original comments would be more welcome than the chain mail, jokes, storeys, that today are so easy to paste in, that one would rarely have taken the time write out longhand in the old days of unlined paper and analog pens.
Even if writers would only take the time to clean up all the >>> symbols
that indicate when a text has been replied to and delete the effusive lines
of headers and trailers and multitudinous eddresses, just to make the text
look original, that would be an improvement. No doubt there is something
to be said for leaving all that garbage in: One can take it as some sort
of virtual applause.
Tuesday, July 06, 1999, Letter to Bob Edwards, NPR
The 4th of July weekend was busy with special dinners. We'd
planned a Canada Day Dinner for Saturday and an America Day Dinner for
Sunday. The traditional meal for Americans is easy. Hotdogs & steaks,
corn on the cob & baked potatos, salad & watermelon. (Did you know
that potato and tomato, as different as they are, are both members of the
nightshade family?) But what is similarly traditional for Canadians? There
are a number of Canadian members here and we poured over a large format
cookbook of "traditional Canadian" recipes to come up with Indian Chicken
Curry, Ukrainian Salad, English Pudding, Italian Feta & Garlic French
Bread. It was quite an experience just shopping for some of the components
never mind making sense out of the mix and match quantities and the doubling
and quadrupling necessary to feed the diners we expected (hoped) to feed.
How many pinches in a gram? Is a metric handful the same as an english
"Dear Bob Edwards,
"During the news this Morning, immediately prior to you(?) announcing "eleven minutes before the hour"--it was 07h49 MST where I was at the very apropos 91.1mHz NPR station out of Spokane--there was a storey on regarding the Massachusetts Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone State Law...
"The siren playing in the background during one particular sound bite caused several heads to turn, not least of them mine. I had only minutes before been stopped by the local constabulary "just a routine check sir", the officer politely declared, "we always check when we see New Hampshire tags driving the back roads around here." Being as New Hampshire's almost all back roads where else would I drive when visiting north of Spokane I wanted to say but didn't...
"Anyhow; I could tell who all was listening to NPR in the cars around me just at that moment, when the siren yowled behind the sound bite, as heads turned and brake lights flashed.
"I think you should not let that happen again."
Monday, July 12, 1999, Picking Up The Pieces
Wonderous things really do happen and change can be wrought. Since I began composing this letter nearly a month back there has been a meeting and the rule regarding dress in the kitchen has been relaxed. Now it is only suggested that one wear an apron and we have obtained a bunch of new ones in assorted bright colours. My favourite is a kind of royal blue.
This was not a good weekend. But it is over now and I have a few days to recover and see if I can get off to a better start for next. I started out dumping a dozen hot-off-the-grill burgers on the floor. We have a rule here to the effect that if anything that falls on the floor is not there for more than two seconds then you needn't wash it. In this case the scrambled eggs were already burning when I was trying to put the toast down and stir the gravy so the burgers ended up getting fed to the goat and I was obliged to start that part over.
Then for the next meal I managed to overdo the baked rice. It got really crusty and dry but I was able to scoop enough out from the middle to make up the necessary dinners. Just as well not everyone who could have showed up. So then I took the pan and threw in some eggs and milk and sugar and put it back in the oven and turned it into rice custard. They'll never notice.
But the worst screwup was not mine. One of the kitchen volunteer helpers, the one wearing the tan apron, was in just as much of a hurry to refill the iced tea samovar and did so without taking note that one of the two gallon containers he poured in was labled "iced coffee". Someone else noticed that right away.
I've reconsidered the whole idea of putting out a "Tip Jar" and will wait at least a fortnight.
In the meantime the Spotted Dowel continues its inexorable slide toward
Friday, July 16, 1999, Have You Seen This Woman?
From The Times [of London] 7 February 1977: Britons in search
for Columbian waterway
"Nine women head into tropical swamps to find a lost canal
"Bogota, Feb 6. --- An all-woman expedition of six Britons and three Columbians has begun searching the jungles and swamps of north-east Colombia for a lost canal said to have once linked the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
"They are looking for the Respadura Canal, believed to have been dug in 1788 as the first waterway to join to the two oceans.
"The team, led by Miss Carolyn Oxton, aged 32, set off yesterday in torrential rain along the Atrato river from the town of Quibdo. Their start had been delayed for several days by organizational problems. They are travelling in three inflatable boats powered by outboard motors."
Miss Oxton, whose portrait by Julian Pannet was shown at the Royal Society's 80th exhibition at the Mall Galleries, [see photo] took part in the Darien Gap, Blue Mountains and Zaire River expeditions before leading the all-women assault on the Atrato Swamp in Colombia. More recently she has been in the news as a Masters long distance runner: "British Miler Club's Nike Relays ... W50 record for 1500m (Carolyn Oxton's 4:54.3 of 1993)."
She wrote a book entitled A Will To Win which I have not
been able to find in the Library of Congress, nor Amazon.com. If you know
her or know of her, please have her write me.
A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE, k1oIq
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Copyright © 2003, A.J.Oxton, The Cat Drag'd Inn , 03813-0144.