Monday, October 18, 2010

Guajira Guantanamera

Tonight Charles dared me to eat a jabanero pepper. I agreed, thinking it couldn't possibly be too bad. Right? RIGHT?!

Oh Holy #@$%! GOD #@$& IT!

It was possibly the most painful experience of my life. Apparently Mexican's used to use spicy peppers to actually de-worm themselves (parasites being what they are where hot weather prevails). Folks, let me tell you, as of tonight I am worm-free.  But as a direct side effect of the pepper I have been listening to Spanish music on YouTube for some time now. Hence the title of this blog. Interestingly enough Guajira is slang for "Woman" and Guantanamera is an area of Mexico.

Now, logically, more has been going on in my life than pepper related agony. Really it's been more of the same, except for an encounter that Charles and I had on Saturday that I think you'll all enjoy. I shall relate it as I did the story of Squeaky and the Trailer.

The Ozark Floats

     The day had dawned pale and wintry, the heavy, fresh water fog of the mountains rolling through the river valley like sea during a full moon tide. Ordinarily I would be up by this time, having awoken when only the light of the full moon would have revealed the clinging mist. But today was as Saturday, and so instead I missed the quicksilver change of winter, to early fall, to Indian summer, and by the time I got up the light was heavy and golden, redolent with motes of dust and dying leaves. It was my favorite kind of day.

    Charles and I decided to go on a walk before the day got too warm and lost all of its autumn texture, and so we walked over to the library and back. As we neared our house we happened to look at the front lawn of the next door school-turned-museum and see an old man bent over the weathered hull of a dark green boat, chattering animatedly to a man holding a camera. In the manner of all true North-easterners I was ready to keep walking and glancing furtively at this stranger out of the corner of my eye. He had downy white hair with a weathered canvas cap perched on top,  and he wore a button down red gingham shirt, and paint-spattered and thread bare overalls. But this man was looking for a crowd, and so he called us over.
     "Come on over," he said. "I'm building boats and telling tales."

     Well, we couldn't walk away from an invitation like that.  We headed over and this man continued his story as if he had never been interrupted.
      "My grandaddy used to float these boats here in the Ozarks, huntin fish."
He jabbed a long and menacingly pointed trident into the grass to demonstrate.
     "You'd have to be real careful too, on account of the light would bend in the water and fish would be in front of where it looked like it was. Yeah, took a good eye to fish here." He said, clearly proud of his Grandfather.
     He went to a basket of glossy wood planks, hanging midway down the boat. He took one from it's bobbing nest and held it out.
     "Smell this," he said. "And tell me what it is."
I took what I intended to be a serious naturalist sniff. "Cedar?"
     "Jack pine, taken right after the forests were burned. They all turned the forests, the settlers did, and all the way back to the Indians. We got good stands of Jack pine here'n the mountains. This'll burn real hot and bright. But puts out a lot a' black smoke."
     He walked to the front of the boat, a long narrow trip about the length of two grown men lying on the ground, but barely the length of my leg in width. He held up an oar, polished to a high shine with a beautiful wood grain with a ridged metal end. He held it out to me.
     "Feel it." He said.
I took it in my hand, expecting to feel the heavy weight of a boat oar, the kind kept of the Chesapeake Bay Dead Rise boats. But it was light, almost unnoticeable, even with the metal tip.
     "Guess this wood," he said, and shaved off a few tendrils from another, unfinished oar.
This one was unmistakable. Even without taking the wood I could smell root beer.
     "Sassafras!" I yelped, proudly reclaiming my naturalist training.
     "Right!" He replied. "Sassafras wood is real good and light, easy to work. Pretty too. And that metal tip on the end, well that's real good too. Gives you something to dig into the bottom, because otherwise you hit a slick rock and your oar slides off. Well, then you slide off too, and into the water."
     We all laughed accordingly, camera man included.
     "My Granddaddy, he used to work the oar on these boats. They'd sign songs to get into the rhythm, then they could pole for hours.  Long as they didn't hit any rocks."
     He showed us more of the boat, and eventually the camera man had to busy himself with something else and walked away. But the man kept working. He wasn't doing this for the publicity, evidently he really was just building a boat and telling stories.
     "It takes me about two, three days to make a boat in the shop, with electric saws and all. Reckon it takes about a month to make it like this, maybe more depending on how many stories I tell while doing it. But I like it better this way."
     I liked it better this way too, so I thanked him for his stories. And he pulled on the brim of his hat a little and nodded.
     "Thank you all for stopping by." And he went back to work.

Anywho, that's my story. I miss you all terribly, and I now have tickets to come home for Christmas, arriving on the 17th!  So I'll see you all in like two months!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Origin of the Jack O' Lantern

Like all great things, the Jack O' Lantern began its life as an Irish tradition. During the  pre-Christian era, people carried small, hollowed out squashes with them, lit with tapers, as they traveled from house to house on Samhain, or the autumn solstice.  Their purpose was to light the way, as well as inform any wandering spirits that an Irishman was happening past. With the advent of Christianity, the Jack O' Lantern, while still carried in the same manner, became a form of protection, meant to keep spirits at bay and allow good Christian travelers to pass.

When the whole process got to America, no one could find a squash small enough (although I would just like to point out that the butternut squash WOULD have worked). So instead they used pumpkins, and because people were getting tired hauling pumpkins around, they were relegated to the front porch. Thus the Jack O' Lantern as we know it was born.

Currently I have broken with tradition and have a Jack O' Lantern sitting on the dining room table. Charles purchased a small pumpkin at the local farmer's market and spent 45 minutes painstakingly carving the word "Home" into it. We then paid more for a candle then we did for the pumpkin, and lit it. Our plan was to put it on the front porch, but we have both grown rather more attached to it than we intended. So it remains on our table and eats dinner with us. Rather grim, since I have roasted its innards in honey and brown sugar.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

If Heaven and Hell Decide...

"That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the Nos
On their Vacancy signs,"
-- "I'll Follow You" Death Cab for Cutie

Why is this the best song ever written?

This actually has no relevancy on my life. It's just an amazing song and I am listening to it now. You may feel free to agree.

My week finished off pretty well. We actually got off at 4:30 on Friday (a miracle) and wound up discovering a very decent smoothie place. HERE. It's a minor miracle. Or maybe I just lived in the woods for too long.  Then we went home. Shortly there after I fell asleep and slept for 12 hours. ANOTHER MIRACLE.

Then today was Charles' birthday. Although more fairly I should say it was the beginning of Charles' birthday weekend, since I did not have time today to bake the cookies I promised him. So tomorrow I am going to bake them and we are going to make homemade pizza. Today was also the last day of the farmers market, and since we showed up about half an hour from the close we received a huge number of free things. Hurray!

For the record, in terms of the Trail of Tears running update: I have run 15 miles so far this week, and am hoping to make 19 tomorrow. This will bring my total to 98 miles!  So I will hopefully break 100 soon. Although since my early running was so poorly monitored it's possible that I have already passed that land mark. But that would be depressing, so I'm gonna pretend I haven't. Yay!

I miss you all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Mission, and an Old Friend

Friends, country men, for me today was a day that all EPA workers can appreciate. A day long anticipated, and all together too brief. A day that will, probably, live in infamy. Field Day. The day that comes once in a blue moon. The day that sets us all free from our indoor cages, to frolic and play in the great outdoors. (For AmeriCorps the term is "Service Day")

I awoke, this auspicious day, at 6 am.  This was unnecessary since we didn't have to be at work until 8:30 (as opposed to our usual 7:00). But I couldn't fall back asleep, because I was too excited. Kinda like Christmas.  So I got up finally, and waited as long as I could before I geared up. That's right folks, GEAR. Hiking boots, quick dry pants and under armor (it's cold, ok?) and my NPS (National Park Service) issue shirt. I would have worn the AmeriCorps one, but the powers-that-be gave me an extra large for some reason. 

The day was glorious and brief. We walked and picked up trash. I was euphoric. I was, in essence, a pig in poop.  There was a brief altercation with a sticker bush (which I did not win) but on the whole my spirits were high. It was in this pleasant mood that I had my encounter. I was carefully rooting out some plastic from the road bank when I happened to glance skyward. There, silhouetted against the brilliance of the autumn sky was, I kid you not, a small green leafy hand. A mitten, to be precise. Hello little tree I thought, as dismissed it. 

I continued to root, and when I looked up again, there was the little leafy hand once more, this time waving frantically in the breeze. Pay attention! It said. Well, when leaves tell me to pay attention I certainly can't ignore them. So I stood up and took a closer look. And, of course, that was when it clicked. Little mitten leaves, Sassafras. My absolute favorite tree in the world. 

This wouldn't be so remarkable (I saw at least twenty Sassafras trees a day in MD, although I never failed to stop and say hello) except that this is the first Sassafras I have seen in MO. Even more remarkable, they are the first of the trees to lose their leaves in the fall. By now, most would have turned. But this one was still green. In fact, when I broke off a leaf it still had enough sap (very rare in fall) to give off a faint echo of its springtime citrus smell. A smell that I had, regretfully but reasonably, given up all hope of smelling until next year.

So far that remains the only Sassafras I have seen. But if there is one there must be more. I was very happy. Although the other AmeriCorps members may have thought it a bit odd that I walked around for like an hour smelling leaves. But I was wearing NPS gear...the hippie vibe should have been clear from the start. 

Oh, and we also filled two pickup trucks with trash. Go us! It was all team Sassafras too. We owned.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Journey

Folks, I'm sure you didn't expect me to be going on any more journeys, the one from home to here being considerable enough, but YOU WERE WRONG!

Today we all traveled to our regional meeting. Which means everyone else got up early, but those of us working at the middle school got up at the usual time. We all met up in the local grocery store parking lot and condensed into cars and began to two hour pilgrimage to Jefferson City, the capital of MO. I know, right? I have now seen the capital of the state I am living in, which is honestly more I than I can say for my beloved home state of PA. Although I do personally believe that Philly is the capital in spirit, if not in actuality.

Along the way I reflected on the places I could be going if I were at home (not the best forward thinking tactic, I know). From Philly I could be going to Brigantine Island. Or to WaC. Or even to visit KT, although I would have to be driving very very fast. Or, to two hours west of Philly, whatever may happen to be there.

Upon our arrival I learned that the whole time we had in fact been travelling to Missouri University (here known as Mizzou. I'd poke fun at that, but people in glass houses cannot throw stones, my alma mater having, after all, earned the nickname WaC). We arrived at 9 am, when the first stirrings of general life appear on a college campus. I saw boys in jeans and button down shirts and heavy leather belts. I saw girls wearing leggings as pants. I saw disheveled science majors in sweats, and girls in shorts and North Face coats. In short, I could have been at WaC, except that there were more cars. And that I was on my way to a meeting, instead of class.

As for the meeting itself, I cannot lie. I have retained almost nothing of it, except that AmeriCorps began as the CCC during the depression. They employed men between the ages of 18-25 and had them live in camps and do environmental work. It sounded hauntingly like past jobs of mine. Everything else was interesting, but clearly not as important to me as the girls wearing leggings as pants. Its never a good idea people, and contrary to popular belief it does not make your butt look good.

Charles and I also got paid today, and went to a new restaurant, where we paid a moderate amount of money for a moderate amount of food that was of extremely high caliber. They had Tiramisu, and they didn't mess it up. Also they had a wonderful wheat beer. Thus my evening, and my day, was complete. Tomorrow, I get to do a road clean up, which means outdoor environmental work. Gee, I wonder if I qualify. Miss you all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Free Food, A Concept Exciting Beyond College

High Points: Free food, 16 more miles, pumpkins and LIBRARIES!

To Explain: 

     On Friday night Charles and I got home from work late, and really really tired. We've been living like misers for the past month, so we decided to go out to dinner. Mostly I decided and he went along with it because he's wonderful. So we went to Ruby Tuesday. 
     A side note: They no longer have Ruby Tuesday out East (at least in large quantity) the reason for this, or at least the rumor, is that they card EVERYONE. Even really old people who have probably served in wars and, apparently, get upset about not being able to drink if they forgot their ID. Whatever your opinion on carding the elderly, I think we can all agree that Ruby Tuesday has the best chocolate milkshakes in the world. I have great cause to know this because every Christmas for a good half of my childhood my Dad and I used to go Christmas shopping, usually in the last frantic moments before Christmas eve. We'd get up at 7 (some of us with out any warning at all) and shop for hours, until finally starving and exhausted we would go to the Ruby Tuesday that used to be at our Mall. There Dad would have a beer (after gleefully presenting his ID) and I would have a chocolate milkshake. We would analyse and examine every gift until we were certain we had chosen correctly then we would go home and I would fall asleep. Some of my fondest memories.
     Well, they still have Ruby Tuesdays out here, maybe people here care more about underage drinking. But on Friday we ordered dinner (I got a milkshake) and started eating the huge amount of food they bring you. Then, suddenly, I discovered that my fish was not cooked. I told the waitress, who got the manager, who apologized and apologized and apologized, and then gave us free food!  Win!

     In Sports this week, I ran 16 miles on the Trail of Tears, bringing my total to 76 miles. It would be more, but I was dying last week. It's getting cold too. This could get dicey. 

     I also went to a library. This is crazy to me, since its been five years since I've lived remotely near one. Guess what everyone! Books live in houses now!  Crazy. 

     Also, I baked more pumpkin bread. I am now responsible for the deaths of two pumpkins.

Basically, it's been a good weekend. I miss all of you, and the closer we all get to Thanksgiving, the more I realize that.