Thursday, August 21, 2014

(we) dove

Speaking of entering the adult world, we just bought our first house. Or, maybe more precisely, signed a thick stack of paper promises to incrementally buy a house while we live in it and treat it like our own. This is all still sinking in, but in the mean time we’re very pleased.

A few minutes into our first visit to the loan office we noticed a mother dove tending her nest, tucked under the eaves of the building next door, her dark yellow eye staring in at us through the window. On our second visit (more papers), we brought the camera. She was gone, but now there were eggs in her nest.

Once, a couple years ago, Ash asked me, “are animals poor?”

She was 5 at the time, and I think we had just been watching swallows build their muddy nests onto the steel girders under a bridge. “Are animals poor?”

She had asked essentially this same question a couple of times earlier. Once when we were walking along the Truckee River and saw a man in ragged clothes sleeping under a picnic table. And again when we were carrying all of our food and shelter into the mountains on our backs for the night. “Are animals poor?”

Where does one begin?

I think I probably started in with some Thoreauvian patter about how, well, that all depends on what you mean by poor. How we’re wealthy in relation to all the things we can afford to, or are glad to, do without, and so on.

She didn’t seem to be buying it.

“Yeah, but I mean if animals don’t have a nice place to sleep, like people, are they poor?”

This same basic question continues to come up from time to time.
When the power goes out.
When after walking across the great concrete bridge at the mouth of the Siuslaw River, we stumble into the rising smoke and bearded faces of a hobo camp in the ferns and pines.
When a deer limps across the road at dusk, followed by her fawns.
Or when, chasing a woodpecker into the eucalyptus forest behind our motel on the Mendocino coast, we instead find the handsomely tended tent-and-tarp shelter of somebody still not returned home from work for the day.

I’m still working on a better answer.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Into the Mystic, and a procession of ontologies

One morning, earlier this summer, we were driving north along the Salmon River in Idaho when Van Morrison came on the radio.

We were born before the wind

Also younger than the sun

Ere the bonnie boat was one as we sailed into the mystic

. . .

Just about there, Tom called right out from the back seat, with something between amusement and scandal, “we weren’t born before the wind!” We had all day to get to Missoula, so of course, this led to a longer conversation.

“What do you think he’s singing about?”

And so it went.

We never set out to make positivists of these kids, as they come to us little animists, playing in the outskirts of our rational, grown-up world. But here is one game that we’ve played with them. I guess it doesn’t really have a name, but it goes something like this:

“Which came first, gates or bait?”
(Followed by speculations and reasoning all around, until resolved to everyone’s basic satisfaction.)
Which came first, poles or holes?
Red or black?
Jerks or jerky?
Shoes or blue?
And so on.

Here’s another. Is a thing good or bad? Grasshoppers, Snow, Cheatgrass, Lightning, and so on.

“Are roads good?”
“Yes, for people. No for prairie dogs.”
“Yes, for ravens. No for Raccoons.”

Anyway, you get it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

~3,000 miles

Cove Hot Spring, washed out on the Salmon River

thee Boat Box

tonic of wildness?

launching a cork boat

a day late for Taco Thursday in Kalispell

found: notes from somebody's playground experiment

a murder of crows harries a dog in Portland

lost coast found

 more photos here & here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

8 states bird list: May 24—June 9

Pileated Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Common Raven
Scrub Jay
Steller’s Jay
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Northern Mockingbird
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oregon Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
American Robin
Townsend’s Solitaire
Eurasian Collared Dove
Golden Eagle
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Turkey Vulture
Common Nighthawk
Purple Martin
Violet-green Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Western Meadowlark
Mourning Dove
Anna’s Hummingbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Belted Kingfisher
Blue/Dusky Grouse
California Quail
Wild Turkey
Spotted Sandpiper
American Dipper
Black-necked Stilt
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
Pelagic Cormorant
Double Crested Cormorant
Pigeon Guillemot
Canada Goose
Brown Pelican
White Pelican
Common Merganser
Western Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Sandhill Crane
Great Egret

(Utah, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada)
other lists

Monday, May 05, 2014

3 views of trash: sea (tsunami & islands)

from Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers II project

Bonnie Louise Monteleone & the Plastic Ocean Project

detail from Basurama’s Trash Tsunami in Santo Domingo, DR

Of course, there's always a darker, less sanitized side to this trash business, too. For example, Chris Jordan explores this from about the starkest, most direct angle possible: in situ photos of decomposing albatross carcasses, dead of starvation having filled their bellies with inedible sea plastics.

This is from his Midway project, shot in the general neighborhood of the infamous pacific trash vortex. (Also known affectionately as the great pacific garbage patch, more wishfully as the plastic beach, or, simply, "the gyre.")  Here at Midway Atoll, this includes Albatross chicks who are fed small pieces of plastic by unsuspecting parents, eventually killing them. This is a series with far too many photos. And if we're talking about taking plastics and other chemical toxins into our bodies, we know that albatrosses are certainly not alone as a species in this.

Like many, I think there are serious problems with aesthetizing waste and toxicity. Jordan nods to some of this on Midway, and on earlier projects, like his Intolerable Beauty. But you see this ambivalence in that Gorillaz album, for example, as Murdoc describes his discovery of the "plastic beach." And you see it in people's attempts to describe these places and phenomena. Like where surfer Tim Silverwood explains: "I was frolicking in cinematic heaven before quickly being swamped by a feeling of being delivered into a postcard of oceanic hell."

Are these boldly aesthicized (and fetishized?) representations worth the strategic risks of normalizing trash? Of making it seem benign, or even beautiful? Are they necessary and inevitable points along the arc of our realizing long-ignored horrors? Drawing us through understandings of "litter" as less an ecological problem than an aesthetic one, but then flipping this to reckon with the larger scales of consumerism, waste, and toxicity as massive "environmental" and public health crises?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

3 views of trash: land (the parts we throw away)

When this Landfill Harmonic trailer first came out a year or so ago, I got several different emails from friends and family linking me here and there. Since I’ve never been to Paraguay, and as I have no musical talent to speak of, I’m left to attribute this coincidence to a known interest on my part in garbage and various sorts of cheapskatery.

This may also account for why I’ve been so into what people like Vik Muniz and Chris Jordan have been doing with trash too.

Anyway, earlier this spring, I was able to work along similar lines (but on a much less ambitious project) with some colleagues friends and students. Aside from Muniz and Jordan, some of our inspiration here comes from Chuck Close, Zac Freeman, pointillism more generally, and other upcycling projects.

So, here’s what we came up with:
And a little story from the local paper.
(Above the fold and in color! Not bad, eh?)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Let me begin by leveling with you here. I just watched this great recent interview with the farmer-poet-badass-octogenarian Wendell Berry and it had me all fired up.

I was going to open this post with a loud rant on US corn production, Monsanto & Cargill monocultures, and the crop subsidies that ruin people's health and, since the mid-90s (NAFTA), have flooded Mexico with cheap commodity corn, collapsing local markets and displacing millions of rural Mexicans from traditional livelihoods in regions where corn was basically invented and has been cultivated for 5,000 years, where one out of every three tortillas in the chilaquiles is now made from cheap US corn.

That’s how I was going to open, but I’m going to try to have a better attitude than that. It has been good bringing in the harvest and, although our own garden wasn’t much to blog about this year, we’ve had a couple other different plots around town, like in the new Ephraim Community Garden, where we picked fifty-something ears of flint corn and have been able to gather a few lbs of potatoes (red, yellow, blue).

Also, we’ve been making a lot of tamales. This is partly a seasonal thing for us, and it’s become a kind of nesting ritual as we’ve been getting ready for this baby. (Before having Ash, we made a freezer-full of lasagnas. With Tom it was enchiladas, I think.)

A couple batches of these were from the usual store-bought Maseca flour, but this time we wanted to try out some of this flint corn. Pretty quickly we found out you don’t do much with this stuff without first nixtamalizing it. MS Word has just indicated to me that it has no use for this word, but, basically, it’s the process that has made maize a viable food for a long, long time.

from Wikipedia:

In the Aztec language Nahuatl, the word for the product of this procedure is nixtamalli or nextamalli, which in turn has yielded Mexican Spanish nixtamal. The Nahuatl word is a compound of nextli "ashes" and tamalli "unformed corn dough, tamal."

Nixtamalization typically refers to a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled.

The Aztecs and Mayans routinely cooked their corn in lime water (calcium oxide) which improves its nutritional profile considerably: Niacin, which otherwise remains largely unavailable, is made accessible by the process of nixtamalization, calcium increases by 75% - 85% making it more easily digestible, and other minerals, such as iron, copper and zinc are also increased. Furthermore, nixtamalization also counteracts certain mycotoxins present in untreated corn. Fermentation of nixtamalized corn produces even more benefits: increased levels of riboflavin, protein and niacin in addition to amino acids, such as tryptophan and lysine.

Unfortunately this biochemical transformation was completely lost on the Spaniards, who brought corn back with them to the old world and introduced it to Africa, where it soon became an important food crop. However, the people who came to rely on it, but did not have the advantage of traditional knowledge to guide their use, soon became sick with niacin deficiency symptoms.

So, anyway, we tried it with a few cobs’ worth.

Here’s the process, roughly, from hard kernels, to hominy, to the blender, the masa, the filling (pine nuts, queso ranchero, garden Anaheim and green hatch peppers for some, spiced neighborhood apples and pecans for others), and finally, the steamer.

 The rest of the masa we made into tortillas and chips.

Tom taking the leftover husks to the compost.

We tinker with the recipe nearly every time. So rather than post instructions, why don’t I curate some videos here? 

Iliana de la Vega from The Culinary Institute of America demonstrates nixtamalization, grinds the stuff in a big industrial mill (molino), and makes fresh tortillas.

A soft-spoken woman nixtamalizes corn in her home kitchen. (But then she has to go and make it all into corn nuts!)

Yuri de Gortari nixtamalizes, and goes on to demonstrate grinding with a steel hand-crank mill, then a stone one, and then a metate, all while talking about Mexican identity, impeccably dressed and mustachioed! (Spanish)

And, finally, this adorable family proves that you can hardly go wrong making tamales, even when you use Jiffy muffin mix (!), spray the corn ojas with PAM (?), double wrap everything in foil (?!), and then sweeten them with xylitol and sucralose. While wearing a Santa hat.

Speaking of tamales, meet Finn Ovid Brooks!
Born Friday night.

related: Hunahpuh, tortillas, husks