Thursday, December 19, 2013



It might be best if I didn’t pretend to know,
or to understand the old stories of the underworld
while I talk with these small children who share with me
the seeds of this season’s first open pomegranate.

Persephone and Hades. A young goddess out gathering? Wandering?
Willful? Bewildered? And how many seeds was it? Four? Six?


But when we come to the ridge over a shaded draw, low in the foothills,
mined out generations ago and heaped up in old tailings, they run
down this frozen path into the “underworld,” as they call it, choosing
to improvise the details, explaining that “in the underworld people wear underwear,

of course.” There are black sticks to find, still-green moss to prod.
And the path finally disappears in the stones up the creek bed.


And when one cold early morning, I am caught staring into maps
of other places—Yuba River, Whidbey Island, Buenaventura
—they come asking to see and to know. Where? Why?
At breakfast, I open them the jeweled chambers of another one:

A pagan sacrament, shipped in from some distant orchard.
Scattering the seeds across the table, one says to the other
“Let’s eat lots of these! So we can stay here a long time.”

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

Sunday, October 06, 2013

afterbirth; roots and routes

In my dream I flew over the rolling hills of the llano. My soul wandered over the dark plain until it came to a cluster of adobe huts. I recognized the village of Las Pasturas and my heart grew happy. One mud hut had a lighted window and the vision of my dream swept me towards it to be a witness at the birth of a baby.

I could not make out the face of the mother who rested from the pains of birth, but I could see the old woman in black who tended the just-arrived, steaming baby. She nimbly tied a knot in the cord that had connected the baby to its mother's blood, then quickly she bent and with her teeth she bit off the loose end. She wrapped the squirming baby and laid it at the mother's side, then she returned to cleaning the bed. All linen was swept aside to be washed, but she carefully wrapped the useless cord and the afterbirth and laid the package at the feet of the Virgin on the small altar. I sensed that these things were yet to be delivered to someone.

Now the people who had waited patiently in the dark were allowed to come in and speak to the mother and deliver their gifts to the baby. I recognized my mother's brothers, my uncles from El Puerto de los Lunas. They entered ceremoniously. A patient hope stirred in their dark, brooding eyes.

This one will be a Luna, the old man said, he will be a farmer and keep our customs and traditions. Perhaps God will bless our family and make the baby a priest.

And to show their hope they rubbed the dark earth of the river valley on the baby's forehead, and they surrounded the bed with the fruits of their harvest so the small room smelled of fresh green chile and corn, ripe apples and peaches, pumpkins and green beans.

Then the silence was shattered with the thunder of hoofbeats; vaqueros surrounded the small house with shouts and gunshots, and when they entered the room they were laughing and singing and drinking.

Gabriel, they shouted, you have a fine son! He will make a fine vaquero! And they smashed the fruits and vegetables that surrounded the bed and replaced them with a saddle, horse blankets, bottles of whiskey, a new rope, bridles, chapas, and an old guitar. And they rubbed the stain of the earth from the baby's forehead because man was not made to be tied to the earth but free upon it.

These were the people of my father, the vaqueros of the llano. They were an exuberant, restless people, wandering across the ocean of the plain.

We must return to the valley, the old man who led the farmers spoke. We must take with us the blood that comes after the birth. We will bury it in our fields to renew their fertility and to assure that the baby will follow our ways. He nodded for the old woman to deliver the package at the altar.

No! the llaneros protested, it will stay here! We will burn it and let the winds of the llano scatter the ashes.

It is blasphemy to scatter a man's blood on unholy ground, the farmers chanted. The new son must fulfull his mother's dream. He must come to El Puerto and rule over the Lunas of the valley. The blood of the Lunas is strong in him.

He is a Márez, the vaqueros shouted. His forefathers were conquistadores, men as restless as the seas they sailed and as free as the land they conquered. He is his father's blood!

Curses and threats filled the air, pistols were drawn, and the opposing sides made ready for battle. But the clash was stopped by the old woman who delivered the baby.

Cease! she cried, and the men were quiet. I pulled this baby into the light of life, so I will bury the afterbirth and the cord that once linked him to eternity. Only I will know his destiny.

Rudolfo Anaya
Bless Me, Ultima (1972)

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

dead and lovely

Once, years ago, I was driving out on the Old Bingham Highway, the road that leads to the largest open pit mine in the northern hemisphere. I came to a stretch of construction. A bearded man in an orange vinyl vest, digging with a road crew, had set aside his blade and was carrying a long, angry gopher snake across both lanes of traffic to place her gently in the grass on the other side. Like a Buddhist pilgrim, carrying dung beetles across the path.

I say “gopher snake,” but I could say “bull snake” or “blow snake,” as they’re also sometimes ambiguously called here.

Most of the time when I see snakes, it’s when I’m out running on the dirt roads and trails around town. And most of these are dead. Road kill, or rattlesnakes shot through by a .22, the rattle torn off and the rest of the body left on the roadside. Some of these are still pretty gorgeous. “Dead and lovely,” as Tom Waits puts it. But I’ve never really had the nerve to wrap one around my arm and run it the 5 or 10 miles home.

Except for a couple weeks ago. This time I’d taken the stroller with Tom in it. (He’s way too big for this, but I thought it would be a good way to get him out a little ways before breakfast, without him getting hungry and mean.) On the way home from looking at rocks and bones and stuff, we came across a beautiful, dead gopher snake, about four feet long, on the side of the road, put it next to him in the stroller, and took it home.

Searching the internet for instructions on skinning a snake will take you to all kinds of exotic places. From the typical,, and wiki.answers-type sites, to buddy-buddy hunting and taxidermy forums, youtube videos, self-consciously reverential photo essays, and weird masculine-survivalist message boards.

Here are some of the things I gathered from these:
  • There is, as they say, more than one way.
  • Rattlesnakes tend to be easier to skin than constrictor snakes, like gopher snakes.
  • People use all kinds of stuff to tan or soften snake skins. Things like neatsfoot oil, salt, antifreeze, or a 50-50 mixture of alcohol & glycerin, which is what we used.
  • People also still make some pretty sloppy youtube videos.
These are actually the underside of the skin. When I first skinned, cleaned, and pinned it, the color was a kind of opaque white, but now the scale pattern shows right through. I also thought about looking at snake recipes, but it had probably been out on the road a little too long for that, so we buried the rest in the yard. I’m not including any photos here of the skinned snake. (You’re welcome.)

I’m still trying to decide what to do with the skin. I actually do need a new belt soon, but I don’t know if I’m the kind of guy who could get away with that, and I don’t love the idea of just gluing this to a strip of leather. So I’m open to suggestions. I guess Halloween is coming up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

car's back, everything's cool

This time last year we had just tamped out the last smoldering patches of wildfire in the forests surrounding Sanpete Valley. It had been hot, dry, and the local church congregations were praying and fasting for rain. Or, as it’s often, and sort of grotesquely called in our LDS/Mormon congregations, “moisture.”

But this fall we’re only now recovering from a ~month-long monsoon season. According to NOAA, a tropical cyclone named Kiko parked off the southern coast of Baja California earlier this month, sending in all those big cloud masses that flooded out so much of Colorado, grew little blue beards on all the apricots we were trying to dry, and gave people across the West thousands of rainbows to instagram.

It also made for an eventful Labor Day weekend. Anyone who may still frequent this blog will have by now noted a glorious annual ritual of poorly-attended high altitude marathons. This year the plan was 35 miles, starting at the top of Fairview Canyon, and running the Skyline Drive down to Jet Fox Reservoir, just past the summit of Ephraim Canyon. Kelly and the kids were driving support in our rear-wheel drive pickup, and Shaun (red shirt) was along for the run.

I’ll try to keep the rest of this as concise as possible. The run started out great: cool, calm weather, no rain, and about 12 miles in we stopped for some brunch and stretching. (This thing is never a “race” and we take our time at it.) With all the mud along the road so far, we’d decided that our best plan would be to send Kelly back down Fairview Canyon. She could go home to Ephraim, maybe get a nap, and we could then call for a ride home (Shaun had brought his cell) when we were within a few miles of the end. Unlike the Skyline, Ephraim canyon is an improved road where nobody gets stuck.

So, Kelly and the kids headed back and Shaun and I continued on our muddy way. Another 14 or so miles later, we called to check in with Kelly, only to find out that on the drive back to Fairview Canyon, they’d driven into a microburst that turned the road to pudding and sent them sliding off into a stand of pines. They’d gotten a ride down to Fairview from a friendly bowhunter, and then another back home to Ephraim with some other good friends. Nobody was injured, all were safe now, but pretty shaken up.

At this point, of course, I’m feeling like father of the year, having dragged my two kids and eight-months pregnant wife up into the mountains in a two-wheel drive truck and then sent them off into a rainstorm while I went on to act out some bizarre male rite in defiance of a mid-30s birthday. I know. I. Know.

I was still on the phone when an old 60s jeep rounded the bend, noticed a couple of guys wearing little shorts, and pulled over to offer us a ride. We climbed in and they turned out to be old friends of Shaun from Manti. The case of Miller Lites between the front seats was half-empty and these guys were some of the nicest fellas I’ve ever hitchhiked with. They let us off at the top of Ephraim Canyon and from there we ran down to where Kelly drove up to meet us partway, and headed home. This was in our Subaru, the truck still parked up at 10 thousand feet, on a 45-degree angle, in the yellow coneflowers and red elderberry.

It rained all the next day. But on Labor Day we went up to recover some things and give Kelly and the kids some closure. We were now able to drive in most of the way, but walked the last couple miles and had a little picnic on the tailgate. It was clear the truck wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.

The rain continued for the whole following week, but a generous neighbor friend offered to come pull the truck out with his own pickup. Unlike ours, his had 4-wheel drive, mud tires, and a bigger engine. But after a couple hours in the rain and mud with a tow-chain, we still couldn’t get it back up on the road.

Finally, over three weeks later, after a couple clear days, I got Mike and Allen from the local towing shop to go up there with me and, with seven or so tow chains and two hand winches, over about three hours, we finally pulled it up on the road and drove home. It runs fine but still needs a good wash.

There’s snow on the mountain now, and my running philosophy has been adjusting. More on that some other time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why must you record my phone calls?

Why must you record my phone calls?
Are you planning a bootleg LP?

You said you’ve been threatened by gangsters
Now it’s you that’s threatening me.
. . .
Don’t offer us legal protection
They use the law to commit crime.

I dread to think what the future will bring
When we’re living in real gangster time.

Today’s Fresh Air interview with journalist Bart Gellman, on Edward Snowden, NSA’s PRISM program, and post-Sept. 11 surveillance.

Monday, June 24, 2013

on eating animals, being animals, and taunting animals with consumer electronics

The other day, my aunt emailed this great little video out to me and a bunch of my family.

Responses varied, but not that much:

"If God didn’t want you to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of meat."

"Oh my goodness Luiz is sooooo cute!!! I would never eat an animal in front of him."

"I always thought chickens were vegetables -- just based on their intellect."

a) This is why I’m not on facebook. (One reason, anyway.)

b) It’s hard to know how to respond here. Where to begin?

Reasons for not eating other animals (especially factory-farmed animals) range from the practical/economic and environmental, to questions of human health, to serious ethical considerations, including meat prohibitions and restrictions in many religious traditions.

On the other hand, justifications for eating other animals basically fall into two categories: “It tastes good.” & “It’s what we’ve always done.” While totally subjective, the taste argument is sound enough on its own terms. But the second argument is way more problematic in its sloppy historical determinism. It’s what we’ve always done. And nearly every word here (it’s, we, always) is loaded with some pretty reckless assumptions and generalizations.

Incidentally, I’m not telling anyone how to eat, here. Trying hard not to, anyway.

But if we have the access, time, and leisure to, say, read blogs like this, we probably also enjoy the privilege of making some choices about what we eat. And we should be able to honestly and reasonably explain why we choose to eat what we do. (OK, I guess I did use the “should” word there.)

I guess the reason I’m getting so bossy here is to illustrate our larger schizophrenia about how we relate to other animals. Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin note, for example, "an implicit irony … evident in the practices of medicine and behavioural sciences: because animals are not humans, we may subject them to pain, loss of freedom, destruction of their environments, or the cruelties of contemporary agribusiness. Yet it is only because we ourselves are animals that we can gain material, physical or psychological knowledge and rewards from their ill treatment." (2010)

That is, to the degree that other animals are like us, we’ve found ways to benefit materially from their exploitation and abuse. As animals ourselves, these practices have, in turn, required us to strain our rationale for their continuation, their accelerating rate and severity, and their expanding scale.

For example, over the last several centuries, in order to limit human rights and other moral considerability to just our own species, we’ve had to patrol the boundaries of human exceptionalism with increasing vigilance, coming up with more and more contrived standards for what makes us human.

These criteria have slid from possessing a soul, to possessing reason, and then on to using tools. When we noticed other animals using tools, we moved the goal posts to making tools, and then to altruism, and on to language. Again, when other animals (whales, birds, apes, prairie dogs, molluscs, etc.) were shown to be fully demonstrating all of these in many ways, the lines have since been redrawn around even more subjective, abstract things like linguistic novelty, grief, remembered identity and consciousness, aesthetics, poetics, and so it goes.

Now, with most of this conversation decades behind us, it’s sort of adorable to see how surprised we are when other animals take an interest in things like smartphones. Consider, for example, how pets themselves have become a kind of technology to us, and we, ourselves, a sort technology to them.

Tons of people have posted youtube videos of their cats playing games on ipads and even more of gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees, who are now using tablets at over a dozen zoos in Toronto, Edinburgh, Mexico City, Miami, Milwaukee, Kentucky, Washington DC, and so on. As you might guess, most of these clips open by lobbing up awful puns about "monkeying around with ipads" and "going ape (or "bananas") for idpads," echoing the consumerist language of novelty-gadget marketing: "It turns out that tablets aren't just for humans, but for orangutans too!" and "It’s not just humans who can’t wait to get their hands on an ipad." This is followed by a lot of footage of hands reaching out through cages and bars to diddle on screens, "keeping bored apes amused" with music and painting apps, watching videos, and skyping with other apes at other zoos.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean to hate on all of this. Most of these projects are part of Orangutan Outreach’s "apps for apes" program, that gets tablets out to zoos to help keep apes stimulated, and to enable them to become "ambassadors for their critically endangered cousins in the wild." And, for all the anthropocentric talk about apes being “trapped in those bodies,” without the “equipment to communicate (with us),” there’s even a case of an orangutan without arms using the program. This is definitely very good work.

But if it takes an orangutan using an ipad to choose her own lunch, for us to exclaim “they can finally show us they are feeling, thinking creatures,” what does this say about the rest of us?

related: corvids, goats who stare at men, the obliging cephalopod, the immense journey

Thursday, June 20, 2013

swarm behavior(s):

1. a murmuration of starlings over the River Shannon in Ireland

  Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

2. the cicadas currently emerging across North America
Return of the Cicadas from motionkicker on Vimeo.

To hear David Rothenberg play his clarinet with a cicada “sex orchestra,” you should definitely listen to this radiolab from last month!

And, contrary to what the EastCoastlibrulmedia would have you believe, there’s a brood singing out here in central Utah, too. Last weekend we collected ~50, sautéed them with olive oil, shallots, basil, and had them in tacos.


There are other recipes all over internets. If you’re curious, you might start here.

If you’re curiouser, check out Chapul bars! and this little article by David Madsen in Natural History.

3. the totally redonkulous media coverage of this season’s cicada emergence

ex: 26,000 google hits for “cicadapocolypse,” 12,000 for “cicadapocalypse,” and 6,000 for “cicadageddon.”

(I refuse to even search “cicadagate” or “cicadapalooza.”)

In the zombie-epic-superhero-media-saturated wake of “snowzilla,” “snowpocalypse,” “obamacare,” “beghazigate,” “snowbamapocalypse,” and so on, it seems we have run clear out of material for silly, overdramatized portmanteaus.

4. and public assembly, evidently

“When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the protesters in the streets of Istanbul plunderers (çapulcu in Turkish) on June 2, he contributed a new verb to the English language.… And the new English verb was born: to chapul.”

“When a defiant Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the protestors as ‘Capulcu’ (pronounced ‘CHA-pul-dju’ and roughly translated to ‘riffraff’), instead of taking it as an insult, the protestors embraced their newfound labels with pride. Overnight, the word morphed from an insult to a compliment. … The root of the Turkish noun (Capul) was then converted into a verb by adding the English suffix ‘ng,’ creating a neologism (Capulling) that now means ‘standing up for your rights.’”

“What began as a local protest to save a park in Istanbul has turned into a national resistance against the government’s authoritarian rule.”
Washington Post

Monday, June 03, 2013

roundup: 5th annual 4.01k suit run!

board meeting, review of minutes & quasi-legal melodrama!

trust falls & hearty self-congratulation!

coming in robust, & with plenty of bandwidth!

maximizing ROI

so beautiful! what does it mean?!

related: business time!, roundup 1

Friday, May 17, 2013

business time!

Greetings sports fans,

Whether you're a veteran of the event or a first-time participant, it's time to shine your shoes and preen your portfolios for the annual 4.01k suit run.

When: next Saturday, May 25, starting at 9 AM

Where: Meeting at the Utah State Capitol, running down Wall Street, and ending up, eventually, at the Gateway Mall

The 4.01 k suit run is:
a "formal" event--business attire and collegiality encouraged
also sweaty
very roughly 4.01 kilometers
open to anyone interested
a blast!

The 4.01 k suit run is not:
an organized "race" with numbers, swag, and porta-potties
at all associated with Ragnar or KSL 1160
ever that predictable
officially registered with the City of Salt Lake
going to involve any motorcades, roadblocks, or or aid stations
a sound investment

Here are some examples of what previous events have looked like.

Also, because 2013 marks the 5-year anniversary of the 4.01k suit run, this year's event will begin with a brief commemoration of our corporate legacy (including juicy quasi-legal melodrama!), shortly after which the run will begin.

If you're in town, please join us! Invite friends and esteemed associates!

And if you have any questions, feel free to post them below or email horselongitudes at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

vibrant matter & the low cunning of the potato

Even a potato in a dark cellar has a certain low cunning about him which serves him in excellent stead. He knows perfectly well what he wants and how to get it. He sees the light coming from the cellar window and sends his shoots crawling straight thereto: they will crawl along the floor and up the wall and out the cellar window; if there be a little earth anywhere on the journey he will find it and use it for his own ends. What deliberation he may exercise in the manner of his roots when he is planted in the earth is a thing unknown to us, but we can imagine him saying, ‘I will have a tuber here and a tuber there, and I will suck whatsoever advantage I can from all my surroundings. This neighbor I will overshadow, and that I will undermine; and what I can do shall be the limit of what I will do. He that is stronger and better placed than I shall overcome me, and him that is weaker I will overcome.’ The potato says these things by doing them, which is the best of languages. What is consciousness if this is not consciousness?

—Samuel Butler, Erewhon