This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Monday, July 21, 2003

The mountain will be there


While I was in the boat, the sun set, and as I knew a full moon was coming, I stood out from shore to the middle, and watched the last brilliant solar rays deepen in color, turning the tops of the Douglas firs and mountain hemlocks first golden, then red, and then almost purple.

Planets and stars winked into view, and I found myself surrounded by bats, more than a dozen jittery shadows that flicked across the star field in tight circles. They seemed interested in my fly rod, which stood up in the bow, supported by the gunwale of the cockpit, and would zoom toward it and away, missing my face by a few feet each time. I could feel the breath of their wings.

A small something briefly touched the shaft of my kayak paddle and fell into the water, but struggled back into the air unseen. I thought at first it might be a bat, which seemed odd, as they don't, in my experience, land on or thump into such things.

Then a small night bird, dressed in cream and grey like a swallow, landed on the front deck of the kayak before me, seemed to adjust its feathers a bit, then sputtered off into the darkness. Mystery solved: the paddle had been mistaken for a branch, but its inorganic smoothness had defeated two tiny sets of claws.

It was then that the yellow moon rose, so hugely majestic that it seemed to me to invade the companionable darkness we creatures had peopled. I retired to my campsite, landing with the aid of a flashlight, and, lighting a candle in my tent, read of Penelope and Odysseus while, outside, the unobserved bats and birds carried on their moonlit escapades.

In the morning, I took to the boat again to chase the first available sunlight and warm my bones; then, when day had reached camp, set about learning to fry fish over a can of Sterno; this takes patience but it can be done. I dislike the hiss of pressurized camp stoves; and we are too dry here most years for an open fire in late summer; a forest fire in the next county, near enough to have colored the moon last night, has grown to ten thousand acres and is keeping seven hundred people busy.

Besides, the fire pit was filled with unappealing trash, especially broken glass. I've never really been one to pick up after others, even in the woods, but this time I took a personal interest and wound up 'policing' the entire site. My pack was already heavy and I had four hundred feet of elevation gain ahead of me, but I had been getting stronger of late and knew it would not be any trouble.

I once spent some time with a teacher of Zen and asked him about beer cans in the wilderness.

"If I see it and it offends me, I pick it up, but I've been disturbed by the offense I've taken. But in Zen, it seems I should simply observe it and not be offended, but that seems to reduce my motivation for picking it up.. And it does seem that Zen takes some of the activism out of those whom I've seen practicing Zen."

The teacher said, "Well, we should just either pick it up or not. It depends on the flow."

I must have seemed puzzled by this.

He added, "Observation is its own reward, but that neither adds to nor takes away from right action. We can think of some good reasons to pick up the can; trash is harmful to wildlife, and so on. And a natural setting, once cleaned up, is more conducive to contemplation for others. But there is no need to think about all that; you may have a tendency to speculate about whoever 'threw away' the can, and such thoughts lead to unnecessary problems. Right action begins in seeing the can without looking into its past. The can itself has had no motivation or intent and we cannot know exactly how it got there."

I tossed the contents of the wilderness firepit into our kitchen trash can and dropped the lid. Looking out the window, I could see that Jasper Mountain was wearing its late- summer motley coat, dusty green patches of second-growth fir trees alternating with the brown of parched mountain meadows. This time, I thought, I might be able to see the mountain without too much fear of becoming bogged down in thoughts of who has done what to it.

It will outlast us.

That's the key to peace, I told myself. Clarity of mind comes when you deal in the things before you and not in their speculative causes.

If it seems there are not enough trees, plant one.

If there are a lot of cans around and you'd like them picked up, pick up one.

This can be extrapolated, if you have the energy, to planting schools and clearing minefields, or writing a check for those who do. But remember, while planting and picking, to look up.

The mountain will be there.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

For dessert, take in a nice sunset

I have made pretty good use of decent weather and opportunity, and spent some time among the woods and lakes. My two daily limits of brook trout (10 fish) I cleaned, put in the bottom of a canvas tote bag, rolled it up, tied the handles in a knot, set it on the lake bottom in eight inches of water, placed a stone over it, and shaded the cache with slabs of bark. I then paddled off to the other side of the lake to admire the view. As I returned to my campsite, I saw an enormous raven sail off among the alpine firs and mountain hemlocks with a cleaned, decapitated brook trout in his beak!

The raven had obviously watched me go through all my steps, and simply reversed them. He walked into the lake, pulled away the bark slabs, removed the stone, dragged the tote bag up onto the lakeshore, untied the handles, unrolled the bag, and pilfered the fish.

I had to go catch another one.

We don’t credit other species with enough intelligence, I think.

It has been a good bird year, here, of sorts: I’ve watched eagles steal fish from ospreys, and vice versa. The cormorants are back, along with grebes and herons. Plenty of geese and ducks around , and thousands of coots wintered over on the reservoir. There’s a bald eagle sitting, day after day, on a nest about two miles from the house.

I'm eating trout fairly regularly, something that can’t be done everywhere these days, either due to depleted stocks or too much mercury in the water. This fish goes well with a salad and a glass of water with a sprig of mint. Since I've walked two or four miles with a boat on my back to get the fish, the calorie count seems to come out about right.

I’ve become rather obsessed, lately, with the notion that obesity is not a disease, as everyone seems to be calling it, but, in most cases, a symptom of a disease --- one that has no name that I can discover. One could call it proto-diabetes, perhaps, since diabetes can be one of the full-blown consequences of our poor eating habits.

"Poor eating habits" often comes down to simply this: insulin shock. It's not whether we eat carbs and fats, it's how and when as much as how much. If we would eat more slowly, more raw and uncooked, less processed, and avoid not only sugar but sugar substitutes (which often produce the same extra hunger as does sugar itself) we can slow and/or lessen the impact of our food choices on the pancreas, which is really what "improved digestion" means.

Take spaghetti, for example ("Oh, no!"). Right now, thanks to Atkins and South Beach exponents, spaghetti or any pasta is a major no-no.

But you might consider making only enough that there can be no "second helping." And cooking it less, which results in what Europeans call al dente. This is a little harder to chew and digests more slowly.

Now add your own home-made sauce, made in a small enough quantity that there will be no leftovers. Make fresh, eat fresh.

Dice very small some zucchini, green onions, pok choi, mushrooms, and, if you like it, tofu. Blenderize a tomato with a chili pepper. Mix all these. No need to cook the sauce. You could put it all in the blender, but I like texture.

Drain the al dente noodles, put them on a heated plate, pour the sauce over them, and add two more ingredients: a sprinkling of basil flakes and chopped elephant garlic blossoms (in season).

Serve with a simple three-lettuce salad (Romaine, Simpson, iceberg). Skip the thousand island, and use a vinegar-virgin olive oil dressing made with your own hands. Doesn't need to be too fancy;ust add your favorite spices, along with a garlic clove, to a sixteen ounce bottle of your choice of vinegar, and when you're ready for the dressing (don't try to make ahead) combine one oz. of the vinegar to one oz. oil in a four ounce bottle and shake.

If you're dining alone, the above should work, or multiply quantities as needed for two or for guests.

For drink, try serving water or a very small glass of red wine, or both.

You can do all this in a half hour. Spend another half hour lingering over dinner and chatting. For dessert, go take in a nice sunset.

This can all be part of a daylong plan: cup of oatmeal with diced apple, or one egg on one piece of toast for breakfast, snack on carrots, salad for lunch, celery for snack, and now the one-helping pasta dinner. I know that sounds like starvation to some people, but, really, that lunch salad can be sustaining if you build it yourself in the morning.

Example:

Take a pair of scissors and go through a handful of leaf lettuce, some pok choi, spinach, leaf of red cabbage, snow peas, red bell pepper, and those ubiquitous elephant garlic blossoms. Dice up a firm small ripe tomato or halve some cherry tomatoes. Toss. Heat up some diced pok choi and red chard stems in a small nonstick frying pan, lightly oiled (virgin olive, which is good for you). Add cubed tofu and mushrooms. Now add sesame seeds or sunflower seeds, and some basil. When it looks ready (pok choi beginning to soften, but mushrooms not shriveled) take off the heat to cool, then add to the salad. Toss again. Seal in a container and take to work in one of those nylon cooler bags.

If you like eggs, try dicing up a hard-boiled egg instead of the tofu and mushrooms.

This works! And it takes only about as long as standing in line at the canteen while three people in front of you get their espresso mocha thingies made.

Trust me, you'll make it through the day. Drink lots of water between times, though. Not "diet" pop, that will set off the insulin rush, same as sugar, and then you'll be hungry. Same for most anything else they will sell you at the canteen. It's all either salt or sugar (usually corn syrup), or it's a sugar wannabe. Don't go there. Leave your spare change at home if you have to.

Or, drink unsweetened mint tea. Consider growing the mint. If you can grow nothing else, you can grow mint. It takes over, like bamboo, kudzu, vinca, or ivy. You can wash a bouquet of mint and simmer it in a pan till the water darkens, or put it in a gallon jar of water and leave it in the sunshine. I'm kind of hard core, I like to take a multi vitamin and grind it up in a mortar and pestle and add that to the tea. I pretend it's that stuff the marathon runners drink.

To convince yourself it's exactly that, join a walking group. Take your tea with you. If you like to chat with your friends and sip tea, there's no reason not to get in some of your 10,000 steps a day at the same time!

Saturday, July 12, 2003

We must decide how to live


I have figured out how to fall asleep in the little kayak. To maintain stability, it's best to sit with legs extended, which puts the body in an upright position. The back of the cockpit is the backrest. But I've discovered that by stretching one leg until the toes reach the end of the space in the bows, and raising one knee high out of the cockpit, I can slip my fanny down from the seat, rest the back of my head on the backrest, and snooze safely, so long as I'm not on water with too much fetch (room for strong winds to create serious waves) or shared by motorized craft -- especially vee-hulls riding low in the water.

I was snoozing thus on a wilderness lake, miles from nowhere, when a 15-inch rainbow trout, a male with strong September-like shoulders, hit the imitation nymph trailing at the end of my 4 lb. test line. A bit disoriented, I remembered in time: vacation, trail, boat, lake, fish, set hook, commence reeling.

I set the drag to let the trout run around a bit and tire himself out.

While this was going on, I noticed movement in the corner of my eye, and, after securing the trout, investigated by means of my 8X monocular (made from half of a cheap pair of mini-binoculars that were falling apart). The activity turned out to be of a pair of otters, swimming leisurely from one cove to another, alternately sounding and breaching like tiny, furry whales.

I like otters, though I realize I'm in competition with them.

Fishing, once a necessary art, is fast becoming a luxury which in many areas, the natural world can no longer afford to have us pursue. Wild fish populations are melting away. The causes are difficult to discover: climate change, agriculture, forestry, urbanization, dams, commercial ocean fishing, introduction of non-native fish species, and high-tech sport fishing pressure.

I do fish. Beloved likes to eat them, and so do I. So we add them to our diet of home-grown tomatoes, broccoli, and apples. But I can avoid bothering the wild poulations. The high-altitude lakes where I have been pursuing this vanishing art once contained no fish at all. The Eddeeleo lakes, for example, were named for Ed, Dee, and Leo, three Forest Service rangers who packed in Eastern brook trout to those lakes by mule train in the 1920s. Since then, many such lakes have been visited, some of them many times, by trout-laden helicopters. Some of these lakes are quite remote, and getting my kayak to them means considerable exercise. It also means, often, meditative solitude, an aspect of fishing that is threatened by the advent of gasoline powered boat motors and sonar.

Dame Juliana Berners, an abbess in England in the fifteenth century, established non-commercial fishing as an art and sport, and at the same time a means of "communing with nature":

For all other maner of fysshynge is also laborous and greuous, often makyng of folkes ful were and colde which many tymes hath ne seen cause of greate infirmities, but the angler maye haue no colde nor dysease nor angre, but yf he be causer hym selfe, for he maye not lose at the mooste but a lyne or an hooke: of which he may haue store plentye of hys owne makynge, as thys simple treatyse shall teache hym. So then hys losse is not greuous, and other greefes maye he not haue sauynge but yf any fysshe break away after yt he is taken on the hooke, or els yt he catch nought whyche is not greuous, for yf he fayle of one he maye not fayle of an other, yf he doth as thys treatyse teacheth, but if there be nought in the water, and yet as the least he hath his holsome walke and mery at his ease, sweet ayre of the sweet sauour of the medow floures that maketh him hungry. He heareth the melodious armony of foules. He seeth the yonge swans, herons, duckes, cootes, and many other foules with their broodes, whyche me semeth better then all the noyse of houndes, the blastes of hornes, & the scry of foules, that hu[n]ters, faukeners, & foulers ca[n] make. And if the angler take fyshe: surely then is there no ma[n] meryer then he is in his spirite. And who so wyl vse thys game of anglyng: he muste ryse early, which is profytable to man in this wyse. That is to wete, most to to the health of hys soule. For that it cause hym to be holy, & to the helth of his body for that it shal cause him to be whole.

This is the fishing I look for, knowing that it is disappearing from most of the places I can reach; knowing that wild fish of the size and fighting qualities I remember from my youth are now reserved to people in faraway places, such as the Alaskan Aleuts, whom I admire and whom I wish well, and to the rich, who can hire airplanes to get them to such places, and whom I do not, especially, admire or wish well.

Not even the oceans are immune to these changes. In many places, such as Newfoundland, entire communities have been forced to turn their back on their first love, the fishing trade, and turn to oil exploration or cab driving to get by. A recent study of catch records shows a ninety percent drop in population of the large sport species: swordfish, sailfish, and marlin. Tuna are appearing fewer and smaller in the nets each decade.

Do the otters know what's in store for them? Do we?

There are, roughly, two large groupings, or rather a large group and a smaller group, of sport fisherfolk.

The large group, numbering in the millions in the United States, tends to prefer spinning reels, baits and lures, sonar, GPS, beer, and large, fast, and loud boats. Among these are many who will keep all the wild fish the law allows, and some others who will keep wild fish the law does not allow.

The smaller group prefers, indeed religiously and perhaps self-righteously, fly reels, artificial flies, barbless hooks, expensive vests, wine, and perhaps a float tube. Among these, many look with murderous disdain on any who do not immediately and with infinite tenderness de-hook and release all fish. They regard themselves as conservationists, even environmentalists, though they somewhat woundedly resist the arguments of others, such as animal rights advocates, who would ban fishing entirely.

Bass tournaments are perhaps the most visible instance of sport fishing's excesses. Tournaments are catch-and-release, perhaps to appease their critics, but the fish undergo a lot of stress in being caught, tanked, transported, weighed, measured, and dumped by people in a hurry. Lakes and reservoirs where these tournaments take place are sometimes littered for days afterwards with hundreds of dead and injured fish, much more than the cormorants and ospreys can deal with.

Meanwhile, the Orvis crowd are stressing fish too. Some released trout die, many are damaged, and all of them have had the fright of their lives. Why terrorize them if you're not going to eat them?

The moral implications surrounding catch-and-release mirror those of many environmental conundrums. The issues around fishing are a microcosm of all the issues: do I drive to the mountains to fish, lowering my blood pressure and improving my quality of life, or save the gas to conserve fossil fuel and reduce global warming? I suspect the math is beyond most of us, perhaps all of us. Quo vadimus?

"Where are we going? And why are we in this handbasket?"

But to live is, some day, to die, regardless. For each of us, we must decide how to live well.

When I fish stocked trout, I'm consciously looking for a fish I'm comfortable regarding as food. I have an at-risk cardiovascular system and the doctors have told me to eat fish. I catch trout, clean them, roll them in corn flour and Italian seasoning, fry them lightly in olive oil, steam some zucchini and make a quick garden salad of home-grown lettuce, cherry tomatoes, beet greens, bell peppers, spring onions, and garlic blossoms. Serve with a glass of well water with a sprig of mint in it. It is my offering to Beloved for the grinding work that she does, five and sometimes six days a week, in social services.

The otters reach shore and clamber, to my eye amusingly, up through the sedges, disappearing among the willows and blue huckleberries. I turn to the task of snapping the rainbow's neck and backpaddling to sunward, my shadow following me, like that of a hunting water-strider, across the bottom of the clear lake, twenty feet below.

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