Thursday, October 27, 2016

More Halloween Fun

Hi folks! It's been a busy autumn, but I've found time to acknowledge one of my favorite holidays, Halloween! Like last year, I hung up a Walgreen's-bought "reaper" decoration in our top window facing Broadway and rigged up lights and strobe lights to draw attention to it. To remind you, here's a photo from last year:

This year, Sue suggested I add an oscillating fan so that it would occasionally blow onto it and make it move! Oh! What a great idea! Even more spooky!

So now, once again, it's all on a timer: There's a green shop light on one side and an orange one on the other, a string of regular small Christmas lights laying in a bunch in the window sill (to provide some orangish light from below), and three strobe lights zapping at different rates . . . plus the oscillating fan.

It's not a spectacular video, but here's a quick glimpse of what it looks like! (The sound of a car going by at just the right moment makes it extra spooky!) Mooooah-hah-hah-hah-hahhh!

Whatever you're doing for Halloween, I hope it's spooky good fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

D. C. Peattie, on the Sugar Maple

It isn't very original to copy stuff outright, but when it's far better than what you could write yourself, I think it's a virtue to tell others about it.

If you've never heard of Donald Culross Peattie, STOP, do not pass GO, and pick up some copies of his books. If you like plants, trees, anything green and living, and if you appreciate well-crafted language, you will love Peattie (1898-1964), who was a botanist and a poet. (His writing style reflects the expansive compositional tastes of his day, but we can't blame him for that. Reading his work, you may even learn an excellent new word or two.)

The selection below is from A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, first published in 1948. It is an enormous collection of essays, each on a single species of tree, that provide technical, nuts-and-bolts information on growth habit, lumber value, and botanical description yet also poetical descriptions that give you a true feel for the tree. This book, and its companion volume on Western trees, are a monumental achievement for a natural history writer. Hopefully, some recent reissues of his books will help restore his position as one of our country's best-ever natural history writers.

Happy autumn, everyone!

The most magnificent display of color in all the kingdom of plants is the autumnal foliage of the trees of North America. Over them all, over the clear light of the Aspens and Mountain Ash, over the leaping flames of Sumac and the hell-fire flickerings of poison ivy, over the war-paint of the many Oaks, rise the colors of one tree--the Sugar Maple--in the shout of a great army. Clearest yellow, richest crimson, tumultuous scarlet, or brilliant orange--the yellow pigments shining through the over-painting of the red--the foliage of Sugar Maple at once outdoes and unifies the rest. It is like the mighty, marching melody that rides upon the crest of some symphonic weltering sea and, with its crying song, gives meaning to all the calculated dissonance of the orchestra.

There is no properly planted New England village without its Sugar Maples. They march up the hill to the old white meetinghouse and down from the high school, where the youngsters troop home laughing in the golden dusk. The falling glory lights upon the shoulders of the postman, swirls after the children on roller skates, drifts through the windows of a passing bus to drop like largesse in the laps of the passengers. On a street where great Maples arch, letting down their shining benediction, people seem to walk as if they had already gone to glory.

Outside the town, where the cold pure ponds gaze skyward and the white crooked brooks run whispering their sesquipedalian Indian names, the Maple leaves slant drifting down to the water; there they will sink like galleons with painted sails, or spin away and away on voyages of chance that end on some little reef of feldspar and hornblende and winking mica schist. Up in the hills the hunter and his russet setter stride unharmed through these falling tongues of Maple fire, that flicker in the tingling air and leap against the elemental blue of the sky where the wind is tearing crow calls to tatters.

--Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 454.

Photos in this post: Yes, I've taken pictures of pictures. An *abhorrent* practice. The originals are prints that my mom took in the 1990s. You might recognize the Missouri River bluffs overlooking Cedar City along Highway 63. (Remember what it looked like before the sod farm went in, and it was crop fields?) The last picture is of a maple tree growing in my parents' backyard. It's about four times that big today.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Some Birthday Bonbons: Fun Germanic Music

Hi, friends! It’s my birthday, but I’m giving you the bonbons! Well, I’m sharing, anyway!

My brother, Paul, recently told me about some fun YouTube music videos he’s found. He’s really into Germanic/Northern European stuff, history, language, ancient and Medieval cultures, and Game of Thrones. (I guess that’s a TV series—?) (Remember, we don’t have a TV anymore.)

So I watched his recommendations, and yep, they’re pretty interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I thought I’d turn around and share ’em with you. (I know a lot of my readers have similar interests.) I won’t go into great detail about these music groups and the meanings of the songs—I know you can Google all that for yourselves, if you want. I’ll just provide a few links for more info.

Faun is a German music group that plays “pagan folk, darkwave, and medieval music” (per Wikipedia). They play on a lot of traditional European folk instruments. Give ’em a listen! Where else are you going to hear a hurdy-gurdy? And there’s nice video storytelling, too.

Finally, for my friends who like Celtic music, you’ll find this interesting. As one commenter put it, “German root version of Siúil a Rún! Dear Gods . . . Bless you.”

Then, there’s a song called “Herr Mannelig” performed by Garmarna, a Norwegian group specializing in medieval ballads and such. The video shows scenes from the movie Beowulf and Grendel, but I’m not sure if there’s any official connection between the movie and the song, much less Garmarna’s performance of it.

Saving the best for last, my favorite of Paul’s suggestions is this one by Faroe Island native Eivør Pálsdóttir. The video below, of her song “Tròdlabùndin” (Trøllabundin), pretty much speaks for itself. Not many performers can completely mesmerize an audience with just singing and simple drumming. The setting for the live concert, Aurlandsfjord, in Norway, is absolutely spectacular.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lynn’s Homemade Grape Jelly

We recently spent a week in Ohio visiting Sue’s family. It’s fun to go there in early October, before the fall color has really started much in Missouri, because we get a taste of things to come.

Burnham Orchards, for instance, has its fall festival every weekend in October, while here in Missouri the apples hadn’t really come on yet. So we brought home a big bag of Honeycrisps, Cortlands, Blondies, and Melroses. And in northern Ohio, the air was already getting crisp, and several maples were starting to blaze with color—while it was still in the eighties in Missouri, with green tones of summer stubbornly holding on.

We always enjoy our visits there. And we even had a meal at Berardi’s, where the special that evening was a Polish sampler plate: pierogies, sausage, noodles, and cabbage. Sue had the Lake Erie perch, and we shared. Variety is the spice of life!

Anyway, Sue’s sister, Lynn, sent us home with a lovely jar of her homemade Concord grape jelly. It’s made from the Concords they grow in their own backyard. As you might expect from Lynn, she did it up pretty, using Ball’s nifty purple-glass canning jars and a bit of pretty purple fabric and lace to dress up the lid. (It’s almost as if she knew that purple is my favorite color!)

We haven’t opened the jar yet (we’ll do that on some chilly morning when we make biscuits from scratch), but while we were in Ohio we got a sample of it from Sue’s mom.

Wow. It tasted just— Well, how can I describe it? Do you think you’ve tasted grape jelly before?

Listen to me: there’s a reason why people make their own grape jelly, even though you can buy it at the store for cheap, and making homemade’s kind of a headache. The homemade actually tastes like Concord grapes. The flavor is complex, fresh, fruity, tart, and sweet. And the texture is . . . rich.

There’s no comparison.

Wonder if I can subscribe to her jelly-of-the-month club—?