Monday, August 12, 2013

The View (A Guest Post)

The following post was written by a coworker and close friend, Debby Merritt. She had shared it with me recently, having come across it in her papers, and I asked if I could use it as a guest post in my blog. I am honored that Debby said yes.

We differed on whether the third word from the end of the second paragraph should be "furried" (her choice) or "furred" (my choice). In a nod to Humpty Dumpty admonishing Alice in Through the Looking Glass ("When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.") and a salute to Lewis Carroll, who made up words when no others fit ('Twas brillig and the slithy toves...), I'm using her preferred choice.

I love this piece because it evokes strong memories in me of my childhood, especially on the farm my grandparents had when I was a child.

Debby wrote this piece some years ago, and there continue to be many changes in the immediate vicinity of her house. While Debby and I differ on many (oh heck, most) issues politically, I agree with her observations about the price of "progress."

Enjoy. And thank you, Debby.  


The View

Since the late 1880s, there have been only three houses on our road. Every day from inside his old henhouse, my rooster signals morning. It is reminiscent of a time when sleep was determined by daylight and dark, and not by "Good Morning America" and the late night news.

In the afternoon, anticipating their late day milking, neighboring cows begin to wind their way from the woods toward the barn. Watching them is like looking at a centuries old painting. At night, they are our sentinels, mooing at interlopers both furried and not.

In the heat of the summer, my attic bedrooms smell like the hams and bacon that years ago hung from the rafters. That aroma reminds me of waking in my grandma's farmhouse to the sounds of corn cobs and sticks poured into a clanking wood stove, fresh eggs popping and bacon curling in a big iron skillet.

Each spring, groaning beneath layers of sweet black fruit, mulberry trees play host to opossums, raccoons, and other critters gorging themselves. Sometimes at night, caught in my headlights, baby raccoons scramble for safe branches to continue their feast. Their little bandit faces make it impossible for me to interrupt their banquet.

Later than most farmers, crops across the road are planted in fields fertilized by friendly cows. The farmer's old, lumbering tractor often hesitates and then stops dead. After a few adjustments, the engine backfires and percolates as it struggles down the row. These are sounds long forgotten in many parts of Delaware County.

Other modern, sprayed, and debugged fields seem more affected by drought and heat. Our farmer's corn is as high as an elephant's eye and as dense as a forest. Franklin Park Conservatory spent a fortune creating its corn maze. Our road has one every year.

I feel at home here. It is how things used to be. It is the solitude that Merton described in his essays. Thoughts are incoming and outgoing, not forced or contrived. There is no need to feel time is short and become harried consumers rushing to give our children happiness underneath the golden arches.

This road could outlast the politicians and the projected growth patterns, but every day places like it with their lands and heritage die. They pass into a fast paced abyss, a place where a road is measured only by how many cars it can carry and how much shopping can line its sides.

With malls and a commute faster than the speed of sound becoming eminent domain issues, I doubt that roads like ours will endure. So for as long as I have it, I will enjoy it, and when they come with their bulldozers and blacktop, I will mourn it, for we all will have lost something worth everything: our past, our present, and our future. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Music To My Ears

It is raining.

After a pretty wet June and early July, the skies turned dry. Oh, the temperatures stayed pleasantly cool for the most part, but it was dry, dry, dry. As I sit here writing this, we are on the backside of a good, solid, drenching rain.

If you had come upon me in my kitchen five minutes ago, you would have seen me standing at the open casement windows, facing the rain, my hands cupped behind my ears.

There's a reason for that.

Like many aging Boomers, I am showing some hearing loss. Mine was accelerated a few years ago by a head cold that left me temporarily deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. My hearing slowly came back in both ears, but it was forever changed. I hear endless white noise, just enough to wash out the softer sounds in the world. It is impossible for me to follow a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Add the normal loss that comes with age, and you get the picture.

I recently read Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise by David Rothenberg. Close on the heels of that, I read several chunks of The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause. (Bernie Krause and Warren are discussing a possible Symphony project, so the book is presently on the coffee table. I needed something to read.) Krause wrote about making faux leopard ears out of paper, clipping them to his glasses, and then listening. "The difference between what I heard with my ears alone and with the faux cat's ears was impressive," Krause said.

Rothenberg wrote about cicadas, katydids, crickets, and the other rhythm makers of the insect world. Around here, the cicadas (just the annual ones, not the periodic ones) started up in early June and the katydids arrived in mid-July. The former dominates the afternoons, especially the lazy, sultry ones; the latter rules the night. For me, they are an irreplaceable sound of summer.

A few nights ago, when the katydids were good and loud in the trees, I thought about Krause's cat ears. I cupped my hands behind my own ears to increase the gathering range of the pinna (the part of the ear outside the head).

I was staggered by the roar of the night.

Not only did the sound of the katydids increase several times over, but the first time in forever (Since my childhood? My young adult years?), I heard the whole noisy chorus of insects underneath the katydids. I tried to describe it to Warren, finally hitting upon "it sounds like a coursing river of bugs out there."

And it did.

Just now, listening to the rain with my improved range, I had a similar revelation. I heard the rain, yes, but this was rain amplified, rain magnified. This was rain with the volume dial cranked up. This was rain with a hundred nuances of splash.

It was RAIN, not just rain. Just as the other night it was BUGS and not just bugs.

I'm already pretty far up in the geek stratosphere in some circles. Walking around town with my hands cupped behind my ears should propel me even higher.

And I can just see myself questioning that future audiologist. "Will this hearing aid  give me the full bug chorus on a hot summer night? Will they enable me to hear a million raindrops hit the deck? Because if it can't, I have (dramatic pause) these!" And putting my hands behind my ears, I will walk back into the world.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Meanwhile, in the kitchen....

I have worn out the beaters to my mixer. Oh, it's just a little sturdy hand mixer, but one that has carried me through 11 years of baking. I can't begin to count the number of eggs, syrups, custards, meringues, icings, and cakes I have whipped up with that mixer.

And now due to some colossal metal fatigue issue, one beater is on its last two tines.

I had noticed the first tine had failed some months ago. The second failure was brand new; I noticed it yesterday when I went to beat the eggs for the next round of zucchini bread.

Usually one wears out a mixer by burning up the motor. I wasn't that lucky.

The mixer model (a Black & Decker) is "obsolete," and replacement beaters are not to be found easily. or at all, I concluded after a thorough internet search. It is possible that other (newer) B & D beaters may fit this model, but unless I take my beater to a store and surreptitiously try the fit on a new mixer, I am rolling the dice in ordering beaters.

I may break down and treat myself to a brand new mixer. Heck, I may even splurge and go for the Kitchenaid hand mixer (the low end one, not the high end one) if only because I can get it in red (fire engine) or flamingo pink (loud).

How cool is the thought of making a lemon tart using a fire engine red or loud flamingo pink mixer?

I thought I was being clever when I posted the photos on my Facebook page yesterday and said there had to be a moral to this story. Apparently I was tempting the gods of Baking by my lighthearted approach. About the time I slid the second batch (four loaves to a batch) into the oven, I called Warren from the shop and asked him, "Do you smell something electrical?"

Yes, he did. And so did I. But there was no smoke, no lights going out, and nothing seemingly amiss, so he went back to work and I went on with cleanup while the bread baked.

The first two loaves (smaller) finished on time. Five minutes later the third loaf finished. But the fourth loaf (the largest of the batch) was taking forever. Truly forever. I would set the timer for 5 more minutes, check the loaf when the timer went off, and set it for 5 more. After some 15 minutes of this, I scrabbled around for an oven thermometer and stuck it in alongside the loaf. When the timer went off again, I checked the thermometer.

250º.  75 degrees cooler than the 325º that loaf should have been baking at. And that was when the terrible truth hit me. That little electrical smell from an hour ago? That was the smell of the baking element breathing its last.

A word about the oven. Warren's parents bought that oven around 1970 (by his best recollection). It is a 40" GE model with a small bake oven next to the regular oven. The stovetop has the conventional four burner arrangement, with extra workspace on top thanks to the width. In the almost five years I have lived in this house, I have baked hundreds of breads, cake, pies, quiches, tarts, and cookies, to name a few, in that oven. I have roasted chickens and turkeys galore. I have baked thousands of pieces of biscotti.

I love this oven. I would be bereft without this oven. And I was terrified that due to its age, parts would be impossible to procure.
The little oven is to the left in this photo. 

When I posted the newest disaster news on Facebook, friends quickly responded with links for parts. Three hours later, we had a new baking element ordered. In fact, we had two new baking elements ordered, the second being for the little side oven, which has not been available for baking all this time because of a faulty element.

The parts ship out tomorrow from Tennessee, so we should be up and operational by the end of the week. I am giddy at the thought of having two (Two!—Count 'em!—TWO!) ovens.

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, "I cannot live without my books." My variation would be, "I cannot live without my books or my oven."

Fortunately, I don't have to live without either.