Thursday, 29 September 2016

Holy Hogwash

Milkyway-summit-lake-wv1 - West Virginia - ForestWander

I have Christian friends who revel in the notion that God attends to them personally, that they are important. But true peace lies in the opposite. For then your sadness is nothing. Your hopes, fears, disappointments, and ambitions, all made of the same hogwash. Creation stretches on and on, tangible and timeless, and you...

Well, there is no you, is there?

Perhaps you died laughing.


(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Troy and Rusty Lilly.)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

WW: Meditating mantis


(Encountered this large lady (Mantis religiosa), about 3 inches long, in the road a few days ago. I almost ran over her on my bike; she looked like a leaf, until she skittered away.

We don't have mantises here. Which leaves two possibilities:

1. She's a doomed relic of organic pest control. As I've never seen an adult here, I've always assumed that purchased egg cases either don't hatch or the hatchlings spread to the four winds and are lost. However, there is a large garden nearby.

2. This is yet another indicator [along with this and this and this and this] that we've pushed the weather cycle into freefall.

Note abdomen full of eggs.)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Street Level Zen: Suchness

Autumn Maple Leaves

"There’s no such thing as a cliché maple tree. You don’t walk by one and say, 'Oh God, there’s another maple tree!'"

Nelson Bentley


(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

WW: Monk robe


(Why is it so satisfying to see it neatly folded for the road, like this? I'll actually come up with excuses to meditate in something else, just so I don't have to unfold it. See it in action here.)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hermitcraft: Hawthorn

(Some of this information originally appeared in my book, The Neighborhood Forager, Chelsea Green, 2000)

The neck of the woods where I've been staying has the most fabulous hawthorns (Crataegus) I've ever seen. In this harvest season they're as red as they are green, their branches clustered with fat crimson haws the size of small grapes. One is sorely tempted to put up a batch of jelly. (The fact that the same district is full of beautiful crabapples – the other ingredient, along with sugar, for perfect preserves – only makes it worse.)

Overlooked today, haws have a long history of culinary use. Most are fairly insipid when eaten raw, but their vibrant colour – red usually; sometimes yellow, orange, or purple – makes for visually stunning jams, jellies, and wines. Traditionally you run them with something else, such as crabapples, blackberries, sorbs (rowan berries), or sumac, that has better flavour. In a pinch you can simply to add a teaspoon of lemon juice.

In times past, haws were pitched into a run of cider to give it body and a crimson sheen. Their association with apples, to which they are closely related, and with which they come ripe each year, also extends to use in apple pies and pastries, again largely for colour. (I suspect the reason the haws here-around are so big and beautiful is because they've cross-pollinated with the many apple trees in the area.)

Hawthorn itself is hard and strong, sands and oils well, and makes a fine walking stick, if a bit heavy. When I lived in Québec, where I did a lot of snowshoeing, I carried a long hawthorn walking stick that I could easily drive through snow and ice to probe for ground level, and which handily bore my entire weight when necessary, as it frequently was when climbing over obstacles or getting out of a tight spot. A hawthorn stick also tends to writhe and twist right and left, which gives it a poetical look and affords multiple varied handholds. (Again, I'm thinking of the hard winter service mine did.)

The same wood is useful for tool handles and mallet heads, and in fact any application requiring durable, inflexible service.

I've also pruned off the thorns of long-spined varieties, dried them steel-hard, and used them in cork and cardboard for thumbtacks and map pins. Dimensions vary tremendously from strain to strain, from short and fairly blunt through long and hypodermic. This is something to be aware of when scouting a hawthorn, both for the potential practicality and self-preservation.

If you've got hawthorns around (and thanks to the birds, you almost certainly have hawthorns around), and the fruit looks serviceable, try putting up a few jars of haw jelly. Its appearance alone is worth the effort.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

WW: Pacific poison oak


(Toxicodendron diversilobum, in brilliant autumn livery.)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Squish Goes the World

This is the crystal jellyfish, also called Aequorea aequorea in my day, but since patriotically retaxonated Aequorea victoria. I took these pictures last weekend while out on the bay. The bottom one tells the larger tale: these creatures have fairly choked the lower Sound. (The large white mass at the top of that photo is a solid block of Aequorea, extending how far into the depths only they know.)

And it's not just here. Jellyfish – direct descendants of the earliest animals ever fossilised – have exploded in all the oceans of the world.

When I was a kid we'd get this sort of thing once every few years. My grandmother called it a "jellyfish raid", and I vividly remember catching several participants in a jar to marvel at during one when I was about 10.

But this isn't that. To start with, where those raiders of old averaged less than two inches across, most of these start at four and move up from there. In other words, the raids of my childhood were caused by a temporary fertility spike, prodded by what intermittent stimulus I never learned. Whatever's behind the new status quo is actually sustaining these extreme populations throughout their life cycle.

Aequorea have been a favourite of mine since I stared into that jar on the wooden arm of my grandmother's old Morris chair. In addition to the simple beauty of their glasslike, gently-undulating cloche, and the added wonder of bioluminescence, they're completely harmless. Nobody larger than plankton ever got stung by Aequorea victoria.

Which is why it pains me to look on them now with discontent. Along with the sudden surge in size and number of lion's manes (which I've also documented here), it's a compelling sign that we've finally cocked up this planet so badly it's headed back to the Cambrian.

And there weren't any people in the Cambrian.


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