Wednesday, 31 July 2013

WW: The eyes of the jungle

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Street Level Zen: Where It's At

Royalenfield Himalaya "The only Zen you find at the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there."

Robert Pirsig

(Photo of Royal Enfield Thunderbird on a Himalayan mountain pass courtesy of Gopal Vijayaraghavan and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

WW: St. John's

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hermitcraft: Sunshine Tea

Scalding days here on the North Coast put me in mind of a great simple delicacy, the sublime sunshine tea. Nothing beats this stuff on a hot day. A shady place, a good book, and a tall glass tinkling on the apple box – there is no other enlightenment in this life.

Sunshine tea is so easy the procedure doesn't even qualify as a recipe, but like all simple things (tea foremost) the difference between good and great is in the attention. The basics are as follows:

o Fill a gallon jar with cold water

o Put in six to eight teabags. (Black tea.)

o Put the jar in full sun all day, shifting as necessary

o Squeeze out the tea bags and discard

o Refrigerate; serve over ice

Slow brewing gives this tea a lighter, less tannic flavour than boiling. For that reason, and the fact that it's served cold (and, ideally, herbed; see below), quality is less important than usual. Any respectable cutting pekoe will do; here in North America, Red Rose or Tetley are ample. (Lipton, to my certain knowledge, has no culinary uses, and those horrific "store brands" are fair-dinkum hazardous material. Keep out of the reach of children, and anything else you want to thrive.)

Water quality, however, is vital. If your tap water is heavily chlorinated, run it through a Brita pitcher first. If it's very hard, you may want to buy commercial spring water. (Which is actually just distilled or filtered municipal water in many cases; the whole industry's a giant scam.) Other tea-fancier strategies – rainwater, melted snow – are less effective this time of year, though when I lived in Québec I could count on a ten-minute late-afternoon deluge most days that gave me enough tea water to supply the town.

But the real difference between acceptable and fantastic sun tea is a large shock of some herb. Judging by how rarely I see any in others' jars, and the surprised delight of friends, this fact isn't yet common knowledge. So I'm blowing the lid off it: there is no comparison between unenhanced tea and that made with mint.

And mint is the best herb for the job: it has a clean, sweet tingle; grows like kudzu this time of year; and actually triggers the cooling receptors in your body. With enough of this in your mix you'll feel the frost all the way down, and even up in your eyeballs.

Spearmint, the pointed, green-stemmed stuff that tastes like chewing gum, is notably better than peppermint, the round-leaved, purple-stemmed sibling that grows wild here on the North Coast, but the latter is plenty good if it's what you've got. Pennyroyal, another wild mint that grows along lakeshores here, is also fine, and so is catnip, an almost-mint I've often found wild on the Gold Side and in Québec. Both have a lemon thing going on that is most welcome.

To use, cut a good big fistful, fold it up so it'll fit in your jar, and crush and roll it briefly in your hands to liberate the volatile oils. (The jar in the photo only has about a quarter of the mint [catnip here] I prefer.) Then stuff the sheaf in the jar, fill it with water, and put the teabags in last; otherwise it will be hard to fish them out. At day's end, after removing the bags, reach into the jar and manhandle the sheaf again in the tea a few good times. (You may have to remove a few glasses first, to make room for your hand.) Then refrigerate the jar with the mint still in.

I've also used other herbs: lemon slices; raspberry and blackberry leaves; the berries themselves (lightly bruised); rosemary; Melissa; Monarda; even grand fir. (I was going for a well-chilled retsina effect. Not bad, actually; c.f. lemoniness.) In my opinion none have bested the mints, but they’re worthy in their own right, and better than nothing.

A few notes for readers outside of North America:

You may be wondering, "What the hell is this guy talking about?" Yes, we drink iced tea here. The specifics vary from region to region – if you order it in Canada or the American South, be sure to specify unsweetened, or you may be served a paste of sugar – but it's generally an incredibly refreshing way to confront the dog days. Really. Trust me on this one. (North Americans can grasp the revulsion many outlanders feel at the idea by picturing themselves enjoying a nice bowl of iced soup. Another summer staple in many nations.)

Sunshine tea is in fact so popular on this continent that they sell special jars for it (see photo), basically an ordinary gallon jar with a spigot punched in the bottom, saving the user lifting the whole heavy thing to pour. But any glass or clear plastic jar will do. Plastic is actually the more effective, owing to superior heat transfer.

Also, as I implied above, North Americans are divided on the sugar issue. I prefer my iced tea utterly clean; this goes double if it's minted. Most here on the North Coast agree, or sweeten their tea very lightly, often with fruit juice. Other regions partake fully in the New World conviction that sugar is a vegetable, a spice, a vitamin, a source of fibre, and part of this complete breakfast. Listen, just make your own, eh? Disregard the contemptuous sneer of your neighbours when you set the pot out, and play around with post-production till you find a formula that works for you. Who knows? You might found an entire national sun tea sensibility of your own.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

WW: Rollin' on

(The mighty Columbia looks for the sea, courtesy of my man
Dannon and his Thundering Cell Phone of Justice.)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Good Book: Walden (2004 Yale Edition)

I tried to read this book when I was in high school, at the instigation of teachers who swore I was the living tulku of Henry David Thoreau. The brilliant American Transcendalist kicked my butt; his peripatetic sentences, cluttered with puns on European history, Greek and Latin classics, and Hindu scripture, run for days. Just the 26,000-word introductory digression is an admission ordeal worthy of Zen monasteries. It's also the reason that for years I only read excerpts.

Nor was I alone; even in Thoreau's (better educated, less fatuous) day, modest sales forced him to live off prosaic jobs and the support of wealthy friends. But when I came off the mountain, I was finally motivated to read this seminal work of hermit literature. Turns out it's a work of genius. Who knew?

Walden; or, Life in the Woods is the record of one man's classic eremitical experiment: from 1845 to 1847, Thoreau lived in a primitive hut on eleven acres beside the pond of that name, situated outside Concord, Massachusetts. There he applied the timeless formula, living as close to the ground as possible, in order to minimise distractions from the Truth. (The book, which appeared in 1854, distils his experiences to a single year.)

Ango and advanced age haven't thinned Thoreau's dense paragraphs, but this time the rewards kept me hacking. Thoreau is the Elijah of our time, calling down the profligacy of commercial morality. His meditations on the hypocrisy of industrial culture, its lazy ethics and poverty-mill economics, are either exhilarating or depressing, depending on your perspective: a century and a half have made no dent in their relevance. Take his debunking of the myth that the rich repay in "job creation" what they cost society:

"Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and done with it."

More masterful is a dissection of capitalist theoretics, in which Thoreau calculates the true cost of train fare to nearby Fitchburg. With accountant-like precision he audits the passenger's entire expenditure, and demonstrates at last that it's not only cheaper, but actually faster, to walk. "We do not ride the railroad," he concludes. "It rides upon us."

Walden positively hums with such wry reflections. Some have become famous:

"If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house to do me good, I would run for my life."

"In the long run, men hit only what they aim at."

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation [and go to the grave with the song still in them]."

It also carries a surprising tonnage of jokes:

"Not long since I was present at the auction of a deacon's effects, for his life had not been ineffectual."

"…called a 'man of colour', as if he were discoloured…"

"Is [Sir John] Franklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should be so eager to find him?" (A bit of CanCon there.)

We don't normally think of Thoreau as a stand-up comic (Walden also contains one of the few toilet jokes in 19th-century literature), but it would not be farfetched to call him the George Carlin of antebellum America.

And that's just one facet of an enormously rich vein of insight. You also get Thoreau's detailed observation of flora, wildlife, and natural phenomena; his expertise on simple, joyful cuisine; his research in local history; his (occasionally racist; sorry, Ireland) encounters with other cultures; and his engaging reports on the daily-daily of livin' low.

I strongly advise, nay implore, readers to get the 2004 Yale edition of Walden, annotated study-Bible fashion by Jeffrey Cramer. (See photos.) His comprehensive notes, amounting to a second, parallel book, elucidate Thoreau's antiquated terminology, regionalisms, and scholarly allusions that were already obscure the day he wrote them. With Cramer's help, these lines not only cease to be stumbling blocks, they become some of the most enjoyable passages in the work.

Thoreau was neither the first hermit nor the last, but he remains one of the best. His literary power and sheer American modern-ness are gifts for our time. His masterpiece can be hard going for the first few pages, but once you pick up its rhythm, it's hard to put down. Don't forget to use a full sheet of paper for a bookmark, and have a pen handy to write down your favourite quotations.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

WW: Sunset over Capitol Lake

(Click on the picture to see it bigger. More on the alleged "lake" here.)

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Rock Groups 2013

Blaze ArubaI have a particular talent for naming rock groups. I can't explain it. It's nothing I studied for or earned in any way. It's just in me. I also can't profit from it, because there's no such thing as a Rock Group Name Consultant. But I keep a list of the best ones that occur to me. Proof of their quality is that I'll often Google one after a few months or years, and someone has taken it. I don't insist they pay me for jumping my trademark, but let the record show that I THOUGHT OF IT FIRST! Because I totally did.

Anyway, here's a list of my best œuvres to date. A few include serving suggestions, as to what sort of group might best benefit. You'll note as well that some are already marked "taken"; by the time you read this, a few more may have been claimed as well.


Iceweasel (Norwegian Cookie Monster metal group; since taken by a Web browser [?!?] )

The Staff Infection (group made up of adult employees at a given high school)


Arkwelder (Christian metal)

ə (pronounced "schwa")

Röktöpüss (teeny-bopper metal)

Hollow Dogs

Tragically Delicious


Wahala (since taken)


SkinnyPig (emphasis on the first word, like "guinea pig")

Wrench (industrial metal)

Least Heat Moon (folk rock or country rock)

2Can (boy band duo)

Moon Beaver

Destructive Duck

Lumpy Lemon (Phish-like jam band)

8-Trak (old school rap)

Quemarropa (Latin roots rock)

The Kennewick Men

Steelhead (North Coast metal band)

Cavity Search (punk band)


Full Metal Handkerchief

Giraffes Are Delicious (New Wave [which is probably Historical Wave by now] )

Iron Dachshünd (metal parody)

Hence the Problem

The Oil Slick Penguins

Aquatic Sloth (electronica)

The Lost Cosmonauts

Red Franz and the Bog People

Small Metal Stonehenge

New Pence (Mersey Renaissance group)

Uffington Horse (since taken)

Eclectic Eel (as well)

The Underground Tree House (ditto)

Kensington Stone (and again [this would also a great name for a James Bond-style spy] .)

Chewy Louie

The Space Monkey Mafia

Believable Pie

Raw As Recoil

The Screaming Mimis (grrl group)

College Town

Inox (rap group)

Rebar (alt country; front man: Red Diesel)

RSJ (since taken)

I-Beam (metal group)

The Picts

Waterhorse (Scottish folk rock)

Salmonella (Goth girl group)


Hate Cave

Whimsical Physics (smooth jazz)

Onerous O (rapper)


Rolodex (small, hot swing ensemble)

The Chocolate Skulls

The Satanic Tribbles

If you have a group and you want one of these, be my guest. ("Zero Fee, No Rights Reserved".) Don't see anything you like? I got others. Contact me directly for a custom product, at a mere 15% surcharge. Either way, when someone asks you where you got your name, you can say you were so baptised by a Zen hermit monk. Tell me that isn't an awesome hook.

(Photo courtesy of Brooke Novak and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

WW: Fossil imprint

(This is the imprint of an ancient scallop shell, pressed flat underground over several million years. This summer it was stripped out by the action of sea, and the peat it rested in was thrown up on the beach. Enjoy it while it lasts; the medium is soft and friable, and will soon dry into a tiny heap of anonymous dirt. As will we all, one day.)
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