Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Poem About Dogs

No-one ever writes a poem about dogs.
Oh, people love their cats
Every other poem these days is about cats
How cute they are, how they lick themselves
How they don’t care a fig for anyone else
Now how much would you pay?

But wait, there’s more
They’ll also scratch up your upholstery
Stand on your face at 4 AM
Kill your budgie.

When did a cat ever come to you when you asked?
Chase off an intruder
Catch a frisbee?
The thing’s like a doorstop
That doesn’t stop any doors.

The only thing I ever got from a cat
Was a dead rat
And when I wouldn’t eat it
He did.

Let’s face it, when it comes to cats it’s all about the purring
You pet the damn thing, and it purrs
If cats didn’t purr, we’d keep something else
Iguanas, maybe.

But it’s all about the cats
They’re cuddly, they’re comic, they’re cosmopolitan
They give you the abuse you don’t get from your family
You can’t pick up a newspaper
Or a greeting card
Without reading about cats.

But nobody
Writes a poem
About dogs.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

WW: Boom seals

(Phoca vitulina)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Enlightenment Koan

Japanese buddhist monk by Arashiyama cut

The hermit Hyung asked:

"Would you seek enlightenment even if it were easy?"

Wu Ya's commentary: "I do not like green eggs and ham."

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of Soto Zen monk on his begging rounds courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

WW: Pterodactyl invasion

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hermitcraft: Lobster Mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms punch up all over the North Coast this time of year, which is remarkable since they don't really exist. The grotesque red masses you see here are really coarse old Russula brevipes infected with Hypomyces lactifluorum mould. But the effect is striking, both visually and gastronomically. By themselves, R. brevipes and Lactarius piperatus (the other common host) are plain to ugly, and not very good eating. (The latter in particular is apt to be too horseradish-peppery for many palates.) But attacked by the B-movie mildew, they become choice.

The origin of their common name is a bit mysterious. It may be the flaming colour, similar to boiled crustacea. Or it may a hint of lobster flesh in their flavour and consistency. But they're delicious in any case, and very showy on the plate. Better still, enormous average size and a tendency to grow in dense colonies means you can harvest a bucketful in no time.

Where I live, lobster mushrooms revel in gravelly roadsides and driveways (where they get absolutely filthy), and the fringes of salal banks. Many are almost subterranean, barely cracking the ground, having to be dug as much as cut.

However you find them, lobsters should be sliced cleanly at the base, whereupon you will be blinded by their snowy-white flesh. (The sooner the better; worms like them, too.) A toothbrush under running water scrapes the muddy dross from their rutted, ruffled caps.

Traditionally these mushrooms are chunked and pitched into seafood stew, either alongside the catch of the day, or as it. (In which case you've got vegetarian lobster bisque.) You can also slice them into steaks, marinate mildly, and grill them over charcoal. Or just enjoy the classic 'shroomer standby: sautéed with a little garlic and a pinch of herbs. (Also a good way to prepare them for freezing.)

Sources are vague on the risks implied. In theory, a poisonous mushroom infected by Hypomyces lactifluorum might be dangerous, and most sources urge collectors to be certain of the host before indulging. Problem is, my mould H-Bomb so disfigures its partner that identification is difficult; I've seen professionals throw up their hands. Then there's the dramatic power of Hypomyces to alter mushroom chemistry, well-demonstrated in the resulting flavour. Some experts believe it has the same effect on any toxins present. Finally, it rarely (possibly never?) infects any but its favoured hosts.

As a lifelong forager, here's my take: lobster mushrooms are among the most sought-after fungi in the world. Tonnes of them are swallowed each year in dozens of countries. And I can't find a single documented reference to any specific case of lobster mushroom poisoning anywhere.

So I eat them. (Note: like all wild mushrooms, lobsters should be cooked before eating, which has a moderating effect on some toxins, assuming there are any, which there's not supposed to be, because you identified the mushroom before you ate it.)

So if you see a large, velvety, blood red, tortured, muddy glob on the ground, have a second look. These unique organisms may appear unappetising, but they don't taste that way.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

WW: Tugboats RW Confer and Galene race all-out

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hermitcraft: Shelters For Forest Practice

The interior of Thoreaus original cabin replica, Walden Pond

Thoreau's cabin at Walden
My decision to live in a tiny tent during my 100 Days on the Mountain, rather than more comfortable quarters, was largely influenced by my determination to live in the forest, rather than just near it. (It was also my only option when I thought I'd have to sit on public land.) But in the doing I discovered that a cabin is necessary to do this right; it spares you practice-robbing work and health risks. Let's be clear: by "cabin", I mean four walls and a roof. A shepherd's trailer; a wall tent; a tool shed; a plywood hut; eight by twelve of simple headroom. More, and you're no longer in the woods.

• Your shelter should have as many windows as possible, for morale and to keep you "in-frame". A broad, wrap-around opening in the walls, screened and shuttered, is perfect. A roofed porch or awning is also useful.

• As I learned, a woodstove can be invaluable in northern climes, even in summer. Otherwise it can be impossible to stay clean; you can't dry your clothes and it's difficult to bathe through cold and rainy weeks. The small portable models they make for hunters are fine.

Shepherd's trailers
• Since cooking on a woodstove is an arcane skill, uncomfortable in warm weather and time-consuming, you'll need a camp stove as well. A single propane or butane burner is entirely adequate and can be used indoors with adequate ventilation.

• Take pains to secure a comfortable cot and a good pillow; unbroken sleep is vital to effective practice.

• You will also need a table and chair. Lack of comfortable seating is a technique governments use to torture prisoners. They do not become enlightened. (Mandarin or convict.)

• Install shelves or cabinets, and a variety of hooks, for storage.

Simple garden shed
A corrugated metal roof and/or sides makes for a fast and solid building, fine for one-season use. A corrugated plastic roof, light to carry and cheap to buy, also acts as a skylight. A wood floor, while not necessary, makes staying clean a lot easier. (If using a tent, consider a plywood platform, a sewn-in floor, or at least a heavy canvas ground cloth.)

Finally, it's a good idea to make whatever structure you choose as neat as possible. People are already suspicious of us. You don't want to give those Ted Kaczynski references any free hand.

Basically, you want something that's dirt-basic but a whole lot cleaner. Then raise the Bandana Ensign in the dooryard and bust some suffering!

UPDATE, 19 June 2014: see my post on Kamo no Chômei's classic hermit hut.

UPDATE, 30 July 2015: Swedish architect draws designer hermit digs! Read about it here.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photos: Thoreau's cabin (Tom Stohlman) and shepherd's trailers (John Shortland) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; simple garden shed from

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

WW: Six-ring walk in the city

(Including three 1 1/2-inch male rings! Rare find.)