Thursday, 30 June 2016


We like to believe we forge ourselves, but that summer on the Acres, submerged in my youth, I realised for the first time how many of the songs I grew up on were about wilful loneliness. The 60s and 70s were a transcendent era. And restive.
Green green, it's green they say
On the far side of the hill,
the New Christy Minstrels sang, when I was two.
Green green, I'm going away
To where the grass is greener still1
Turning it over, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard a song like that in ages.

One by one, titles spilled from memory: Castles in the Air; Five Hundred Miles; Early Morning Rain; Four Strong Winds; Gentle On My Mind; Don't Think Twice It's All Right; I Was Born Under A Wandering Star; I Got a Name; Take It Easy.

Some were bold, some wistful. Some angry. But all were about homelessness.

A man wonders what it might have meant, all those years ago. And what it might mean now, these many years later.

Snakes in the ocean, eels in the sea
I let a redheaded woman make a fool out of me
And it don't look like I'll ever stop my wandering
No it don't look like I'll ever stop my wandering2

1. Green Green, by Randy Sparks and Barry McGuire. Copyright New Christy Music.
2. Wandering, by James Taylor. Copyright Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of young people on walkabout in 1972 courtesy of Tomas Sennet, the US National Archives and Records Administration, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

WW: Sawbuck

(I recently reckoned I've built at least seven of these over my lifetime – possibly more. All made from scrap that would have been firewood itself if I hadn't pulled it off the woodpile or high tide line and turned it to generate more firewood.

Such a basic device. Worth no money; indispensable in real wealth.

Once, while moving from one home, I wrote in my journal: "Today I burned the sawbuck."

The depth of those words is difficult to sound.)

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Hermitcraft: Fucus

Though delicious, Fucus (FYOO-kuss) has a marketing problem. The genus sounds like some kind of fungal disease; its common names – rockweed, bladderwrack – are hardly better. But once you've tasted it, nothing else will do.

Fucus is a distinctive, prolific seaweed, readily identified by the yellow-green "mittens" at the end of each frond. These endear it to children, who love to pop them. Incredibly tenacious, bladderwrack thrives in the harsh upper tidal zone, and is therefore accessible at all but the highest tides.

This remarkable alga, adapted to long, thirsty stretches high and dry, will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator. Used fresh, it lends nutrients and a suggestion of shrimp to sauces and soups. The flavour compliments tomato bases especially well.

Fucus also dries readily, dwindling to unrecognisable wiry black shreds that spring miraculously back to life after a brief soak. (It's also one of the rare marine algae that bear up in fresh water.)

Dried bladderwrack can be lightly toasted and crumbled on salads and baked potatoes, for mock-crustacean tang. Eaten as a snack chip, it goes surprisingly well with a crisp blond beer.

Fresh Fucus is a powerful source of Vitamin C, while protein accounts for up to 25 per cent of its dried weight. In the past, bladderwrack tea (see below) was taken for goiter, a painful swelling of the thyroid glands occasioned by iodine deficiency – yet another Fucus asset. Full-spectrum nutrition also made bladderwrack tea a traditional, if ironic, response to both starvation and obesity in Scottish fishing villages.

On the scientific front, modern studies have found that Fucus extracts reduce plasma cholesterol in rats, are an effective anticoagulant, and may even be useful in treating radiation poisoning.

The resilience of this vinyl-looking weed means that you can often gather heaps of it from the beach after a storm; if sufficiently fresh, all it needs is a vigorous wash and you've got pounds of delicious food. (On sand beaches it can be difficult to get the grit off those sticky clusters, but I just dry them on a clothesline and bag the result. What sand survives washing and drying collects in the bottom of the sack.)

But do check for barnacles and epiphytes before collecting a washed-up clump. In the open sea bladderwrack often plays host to a variety of other life forms, and is increasingly likely to be encrusted the further out you get from new spring growth.

In calmer waters, where Fucus blankets logs, pilings, and rocks, you can simply snip fronds from the growing plant, leaving the rest intact. Because it grows so densely you can gather quite a bit this way in little time, with minimal impact to the community.

So give Fucus a try on your next beach trip. Those who get past the name(s) soon come to appreciate its true beauty.

A few recipes:

o Bladderwrack Tea

(This "tea", which tastes more like a seafood stock, is savoury and satisfying.)

Steep 1 tablespoon of dried and toasted Fucus in a cup of boiling water, or four tablespoons in a pot, for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink.

Typical amendments include soy sauce, black pepper, lemon juice, hot sauce, and malt vinegar. My favourite: seafood cocktail sauce. (A smooth variety, without pickle chunks.)

The leftover leaves can be used in cooking.

o Bladderwrack Breakfast

Slice up some bacon or sausage and fry it soft. Pour off the fat that pours off.

Add minced garlic and chopped onion.

Add chopped fresh Fucus. (Make sure to slice the mittens in half, or they'll explode in your face.)

Throw in a diced tomato, or canned equivalent. In the absence of these, I use tomato juice or sauce.

Sauté till the bladderwrack is bright green and tender. (Bear in mind it'll always remain al dente.)

Grind in some black pepper and serve over rice, or as a side dish with eggs, hash browns, etc.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

WW: Scottish breakfast

(Four scrambled eggs, two bannocks, and a grilled tomato.
The breakfast that built an empire.)

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Street Level Zen: Renunciation

"You never know what you have until it's gone.

"I wanted to know what I had, so I got rid of everything."

Steven Wright,
undercover Zen master

(Photo courtesy of Mikael Gripsvik and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

WW: Standing guard

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sufi Tale

Indischer Maler um 1630 001 A traveller paused in a forest clearing beside a stream, where a dervish sat meditating.

Sipping from his waterskin, he saw the dervish rouse and scoop a wasp from the stream's surface. But as the holy man transferred the insect to the bank it stung him; flinching, he shook it back into the water.

Taking a breath, the dervish reached for the wasp again; again it stung him before he could get it to the bank.

The traveller watched this scenario repeat itself several times. At last, seeing the holy man reach into the stream another time, he could contain himself no longer.

"Baba!" he exclaimed. "Don't do that! It will only sting you again!"

The dervish raised an eyebrow.

"It's the wasp's nature to sting me," he said. "And it's my nature to save it."

(Painting by unknown Indian artist, circa 1630, courtesy of the British Museum and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

WW: Spring afternoon

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Gratitude Ceremony

The next Sunday I rose at dawn and repaired to the barn, for wash day and to meet Linnea for proof of life in the afternoon. Morning was heavy, and as I hauled a gallon of drinking water back to camp rain began to fall, the first real snass in weeks. I buttoned up the tent and headed back down the Stovewood Trail. There wasn't enough rainfall to extinguish the motocross, but I'd slept well, and that guyed my spirits.

The day threw a few spanners all the same. Back in the barn my foot promptly rolled between two large logs, a raft of which I had to clamber over to reach the lower cache, and I hurt my shin badly. The wound throbbed for hours, but luckily was just a very bad welt.

With the sun itself abed all morning, I froze my backside – and the rest of me – bathing under my rusty coffee can. In spite of the good night, all of it – the rain, the injury, the motocross, the frigid bath, anxiety over the visit – irked me.

I countered with gratitude practice, which any road had become habitual by then. I thanked my bowls while washing them. I thanked my spoon, and my bandanas. I thanked my backpack, and the empty manure bag I used as a sitting cloth. Food and clothing. Sun, rain, and land. The big walnut tree in the barnyard.

I thanked friends and family, who had given me most of what I had. The ceremony reminded me how beneficent the universe is, how sweeping human kindness. And also to misdoubt the fear of isolation. Kuan Yin's Army of Compassion numbers in the billions. And they've all got your back.

So screw you, Mara.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

WW: Advancing front

(Click here to see it full-screen.)
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