gardening, outdoors

Feast fit for a squirrel

“…his thoughts revolving silently in this squirrel-cage of mystification.” 
― Dorothy L. Sayers, British queen of mystery, “Busman’s Honeymoon”

Have you ever seen a squirrel sleep? Oddly enough, I have. Early in our marriage, we lived in a small, yellow house at the edge of 300-acre wood. This put us smack in the middle of all things wild.

There were bears who stomped suet feeders flat in pursuit of the goodneCIMG5758_edited-1.JPGss inside, whole herds of deer sleeping just off the porch. There was a black snake eating the baby robins that were nearly ready to fledge from a nest perched on a grapevine wreath. There were dozens of wild turkeys one year, a population explosion made possible by a cyclical abundance of cicadas grubs.

And, there were squirrels.

One fox squirrel seemed particularly at home. On hot summer days, he would stretch his lithe self along the branch where our “bird” feeder hung and sleep. Legs, arms and tail dangling. We would watch him from the porch and giggle silently.

These days, we are city dwellers. There are no bears or black snakes in the yard, but there are still squirrels and other wee things. And, again, there’s one who would probably move right into the kitchen if we’d let him. It’s a red squirrel this time, the tiny kind with a pipe-cleaner tail, and he loves nothing more than to eat at the handy “buffet” we put out in the front yard each winter.

It’s actually landscaping of a sort — two faux clay pots festooned with white pine cones and a handful of crimson dog-bane branches. He sees only food, however. He leaps a good two feet into the air, picks a favorite cone and off he goes. Into the high branches of an oak tree, where he has built a dense nest of leaves. A creature of habit, he methodically eats the seeds, stripping the cone down to a bumpy core that he tosses onto a pile of “empties” that gather at the tree’s roots.

It’s only November, but it’s so cold he’s already at it, supplementing his rich acorn diet with the occasional pine cone. And, I am watching from the front porch, still silently giggling.

P.S. Don’t let squirrels have all the fun. Tuck away a FREE copy of “Dune Girl.” My Thanksgiving giveaway runs Monday through Wednesday at at  Amazon Kindle.   

outdoors, recipes

Lemony Salmon Spread

“…vicinity to the sea is desirable, because it is easier to do nothing by the sea than anywhere else, and because bathing and basking on the shore cannot be considered an employment but only an apotheosis of loafing.” E.F. Benson, English writer/archaeologist

People who have never lived at the beach watch hurricane coverage from afar and wonder why anyone would be so crazy as to build a house upon the sand. These are probably the same people who will burn themselves lobster bright next July, however. Live there or not, it’s hard to escape the allure of the sea.

Having been blessed to have lived quite near beaches much of my early life, I can tell you why coastal dwellers risk it. To know a beach requires being there day by day, night by night, season by season. It requires watching the tides rise and fall, sensing the tempo of the day by the color of the sea come morning, having the sizzle/crash/lap of waves embedded in your soul.

While we are deep inland these days, we will pray in solidarity with our coastal friends (who are neither blocking public access nor demanding repeated government assists for rebuilding.) We will even eat in solidarity with them — and you can, too!

Here is our family recipe for Lemony Salmon Spread, the base of many simple meals enjoyed on the shore and the focus of my 100th JOY Journal post! Thank you, dear readers!

Lemony Salmon Spread

Drain one can of wild-caught pink salmon. Using your fingers, either remove visible skin and bones or (as I do) mash them thoroughly for added nutrition. Add the juice of one freshly squeezed lemon, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon finely minced rosemary (use less if using dried) and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Mix well.

Use this spread with cooked pasta, on excellent baguettes, with pita crisps etc. Combined with a salad or a fruit and veggie tray and something chocolate (check my recipe archive for Bake Sale Brownies), it’s a simple but delightful way to round out the summer beach season.

outdoors, spiritual life

Sea change

“Don’t let the rain drive you to the wrong shelter … sometimes the rain is the perfect protector from the rain.” Michael Bassey Johnson, Nigerian writer

In our part of the planet, people are watching the sea — or at least the sea as seen on The Weather Channel. Hurricane Florence is looming off America’s Southeast shore, a menacing threat to not only beloved coastal communities but places far inland, where already-saturated soils and heavy rains can turn lethal.

A conveyor belt of hurricanes and other rain makers is the new reality for a large part of America, including our home city. There are titans. Harvey. Irma. Maria. But, even wee Gordon soaked us to the bone in recent days. It’s true. What was left of the garden is now so bedraggled it will be cut back to over-winter height this weekend. I’m not sure the porch furnishings will ever dry out.

We are soggy. We will likely get soggier. Yet, God is still God.

He is the God who made butterflies and river otters. Yet, He is also the God who made great beasties with razor teeth and fierce claws. He is the God who made breezes that whisper pine-tinged secrets. Yet, He is the God who can lay whole forests flat.

In America, we prefer the God of butterflies and breezes. We largely pretend the God of grizzly bears and howling wind does not exist. Or that, if He does, it only takes louder, longer prayer to convince Him to abandon any path that would bring loss or even discomfort to our lives.

It is true there are many promises of God’s care for His people in the Bible. There are stories of miraculous deliverance — from wicked kings, from lions, from death itself. But, there is also acknowledgement after acknowledgement and vignette after vignette that suggest God is not as focused on our short-term comfort as we would like to believe. He is, rather, the ultimate man with a plan — watchful of believers, yet relentless in His pursuit of outcomes that have been in the works, well, forever.

Forever. We need to remember that when sea change overtakes us, even if it literally overflows us. As we are where we are geographically — in the track of endless rain in our particular case — we also are where we are in time, both as believers in particular and as humanity collectively.

We must keep in mind that God is God whether the leaves flutter or the sea roars. God is God whether His path leads to deliverance or the destruction of something we hold dear. God is God. And, God will never change. He is a shelter, an anchor, a solid rock. No short-term outcome can change that forever fact.

community, outdoors

My last straw?

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” Jimmy Carter, Christian, American president

Things started innocently enough. I did an interview with the teacher of an elementary school class that was asking local restaurant owners to call it quits on plastic straws — à la Starbucks. By the time the story was done, there were impassioned pleas from fifth graders, photos of a sea tortoise with a straw stuck up his nose and a casual-but-sudden decision on my part to stop using what a Southern cousin refers to as “sissy sticks.”

That’s right, I’m sipping like a big girl. Sort of.

Going strawless has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. First, this is Appalachia, not L.A. or even Seattle. Servers — just like cashiers confronted with a mound of canvas bags at the front of my grocery order — are generally confused. Some of them actually throw the refused straw in the garbage for some reason, making me wince. Those poor, poor turtles.

Some of the servers clearly wonder if I have, well, difficulties. It’s almost as if I have said, “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t need a fork. I’ll just eat my lunch right off the plate.” You laugh, but I can see that very thought in their eyes. It’s there, trust me.

There’s also the problem with ice. School being back in session and a sense of calm having fallen over the house, my mother and I did a massive refill-the-larders run this morning. We deserved that Mexican lunch. We really did. But, the ice nearly did me in. Without a straw, any iced beverage is liable to turn into an avalanche, spraying my face and shirt. And, it did.

Maybe I can’t sip like a big girl.

But, problems aside, I’m doing my best to stick to this last-straw thing. I’ve even checked with my favorite coffee place to make sure I can get iced coffee in one of their refillable travel mugs. It has a sippy spout, so I can see this actually working out. For me and for the turtles.


outdoors, spiritual life

The road almost not taken

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost, American poet, “A Servant to Servants”

We could easily have made a different choice, possibly the wrong choice. Call it Providence, call it an unknown mapmaker’s skills, call it a strong desire not to wind up on a Weather Channel disaster-in-the-woods special. Whatever made us keep going down that mountain earlier this week is something for which we are thankful.

The problem came about halfway down the mountain. We had reached the 5,000-foot-altitude summit by ski lift — no required skill other than the ability to sit quietly. As requested, we had informed the attendant of our plans to hike a cross-country ski trail back to the base rather than returning on the lift. We had followed the diligently-placed green blazes down a rocky-but-not-too-slopey descent for about a mile.

Then, trouble hit in the oddest of places. We emerged from the piney woods into a long, linear meadow. Soft grasses, wild blueberries, butterflies. All good, really good, until we hit bottom. There, at the low point of the meadow, we looked ahead in dismay. The trail ascended — rather steeply, to another summit that seemed at least a mile in the distance.

We stopped. My husband, veteran hiker that he is, insisted we check the trail markers to make sure we hadn’t missed a turn since leaving the woods. We hadn’t. We were on the right path. So, we had to make a choice — climb back up the rocky trail to the chair lift — with an exhausting speed in order to catch the last ride of the day. Or, keep going on a trail in which the only way down was up.

We hunkered in the shade for a moment, drank some water and checked our map. If the markers and map were right, there had to be point at which the trail would veer away from that second summit. We couldn’t see it. All we could see was up hill, all the way. But, the map and the markers and park personnel claimed the trail to home base was there.

And, it was. Right about the time our legs were feeling it — anyone who’s skied this trail has our deep respect — there was a sudden opening into the woods and a rocky-but-entirely-doable descent. We were back at the cabin in time for dinner.

What a life lesson for our family! Sometimes, the road ahead looks discouraging, even impossible. We have to make a choice — go back to what we know, no matter how difficult the path of return, or keep going into what, to us at least, is the unknown. Unless we’re headed down a road to destruction, I’m thinking that, more often than not, we would be better off to keep going.

Let the water of God’s Word refresh us along the way. Let the light of His Word guide our path like the best map ever made. And, let us be plodding on, step after step after step. He’ll surely lead us home!