Monthly Archives: July 2013

Corn, Corn, Corn, Corn…Corn, Corn, Corn, Corn…

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Life with The Wonder Horse continues to be fraught with many thrills and chills.  Last week it was (we think) a badly stubbed toe and accompanying temporary yet frightening lameness.  This week, it’s either a reaction to wearing his protective neoprene boots for too long due to a miscommunication OR it’s sore legs from stomping flies and or running around like a loon after he exercised some poor judgment and removed his fly mask overnight.  It’s obviously one of those times when, as we say in the south, it never rains but it pours. Roy is hanging along for the ride with the Roller Coaster that is Horse Ownership.  The one thing I can say for sure about having a horse is that I never find myself sitting around, bored, and thinking that my life lacks Drama and Excitement.  Roy is the best possible sport about all of it, too.

Meanwhile, it’s late July in New England, and the corn – despite the dreadful weather of the earlier summer – is starting to arrive in cartloads at every market and farm stand.  This enables me to engage in the Time-Honored Approach to Worry:  Distraction Through Cooking.  What we have now are the season’s best tomatoes, the early corn, peaches, and blueberries.   So this week, in lieu of an entertaining story, I’m going to share my favorite High Summer recipes.  YMMV, but these are all in my Permanent Record.

Corn and Peach Bisque
6 ears corn
1 onion, diced
2 good cloves garlic, minced
3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped (peel these like tomatoes, cut an x in the skin and blanch in boiling water)
6 C chicken stock
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 C heavy cream

Strip the kernels off of the ears of corn, and put both the kernels and the cobs in a large stewpot. Put the onion, garlic, peaches, stock, and cayenne in the pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a fast simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.  Cool, then run through a blender to puree. Stir in whipping cream and serve warm.

Tomato and Basil Soup
2 T olive oil
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
Generous palm-ful of fresh thyme
2 T minced garlic
1 bay leaf
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled (cut an x in the skin and blanch in boiling water to peel)
1¾ C chicken stock
big bunch chopped fresh basil
½ C heavy cream

Heat olive oil in heavy pot over medium heat.  Add chopped vegetables and saute until they soften.  Throw in thyme, garlic, bay leaf, tomatoes, and stock;  simmer until tomatoes fall apart.  Add chopped basil.  Working in batches, puree soup in blender.  Mix in cream and season with salt and pepper.  Warm in cleaned pot and serve hot, sprinkled with more chopped basil and tomatoes.

Cucumber and Avocado Soup
1 large hothouse cucumber, peeled and diced
2½C buttermilk
1 avocado, pitted peeled
4 T chopped red onion
2 T chopped fresh basil
½ C seeded chopped tomato
2 t fresh lime juice
4 T plain nonfat yogurt

Combine cucumber and buttermilk in blender. Chop 1/4 of avocado; set aside for topping. Cut remaining avocado into chunks. Add avocado to blender; then add 2 tablespoons red onion and 1 tablespoon basil. Blend until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover; refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Mix remaining 1/4 avocado with remaining onion and basil, tomato, and lime juice in bowl. Serve soup cold, topped with a tablespoon of yogurt and a spoonful of the tomato-avocado topping

Corn Bisque
4 T butter
2 C chopped red or sweet yellow onions
1 large carrot, diced
1 large stalk celery, diced
kernels stripped from 7 or 8 ears of corn (about 7 cups)
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
dash of cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1 C half-and-half
1 red bell pepper, chopped

Melt 3 T butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrot and celery and sauté until the onions begin to become translucent. Add 5 cups of corn, the rosemary and cayenne, and sauté until fragrant. Add stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender and liquid is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, melt remaining 1 T butter in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and sauté until almost tender.

Purée soup in blender. Return soup to pot. Mix in half and half, remaining corn, and the sauteed pepper. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

huey01

Into every life, some horse-generated excitement should fall…like hailstones.

Jet Lag, Belongingness, and the Bad Idea Bears

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Last night, Roy and I were forced to dine out.  The fridge had been emptied of anything truly perishable in preparation for a week or so away, which meant that the only things in the house to eat were 1) an ancient frozen pizza, aka, the Iron Rations; 2) fifty different kinds of condiments; and 3) a six pack of beer.  The Iron Rations require a higher degree of desperation than we could summon.  Also, we have an amazing corner Italian joint, and Thursday is Lasagna Night.  By the time we started for dinner, we’d had a combined seven hours of sleep between the two of us in the last 36 hours, not between the two of us.  Most of that accrued to Roy, who can sleep on planes, and not to me, because I can’t.  Taking a red-eye flight is a terrible thing for someone who can’t sleep on a plane.  So, in the last thirty-six (36) hours, Roy had 5 hours of sleep, all on planes, and I’d had 2, in a nap that I forced myself to get up from mid-afternoon. In the words of Charles Dickins, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Between unpacking from the trip and going to dinner, I slid in a brief visit to The Wonder Horse.  I hadn’t seen him for nine days, I cheated on him by taking a trail ride in California, and I was missing him lots.

Here is the conversation I wanted to have with him:

Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: I missed you too!
<various other Heartfelt Statements of Deep and Powerful emotional bonding>

Here is the conversation we actually had:

Me: Huey! I missed you!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: Let me give you a horse kiss!
Huey: Where’s my treat?
Me: I want to rub your muzzle and have a fond exchange!
Huey: I want you to give me a treat.
<sigh>

So there we are, Roy and I, in the corner Italian joint getting ready for a Carb Fest, and who should show up but the Bad Idea Bears.

I know that it looks from that clip like the Bad Idea Bears are fictional entities, but I promise you, they are real.  They show up at my house all the time.  I used to think that the Bad Idea Bears only showed up for kids, and that as I gained Life Experience, they’d show up less frequently.  They might, but in general, all that has happened from all that Life Experience is that they show up with a different kind of Bad Ideas.  Used to be they’d show up with Bad Ideas like “Hey! You can ride your bike with no hands! Awesome!!  I bet you could ride your bike with your feet up on the handlebars to steer it!”  Later, they”d show up with Bad Ideas like “We’re having so much fun!  You should have another shot of tequila!”  Now they show up with Bad Ideas like “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip!  Let’s have a really deep meaningful conversation about important topics! Right now!”

That’s the one they showed up with last night.  Thank heavens, Roy and I are still crazy about each other even after more than ten years together, because if we were even a little bit marginal, the Bad Idea Bears would have said “Everyone is so exhausted from the trip!  Now would be a perfect time to talk about the relationship!” and then there would have been tears and a divorce. That’s not the case, though, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

So instead, we had a deep meaningful conversation that started like this.

Me: I have to talk to you about something important.
Roy (assembling a slightly wary look): What?
Me: The kids don’t love me.  Huey only wants to interact with me because I might give him a treat, and Buster Kitty is acting out with hostility because we’ve been gone.  He’s been attacking my feet with his claws out.
Roy: The kids do, too, love you.
Me: No, they don’t.  I love them, but they don’t love me back.

Roy had the same air that a person who has just dropped their car keys into a leech-invested murky pond at midnight gets when they start wading in to find the keys.  He wasn’t sure why I was telling him these things, because he’d only had five (5) hours of sleep in the last thirty-six (36). I told him it was because of all his Life Experience as a Parent. I felt certain that this suspicion that one’s children see one only as a vending machine of material goods is one that many parents must have encountered, and wanted some advice on navigating it.

This, fortunately, satisfied the Bad Idea Bears, who took their reign of error elsewhere.  But as long as we in deep, meaningful conversation mode, I couldn’t just leave the parenting issue there and move on to something more appropriate, like a discussion of Derek Jeter’s latest injury and the state of the Yankee’s shortstop position.  So I moved on to a topic that had actually been on my mind for a while.  The topic of “belonging” and belonging-ness.

This was all driven by the recent trip to Northern California, or as William Gibson called it, NoCal.  On paper, NoCal should fit me like a glove.  I love the climate, which offers cool summers and easy access to very skiable terrain in the winter.  It has lots of scenic, navigable riverways, perfect for kayaking.  It has beautiful hiking.  It has what I’d argue is the best dining in the nation, based on the intelligent use of superb ingredients given minimal processing.  It has loads of small, quaint, artsy villages that are perfect for exploring.  It has a progressive, educated populace.  It has all of those fabulous wineries and more than a few fantastic microbreweries.  It has scenic roads and while they aren’t safe for bicycling, being narrow, winding, and hilly, it has loads of cyclists anyway, so people drive carefully.  It has mountains and sea, both of which I love.  It has fantastic wildlife.   On paper, I should be completely and impossibly smitten with NoCal.

The reality is, though, that I enjoy the area and its amenities, it doesn’t quite fit me for some reason.  I don’t belong there.  I’m not sure why not.  I belong in Texas, although with the current state of affairs there, that belongingness feels like wearing a pair of old, battered, comfortable hiking boots but having sand in the socks.  It makes sense that I belong in Texas, because that’s pretty much where I’m from.  I also kind of belong in the South, but not as much as I belong in Texas.

Oddly, I also seem to belong in Maine.  The way Maine fits me is like the way a pair of favorite loafers fits a person…the kind of loafer that slides on and off your foot like it’s been greased, the kind of loafer where the leather is blown out a little to accommodate a bunion, the kind of loafer where the sole is worn enough to roll right along with a pronating foot but the tread is still in great condition.  I belong in Maine the way my foot belongs in my ten-year-old Sperry Top-Siders.  I don’t understand this at all. Maine is – literally – as far from Texas as you can get and still be in the continental US.  The landscape couldn’t be more different.  The people are not what I’m used to from home.  On paper, it should be an uncomfortable and unfamiliar milieu, yet nothing could be further from the truth.  I recognized it the first time I set foot in the region:  Maine, particularly the ocean-y bits, is some sort of Spiritual Home to me.

And yet, California was not.  The people were absolutely lovely, everything was fantastic, I had a blast…but it felt like sliding my feet into someone else’s ten-year-old Sperry Topsiders.  Right size, but blown out and worn in all the wrong spots for my foot.

So Roy and I had an utterly sleep-deprived, exhausted, jet-lagged deep and meaningful conversation about all of this, which (predictably) came to absolutely nothing.  I don’t know any more about belongingness, what drives it, why I feel that I belong some places and not others, what it is that makes me feel immediately at home in an environment versus making me feel welcome, but not at home.  I still don’t understand, and wonder if I ever will.

And Huey?  Probably he loves me for something other than just the possibility of a treat.  Probably this will all be clear once the haze from the jet lag blows away.  Probably.

What a Long, Strange Trip (episode 36)

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It’s been a while since I was party to a major travel cluster **** (TCF).   For most of my life, I can safely say that the ratio of TCF to Uneventful Trips has been in the ballpark of 65:35.  Maybe even 70:30.  Since I had a commuting relationship with Roy for six years, and that commute involved Chicago’s O’Hare, and frequently Boston’s Logan airports, this ratio should be considered to arise from a Large Sample Size, in statistical terms.  Hundreds of observations.   And we’re talking a properly wide spectrum of TCF events, too – everything from the simple yet bizarre delay (the pilot’s seat needs to be replaced before the plane can take off) to the near-death-experience (3 flights en route that were very close to crashing, and saved at the last minute by heroics of a moderate quality).

My friends who have known me for decades just assumed that I was on US Air Flight 1549, the one that Sully Sullenberger had to land on the Hudson River.  I wasn’t, but I regard this assumption as being perfectly reasonable, given everything else.

My friends who have known me for decades also generally refuse to travel with me, especially if the journey involves a flight.   They’ll meet me places, they’ll go places in the car, but they won’t fly with me.  I tell them not to be silly.  Anyone who’s been as close to crashing three times as I have, and has not crashed isn’t a Jinx.  I’m Lucky.  I might as well be a big human rabbit’s foot.  Or the thing labeled “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass And Use”.  Now, I will agree that all the TCF short of near-crashes is just a walloping cart load of Jinx.  I’m on board with that.

Fortunately, Roy has the Good Travel Luck Fairy.  When Roy has a tight connection, he’s always seated near the front of the plane, or his plane just happened to land at the gate next to the connecting flight, or the connecting flight has a short delay.  When his flights get canceled, he’s rebooked, or put up at nice hotels and given some kind of generous allowance for dinner and hassle.  He has the most amazing Good Travel Luck of anyone I’ve ever met.

We both wondered, when we started traveling together, whether the irresistible force of his Good Travel Luck or the immovable object of my Travel Jinx would prevail.  So far, we can chalk the lead up to the irresistible force.

Then we get situations like today.

We’ve been out in the California wine country for a week now.  Roy hasn’t been home for almost three: he was in Australia before I flew out to meet him in California.  He was at a conference.  Sydney, where he was, is having Winter now.  When I flew out to California, there was a wretched heat wave in progress (not just “hot” according to Northern California standards, but “hot” according to Florida standards.  The heat wave was projected to break shortly after I arrived (and did, I’m happy to say).

What this means, briefly, is that we have a tremendous amount of luggage.  Roy, because he had to pack for a Winter Business Trip to Australia and a Summer Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour in California, and he had to plan to be gone for the better part of three weeks.  I, because I had to pack for a Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour in smoldering near-hundred-degree temps and a Hiking/Seaside/Winery Tour at 55 degrees and fog.  No matter how clever you are about using versatile clothes (and we are) and how clever you are about planning for layering (and we are), this is basically four different extended trips we’re having to pack for between the two of us.  It’s a hell of a lot of luggage.

And then, there’s the shipping case of wine we bought.  It’s only got, I think, nine bottles in it, but it was built to handle 12.  You can’t go touring a load of wineries without buying some wine, for pete’s sake.

I hear you saying “Why in the name of all that is holy didn’t you just have the vineyard ship that stuff back to you?  They do that all the time.”

And what I say to that is “Not to the Commonwealth, they don’t.”

Massachusetts has an assortment of bizarre protectionist laws that have more than a whiff of Organized Crime to them, as far as I can tell.  Someone here said “It’s the lobbysists.”  I said “Speaking of ‘Massachusetts lobbyists’, have you been keeping up on the Whitey Bulger trial?”

The rule, as far as I can tell, is that if a wine has a distributor anywhere in Massachusetts, the winery is prohibited from shipping directly to persons living in the state.  That goes for wine club members (usually, when the tasting room people start chatting about the wine club, all we have to do to get them to stop is to tell them we live in MA) and it goes for shipping wines back to save people the hassle of having to check it as baggage.

There are a lot of things I like about living where I do, but crap like this is not on the list.

So here we are, getting into San Francisco late last night, with a rental car to return a zillion miles away from the airport (there’s a little airport train), three large valises, a shipping case of wine, and three carry-on bags.

Plan A:  Roy will drop me, one valise, the shipping case, and one carry-on off at the departures desk, I will check the bags, go through security, and await his arrival at the airline club.  (Yes, I know…First World Troubles…but when you do as much traveling under duress as we do, it makes sense.)  He will pilot the car back to the rental center, and bring the other two valises and two carry-ons to the airport, check in, meet me at the club. We will then board our flight at 11am and sail home on a pair of Frequent Flyer first-class tickets, arrive at 10:30pm, take the shuttle out to the suburbs, and pick up our car from the park-and-ride, and arrive home around 2am.

Everything was in line…FROM OUR END.

The airline? Not so much.

I was awakened by a call on my cell phone – which was on purely to provide a 7:30am wake-up call – from the airline telling us that the pilot left the plane in San Jose.

They wanted us to go down there and get it.

Really.  I don’t think it counts as losing the plane if they actually know where it is.  I’m guessing this counts more as misplacing the plane.   Some story about weather, and landing the plane in San Jose late-ish last night, and that’s still where it is.

Now, the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts that crossed my mind – and I’m afraid I’m well into the 2,567, 2,568 and 2,569 thoughts, and they’re still the same thought – is “If your guy left the plane in San Jose late last night, and you knew this then, why doesn’t someone fly it to San Francisco where it needs to be?  It’s not like we’re talking a situation where the pilot landed the flight at 2am, three hours late, and the craft needed to be used for another flight at 6:ooam.  Because I’ve been involved in that situation before too.  No.  This is a flight landing, evidently on time, in a town 40 miles away, in the evening, and the plane needs to be available for a flight that is supposed to take off close to noon the next day.

Bring the plane back to San Francisco this morning.

This, to me, does not seem to be rocket science.  I’m sure it’s slightly complicated, and I presume there are ripple effects in the scheduling of flights in and out of SFO due to the crash the other day.  But I’m still pretty sure that the Right Answer does not involve calling every single person who is booked for a transcontinental flight at 7am and telling them they need to magically get themselves down to another airport that is 40 miles away, through stupendous amounts of traffic, in the next two or three hours.

What the hell?

The military has all manner of Colorful Acronyms for this kind of thing, all of them unprintable, and all of them featuring – somewhere – the letter “F”.  SNAFU.  FUBAR. Charlie Foxtrot.  Or, as I’ve used here in the past, ****.

I listened to how we MIGHT be able to score a pair of coach tickets on a flight to LAX leaving in 45 minutes, and make it to Boston at midnight.  At this point, I simply said “Roy, deal with this please.” and handed her off.

Roy had been listening to this Charlie Foxtrot unfold while brushing his teeth.  So he was primed with the essential information.  Despite this, he obliged the customer service rep to go back through the entire scenario for him at that point.  This is part of his Magic.  My friends have turned his name into a verb by attaching -ed to it when discussing how Events Unfold once he gets involved in them.  Roy has several exciting areas of expertise, but Negotiations With Someone Who Appears To Be Attempting A Fast One have got to represent the pinnacle of his brilliance.  

The first thing he engineered was an expense-paid taxi from the airport down to San Jose.  He then considered the traffic and the vast amount of baggage, and decided that we’d never get there in time.  Move on to the next point.  Listening to him work was a sheer pleasure, especially since I knew that we’d eventually come out of this with as little inconvenience humanly possible. He did it, too. Unfortunately, it means taking a Red Eye, which I hate because I can’t sleep on planes, but we can check our bags early, and we’ll get there at a reasonable hour to catch the shuttle and get home in the daylight.  The good news is that we can now play Tourist in San Francisco for the day, and we’re going to take a boat cruise, which I love doing and wished we’d had time to do earlier.

Now to call the house sitter, and to attempt to pack all our stuff down so we only have one carry-on to haul around town today.  This will be the Packing Job of a Lifetime.  Good thing I have advanced degrees in Spatial Sense and Logistics.

I Didn’t Expect The Flowers

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We took our leave of the Wine Country of Sonoma and headed westward, to where the sun sets.  In this case, it sets over the Point Reyes National Seashore, a stunning landscape of rolling headlands on the ocean.  Before we arrived there, however, we made a brief stopover at Bodega Bay.

The name of this place cracks me up.  I’m not sure why it’s “Bodega” Bay, but a “bodega” where I come from is a kind of a shop, somewhere between a fruit stand, a convenience store, and a packy.  The Bay has nothing in common with this.  It is, instead, a strung-out series of fish shacks, touristy beach shops, a handful of gallery-type outfits, and a seemingly endless stream of marinas.  These aren’t your marinas of New England.  New England marinas are generously stocked with pleasure craft of every conceivable size and style, all of them outrageously expensive.  The place where your non-pleasure watercraft go is a pier.  Or a dock.  But not really a marina.

These marinas were generously stocked with Serious Fishing Boats.  More than I can describe, or count.  I’ve never seen that many hard-hitting fishing boats in one place.  These boats would give a black eye with a pair of knuckle dusters to the kind of boats I’m used to in Maine.  They’re the boats you want on your side in an ugly bar fight.  The kind of boats that knew where to buy bootleg likker during Prohibition. The kind of boats that have mug shots in the family photo album. And the roads were lined with the kind of trucks I’m used to seeing horse trailers hitched to, frequently with gooseneck attachments, only these were hauling empty boat trailers.  Because the boats, presumably, were…out to sea. Interspersed with the marinas were a variety of RV parks, occupied by the kind of RVs that are obviously owned by the kind of people who have hard-hitting fishing boats and use them for pleasure.

We drove past all this, deferentially and respectfully, and moved on away from the bay, across the headlands, to the open sea.  Thus, I got my first ever look at the Northern California Coastline.

Everyone knows this coastline.  You see it in every television ad for [name your luxury sportscar here].  It’s in films all over the place.  Huge, craggy, rock-strewn cliffs, with dramatic surf crashing and booming at the base.  Wind-lashed, warped, and twisted evergreens here and there.  Fog piling up in the distance.  The glaring light of an overcast afternoon, reflecting in the foam spewed up on to the rocks by the angry churning surf. It’s Deeply Atmospheric.

All of this I expected, having been exposed to television and having a penchant for luxury sportscars of any type.  Also, my late aunt, a flight attendant by trade, and artist by spiritual inclination, lived in this region for most of her life and spent many many many hours in her youth executing landscapes in oil, featuring these very cliffs.  I would swear I recognized one of the twisted little trees from the painting that hung over my grandparents’ television.

What I didn’t expect was the wildflowers.  The top of these cliffs is anything but barren.  They’re covered with a wild array of succulent and evergreen groundcovers, each of them sporting a riotous array of colored flowers.  A sea of some spiky and unfamiliar succulent gives rise to the wholly unexpected splash of a hot pink flower buried in among the fleshy stems.  This sea gives way to something that looks like dianthus, with low dark hummocks of feathery foliage waving in the incessant breeze, and a small light pink and purple ocean of sunny flowers floating just inches above.

Everywhere I looked it was flowers.  Flowers all the way down.

And they were flowers all the way down, too.  Once I was able to overcome my vertigo and persuade my shaky legs to carry me close enough to the edge to see the cliffs falling away in sheer faces of gnarled rock, I saw also that any spot that was a 50-degree angle or less sported a small bundle of bright decoration.  Yellow, orange, buff, pink flowers smiling brightly away in every crevasse, hump, bump, and miniscule ledge.  A laughing cascade of life and color pouring down the cliff faces, and welcoming the sea winds with bobbing faces.  Life, where it looks like life could not be.  I don’t know how those tiny little cracks managed to attract and keep enough dirt for even one little weed to germinate, let along to support entire hummocks of blooms.  Life, where it looks like life could not be.  Some odd and unexpected miracle to greet me.  I didn’t expect the flowers.

Meditations on the Tallest Things on Earth, and Drunken Boat Parades

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Today started off in the best possible way for any day, to wit, with a Bottomless Mimosa.  And Eggs Benedict, only made with slices of heirloom tomatoes instead of bacon or ham, which I can’t eat.  How can it possibly get better than this?

We discovered that the Secret Patio off our room – which is private enough that Roy thought no one else had one, because you really have to hike about to find anyone else’s – is surrounded by a small glade of California Redwoods.  Naturally, I shared my feelings on this discovery on FB, posting “Damn. There’s a redwood forest right outside my window” (or something very similar).  I instantly garnered sympathy from my homies from Texas, for whom “forest” implies thorns, impenetrable thickets, venomous vermin, and other highly undesirable things.  I’m pretty sure that at least some of them were joking, as I was.  But it’s hard to say.  Texas “forests” are not for the Faint of Heart.

Right after breakfast – where we exercised a truly heroic self-discipline and limited ourselves to one mimosa each, despite (or possibly due to) the fact that these were not your typical vile Brunch Mimosas, where – like a superior martini – the drink consists of a glass of orange juice (vodka) that is only briefly kissed by sparkling wine (vermouth).  No, these were maybe half and half.  Noticeable amount of sparkling wine, not a token splash.  The eggs were, well.  I can’t usually have Eggs Benedict due to a decades long disagreement with the preservatives in meat, which make me puke.  So this was in the way of a Special Treat.  All I can say on that front is that if anyone ever offers you a breakfast made in a restaurant that has a Michelin star, TAKE IT.

So after breakfast we hared off to some piece of quasi-public land that involved 1) redwoods, and lots of them, and 2) hiking trails.  A fortunate confluence of circumstances had us doing the uphill part of the hike on the bit of trail that had loads of switchbacks, which made climbing 500 feet or so relatively painless, and the wicked bit of trail that dropped 400 feet in the space of a half mile, on the back end, the downhill side.  I’m sure my quads and shins will be feeling that descent tomorrow, but not nearly as much as they would if I’d climbed that bit instead of the Kinder Gentler Approach.

There are several things that bear saying about these redwood forests in California.  One, they are TALL.  Really, they are unimaginably tall.  We hiked in the Muir Woods several years ago, and my primary memory of that experience is one of Tallness.  And Size.  And Age.  Today?  Yep, that’s right.  Tallness, Size, and Age.  The tallest tree in the woods we were hiking was 310 feet.  That sounds very impressive.  Even more impressive when you think that it’s taller than a football field is long.  But, in my experience, none of that really…conveys…the experience properly.  No.  I’ve tried to convey it in images.  Today, I made Roy go stand next to one and used my camera to shoot a short video of scanning it up and down.  I haven’t had a chance to look at that video yet, so I don’t know whether it will work.  All I can say is this: when you are standing at the base of a 310 foot tall tree, you can’t actually see the top of it.  Not even if you try.  Not even if you try really hard. Not even if you go stand as far away as you can without bumping into another tree.  The other thing I can say is this:  when you are standing on the ground and surrounded by a bunch of 250 or 300 foot tall trees, and you look up to try to see the tops of them, you know what happens while you are not seeing the tops?

You get dizzy.

Doing this makes you dizzy enough that you think you might actually fall over.   You learn not to do this unless you are one of the flat, wide, handicapped-accessible tourist trails.  Because doing it on the hiking trail, that looks like it was carved out of the kind of slope we’re all familiar with from Earthquake Disaster Films by a small herd of mountain goats?  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  I’m used to this, because I have Acrophobia.  I get vertigo if I go up a two-level stepstool and look at the ceiling.  So I knew better.  Roy, on the other hand, has an Iron Constitution, for heights at least, and tried looking directly up when we were peeled to the side of a cliff, a very Catastrophic Mudslide Waiting To Happen.  “Ooops!” he said. “I better not do that again.”

That’s what it’s like, looking at redwoods.

Hiking in redwoods is even better, because in Sonoma, as far as I can tell, all the bugs are warehoused in the vineyards, waiting to provide a nutritious diet for special birds whose poop will be used to fertilize the grapes.  This means they aren’t available to pester hikers.  Not even when it’s warm.

In Texas, going for a hike in the woods is something you don’t do without a hat (to protect against the blistering sun and the giant blood-sucking ticks), heavy leather boots and heavy pants (to protect against the venomous snakes, and the plants with 5 inch long thorns that will punch right through the sole of a sneaker or hiking shoe), a couple quarts of gatorade (to deal with the inevitable heat exhaustion), and that’s only if you’re not allergic to stuff like the fire ants or hornets.  In that case, you have to take along your health insurance cards, credit card (for the emergency room) and the epinephrine injector.

I am not making this up.

All the time Texans are getting our chops busted for telling Tall Tales, when in fact, we’re just reporting the simple facts on the ground, just where they lie.  When you live a place like Texas, embellishment is both superfluous and undesirable.  It’s “incredible” enough as it is, without embroidering on things.  No.  That, up there, is just what it looks like if you enjoy hiking in Texas.

Hiking in New England is better…mostly.  You need a scarf or hat (to protect against the Lyme-Disease bearing ticks), and hiking boots (to deal with the large and unpredictable rocks, and the frequent wetlands), and then the usual stuff if you’re allergic to hornets.  If you want to go for a long hike, multiple days, you also need gear to deal with spontaneous major weather shifts, like where it’s 90 and blazing sun one day, and 55 and rainy the next.

You also need Insect Control.  Roy does not have this problem.  He does not smell Pretty to bugs.  They do not bother him in the least.

I, on the other hand, and despite desperate attempts involving the consumption of large amounts of garlic and other odoriferous substances, AND the application of poisons like DEET, am comprehensively irresistible to insects.  I can’t go anywhere in New England at this time of year without having a cloud of them orbiting my head.  It’s really to the point where I carry a ginormous woven palm fan from Africa – by way of the Smithsonian Museum Store – in the car all the time.  We go out to hike, I wrap my head in a cloth to keep the ticks out of my hair, I load up the water, the hiking boots, the epinephrine pen, and I bring the fan.  And the entire time we hike, I’m there waving, waving, waving.  I swear.  We must look like some absurd procession from the British Raj, with the Swarthy Roy leading the way and bearing all the parcels, while the White Memsahib strolls by at a leisurely pace, waving a Native Fan constantly to avoid an Accumulation of Vapors.  In reality, of course, the Swarthy Roy is carrying all this stuff because I have health problems that limit my ability to engage in exertion, I’m all White because of the freckled redhead gene, and the fan is to keep the insects from clustering so firmly about my head that I’m unable to see.

I have a lot of sympathy for The Wonder Horse, who shares my exact feeling on the subject of Bugs.  And for the same reason.  Poor boy, this time of year, even with all the bug spray in the world, I bring him in from the paddock and he’s covered with a polka-dot of welts from all the bites.  He wears a fly mask any time he’s out of the barn, and has a special fly mask for riding.  And so do I.  I bought it in Maine, where they Understand About Insects.

I am happy to report that in Sonoma, the bugs are so participating in the Circle of Life that they are unavailable for pestering innocent hikers in the redwood forest.  I did not, in two and a half hours of hiking, receive one single insect bite.  Nor did I have to wave my arm about in the air even once to drive the cloud of bugs away.  Delicious.

We adjourned from the redwood forest to the regional brewpub, a place that supplies my local pub with several excellent beers on tap.  Having them right there in their birthplace was an experience to treasure.  The traveling time and distance really do make a difference.

Then there were the obligatory tastings, including one at this ancient hop kiln.  The winery is Hop Kiln, presumably named after the building, which is interesting enough that we nearly got in a wreck while rubbernecking the place during a mysterious Sonoma Bike Race.

Our original plan was to attend some nearby Belated Fourth of July Festivities.  A town, not very far away, hosts a Water Carnival of…substantial lineage.  I believe the first such event was over 100 years ago.  In present day, as far as I am able to gather from conversations with the locals and the best of google searchers, the festivities include a massive beach party on the river, with a band, a barbecue, and (presumably, because I know how this would go in Texas) plenty of alcohol.  That goes on all afternoon, and in the evening, the local volunteer fire department runs a bunch of major-league hose out across the bridge over the river and turns the water on, creating a huge sheet of water between the bridge and the surface of the river.  Patriotic Vignettes are projected onto this screen of water.  At some point – and it’s hard to tell whether the Curtain of Patriotic Water comes first, or whether this is going on while the patriotic vignettes are underway, there is a Boat Parade.  Involving “floats” that are constructed with varying degrees of forethought…and since the deadline for entry is four hours before the Parade begins, one cannot assume an excessive degree of forethought.  The directions for prospective entrants inform them that each entry “will have four minutes.  Provide a CD or we will pick music for you.”  I am not totally clear on “four minutes” for what.  The information that the entrants must provide music sheds some light on the question, but only some, and – really – only sheds enough light to speculate on the consequences of failing to provide the CD and having someone else choose the music.

As a Texan, it is not difficult for me to imagine what is involved here. Crowds, booze, probably a few fights, a handful of Serious Entrants, the number of which are absolutely dwarfed by Ad-Hoc Entrants with a Low Sense of Humor.  Ex ante – before the fact – I would expect that this Parade would involve a certain number of Entrants falling off the “float” into the river, and more than one Entrant actually setting fire to the float in the middle of some unspecified, poorly conceived performance, thus causing everyone else on board to leap off the float into the river.

I would be lying if I said this had no Appeal to me.

In fact, I find the prospect tremendously appealing.  Unfortunately, it all kicks off after 9pm, and I am totally confident that the traffic will be beyond believable, and that if we wanted to park anywhere near the festivities, we needed to get the car into position by 11am.  All of this, and I mean all of it – including the flame, waterlogging, traffic, parking, etc. – has been unintentionally verified by our innkeeper.  Therefore, I think we will pursue the Texan Approach of “let’s not, and say we did”.  Unfortunately, I will not have photographs of the event.  I suspect, though, that I will be able to find some appropriate material on YouTube.

Oh, look what google turned up immediately.  A video of some entrant setting their boat on fire last year.  How on earth did I ever guess..