Category Archives: Dining

Communing With The Crustaceans

Standard

Our is largely a Jewish household.  Judaism, thankfully, is a somewhat flexible proposition, unless you’re a Fundamentalist (or, as we call them, Orthodox).  The rules laid down in the Torah, the base text for the Christian Bible’s “old testament” have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the last three thousand years or so, to the point where many of them are nearly unrecognizable, and others are simply ignored.  Kashrut, the rules for What May Be Eaten, have morphed over the millenia to the point where we now have Kosher For Passover Face Cream.

Roy, having been raised in an Orthodox household (although we are both officially Reconstructionist), is a bit more a stickler on these matters than I am.  As a result, I do not cook dishes that combine the muscle protein of mammals with the dairy products of those mammals (originally: thou shalt not cook a kid in its mothers’ milk).  It is kind of barbaric, if you think about it, to deck out the animal protein from a species with the fluid of life from that same species.  I can get behind this.  Mostly, and certainly with respect to what I cook in the house.  Also, I respect Roy’s choices by refusing to cook treif (Forbidden Foods) in the house, when he’s around and in the position of potentially consuming them.  I don’t cook pigs or shellfish of any kind in the house, when Roy is about.  What I do on my Private Time is my Private Business, but I’m certainly not going to violate his Spiritual Beliefs by confronting him with objectionable items.

That said, my firm and private feeling is that this world is full of tzuris (great grief, and grief-inducing events such as the recent explosions in China, and certain…elements…of the US political scene).  I do not, actually, believe in a Score-Keeping God, and I sure as hell don’t believe that – if we were brought here by some Creator – that Creator started off with a list of Things Off-Limits.  I respect the journeys of those who choose to grow spiritually through restriction.  I, however, am not one of them.

My feelings on the subject are that all of these exotic rules are intended, primarily, to foster spiritual awareness of even the mundane act of dining. And I thoroughly respect that.  The meat brought into our house comes from animals that were raised with kindness and respect, and slaughtered with compassionate focus on minimizing terror and discomfort.  I don’t actually care whether a rabbi was around to wave hands and deliver some kind of benediction.  If a critter met its end, wild with fear and having spent a miserable few weeks or months, it ain’t Kosher in this house.  Chickens eaten in this house dined on bugs, settled conflicts with other chickens using its god-given beak, and got to squabble like chickens do, when they’re left to their own devices.  And so forth.  Be Kind, is the first of the law in my personal books. Be Respectful Of Life, that’s right up there too.

So, given that I clearly play Fast And Loose with the incredible scaffolding of rules, regulations, and other complicated psychological issues erected around the Act of Eating by Jewish Law, we come to one of my many possibly heretical convictions:  Oysters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  Lobsters are Kosher in Maine.  Some oysters are also Kosher in Maine, and some Lobsters are Kosher in Wellfleet.  I am Eve eating the apple, and doing it several times a summer.

But.

But.

But.  This does not imply that I scoff at what I believe to be the central philosophical point of this fantastically byzantine set of Eating Rules.  No.  I respect that even more highly, and insist on maintaining a Spiritual Awareness of the most mundane act of dining.  Especially as it regards animal life.  After all, some other creature died so that I might eat it.  That other creature’s life ended and mine goes on, in part, because the creature is no more.

I’m the sort that doesn’t even like to trample ants on the sidewalk, and feels bad about killing yellow jackets, and feels uneasy that these hornets die because they’re a threat to my existence, given my major allergies.  It’s not their fault that I’m allergic to them, after all.  They simply behave according to their nature, just as a horse does when things get a little too exciting in their blind spot and they kick.  It’s not a reason to die, but death still happens.  I don’t take life lightly.  Unless it’s a cockroach, especially a Giant F***ing Flying Roach like we have in Houston, or Fire Ants, all of which I feel completely comfortable, for some reason, wanting to eliminate from the Great Laboratory of Physical Existence.  I don’t fully understand this, but will no doubt spend the next decade contemplating.  Anyway, with the exception of the roaches and the fire ants, I don’t take life lightly. So I feel, strongly, that if something has given its life for me, even if it didn’t agree to this deal, even if it wasn’t asked – especially if it wasn’t asked – I have a powerful Moral Obligation to confront my role in that arrangement.

Which brings me to the topic of how lobsters are kosher in Maine.

A cow, it dies to provide sustenance to…a hundred people, maybe, after taking into consideration all the bits and pieces.  Maybe even more.  A chicken, it dies to provide sustenance to four, maybe six people, removed at some distance from the act of giving up its life.

A lobster, it dies to provide sustenance to one.  One person, not at all removed from the sacrifice, but sitting feet away from the process.  One.  One lobster, one person.

This creates some difficulty for me.  It is much easier to ask, or expect, that a creature will give up its life in exchange for the sustenance of a hundred than for the sustenance of one. I experience a moment of intense discomfort when inspecting a tank full of crustaceans, and having to select one of them to die for me.  Not for nameless others.  I am, even though I hand off the actual chore to a cook, that lobster’s executioner.  It is difficult.  I understand the Cycle of Life, I take my place in that knowingly, and thoughtfully, but the fact remains: I am at the top of the food chain, and other creatures lose their lives for my dinner.  It’s just not as…direct…with anything else as it is with a lobster.

My approach to dealing with this discomfort is to recognize the sacrifice that another creature made, involuntarily, at my behest, and to honor that creature’s spirit as completely as possible.  I am told that – as a result – the experience of watching me eat a lobster strikes awe into the hearts of all who witness it. Other diners, my companions, the wait staff at the restaurant, you name it.

I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to let even a tiny fragment of it go to waste.  I honor that lobster’s spirit by refusing to engage in any distracting activity while I am communing with it in the act of dining.  For me, this is a Spiritual Act.

For everyone else, it is a breathtaking exhibition in focus, ferocity, and determination, apparently.  I scorn those individuals who eat only the easy-to-access meat in the tail and the big claws.  I scientifically dismantle my lobsters, consuming every scrap of meat in the walking claws, the carapace, the fins on the tail, the small segments of the claws, and yes – the tail and the claws too.  When I have finished with a lobster, there is nothing left but the shell.  And the tomalley, because I’m concerned about the concentration of toxins from the crap that people will insist on dumping into the ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing.

And woe betide any who expect conversation, attention, or any other distraction from my experience of communing with the spirit of the recently-departed lobster.  The chit-chat, the request for another beer or a refill on the water, the ordering of dessert, the demand for the check, all of this can wait for another time.  I reckon any critter that gave its life for me deserves my full, complete, and wholly-undivided attention while I’m assimilating its physical existence.   I don’t care how many people are struck dumb in wonder at this spectacle.  The lobster, honestly, is the only other being in my universe at these moments.

Ode To A Sugar Shack

Standard

‘Tis the finest time of spring, when all wend their ways into the hinterlands to observe the annual Boiling of the Sap, the Making of the Maple Syrup, and the Dining At The Farm.  One of the finest traditions of Western Massachusetts is the Sugar House, or the Sugar Shack: a place where you can experience the turning of the year.  There truly is nothing like wandering into the sugar house while the boiling is underway.  You drive miles on country roads, pitted by the winter’s plowing, with the rotting snowbanks, dingy and grey, lining the path.  The trees are naked, and the landscape is utterly devoid of even the hint of color.  There are no signs of spring…

…not until you round a bend, and spy a rustic wooden hut, with a small cupola jetting powerful clouds of fragrant steam.  You can’t smell it, not yet, but you know.  If you’re in Western Massachusetts, where we have a regional speciality in this sort of thing, you may find a large parking lot next to the hut, loaded to the brim with expensive sport utility vehicles, luxury sedans, hybrid hatchbacks, and snowmobiles – and in the right place – a hitching rail with saddled and blanketed horses attached.  These happy travelers are here not just for the joy of socializing with the sugar-maker, but for a fresh breakfast, farm-style, with eggs and sausage, and bacon, and waffles, and pancakes, and – if you are in the very right place – corn fritters.  All served with the freshest possible maple syrup, almost straight from the evaporator to your table.

There’s nothing like a cup of coffee, no matter how pedestrian the bean or the roast, that is served piping hot, with a drizzle of warm maple syrup to sweeten it up.  Even those who do not take their coffee “sweet” may find themselves adopting a new attitude when it’s a dollop of freshly-boiled maple syrup added to the cup.  There’s also nothing like a hot corn fritter, served with a small pool of the syrup on the side.

Last year, our favorite sugar house, South Face Farm, announced that it was their last year of operations for the breakfast business.  Roy and I felt as though a small light had gone right out of our lives.  The building, the staff, the coffee, the drive from our hometown, but especially, the corn fritters.  This place was one of those things that makes Mud Season in New England worth living through.  Imagine our joy when the local community rallied behind the operation, and opened the restaurant once again for the current season.  Unbounded, that’s what it was.  Ecstatic.  I ate four (4) corn fritters all by myself, just in a pure spirit of celebration.  It was a moment to inspire one to Poetry.  And thus, I offer you this:

An Ode To A Sugar House.

We ariseth from the winter’s shrinking grip
As growing daylight warms the air from chilling night
And snow-cover’d passages thaw, freeze, and slip
While suns’ rays set the heavenly dome alight.
Now in the growing days of spring
Does sap burst up in every maple’s core
While farmer tramps through softening snow
The brimming bucket full of sap to bring
Nectar, prime for boiling o’er a flaming pyre for
To shrink that juice into a tender sweetening flow.

And in that time of sweetly springing
Do folk long for pilgrimages rural
As birds anew are gently singing
Upon the gnarled maple burl.
And then, do farmers launch their toil
While waiting hand and foot at table
While pilgrims seek waffles, coffee, and cakes
The handy product of the farmers’ boil
All sweetened to the heights with essence maple
That with the work and boiling, farmer makes.

Adventures in Locavoring

Standard

Now, this is a somewhat…historical…account.  As in, it took place several years ago, and the names and places have almost certainly changed since then.  I don’t remember the original ones anyway, so if there are any Federal Agents monitoring my Internet traffic, don’t even bother, because I don’t know.

But I digress.

Back in the day, several years ago, Roy and I decided to take a short junket into the surrounding countryside and immerse ourselves in Pastoral Tranquility, with Lunch.  We headed out and eventually found ourselves in a town not too distant from our home base, a town with a reputation as a bit of an artists’ colony, and thus with the massive influx of New Yorkers that appears in any New England burg that gets a rep for being an Artists’ Colony, some possibilities for good dining.

Never let anyone say that New Yorkers aren’t good for anything people would want.  We all know they’re good for certain things, it’s just that many of those things are widely regarded (outside of New York) as Undesirable.  I’m here to tell you it isn’t always that way.  Where there be New Yorkers, there also be High End Coffee and Good Food.  I’m not sure whether this is fleas to dogs, or stink to – well, never mind.  The two come together.

So, since we knew that Village X had acquired a reputation for Artists we hoped that the influx of New Yorkers, and thus, Good Food, had already occurred, and we stopped there for lunch.

We found ourselves sitting outside on a wooden deck, overlooking a Scenic Waterway.  So far, so good.  I observed that the menu had four different microbrews on tap.  Another decent sign, although, really one wishes to see the number of local microbrews on tap in double-digit numbers, not just 4 of them.  But.  I noticed they had a Specialty Drink list.

I love Specialty Drinks.  I keep a huge liquor cabinet with eight different kinds of bitters on hand.  I have three cookbooks that consist entirely of cocktails, especially antique cocktails or those prominently featuring bitters.  It is the closest I come to being a Hipster.  I always ask, and check out, the Specialty Drinks for any bar or restaurant I encounter.

I am also a Brown Liquor Person.  In my world, people largely sort themselves out as either Clear Liquor People (those who like actual real martinis, and drinks made from vodka, gin, and tequila) and Brown Liquor people (those who prefer bourbons, whiskies, rye, and Scotch).  I am a Brown Liquor Person, and have a significant personal collection of single-malt Scotch, and keep three different kinds of rye on hand, and actually have all of the ingredients required to make a proper Sazerac (including the absinthe for rinsing the glass).

So when I saw that the Specialty Drink menu for this establishment featured something called a “Local Manhattan” my interest was powerfully piqued.  I love Manhattans.  I can do lectures on Manhattans.  Manhattans are properly made with rye, dammit, but in a desperate moment, Makers’ Mark or another decent bourbon is acceptable.  There is no substitute for the vermouth or the bitters.  They should have a cherry.  The cherry is the only non-alcoholic component of the drink.  They should be served in a martini glass. Drinking a Manhattan out of a highball glass makes you look like an alcoholic.  And so forth.

If some place has a Manhattan, or variant of Manhattan, on their Drink List, I will always order that.

So, hence, the Local Manhattan.  Featuring, as the menu said “local micro-distilled whisky”.

That’s funny, I thought.  I was unaware that this region had a Distilling Tradition.  But hey, we’ve got a malting floor so that the local beers can be truly “local”, we’ve got steadily increasing numbers of local microbrews, we have local cheeses, we have local maple syrup, we are basically a Locavore Paradise – as long as it’s summer – so why not a bunch of trust-fund hippies from Brooklyn setting up a “local micro-distillery”?

Why not?

I ordered it.  “Give me a Local Manhattan” I said to the waiter.

The waiter said “What?”

I said “A Local Manhattan.”

The waiter said “What’s that?”

I suggested that the waiter desist bothering me with these petty concerns, the thing is on the menu, and the proper response here is to take it up with the bartender. Blasted millennial snowflakes.

The waiter sloped off, and returned five minutes later with the waters we’d ordered.  They came in mason jars.  Mason jars, for the Uninitiated, are canning supplies.  When someone’s granny or mom is pickling things or making jams or “canning” what they’re doing is cooking things in a particular way, and pouring those things into sterilized mason jars, and sealing them up.  Mason jars are those glass jars with embossed things on the outside, and a lip that is threaded for a screw-on lid.  They have “Ball” spelled out on them in raised glass. I don’t know why they’re called “Mason jars” and not “Ball jars”.  It’s a Southern Thing.

This is a mason jar. It says “MASON” but it says “Ball” in bigger letters. It’s still a mason jar. Go figure.

So, anyway, our waters come out in a mason jar.  How very…rustic…I thought.  If I were dining at the sort of place that featured fried green tomatoes, or cornbread in any form, or catfish, or fried corn, I’d expect the mason jar.  I wasn’t expecting the mason jar at a gastropub in a New England Art Colony.

Still. I had hopes.

The drinks arrived.

Roy had a perfectly sensible local beer.

My “Local Manhattan” turned out to be 16 ounces of something clear in another mason jar.

I was…surprised.  Typically, Manhattans are made from Brown Liquor, not Clear Liquor.

As a long-time veteran of situations involving friends with pretensions to alcohol manufacture who stick cups of things in front of one and say, chirpily, “Try this!” I reflexively took a deep breath before sampling my Local Manhattan.

Taking a deep breath is vitally important when sampling Alcohol of an Unknown Provenance.  You never ever want to wind up taking a swallow of Foreign Liquor and then needing to breathe in immediately after.  That’s a good way to scorch your windpipe with Fumes.  No.  You always breathe in first, then swallow, and then breathe out, ensuring that any flammable fumes are directed into the external air supply rather than towards your lungs.

It’s a good thing I have these Instincts, too, because as soon as I took that slug of “Local Manhattan” from the mason jar, I knew immediately what the “local micro-distilled whisky” was.

It was moonshine.

White lightnin’.

Corn squeezin’s.

And there is no alcohol where it is more important to breathe out immediately after sampling than corn squeezins.  None.  You breathe in after slugging down white lightnin, you can send yourself to the hospital.  I’m pretty sure that moonshine is where I learned that rule.

Good thing, too.  I must have had a priceless expression on my face, too, because Roy stopped in the middle of a sentence and started saying “What? What? What is it? What?” over and over again.  I exhaled, and I was surprised not to be breathing flames across the table.

Local micro-distilled whisky.

I don’t reckon I’ve ever heard a description that was both so very accurate, and so very misleading, all in one short set of words.  And there was me, with a freaking pint of white lightnin’, the only beverage that this establishment was appropriately serving in a mason jar, sitting on the table in front of me. I related this priceless tale later to someone who – evidently not understanding the fundamental issue – wanted to know if I’d finished the whole glass.  What the hell do I look like, I said.  Uncle Jesse?  Daisy Duke?  Boss Hogg?  Who the hell drinks an entire pint of moonshine?  I certainly don’t know anyone who would.  No.  I drank as much as I could, for novelty’s sake, and then bailed out.

Years later, I am still baffled by questions.  How did the bartender get hold of enough moonshine to put it on the Specialty Drink list?  Where did it come from?  Who the hell, other than me, ordered this stuff?  And, of course, as an accounting professor, I have a persistent question in my mind about Excise Taxes…or, as I learned about it in my childhood, the Revenooers.  Inquiring minds want to know but, as the book says, one must get used to disappointment.

 

 

 

One Day, Two Posts, and a RED Letter

Standard

Because, you know, sometimes what you want to see is something really GREAT.

Back in the fall of 2011, not long after I started keeping my blog, I had the misfortune to be writing about the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irene, not – thankfully – as a direct participant, but as kind of a neighbor-down-the-street.

This is because one of the hardest-hit areas of Vermont was the ski town for my home mountain, a place where I spend an inordinate amount of time and have a fairly large collection of personal contacts. If not exactly “friends”, then very regular business partners with whom I am on a first-name basis.

One of the most tragic victims of this event – in many eyes – was Dot’s Diner, in Wilmington.  It’s the building in the lower right hand corner of this video.

Downtown Wilmington is built on the banks of the Deerfield River, typically a peaceful stream.  The storm rains sent a flash flood down the valley, and when it was over, people’s lives had been destroyed.  And Dot’s.  Home of the best onion rings, the best berry pancakes, and the best meatloaf on the planet.  And a cheerful spot populated with a rotating cast of characters directly out of a Normal Rockwell picture.

Dot’s was everyone’s home spot.  Everyone’s.  And when the storm was over, half of it was washed downstream into Massachusetts.

For years, you have been able to cast an utter Pall over any random group of skiers – normally a cheery optimistic bunch – simply by uttering the word “Dot’s”.  Vivacious groups will immediately fall into a silent dejection.  Any number, any group, we all of us mourn the passing of Dot’s.

Incredibly, the owners – and the community – vowed to Rebuild.

In. The. Same. Spot.

Now, some might say, with justification, that this is insane.  The restaurant washed away once, why build there?  As far as I can tell, the answer is that this is how it is.  Dot’s is on the river.  The building was the post office, possibly the original post office for the town.  Some of the building was left after the flood.  I think, to some degree, that building there, using what was left of the original structure, is a shout of defiance against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  It is an echo of the Eternal Yea.  Not so much triumph of man over nature, but triumph of the spirit of man over catastrophe.

And so, for the last year, the thought has been winkling its way into the common awareness that Dot’s Will Rise Again.  And for the last month or so, there have been candles lit, in the finest New England tradition, in every window of the building, blazing out against the early darkness of the onset of winter.

And yesterday, as Roy entertained his little shred of hope again, and said “Can we drive by Dot’s to see when it’s going to be open?” one more time, to which I agreed as I always do, because he’s not the only one with the little shred of hope, we saw it.  O-P-E-N.  We nearly had a wreck, right there in the falling flurry.  It’s open.  

Dot’s Diner, in Wilmington, is open.

And if Dot’s can be open, then, really, anything is possible.  Reindeer might fly, you know.

Today, I received a call from Roy, who was waiting in line to put the car into the municipal garage so that our driveway can get plowed tomorrow morning.

“You’re never going to believe this.” he said.  “Dot’s is on the front page of the National News section of the New York Times.”

And so it is.  Right here. 

I am telling you, reindeer can fly.

Jet Lag, Belongingness, and the Bad Idea Bears

Standard

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.