Monday, August 30, 2010

Youth


It just seemed like I turned 40, now 50 is here. What happened to the time? It's like those mornings when you wake to the first nip of Fall in the air. I love Fall, the air ripe and sharp with the smell of burnished sun on dying leaves, while the faint wisp of chimney smoke from that first fire is melancholy. I listen longingly for the sound of a train from beyond the cornfields, and look up for the comfort of a vapor trail in the cold sky, letting me know I'm not alone. Autumn is almost upon us, and with it the end of another year.

As I open the door to let Barkley out, the warm air rushes out, set loose in a sudden gush and I think about how quickly time gets away from us. Shadows stir, the season shifts and before you know it, another year is behind you. The summer is past, with days on the run, and still evenings aloft, and all too soon you're herded inside walls, the routine of chilled mornings and dark nights, cold absolution for the time you spent out in the sun in months past. The days themselves were unchanged, but what you were able to do in them was, with mornings and nights passing in the immaculate intervals of quick daylight and long nights in front of the fire wishing for the cold to pass and Spring to arrive. Yet, when Spring does start, you think again of how quickly another season flew away, and of the last months you ask yourself - did you really accomplish anything to warrant the passing of precious time?


I remember one cold night in front of the fire pondering over Joseph Conrad's story "Youth", an old man's story of his perilous experiences as a young seaman on a storm-wracked coal liner. Having always been a headstrong girl, taking on one dangerous job after another, I empathized with what he said. "I remember my youth and the feeling that I will never come back anymore, the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men".

How easy as a child, a teen, even into your 20's to think you are invincible. Certainly some of my adventures would indicate that I too subscribed to this vision. But with adulthood, not only comes responsibility, but loss. Suddenly, for myriads of reasons, aging, illness, war; the people around you, as reliable as the sunrise, leave. Someone I knew casually through work was ill, and terminally. All of us had been trying to visit and as I passed through the door after our last time together, she said. . "when will you be back?". I said, brightly, "soon" and the moment it was out I knew that I'd never see her again, and that we both knew it. We simply refused to give voice to it, as to do so, would be to admit our own mortality.


If I had the chance to be 20 again I wouldn't. Time and memory is what has made me who I am. Events in my life, even the ones I'd rather not repeat, all served to awaken within me a stranger who was strong enough to survive it, to grow, becoming someone forged new, honed sharper and stronger. I've moved past the deception of Conrad's youth, to a place where my soul is still, my heart is full and when I leap from a runway with the wind in my hair, I know I will not live forever on this earth and it doesn't bother me, it just makes me treasure what I have.

I got up early this morning and after opening up the curtains to the outside, I went in and looked in the mirror in the morning light - closely. Start with the body. OK, it's not 20 any more, there's those extra pounds that set up base camp somewhere low and safe and never hiked out, my knees can't climb K2, and there's quite a few small scars - that time I fell off a ladder refueling a tanker, the tiny hairline one where I fell off my bike on a hill, the almost invisible one on my knee where I had a mid air with a hurdle in high school track. Yet what is there serves me well, taking me where I want and need to go, seeking and finding my life.


Now I look at my face. Thanks to good Scot/Irish/Norwegian genes and sunscreen there's not much in the way of lines around the corners of my eyes, but those there when I smile simply map the laughter, including the best laughs, the one you share with those you hold dear. The few little wrinkles? Earned them. Every damn one of them. Finally I look at my eyes. Still green, edged with blue. The eyes can be serious. Like others who do what I do, I've seen a lot. Blood, senseless violence, and careless tragedy. I have learned the hard way that there is danger and dangerous souls in the world and I'm not one to shy away from it. My reaction to attack is to defend, not give in. It's not a cognitive thing, but a visceral reaction. Hit unawares, I have ducked, turned, and struck back, ending up tired, and emotionally bruised and wondering how I got there.


But I do it, for to me there is hope in it, there is order.


No it's not youth, but it's a vast intangible strength we call "soul" that's going to persevere for a long time to come. I wouldn't trade that; exchange the sense of who I have become, the self that is secure in its structure, the self that is loved, for any chance to be a firm, pert 20 year old again. So, content, I will start my day as a singing bird erupts into sweet song in my back yard. What I know now; now that I am considered "old" by my daughters generation, is not how to be dead, which I know too well how to do from all I have witnessed, but how to be alive. Living and breathing, growing and loving, as the trees in my garden and the liquid tranquility of a rushing river or a mere small red-winged songbird, who truly believes that in this moment, he's eternal, and for an instant, may very well be.

When I was a teen and looking at my parents I thought 50 was ancient, now I realize that to survive to middle age is to be slowly born.

I wouldn't trade this moment in time for anything.


- Love, Brigid

Thursday, August 26, 2010

While Mom is on the Road - A Post from Barkley

It's hard to get a good picture with that whole opposible thumb thing going on.

For my Mom - A Haiku


I am your best friend,
then, now and especially
during veal stew.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Science of Risk



Part of what I do is being able to work in the absence of absolute certainty. Perhaps it's easier to "think outside the box", when the there is nothing left of the box but trace bone and blood, shattered lives to be pieced together in late hours. It's why I've turned down promotions that would take me to headquarters or academia. I love the field work. Part of what fascinates me about it is the cross disciplinary commonalities in the field of studies, and always the application of science to the legal process. So I tend to look through the entire world through those eyes.

So it was when work took me to Hawaii for a few days. Brigid Jr, was adopted into a Hawaiian family so I feel closer to her when I'm there. As it was a business trip, I was only able to play tourist for a couple of hours, boarding a bus from hotel to the beach with some Japanese tourists.

I read somewhere that the Japanese view Westerners as stone, but regarded the Asian countenance as water, a generalization that does justice to neither. Liquid water carves the stones that guide the streams, and in glacial form carve deep valleys that lead to the sea. The pond sits calmly still as the stone and landslides crash like a waterfall.
What is the difference between ice and stone? They both sit solid and still, melt when intense heat is applied. Both are powerful, and both can be destroyed in a moment of careless nature. Time and tide waiting for no one.

Who and what we are is simply who and what we are. When I observed myself pushing my way through their group, I vowed not to be that rigid stereotype but to become more like water for this day. I would infuse my motions with the smooth physical flow of a stream. I would place myself in the current and simply float, drifting where the day took me. I couldn't wait to refresh my travel weary skin in the ocean while boogie boarding the waves I'd seen through the window on final approach. I could see the great ranks of inviting waves curling towards me and my pulse quickened.


As my bus companions headed for the shallows, I noticed a young man with binoculars staring out into the water, watching intently. He wasn't a tourist and was carefully studying the landscape, how the water lined up, the break of the waves. I shyly approached and said "Aloha kakahiaka aku, how is it today?" He replied "Stay where the water is smooth, if you get out much further than that (and pointed) the rip current will take you there, pointing to a little huddle of rocks that stood sentry at the distant edge of the tourist swimming area. He looked at me very carefully and said quietly,"If you make it past that", pointing to even bigger rocks way off in the distance. "you will be ". . . and he paused. "Pau?" I said, not sure if I got the word right, and we both nodded.

I wondered what would have happened if I'd ignored the warnings and just jumped in, swimming past all the caution signs into those friendly looking breakers that looked like a post card. And I began to think how easy it is to die. To just disappear, with little warning or fanfare, off the face of the planet. I had gone from the airport to asking directions to the bottom of the food chain in little more than hour.

Ignore the signs and there is a price.


There is a great book called "Deep Survival", that tells a story of a rock there, a popular photo site, where the waves crash against it majestically. Tourists stop, the breakers breaking behind them showering them with drops of the sea. A man will pause to adjust a setting on his digital camera, and look up to find his lover gone, never to be seen again.

As the book so well points out, one of those things that kills us is that we don't understand the forces of nature we engage. The environment my generation grew up to expect, is one of peace and sustenance. There are many people struggling, but unlike much of the rest of the world there is food in abundance, light and heat. A domestic den of civilization. Then we go into nature and the playing field is leveled and we are tested in ways that life or TV does not prepare us for.

Most of us sleep through the test and we come out of the experience never really knowing what we did or didn't do to survive, yet somehow believing that we are hardy, knowledgeable adventurers. As pilots say "been there - done that". It's smoke and mirrors.

I watch and I'm aware, reminded regularly that several somethings are out to eat your crop, eat your pets, or eat you, simply because they are hungry. There is not a "let's all just get along" in nature, a fact that is oft lost on the urban dweller.

Most people don't think about it until its too late, when they leave their predictable environment for something new, something that cares little for their outcome. Fate is long of fang and claw, cold teeth gnashing against the soft underbelly of life. Some people may think about it once in a great while, the responsibility for their own survival something that only occasionally haunts the edge of their subconscious, thinking "Oh I could do it if I had to, no big deal".

I felt that way when I first learned to fly, gaining the foolish confidence that culls the weak out early. Testing my craft, testing my limits.There is a psychological theory developed by Gerald J.S. Wile, a professor emeritus of psychology at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, known as "Risk Homeostasis". It grew out of traffic studies but always fascinated me. It's base premise is that an individual has an ingrained target level of acceptable risk which does not change. This level varies between individuals. When the level of acceptable risk in one part of the persons life changes; there will be a corresponding rise/drop in acceptable risk elsewhere.

I've pushed the envelope, purposely and sometimes simply because I had additionally safety features in my gear that I thought would offset the increased risk. That mind set is what Dr. Wile studied. Psychologically, risk homeostasis shows that varying individual trends toward risk adjustment become displaced by the introduction of a safety feature. The concept results an inadvertent psychological neglect of natural automated adjustments to these barriers. In the most basic of terms - if you add in additional safety features, many individuals up their personal level of risk to compensate and the accident rate remains stasis.


I'm one of these people. Give me the extra gear and I would be the one climbing the sheer face of rock. But then you look at what you are doing, and you look at yourself. For me it was a day I was in a little airplane alone over the mountains. Looking down, it looked so pristine and perfect. After a wind that lasted all night and morning, the snow had packed into what skiers called "breakable crust", the kind that holds your weight so very well, then suddenly doesn't.

As I flew westward, everything around me howled of the winds fluid past, the keening power not abated as forecast, winds sluicing downward from a day that still roared. Tossed about by a mountain waves indifference, having to make that split second decision that would lead me away to safety or give way completely beneath me, I looked up towards the other seat. It was a habit pattern from seeing my instructor for so long. All I saw was a reflection in the window. Mine. It's a different way of looking at things, just as the panel you've stared at for months or years as a novice looked completely different when you were alone, how I looked at everything around me looked different as well. Every mistake, every decision, every movement, it all boiled down to the person in the glass. Nature didn't care.

That visage stared back at me as I looked into the tumbled glassiness of a tropical ocean. What's a little wave? What's a little undertow? I remembered the exhilaration of my first solo white water rafting trip. I also remember when my single-man raft flipped and I was trapped underneath the rushing water, bumping against rocks much bigger than I was. Many things could panic me - spiders, airport food, blind dates, but being upside down, under water in the cold and fading light, did not. If there was panic there, it quickly trailed on behind me in the water and I simply pushed my little raft off of me, not attempting to stand, but pointing my feet downstream and floated free. Pointing to to dancing light, to precious air, and water that calmed down to quiet pools further downstream, crickets chirping in encouragement.

Did that mean that I got back into the water that day? No. Not alone. I may have had the current or the rocks figured out that time. Next time, I might not be so lucky.

Author Jon Krakauer wrote about mountaineer guide Scott Fisher, the one who encouraged him to climb Mt. Everest. "We got the 'big E' figured out" he told him" "We've got it totally wired". Yet, on Everest, Scott Fisher died. The psychology of oblivion is not a new science, I've been studying it for years. Making someone else into a believer, coming to terms with the unfamiliar forces of nature is hard. Few think of it. Few of us believe in our own mortality until we're faced with it, and then, even then, after the threat passes, we forget. So we have no way to prepare for what seems too removed a possibility. As Christopher Burney, who was a prisoner of war at Buchenwald said "Death is a word which presents no real target to the minds eyes".

I agree, the surest way we can become a believer in mortality, short of dying, is to sit and contemplate those things.The world we reason about isn't the one that we reside in, I thought as a wave crashed down into the ultimate storm tossed dream, which to comprehend, is to share. How old is survival? It's as old as fear.

And so that day, instead of body surfing in the growing white waves, I sat, as I will here so early this morning. Sat and thought of blue as deep as death or desire, of tumbled glacial turbulence, of currents that pull you down, deeper than you ever expected to go.

Sat. Very still and quiet. Like stone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Time off.

Woke to a early winter day,  hardly enough light to take a picture.  I will be back tomorrow with an actual (not saved) post. I've put in a lot of hours and travel this week and I was ready for some R and R, especially after the long commute home. (Yes, it's a flip phone, I still know how to beat your ass at Asteroids too :-)

But just so you don't worry. I have the "three B's on standby. Barkley, Bacon and Biscuits (with lingonberry preserves.)  See you tomorrow!
click to enlarge photo

Thursday, August 19, 2010

4 MILLION READERS

Almost 4 million people have discovered daily life at Home on the Range. I'll probably hit it by the end of the weekend and am frankly, amazed. The first public post was in May of 2008 (though I have recipes archived behind that for lack of a better place to put them). A lot of people have visited, coming back again and again to share in laughter and tears, dog stories, gun stories, and of course bacon. The writing helps me unwind, and your sharing in my often solitary life has brightened up many a long day on the road.

Along with the many, kind and uplifting comments I get questions. None have been rude but they are usually posted with "please do not post this! But I wished to know". Most I did not answer at the time. But for you, the inquisitive but polite, here you go - Brigid's HOTR answer forum.

1. What is your current relationship status?


2. What are your views on marriage?


3. What is your favorite man's cologne?



4. What's in your purse?


5. Does size really matter?

6. What is the last movie you watched that you loved?

7. Where do you live?


8. Do you prefer a Bath or Shower?

9. Where do you work?

10. Who do you look like?


11. What do you drive?


12. What did you do on Saturday?


13. What did you do on Sunday?


14. I'm from California and I LOVE nature. Do you belong to any environmental groups?


15. We know you love bacon, what is your second favorite breakfast treat?

16. You are up early! Are you a morning person?

17. I love your recipes. What's your secret to fresh tasting fried chicken?


18. What you would say if you were free to say ANYTHING on the blog.


Thanks again, all of you, for the kindness, for the support, for the friendship.

Love - Brigid and Barkley

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spaghetti Westerns


Spaghetti Western, is a nickname for a broad sub-genre of Westerns that came out in the mid-60's, so named because they were produced by Italian studies, often with a Spanish partner. There was a cast of local actors and, sometimes a falling Hollywood star, sometimes a rising one, like Clint Eastwood, who starred in many of Sergio Leone's films. The films were primarily shot in the Andalusia region of Spain, and in particular the Tabernas Desert in Spains southern province, because it resembled the American Southwest.

Most of these films were not that good, one of the first exceptions though, being Michael Carreras' Spanish-produced Savage Guns (1961) starring Richard Basehart and Alex Nichol. Later there was the Man With No Name trilogy (or the Dollars Trilogy) directed by Sergio Leone, starring then-TV actor Clint Eastwood - A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Though it wasn't a "spaghetti western" one of my favorite Eastwood films was the later Outlaw Josey Wales.

Josey Wales: You have any food here?

Lone Watie: All I have is a piece of hard rock candy.
But it's not for eatin'. It's just for lookin' through

Josey enjoyed a good spaghetti dinner in that movie. A meal I enjoy as well.

I've posted a couple of pasta recipes on here, made from scratch, but what about when you don't have a lot of time, or a lot of fresh ingredients and a couple hungry cowboys or cowgirls show up at the door.

Home on the Range Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs.

You start with a bottle of jarred pasta sauce. Sure, there are expensive ones, but I like the Classico with basil as it isn't too salty, doesn't have that "tons of white sugar" taste, and has big chunks of fresh tomato in it. I don't measure (I eyeball it) so here are my best approximations. Add two small pinches of crushed rosemary, about 1/2 heaping teaspoon garlic, a shake of white pepper, 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, one half teaspoon of wild honey, 3/4 to 1 teaspoon Penzey's Italian Seasoning, and about 1/3 cup of beer as it cooks so it doesn't get too thick. Add in a couple heaping cups of frozen Italian Meatballs (I like Schwanz products) and simmmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes. If you want to go wild, add another pinch or two of basil or (circle the wagons!) fennel. Serve with pasta, grated Romano cheese, bread (to mop up the sauce) and salad.


There won't be much in the way of leftovers tonight, for as Josey Wales said.

"When I get to likin' someone, they ain't around long.
click to enlarge any photo

Cowboy Action. .

Laundry?

No, that really wasn't how I planned to spend my Saturday. But with a lot of chores to do and a forecast for occassional heavy rain, sticking around the homestead was going to be it today.

At least I can make something like. . .

Cowboy Action Cookies



click to enlarge food photos

With peanut butter, oats, vanilla, dark chocoate mini chips and M and M's they are a family favorite.


Dense but soft and filling, have two with a cup of cowboy coffee and you'll be able to make it through that afternoon gunfight. But try to stick to two, or you might need a new belt.

Monday, August 16, 2010

World Domination and Bacon


It's a weekend to remember
as long as no one's dismembered.
- The Penguins from Madagascar

Back to work. The weekend was needed. LOTS of sleep, biscuits, meatballs and gunpowder (though not IN the meatballs, that tends to cause some dangerous burping), a little TV, wheel guns and four wheel drive.

Time away from obligations, to bake bread, read a book, and the best part, conversations with friends on life, lever actions and world domination and the bacon bar (milk or dark chocolate?)


You thought I was kidding, right?

Thanks to all of you who dropped a note, or dropped by.
- Love Brigid

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Joys of Travel



- a day in the life of a traveling Squirrel.

I stay in places that have TV's in the bedroom bigger than mine, and with many more channels. I've always just purchased basic cable as I don't watch much TV, or HBO or anything like that. Mythbusters, Man vs. Food, Dirty Jobs, Discovery, History, war movies, sci fi like Firefly, B.G., Red Dwarf, that sort of thing.

So when I have access to a fancy TV as I get ready for sleep I have fun looking through all the channels. But since I've usually been through multiple time zones and have been awake a long time, I start clicking buttons without really looking, sometimes getting QUITE the surprise

Picture the conversation - I'm channel surfing when my buddy Miles, from the International Sneaky Service, checks in to say hi and asks if I'm settled in safely.

M. -"I'm watching Two Mules for Sister Sara!"

B. - "I'm going to watch a movie too!" (click, woah!) . . . . . "Uh, I'm not sure what it is but it's definitely NOT G rated "

M. -"What movie?"

B. -"Hang on." (turns up sound)

BOW CHICKA WOW WOW, BOW CHICKA WOW!

B. - "I'm not sure, but I think it's called, let's see here. . . . "weapons of ass destruction."

M. - (long pause)

B. - "Either that or a really intense episode of MacGyver"

M. - (chuckle) "MacGyer?"

B. - "Well, there's a beautiful woman, some gadgets and look! Something exploded!"

M. - (can't speak, he's laughing too hard)

I'll be on the road a lot the next couple of weeks and hopefully can find "Mythbusters" on to watch in the week hours. I'm not sure where all I'll end up. Since I've exceeded Platinum status as a frequent hotel guest and am something like the Kryptonite level, I get waters and snacks in my room. But sometimes I get lucky and stay in cities where I can find something other than a mint on my pillow to fortify me for another day of playing Agent 000.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Tactical Turtles

Before Barkley I had a Samoyed husky and another lab. The lab was the best duck dog ever, and we spent many an afternoon down in the south bringing home some quackers. I worried about gators, they'd been known to take a dog, but the snapping turtles could be dangerous as well.


Back home, a bit further north, no gaters but still the occasional snapping turtles out by the two ponds on the property, the one the cows used and the one that was right behind the house.

The Sammy wasn't a hunting dog, he was a shedding dog. I once got so much hair off him in one brushing that I filled up a large trash bag with it. It was later found taped it to the stearing wheel of the old Buick with a note " drivers side hair bag." But one thing he would retrieve and constantly. Turtles. Box Turtles. I'm not sure where he'd get them, I figured from around the pond in the back but at least once or twice a month he'd be at the back door with one in his mouth, unharmed, waiting for a treat because of this great gift he had brought me. Box turtles have a moveable hinge on the lower shell that allows them to retract inside the shell and then completely close up, leaving no flesh exposed, but I was afraid his sharp teeth might still do some damage. I'd take the turtle gently from him and go out to the back field and let it go. But one day he kept going back and back and bringing me the same turtle. I was afraid he'd hurt it, so the last time, I decided to just take the turtle back to his home, where the dog couldn't get him. The pond.

I walked on back, turtle cradled in my hands as if he were glass and paused. The sun was high and hot, contemplating us sleepily like a large somnolent yellow cat, and I could smell the water. As I got to the waters edge, I lobbed him out into the center of the pond.



Time almost stopped, as he hung there for a moment, hanging motionless and without physical weight, finally giving over to time and gravity, descending into a perfect arc into the center of the deep pond.

Free Willy!

Sploosh!!! His shell closed up, he sank to the bottom like a stone and with a few air bubbles he was free.

I got home that night and my brother in law came over, returning a tractor and I told him what I did. He started laughing so hard he cried.

Apparently box turtles are LAND turtles, and though they might gently paddle a bit in a shallow warm snippet of water, swimming up from a dive to the depths was not in their repertoire.

I sent Mr. Turtle to his doom.


I hope he at least enjoyed the flight.

So for tonight, something Old Lightning sent me. Turtle Burgers for your dining enjoyment. They don't go with water, but I imagine a nice beer will do just dandy.

Per the directions: Handmade ground beef patties, topped with sharp cheddar cheese, wrapped in a bacon weave, then the next step, add hotdogs as the heads, legs with slits for toes and tail. Next step. Place on an oven rack, covered loosely with foil and baked for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees. A little crispy, not too crunchy, the way a turtle should be.