Friday, March 29, 2019

Spicy but Sweet


Looking for something that will bring everyone in from the Range at suppertime? 

Beef and alcohol, always a winner (but alcohol only after all the firearms and accessories are put away).


Cooking with "adult beverages"  is something perhaps not everyone has tried.  Certainly almost any dish can be doused in alcohol and set on fire (sometimes even intentionally!)  But cooking it down, paired with the right spice, such as in last nights Great Balls of Fire -Bourbon Glazed Meatballs  can be an adventure in flavor as opposed to  "hey, where's the number for the gyro place?"
.

The secret spice?  Cardamon.  It is sometimes hard to find, though many large groceries carry it in the ground form. Using it fresh from the pod gives the best flavor, the seeds within being crushed.  This is a standard bourbon glaze to which I added fresh garlic and cardamon, red pepper and some Heavy Metal Heat from the  Scoville Brothers Hot Sauce folks. The Scoville Brothers are a very popular acoustic music group in Northern Indiana and their hot sauce line is as good as their tunes, with as much flavor as heat.

Great Balls of Fire Meatballs

Ingredients:

meatballs:
1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin (mixed with a bit of pork) Note: Unless you want ball bearings, don't use cheap, overly fatty hamburger.
1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoons bread crumbs
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 cloves roasted garlic chopped  (or 3/4 tsp. powder)
1/8 tsp. plus one healthy pinch ginger
1/8 tsp. cardamon ( I used the seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed)
1/8 tsp.  Scoville Bros. Heavy Metal Heat hot sauce (with bhut Jalokia, the "Ghost Pepper")
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Bourbon (I used Evan Williams)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.
pepper

sauce:

2-4 shakes of crushed red pepper flakes (four isn't blazing hot but it had a gentle kick)
1/2 cup Bourbon
3/4 cup well packed brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon orange marmalade
pinch of orange zest (fine gratings of the outer layer of an  orange peel)
1/4 cup peach preserves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg


Mix meatball ingredients and form into 1 and 1/2 inch or so sized balls.   Dust with a little black pepper, and brown on medium heat in olive oil (do not cook through). Remove. Reduce heat to low and add sauce ingredients to pan drippings, stirring until brown sugar melts. You will notice a decided alcohol aroma, but as the alcohol cooks off, it will become a very savory glaze. Add meatballs back in and cover. Simmer on low for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Remove lid the last 15 minutes of cooking. Serve over noodles or rice.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book #5 update

The draft of book 5's cover is out. (click on it to make it bigger where you can read the print).  We need to add a hyphen to best-seller on the back cover scribing but it otherwise it is good to go. Should be published in about 4 weeks. Yes, aviation is NOT Listed on the back cover as a genre as the publisher didn't have that as an option but Amazon will update it.  They did that for my last books.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Where the Trinity is Intact

Five years ago. It was a night much like this one, an evening out after work with people with whom I shared a lot of history and stories. After saying good night to Partner in Grime, out saving the day on the other side of the planet, I got as dressed up as much as is "dressed up" for me, in blue jeans and a brand new white silk T-shirt.  I managed to look quite elegant, I thought, seated at a nice quiet table in the corner of the pub.  I have back up and a designated driver.  I don't have to be on duty tomorrow.  I'm simply a dot, awaiting an adult beverage. As always, I had my eyes towards the doorway, backup available.  But like anything we never imagine, it came at me when I least expected it, my six foot two, 240 pounds of muscled and well-armed backup unable to do anything but look on . . . as the world's biggest glass of red wine flew off the approaching waitresses' tray.

Merlot Missile lock-on aimed right at the center of my new blouse.  

SPLOSH! I looked like someone on the losing side on Game of Thrones.  My friend PA State Cop commandeered some extra towels and club soda, as I attempted to clean up, while half the restaurant suddenly seemed to gather round. Many apologies and some semblance of order later, our friend Tam arrived to be asked by the waitress "what would you like to drink?" She couldn't help but mutter, like a ventriloquist, "I'll have what she's wearing".

But you know, it wasn't going to ruin my dinner, as wine stains notwithstanding, it was going to be an evening of good food and firearm tales.  It was the trinity of three friends, much history, together, safe and intact; something so special because it is never guaranteed.  We look at photos of our younger selves with an "I was in Bosnia when you took that", or "I was in Iraq".  The stories, then told, reminding us just how many thousands of weathered doors we've passed through, some a little more forcefully than others, and all of the rain and ice and deserts harsh heat our skin witnessed to get here, tonight, the flesh in one piece.
But too soon, it was time to go home, helping house guests get packed to head back east in the morning.  I bustled around, trying to forestall that moment when they said goodbye, taking in that big gulp of air as I looked at their gear, at the orange dog collar on the dresser, so still, so silent. One last breath, to hold me in the airless days ahead.

Still, with moments of laughter, embarrassment and sometimes tears, I wouldn't trade such moments for anything.

Look at what is precious to you, those people, those things that you trust your life and your heart with.  Is it something new and perfect? Is it something cheap and fleeting? No, it is likely to have a bit of wear and perhaps a small ding, there because it had the strength to withstand such things.
If you are smart, you look past the dust and the scars as you gather that which is important to you around you. It's that giving over to our gut feeling as to the validity of something or someone, that often reaps the most reward. Look in your gun safe. Is what you treasure the newest or the shiniest? That which you prize the most may be that firearm for which the number of deer that had fallen before it were legion,. Your most treasured possession, a weapon in which you knew that the fierce heat of its holding, there in the blaze of new autumn, would renew you better than that plastic fake camo looking one.

Look at the world around you, to that which has withstood time, things carefully tended. Stop at the gun show and talk to that 80-year-old veteran about something more than the price of his brass. Chances are he won't just regale you with stories of the war, no riposte of sweaty storytelling of gunfire and noise which all war stories are composed of, no ragged lines of gaunt infantry beneath the tattered flags of courage. No, what he will tell you quietly, is simple This was my gun, it served me well, but I'm willing to sell it. Let me tell you about it. And what stories it can tell.
It was there in the case at the gun store, so many years ago, an old Belgium Browning 20 gauge. My first hunting firearm. I'd trained on the Daisy and up, under my LEO parents watchful eyes, but I was ready for something with more weight, more depth, something that was mine. It was older than me, older than my parents, perhaps, lovingly cared for and then up for sale, sitting forlornly in a locked case. Why? A death in the family, a household strapped and the only source of food the giving up of things carefully tended?

The gun had a long history of care, you could see it in the fine veneered finish the carefully tended and lubricated workings. Somebody deeply cared for this piece for more than one generation. But the gun could not answer from its prison of glass, the ghost of its presence simply asking "why".
It was a cold fall morning, a few months later. Across the ditch line came a young whitetail buck.  He moved slowly, without the inborn caution yet tested by a fading gout of black powder smoke. I watched the Browning elongate, rising to become a round spot against the light brown spot of a hearts location, a period on a page soon to be red.

To an outside observer, I would have appeared almost motionless.  But there is a great activity in being the observer from above, standing in a stillness that smells of grass, breathing in so many scents in damp warm air. Sweat, blood and a flower that only blooms in the dark, the wind so scant it's like breath on a mirror. Each smell blended yet distinct, always overlaid with the copper tang of life spilled. The air hums along to the earth's quiet as all I see, smell and feel forms into a substance I can almost feel on my flesh, capturing it, recording it there in the stillness. The truth is often still, inarticulate, not knowing it is the truth.

As my finger bent towards firing, he looked up for just a moment. It was a moment that passed with the semblance of a sparrow and a hawk in divine immobility in mid-air, an apparition of death's hesitation. It is a moment between heartbeats.  Hesitation cannot live there, nor fear or any other question of the spirit. It's a time for sure and certain knowledge, somewhere deep within you, outside of rational thought, that by your hand, the deer will drop to a forested plain, the bird will fall from the sky. My finger stopped. Then he was gone, like a small lightning bolt on earth muddled hoof, striking through the underbrush with a crash.

He was just a yearling, and though for that moment I was tempted to fire, he had not lived long enough to fight for that life, and I was not ready to take that from him. For another time, perhaps, there would be that road.  For today, there is only the proof in the eyes and heart of a living woman of what happened that did not, but only for a touch of a finger and a word, which is our honor.
In the years since this hunt, I have learned that there is an unspoken conversation with death between the hunter and their prey. Mors ultima linea rerum est, death is every thing's final limit. Just as it is with the wolf and the rabbit, the outcome of my hunt is settled there, in that first moment of eye contact between two adversaries. In that micro spasm of the moment, there is an exchange of information regarding the propriety of the chase, of the worthiness of the kill. A conversation, of not just history, but of mortality.

So it is, outside of those pistols I have for self-defense,  most of my firearms are antiques, guns with history, soldiers guns, police officers guns.  Go to the gun show and tables of new AR15's are interesting, like a 20-year-old in shorts is interesting. But give me the tables of Mausers, of Colts, of wood and flint and powder, the galloping thunder of guns which have fired through the fading fury of smoke into the night as somewhere a sparrow falls from the sky.

I don't care if my safe is full of plastic and shiny and new. Our lives are sublets anyway and too quickly gone. Give me something with history, something of strength and purpose and years, that will give as much back as I can possible give it in return. Not everyone understands.
How do you explain to someone whose life is driven by "what will the neighbor's think", that there are just some things essential to you, that when you see them, you not only recognize them, you wish to experience? But I think it's probably the same thing I think when I see a woman's closet with a hundred pairs of shoes and think "why on earth would someone want a closet full of shoes?" If I won't ever understand that frame of reference, why would they grasp mine?

Of course, not everything that is used is useful, not everything of weight has measure. There will be things you find that end up costing you more than money. But you still seek those treasures that remain. You may find them on a table in a hall, you may find them in a house where they've been locked for far too long. You may find them just breathing, at that same moment in time where you are, two being on a small place on a planet spinning in space, destined to meet.

You realize then; that what you truly value, what truly makes you happy, is in such small moments, those places where the Trinity is intact as if it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the bold fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open arms of our faith and need.
Too often we are blind to such moments, or we deliberately avoid them, with a deer in the crosshairs look, caught in that moment of life and motion, where if you do not do something, you will cease to live in that very moment between splendor and speed and the piercing of a heart.  And you choose to click on the safety and walk away, to thoughts of how it could have ended but for your inaction.

You choose and time passes. Days become weeks, becoming months and years. You think back to those places,  where those choices remained, looking up at trees that grew and bore leaves, while others vanished, burned for warmth and need. But you don't go back there.  It was just a place along your journey that exists only in the corner of your eye, as you try not and look.  Towards.  Always.

Then one day, you see something and your mind goes there again.  It may be on a table at a gun show, on the floor of a dealer, or simply there, viewed through an open door.  You look and remember. And like that moment in Jaws, where the camera zooms in on Sheriff Brody, and the whole world focuses, it does. For just a moment. And you suddenly notice every little detail around you, the sun running straight and empty, like gash down the corridor, a tiny spider web there at the corner of the room, the sun piercing it, illuminating the empty spaces there between heartbeats. And you see what it is you desire, held at that moment with conviction, that sense, that feeling of home.
And you know, you were meant to hold it, for just one moment, that small piece of your history, that large piece of yourself you never knew you needed. And you reach for it, one of those impulses, inscrutable yet unassailable which occurs at intervals in all of us, driving us to set down the known and the safe, and seek the possession of something rare, blind to everything but hope and fate.

Or you can just push it away, leave it behind, common sense taking over, and go home quietly to die.

You won't do that a second time.

For you are like I am, and some night when you are old, you will lay in that tent, that old firearm by your side, unable to sleep, but quiet and peaceful, listening to the night's whisper. The past was your future, but you couldn't taste it until it too was past. Anything else was an illusion. You lay there without regret, for seeking that which you needed, that moment of time, when history and fate were held in your hand and you knew what you wanted. Perhaps it was just a moment before you set it aside, perhaps you made it yours for a lifetime, but at that moment in which you were joined, it was grace.

A need so necessary, part of the history that remains.
 - Brigid

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Saturday Eats - Ultra Dark Chocolate Cake

If you eat it on your "cheat day" which for us is "Faturday" calories don't count (or you do an extra hour on the punching bag this week.)

Ultra Dark Chocolate Cake

For the cake

2/3 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder to get that deep dark color)
1 cup hot strong brewed coffee
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Butter for greasing the pans
Two parchment circles, cut the size of the bottom of your cake pans
Cocoa for dusting the pans

For the Frosting:

1 cup dark cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa to get that deep dark color)
4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ sticks butter, softened
½ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

To Prepare the Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, dissolve cocoa powder and cayenne with hot brewed coffee and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream oil and sugar until well combined.
4. Add eggs and beat until light and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. This process beats air into the mixture. Scrape paddle and bowl and beat once.
5. Slowly add in coffee/cocoa mixture, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat until batter is smooth. Scrape paddle and bowl and beat once.
6. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet and beat on low speed to incorporate. Scrape down the bowl and mix just until all ingredients are combined, do not over mix once the flour is in.
7. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch cake pans and place a round parchment circle in each. Butter the top of the parchment then sprinkle the whole inside of the parchment and pan with cocoa powder, shaking out excess. Pour batter evenly between two pans and place in the center of oven. (note, aluminum baking pans are by far, the best for baking cakes. Non-stick and dark colored pans can change the cake by browning it more than it needs to)
8. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Depending on your oven, you may need to rotate cake pans halfway through. During our baking, one cake was done in 30 minutes and the second in 32 minutes. Do not over bake.
9. Cool pans on wire racks for ten minutes then carefully invert out of the pan onto the rack to cool further.

To Prepare the Frosting;

1. Sift cocoa powder with confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and cocoa powder mixture along with buttermilk and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Add additional buttermilk or whole milk if frosting is too thick.
2. Place a small dollop of frosting on a cake dish to hold the cake from sliding and place one cake on the frosting. Frost the top of that layer. Place the second cake on the first and frost the entire cake, top and sides.

Friday, March 22, 2019

On Strength


I remember the day well.  I was cleaning out a storage unit that I had rented when I sold my last house, with the last of the lightweight gear loaded in the truck, tied together and down by strands of paracord. Like baling twine to a farmer, it's the thread of life for someone bent on surviving. Shelter building, gear repair, snares, and traps, securing gear either to yourself or your truck so if you and thick brush do the tango it doesn't come loose. The inside strands can make a fishing net. Hanging food out of reach of animals, makeshift clothesline, a sling, multiple uses for something that coils quietly like a snake in the dark of my pack.

550 cord has its name due to its strength capacity. Each of the 7 strands is rated at 50-foot lbs. It's good to know that info if you need to use the individual strands. Knowing the strength of the individual is as important as knowing the strength of the group and it might save your life sometimes.


Each strand, 50 pounds. With the empty sheath rated at 200 pounds. I think you could flatten that out and use it to temporarily replace a fan belt if you had to (though you might need an overhand knot every so often to keep it from slipping).

It's hard to describe the sort of predicament that paracord could get you out of, but if you've ever ridden into one, you will know.

Yet, it's a common item that gives outdoor survival some substance, a reminder of doing with what you have, what you need to do to survive. Holding it in your hand, it becomes second nature, what hands and fingers are for, the dexterity of your fingers, the willful outcome of your intentions, formed into something useful. Something that can hold life together.


I'm not any sort of expert in anything outdoors. I'm never going to have my own reality show (and note to those that do, please actually HAVE some fishing and shooting acumen before you try and pass yourself off as someone that does). But in addition to basic camping and hiking, I've been survival trained by a couple of employers and if it hasn't given me definitive skills, it's taught me how to THINK about surviving.

It was supposed to be a day hike, though I had a lightweight sleeping bag (OK, it's only rated at 30 degrees, but at 3 pounds and it being summer, always worth toting along). Plus I had a tarp for a tent just in case I got running behind. Friends knew I'd be back no later than the next morning and if I failed to appear, where to come looking for me, my route laid out ahead of time. The weather was forecast to be good, I was in good health. Then, like something out of a Stooges movie, I stumbled in some loose rock putting a big gouge in my knee. It was deep enough to hurt, not to hobble, but it slowed me down. Enough to know as I headed back I was unlikely to make my truck before dark. Pushing it in the near dark was only going to get me lost.

I figured I best set up for the night near the trail. I had food, water, a way to build a small fire, stuff for a makeshift tent. As I set up my camp for the night, a sound crashed out of the brush, rising up and away, a parabolic curve of sound as a large deer sped away. I could only watch, my head turned to pace his invisible flight, in the wan light, watching the shadow flee into the spellbound woods beyond. And it dawned on me. I'm not the only one out here. This is bear country, not grizzly, but bears nonetheless, though frankly, in all the times I'd hiked up here I'd never seen one. Still, they are here. I needed to sleep upwind of my food, and where I prepared it. And I needed my food up off the ground. The trees were tall, I climb about as well as a carp. What to use?

Paracord. I only had a little, Lesson learned, you can NEVER have too much duct tape or paracord. But I did have enough if I separated it out into strands. So I cut off a good piece., leaving enough for other uses. Normally, I'd burn the ends with a lighter so the individual strands didn't come out (be careful on this, Dante's Inferno has nothing on melted 550 cord that drips on bare skin). But this time I needed those strands. Tying each one to each other with a simple square knot and I was able to lift up my gear. Food, breath mints (bears like the smell of some minty toiletries and it wasn't like I was going to meet Mr. Right out here), the shirt and shorts I prepared my food in. All well out of Mr. Bear's reach, about twelve feet off the ground and four feet away from the truck. It wasn't a lot of weight for just a day hike but it was up and safe as I would be for the night, with just a little planning ahead.

I thought about it that day when I was putting away the last load from the truck.  I think about it as I hang up the coat I wear outdoors to the range, I find a single round. A live round, not tarnished or touched, the primer embedded firmly into its form. Not much longer than a match, it's large enough to contain a life. Someday it might have to.

Tools are all around us, simple things, necessary things. Learn how to use them. You can sit home, enveloping yourself in the smoke of useless and perpetual passivity, that you can almost smell on a person. Or you can learn. Learn to recognize fear, often as lost on the very young as love and passion.


Then one day, when you stand still with the taste of brass there in a mouth gone dry, a knot in your stomach, you know it's time to use those tools you have to survive. You feel it, in blood, bone, skin, awareness rising out of experience. Be it a city street, the protracted shade of undying woods, or simply face to face with someone who wishes to steal something within you are not ready to give, you reach into your pocket, into yourself and unleash those threads that bind you to passivity.

There's strength in even the small things that are causes for wonder.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog

This is Abby's "Elvis face".  This is the little lip curl, sometimes tongue out, she does when she is annoyed with me because I'm too slow getting the treats, or yogurt, or walkies, taking a picture instead of getting her what she wants.

But it made me smile as on one of my last visits out to my Dad before he went in Assisted Living, we went to the grocers.  He likes to flirt with the ladies in the flower section and just generally wander around and say hi to people (it's a small town, everyone around the neighborhood knows Dad).

One day though, the check out lines were slow and I could see my 98-year-old Dad was getting a bit bored.  When the clerk's back was turned helping yet another shopper with "how to use a chip card", Dad picked up the mic they call for assistance or price checks with and with a perfect Elvis imitation said (where it boomed out to the entire store):

"The is Elvis - open up the bakery".

You can get away with that stuff when they're old, or furry.  :-)

Bacon Blueberry Pancakes

Bacon Deprived Abby Lab

Bacon Blueberry Pancakes.

Cook 6 slices of bacon, blot with a paper towel and chop. Thaw 1 cup of frozen blueberries, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

In small bowl mix 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of milk and 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs) Let sit for a few minutes.

In aother bowl mix 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 Tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of baking powder (I use Hain sodium free) and a pinch of Cardammom (or nutmeg if you don't have Cardamom).

To milk mixture add a splash of vanilla, 1 egg whisked and 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons of melted butter (add in very slowly while whisking).

Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing JUST until combined then gently fold in blueberries and bacon. Cook on a hot griddle. (or better yet, get your spouse or partner to cook for you).

Abby can't do grains but she did get a piece of bacon so she is quite happy.

Friday, March 15, 2019

INSERT LINA AND OLE JOKES HERE

There was a little gathering for a meal with some work folks today, a  casual pot luck we do every so often after finishing up a big project.  I was to bring dessert, a small pan of brownies.  Then the call came in.  Unit Z is back from Albonia!!! There's extra people!.

Something was needed that would feed more than a small handful of folks.

My Mom was Swedish/Norwegian,  myStepmom Norwegian. My Dad's Mom was Scot/Irish and a Hoosier from Indiana as well.  If there's anything a "Scandahoovian"  woman can do, it's whip something tasty of the baked goods variety for the oven up out of nothing.

So what to make?   In the cupboard there is breakfast stuff, almonds and steel cut oats, in the fridge, few fresh berries, a couple jars of Scandahoovian jams (you could substitute your favorites) and basic baking ingredients.

May I present -

Scandahoovian Double Berry Streusal Bars . With a tender, crumbly, oh so buttery cookie base topped with tart, but not too tart, fruit and a sweet/spicy (shhhh, it's Cardamon) streusal topping, they vanished faster than the normally snarfed up brownies.  I had to stealth ninja steal three from the plate at the end of supper so I could have one later and maybe share a couple with cookie deprived friends.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Still Life with Reloading

I took 3 weeks off to finish Book #5.  In past years, I'd spend that time with Dad, but I'm going out again in just a couple of months for his 99th birthday, so he told me to just hunker down and finish it as he wants to read it before he is gone.  It's about flying, not specific details about my career or the specifics of any other job but just the lure and call of the sky, including his experiences in the 8th Air Force in World War II.

But now it's time to return to work, hours of travel, the groan and rumble of an airplane, the vibration felt from the yoke to my bones, the cadence and sorrow of air rushing past, left behind in the wake of strained metal. There are hotels in the city, waking to the staccato bursts of sound from the street, cars, shouted curses, and horns. Even where I used to live, in a subdivision with cookie cutter homes with enough insulation to drown out the sound of brushing your teeth, there was no such thing as real quiet. There's the neighbors' lawnmower at 9 pm, dogs barking or a shouting match off in the distance between people caged too long, living eight feet at away from the next house.

You either adapt to it, or you get away. I voted for the getting away part of the reason I sold the original "Range".  A four-lane addition to the road from a less than good part of the city to the north end of our little town brought with it gang graffiti and crime. Properly values were crashing. We had our first rape. A woman was beaten to death with a claw hammer. There were a number of break-ins and smash and grab burglaries in my neighborhood, kids, the cops said, taking small electronics, cash, and booze, but it worried me. I realized that I was close enough in that if there was trouble, I wouldn't be able to defend the place too long even with back up. I wanted to be further out. If not full time, at least a place for the weekends and holidays. Not so far out that when I go walk along the creek I hear the sound of a banjo, but far enough to be away from the major roads and cities in the event of a disaster where the unprepared come to loot the prepared. So I made the decision to sell the place before prices dropped even more, and save for a chunk of land.
Someone said, "you're going to get your own Walden Pond?" I've read Thoreau, who chronicles his life off the grid in his writings. I found his words moving but found little in common with a middle-aged man who probably couldn't field dress a deer if he had to. But there was one thing he wrote of that I have always identified with. He talked of judging the cost of something but how much life you had to expend to get it. I left a relationship long ago for that reason because in terms of cost to my being for what I got from it, it violated my sense of thrift. It's the same reason I got rid of a huge house of space I didn't need any longer and unnecessary possessions. Things are precious when they are few and carefully selected. If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt.

So I gave away to those in need or sold half my possessions, rooms of furniture, all the useless decorative clutter, keeping only the art that I truly liked, my books, the furniture that's handcrafted and comfortable and the tools of my life that I really need. Some said I was foolish, as a woman alone, there's safety in a busy town, a steady finality in the noise of a large neighborhood. So there is, as well, in the sound of the scrape of metal against a pine box. These are the people who also tell me that I shouldn't have a gun, the police will take care of me; those that speak imperiously and loudly, not hesitant of argument, simply impotent to conceive either.


I bought a "fixer upper" on the water on a couple of acres.  It allowed me to save a bit of money and it was in a safer area, further from the city but close to where I can get into work. There would be my time alone, walks out, firearm on my hip, lest I encounter a mob of chipmunks. There would be my times to just sit, out on a felled log. Time to stop, without schedule as I watched the sky turn from the subtle grey of an unpainted church to the deep purple darkness of a priest's robe, the stars impenetrable and invisible, as if waiting for us before they showed themselves.

Barkley would be sitting by my side, hoping we're under a dog biscuit tree, soon to shed its fruit. We would wait, serene and still, the moon shining on nibbled shadow, content to just sit underneath the starry sigh of heaven. The only other lights were as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, barely remembered like the smell of decay, sensed only in the instant of its knowledge and then fading to dim memory as you move away from it. Dark and far away, as such things should remain for as long as possible.
From where we sat, an owl would call, the sound unintelligible amongst the vernal branches. As a satellite tracked the sky, the owl called again, a call to go home. And within, there would be an old Victrola, a ham radio, lots of books and some board games for when I have those I love to stay with us. There would be my little computer to write and communicate. In much of the daily breath, I drew there would be noise, but it would be the sound of a blade striking wood, the sun shimmering off of the blade like silver. It would be the crack of a rifle shooting on a range just a few miles away, the tool I would use for provision and protection. It would be the hum of machinery as the shop took shape, room for more tools, room for more freedom. There would be voices, but they would be those of reasoned discourse among friends, as though many of us lived in a time of rural living, we were not so naive to think it doesn't deeply impact us, our safety and our liberty, keeping us wary and watchful

It would be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It would be a life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields, walking out into the constant trees, alone when I need to be, but not forlorn, intractable and accountable. Walking on forward, rhythmic steps into the hushed, secret shade of life off the grid.
Now that I'm back in a big city, no regrets as it brought me to a life with my best friend,  who has his dream job here, back to a quiet hushed bungalow that's as old as time on two lots in the city,  full of 100-year old trees. Something happened between the night of my previous life and the dawn of my new one but I could not be happier, even if living in Mordor.  I may have more laws, corrupt politicians, and burning cold, but I still have my freedom and love to keep me grounded.

When it's time for both of us to retire - we will leave this place, back to that Trinity of space that is earth, God, and nature.  But until then, I'll savor the sound of a hundred-year-old home, the twitter of birds outside, and the sound of a reloading press in the shop, making our elements of freedom.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

To the Bridge and Back

There are some of you that visit here, that know Barkley and my shared history and how his book came to be. There are others, dog lovers like us, some brand new visitors from the blog hops, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley came to be.

My Big Brother, an ex-submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013.  He and I were adopted together as small children, though I only found out very recently that we weren't biological siblings. But we were closer than a lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart when he was under the water, and I was piloting airplane miles above the earth.

He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 100 pounds on his six foot two frame.  He moved in with our widowed Dad so they could support one another, and to get out of his house, as he couldn't hold on to it,  having lost his job as a Navy Contractor.  I lived 1500 miles away and had a job that had me living out of the suitcase too often, but I visited them as often as I could, during all of my vacations, and on every long weekend.
He held his own, even if towards the end, everything he ate got smashed in a blender.  Pretty much all he could get down was some protein shakes. (I thought he was joking when he said he'd put my leftover cheese omelet I brought back from a restaurant with some leftovers, in there with the juice, fruit and ice cream but he said it was tasty except "I don't think the hash browns were such a good idea".

But we had some time, to do some grieving, for the loss of some older family members, including our Step-Mom who stepped to the plate after our Mom died fairly young from cancer.  We also had some time to do some laughing, especially as now he could share all the embarrassing childhood stories with my new husband who met him for the first time.  But we also  had a lot of time alone, up late, talking about our Dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to),  He told me more than once "you're a good writer, you need to put this down in a book" and I'd just laugh and say, "maybe after I retire".  He said, " we don't always get to retire, do it now".
At that point, I realized that the one  thing I am glad I did not hear from him in his end days was, "I wish I'd. . ."

I've heard so many people say "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired". We got through life saying "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out" or " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue, fate can come calling. Barkley was in fine spirits at my wedding, weeks later limping; a few weeks after that--gone to the Rainbow Bridge.  In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother and I were kids, going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth, just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant, as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known.  A fish, perhaps or simply fate. 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick colored paint to paint a backdrop in the kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them, some resembling the green of my parent's house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances, while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Big Bro and I race through the house, one of us soldier, one of us spy, friends forever, stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday.  Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? A favorite photo, for some, a piece of clothing worn to a special event, a particular meal, things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response, of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture it, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of the empty air, the color of the wind

Today is a memory that months from now, could be one of those times.  You may look back and see this day, the person you were with, the smile on your face, the simple household tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form, as to, at this time, be simply another chore, cleaning, painting, another ordinary day, while the kids played outside and the dog barked merrily along with them. It might be a day in which you didn't even capture it on film, no small squares of color left to retain what you felt there as you worked and laughed together, in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of longing.

Twenty years from now, you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time and tears around your eyes, at the grey in your hair and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person with you in your memory no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.

My brother spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him.   But I knew the name.  Operation Ivy Bells.  He understands testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold deep depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of the cold.  I am here, my wings long ago hung up, tools in hand because someone has died and with great violence.  On those days I felt every ache in my muscles, I felt my skin, hot under the sun, the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, laying heavy in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder, overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort, the sounds; only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment and alive.  I also knew, how blessed I was that after such days, I came home to my furry, four-legged best friend Barkley, who was my Black Knight in somewhat shedding armor, the soft-coated Kleenex when I needed to cry.

You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family, forgive an enemy (but remember the bastards name), salute your flag, and always, give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of Spring, a dying Winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
I said goodbye to my brother that last time, neither of us were certain as to what the future would hold. Had I known that just weeks later, my beloved Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my only brother, I might have held him longer, but I wouldn't have played the days out any differently.   For one thing we both agreed on, today is that memory, go out and make everything you can of it.

The Book of Barkley is that memory--for Barkley, for my brother, for all the laughter we wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.

-Brigid