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Posts Tagged ‘bird’

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This is sassafras, which apparently makes a delightful root-beer-like drink that I have yet to try.

I love going off-roading and picking out plants. Especially the edible ones, because then I can add their location to the ever-increasing list of minutiae in my grey cells, and come back when their season hits. Oh, there’s a blackberry cane, I say to myself; wow, that is one colossal patch of garlic chives. I get a bang out of finding beeches, sycamores, mulberries, crab apples—trees people don’t tend to plant anymore because they’re considered messy.* I know them all well. To me, this isn’t just green stuff sticking out of the grass; it’s friends. I’m serious.

Walking through Huber Woods in Locust, NJ last spring, chill as a coconut granita, I thought of how many people I know who are uncomfortable in nature. I don’t mean uncomfortable camping, although the two probably go hand in hand. I mean just walking and bellyaching: ‘This is boring, is that poison ivy, what if a bug looks at me,’ etc.

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This is a pine tree, easy to discern from other evergreens in that its branches stick straight out like arms, parallel to the others.

Did you read the second book in the Wrinkle in Time series, called A Wind in the Door? In it, the characters are in a void and at risk of being ‘X-ed’—that is, wiped out, in Madeleine L’Engle’s cool vernacular. The only way they can be recovered is by what the author calls ‘Naming.’ Heroine Meg figures this out, calls by name everyone out of the void, and saves them all. The Naming re-integrates body, mind, and soul—makes them whole again.

And it occurred to me that I had practically grown up outdoors, and moreover had worked at Huber Woods as a naturalist, cuddling snakes, walking-stick insects**, and other assorted beasties. These things, once I knew what they were and learned about them, were as comfortable to me as the eight-year-old mint-green fleece I have on right now. If you know a lot about your surroundings, that makes a giant difference in whether you feel like a granita there, or as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.

Names are powerful. If I can continue being a booky nerd for one more paragraph, let’s remember why John Proctor chooses to walk off to his death at the end of The Crucible.*** He’s happy to lie and say he’s a witch, as long as it’s verbally. But ask him to sign his name to the charges, and that’s where he draws the line. When you attach a name to something, that something gets imbued with power—sometimes for good, like in Meg’s case, or in ill, like in Proctor’s. He didn’t want his name, his very identity, stapled to a lie.

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These are tufts of coyote fur. I actually saw one trooping through Huber Woods one day. Told the rest of the nats and they didn’t believe me.

But the power of a name is good when it comes to nature. It gives us the ability to discern what’s around us, and can help us to relax. I think of earlier this year, when my friend Laura asked me to check the back of her property to see if she had any poison ivy. She wasn’t freaked out about it or anything; she’s just a gardener who’s out in the grass a lot, and was smart to want to know. And now she knows there isn’t any.

I love when my friend Lauren, a talented photographer, shows me a photo she took of a bird and asks its name, or gets excited when I name a flower she shot. She told me when she and her husband (a chef) go on hikes, her husband points out edible plants to their children, and often they all take a nibble. What a profoundly useful gift—to teach the kids to embrace the earth instead of to be afraid of it.

Bottom line: we’ve all gotten so detached from the earth that we have no idea what’s around us. Yesterday I picked wild crab apples and a little girl told me she thought they were cherries. Okay—she was three. Fair enough.

But an hour later an adult said the same thing to me. Cherries have a brief seasonal window, something like 2-3 weeks, in late spring. In other words, the adult was way off, and I’m sure it’s because supermarkets provide more or less the same produce all year round. I see this as a grave problem, and just goes to show I have a lot more work to do to educate. Not to spit in the eye of Madison Avenue (though I’m certainly not above it), but to re-acquaint, re-familiarize, and encourage people to see and feel and taste what’s growing in its own time. Because right now we’re lost in a void, and it scares me.

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These are wild strawberries (sadly, the ones without much flavor. Yellow flowers pre-berry denote no-flavor strawberries. It’s the white flowers you want for that incredible wild strawberry flavor. They’re my white whale).

On your next hike, take a reliable field guide with you. It’s cool, I’m telling you. Look up the plants and animals and birds you see. Name them.

And how wild would it be if you Naming them, getting to know them, getting comfortable with them, re-integrates us—helps to make us all whole again?

Or along with the field guide, take me along with you. You know I’d totally dig it.

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This is a groundhog. He and his ilk may look like Sherman tanks but they move like MiG-31 jets.

*Wow—made it to Sentence 4 before throwing in an editorial about today’s societal wussiness. Milestone.

**Hyperbole. I wouldn’t advise it. They’re really cute, but break easily.

***If you’re under 15 and haven’t read it in school yet: spoiler. Oops.

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When I was growing up, weekends in the summer (much like weekdays in the summer) were spent at the beach. My dad would load up the tall aluminum jug with ice cubes and then fill it with orange juice, vodka and Grenadine, recreating a drink he enjoyed in Jamaica sometime in the 60s. Over the course of the day, visitors would sprint across the hot sand, cool their feet in the shade under our beach umbrella and have a couple of Dixie cups of this stuff. It was popular enough among my parents’ friends that one of their little daughters passionately disagreed with her teacher one day at school, insisting, ‘A Flamingo isn’t a bird; it’s a drink!’

This drink was so celebrated, and the coral color so pretty, that of course I tried it. Once. And I hated the alcoholic wallop. But recently I started thinking it might be fun to make a Flamingo for my own taste, wondered if it would be worth a shot to try make one that was better suited for drinking than for polishing the TV cabinet.* The chance came last night when I was invited to a party at the home of my good friends Kim and Doug. An extra lucky break for someone who is a novice (me) when it comes to drinks: Doug used to be a bartender. If I was going to learn to make a good Flamingo, I needed a good teacher, and he was very willing to be that. Done.

Pure orange juice was easy enough to find. But a word about Grenadine: I was astonished, and frankly disgusted, by the contents of the Grenadine that’s available. There were three brands at Foodtown, and two of them—the biggest names!—contained high fructose corn syrup, red food coloring and precious little else. Seriously—it’s just goo. Grenadine’s supposed to be a pomegranate-based syrup, for crying out loud. The last bottle had all of the other stuff in it, but DID contain pomegranate juice, so it won.**

I gave Doug the orange juice and Grenadine and asked him to use plain vodka (Grey Goose, if you must know). He got out one of those shaken-not-stirred mixers, just shy of two cups, and got to work making the inaugural Flamingo. I watched, figuring if I didn’t like how he made it that I’d try it on my own, but darned if he didn’t nail it on the first try.*** It was refreshing and tropical-y with just a breath of vodka to adult it up. And he even chilled the glass by keeping ice water in it while he mixed the drink. Lovely stuff.

Here’s how he made it:

Load a martini glass with ice water. To an ice-filled mixer add 1.5 shots of plain vodka. Top off with chilled orange juice. Add a couple of shakes of as pure a Grenadine as you can find. Shake well. Pour off ice water and add mixture. Serve immediately.

My hosts tasted it and liked it, and my sister—who remembers it from our childhood as well—liked it as much as I did.

Isn’t it cool to think an heirloom doesn’t have to be a quilt or a doll or jewelry? And isn’t it even cooler to think an heirloom can evolve…maybe even be improved for another generation?

*Someone has to wonder these things.

**Next course of action: I’m going to make my own. Pomegranate juice is available at well-stocked supermarkets. How hard could it be to add a bit of simple syrup and reduce it ?

***It’s totally who you know.

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