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Posts Tagged ‘chipmunk’

Deprivation is a bastard. These days many more of earth’s human inhabitants are feeling it than usual.

We can be grateful that nature gets us out of our heads. Think about it: Unlike catastrophes like war or flood or famine, which leave their unmistakeable mark upon the landscape and make nowhere a refuge, when it comes to this pandemic, you can’t see it outdoors — at least for the most part. Some wear masks. I spot the odd discarded plastic glove on the curb from time to time. But aside from that, nature doesn’t know we’re in crisis. The starling that just flew past your window, the chipmunk that high-tailed into the brush beside the lake, the wind nudging the sycamore leaves, the sea foam that just misses your feet — none of these have any idea that this spring is like no other spring. Getting enveloped by nature now is a benediction that wipes clean our minds. For a little while.

In the U.S., today is Memorial Day, when we remember troops who died in service to our country. They fought, at least in theory, to hold fast to our nation’s ambitious ideals — something about equality and the pursuit of happiness — and died trying.

Nearly every day since mid-March I have been exploring, often for miles at a time, sometimes with a plan and sometimes without one, and nature has been a hugely welcome affront to the caustic headlines. Our energy stores are fried, our hands are dried out from the bleach solutions that have become our daily modus operandi. And it’s a long way until election day in November.

But the lushness in nature is in stark and audacious contrast. The lilacs aren’t just fragrant, they’re triggering tears of relief; sycamore leaves aren’t just green, they’re Hobbit-shire magical. Maybe it’s just this spring. But I’ll take it.

Not sure how I missed that there’s a tradition of dropping flowers into water on Memorial Day. A Wiccan friend tells me this is an ancient method for offering gifts or honoring someone. Look at us, remembering something like that.

Today I climbed down a steep incline to drop a yellow poplar flower into the lake. I thought about the soldiers who had lushness in mind when they suited up and went to battle, that they were fighting for abundance, our right to plenty. They believed our ideals and that wish were worth it. I’m so, so tired, and that belief is a tiny candle flame inside me right now, but tiny counts.

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Huber Woods, Navesink. New Jersey’s a dish, isn’t it?

Every year on Thanksgiving I make my family’s recipe for stuffing, eat it in great quantities, then go hiking. (The unfathomably good recipe is here.) This tradition does not vary, because like diamonds and a little black dress, like Valentino and the smoulder, it works. It ain’t broke.

But. I had to alter the tradition a bit this year, as I’m still nursing the effects of last month’s scratched food pipe. The stuffing starts with a loaf of crusty Italian bread. When it’s done, it’s spicy, rich, and chewy—the kind of addiction you wouldn’t mind having. And I don’t.

How it ought to look.

I was disheartened for a good week beforehand because I thought I would have to forgo this dish. But I decided to buck up, and good techie that I am, made a plan: to eat stuffing, somehow, and not have it aggravate my condition.

Instead of buying my Italian bread on Monday and letting it go stale on my dining room table until Thursday, I bought it fresh, the day before. Next I pulled the crust from the fluffy white insides—the part I was hoping I could swallow easily—and froze the two portions separately. I also prepped some homemade chicken broth.

On Thanksgiving morning I defrosted the bag of bread insides and added it to my pan with the sausage, spices, olive oil, eggs, toasted nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I ground the dried rosemary with a mortar and pestle so it wouldn’t be too spiky going down. Then I poured broth over the whole thing to make it even more tender.

I am not going to lie and tell you that it was delicious. It was decent. The next day it was quite a bit better. But it was more important that I wasn’t uncomfortable, and I wasn’t. I made it work. This was a huge win.

Then I went hiking.

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Gradations of light and shadow, eastern meadow.

Longtime readers know about my love affair with nature—with the wildest parts especially. It is at once a source of serenity and energy for me to leave the paved walkways and cross meadows, hills, glens, groves, the untidy places, the unmanicured country. There is no grass, let alone neatly trimmed grass. The spicy fallen leaves are slippery. I get my ankles tangled in the snarls of vines that cover the rolling ground. Chipmunks, groundhogs, and squirrels dart between thistles. Once I even saw a coyote. I always hope I’ll run into him again. But I hike mostly because I love the feeling of being enveloped by something ancient and unspoiled. It’s like getting massaged on the inside. And I always try to see something I haven’t seen before.

A few Thanksgivings ago I found a hidden cemetery, with maybe 30 occupants in all. I always wish them a nice holiday.

Last year I found tiny old wooden shacks labeled with numbers—1937, 1938—and I fancied them past years, relegated silently to the woods of Navesink. I could not bring myself to look through the windows and still cannot. This year I found 1929.

And also this year, beyond the eastern meadow, I followed a deer path until I was surprised by the shadow of a horse. It stood perfectly still, so I ventured closer to investigate. It was a sculpture, perfectly to scale, and made entirely of driftwood blackened with age. Imagine coming across this with no warning.

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The afternoon light gets low pretty early these days. I watched it ride the edge of the trees and wondered if I had enough time to look just a little farther. I’d never been beyond the brook at the western end of the woods, and it was tempting. I decided it was getting too late to chance it. Coming across a coyote at nighttime is somewhat less appealing.

But here’s the thing. Being sick or injured can make a person want to withdraw and not take chances. God knows it’s happened with me, especially recently. After a month of ping-ponging between my food pipe being okay and being uncomfortable, you can believe I’ve hung back from time to time. If I’m not careful, though, that can become a new habit.

Last Thursday I wanted to go farther. I’m so glad I wanted to. It’s a good sign. There are times when I won’t be able to, like this time. But I figure as long as I always want to know what’s beyond the brook, I’m okay.

For dinner that night I ate half an Italian sausage, some caramel applesauce I stirred up on the spot (sliced apples with a little butter, brown sugar, and water), and vanilla pudding I’d made the night before. And it was okay again, and I was grateful.

The crust from that loaf of Italian bread is sitting tight in my freezer, waiting for another batch of stuffing. It’ll happen.

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