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Posts Tagged ‘sycamore’

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This is been a milestone summer for me. I’ve had to learn to balance a new job and commute, which provides what I need to survive, with time in nature, which provides what I need to live.

I’m not going to say it’s been easy, late afternoon- and weekend-warrioring. But man, those moments have been sweet.

This summer I found wild blackberries growing along banks I’ve wandered since I was a kid, but never noticed. Made tea from flowers and leaves I dried, made lattice-topped pies from olive oil crusts instead of butter (never thought it would work, but guess what), and made sure to throw a pebble into the lake just to hear the PLUNK that always, always satisfies.

For the first time, I saved my molars and got every pit out of the wild Concord grapes I found, smacking my lips on their tartness. Swapped in my beach plums for cranberries in my favorite crisp, and they were fantastic. Sneaked onto footbridges in the woods and onto the lawn of my shamelessly absent neighbor, where in the dark of night I shamelessly picked enough fruit to make sour-cherry tarts.

I sank my tired feet into powdery sand and let the wind and 360-degree pink-and-grey sunsets wash the stress off me. There were 17 seagull tail feathers at the beach the other night, perfect quills for my next production of “1776.” Was serenaded by a Russian mulberry-lover, very much off-key (don’t ask. Actually, do. Great payoff.). Discovered that honeysuckle blooms in fits and starts all summer, just right for drying, and jammed May-fresh ones into a bottle of Laird’s to flavor the whiskey. Twice I sat and watched the yellow sunlight sparkles chase each other over the lake, and once I saw a fleet of catfish making kissy-faces at the surface of the water.

Walked the trail at Monmouth Battlefields, the Revolutionary War site, and marveled that Washington and the boys withstood 90-degree heat on that day in June while in wool uniforms (many couldn’t, and succumbed to heatstroke). Sat down to take a shot of a lone apple, looking like a dropped musket ball, and spent the next 15 minutes plucking vicious grassy needles off my bum. Freedom has its price.

Yesterday I really felt the sun and wind and crunch of sycamore leaves as I trudged along the banks of my lake. Today, driving home, I really loved the different greys of the clouds, layered like deckled pages in a book, and felt the coolness — new to the season but old, coming back.

So the wheel starts its descent, so the fall of the year has begun. Falling with it.

 

 

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Natsukashii (Japanese): A sense of loss inherent in transience; bittersweetness, nostalgia tinged with longing

Sycamore trees have fallen out of favor for landscaping for decades, it seems. I’ve heard them called messy; they do shed their bark more liberally than other trees, it’s true. You can always tell a town, at least here in New Jersey, that was settled 100 years back or more: The streets are lined with sycamores. People weren’t fazed by excess bark back then, I’m guessing. In the area where I grew up and still live, the sycamores tower several stories high and come together in the middle of the street. If it started raining while we were on our bikes, we kids would dash to the narrower streets, where the thick canopy of branches would keep us pretty dry until the rain let up. On dry days we used to love snapping the bark’s roughness into pieces as we sat on the curb and talked. And in mid-August, the leaves started changing from green to pale ochre. Katydids chirping away at night is the first sign that fall is nearby. The second sign is the change in the color of the sycamore leaves. Fall is not yet on the doorstep, but it’s tiptoeing closer.

Years ago I read a story about a hero named Milarepa who fought and defeated monster after monster, each one bigger and scarier than the last. Then he came across the worst and spookiest monster of all. But all of his usual kill moves didn’t work, and he grew more and more desperate. Finally he did the only thing he could think of: He climbed into the monster’s mouth. As he was swallowed, the monster dissolved. And along with getting to live, Milarepa achieved enlightenment.

This time of year we dig in our heels and hang onto summer, and that’s natural. But there comes a point at which we have to climb into the monster’s mouth. And it’s not all bad, change. Loss isn’t all bad, either. There’s something to be said for allowing ourselves to be swallowed, to go with it, to change our colors along with the sycamores. And I’ve found that the closer I am to nature, the easier the shift is.

Tonight I made a peach-bourbon upside-down cake with the last of the peaches. It’s still hot and needs unmolding, or I’d post a picture. I’ll enjoy every bite—never you worry about that. But then later this week I’m picking elderberries and crab apples so I can make jam. I’m going from green to ochre as I do every year, letting the monster dissolve. I’ll let you know if enlightenment bonks me over the head. In the meantime, I’m kind of digging it.

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Homemade turkey Sloppy Joe on cheddar-scallion biscuit. I need my strength to sweep the snow off my car.

I don’t get people who hate winter. We’re talking about a three-month, no-apology excuse to burrow under your faux fur throw from Target, fall asleep, then wake up and make luscious food.

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Crab apple liqueur (sugar, apples, and vodka). I need my strength to…uh…pull off my snow boots.

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Steeped, ready, gazing out over the wilds of suburban New Jersey, and plotting its first offensive.

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A pound cake I made the other night. While it was still hot from the oven I docked the top and poured lots of the extra honeysuckle syrup I made last June over it. Sumptuous.

When you want to work up extra stamina for lazing around and feeding, I recommend exploring a landscape. It will be different—more stark, more bare-bones—than at any other time of year.

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Huber Woods, Navesink, NJ. Sycamore and shadows, east pasture.

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Trees and fence, Navesink.

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West pasture, Navesink.

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Ancient felled sycamore and sky, Navesink.

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I came across several old, tiny wooden buildings in the woods. They were labeled 1930, 1931, etc. I wondered if old years are left in the woods of Navesink, to enter just by opening their doors, like the wardrobe into Narnia. What if they are?

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1931, with reflections of the trees and sky—and ripped curtains.

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Our lake finally froze over. Hockey blades, waiting for their owners to come off the ice. Grownup owners, no less. I love this town.

 

 

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Feather down of a sea gull in early evening light.

I get razzed a lot for being a detail-oriented person, always by friends; and often enough, amusingly enough, by the friends who hire me to be detail-oriented (editing, prop design, you get the picture). I can’t help myself; it’s just that there’s so much to experience in the tiny, unobtrusive stuff.

Good example: I love the seasons, all of them, because each offers both big and infinitesimally small imprints, changes, shifts, gifts, little breaths of the universe that say I was here. It’s all fascinating to me. I want to see it, get into the same space with it. That’s me in the corner, that’s me kneeling in the dirt with my nose up against an inchworm on a strawberry saying coooool.

So.

This is a semi-comprehensive chronicle of my favorite details, late spring into summer. There’s a lot of food, but you expected that.

What’s on your warm-weather list?

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Peanut Butter Moose Tracks cone, Days, Ocean Grove, NJ.

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Sycamore leaf, early evening.

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Fresh Bing cherries in heavy cream.

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Quail eggshell.

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Surfer’s wet and supremely happy mongrel.

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Fresh peach custard pie made with local peaches.

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Bread-and-butter pickles made from a 100+ year-old recipe from a farm wife.

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Turkey burger with homemade hot green-chili harissa.

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Little two-year-old feet in Jellies.

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Bocce ball in intense early evening light.

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A Shirley Temple after a hot day.

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Empty beer mug, lonely and forlorn.

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Fuzzy apricots in more early-evening light. I have a thing with this light, obviously.

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Signs I’m home 🙂 This is what’s on local shelves.

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A portion of Deal Lake, which almost surrounds Interlaken.

There are many things—garishly colored bug juice, for one—that are pretty much appreciated by kids alone. Autumn, on the other hand, is for grownups. I don’t think any of us can appreciate autumn until we’re finally allowed to disassociate it from having to go back to school. As much as I love summer, autumn is delicious, sensuous in a way that July and August can’t compare—a dazzling, aging beauty, at one moment exuberant with passion and color and at another wistful, melancholy. While summer is two-dimensional, a childlike, right-now-in-the-moment Eden, autumn sees its fate across the calendar. Is there beauty in resignation? Maybe so. I think it’s this inherent wisdom in the season that gives it its sweetness.

In autumn I love walking through my hometown, a place in which, to paraphrase the adage, you can hardly see the town for the trees. It’s a strictly residential community, and to look at an aerial-view map, you’d think Interlaken was a forest. Its trees, many 100 years old or more, are enveloping and comforting. Peering up through their rustling leaves on a late-autumn afternoon and seeing thick, heavy, soot-grey clouds is thrilling, the way, as a kid, you loved watching the Wicked Witch of the West on television as long as your mom’s arms were tight around you.

Leaves in the lake.

We had just begun to enjoy autumn here at the Jersey Shore when Hurricane Sandy hit. And sadly, it took most of the leaves with it by the time it was through with us. Still, I took a walk on Thanksgiving Day to sink into the season, and let it sink into me, before the holidays eclipsed it. The park I visited is in Oakhurst, just a couple of miles inland, where autumn’s stark beauty was everywhere.

Sycamore branch.

Pasture and farmhouse.

Windfall.

Sycamore and pasture.

Today I bought local unfiltered apple cider and had a taste. It was as mellow as the autumn sky. And soon I will be baking a cider cake, making a cider buttercream icing for it, having friends and family over to eat it up with me—and making autumn last just a little bit longer.

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This is the most trying time of year. No doubt. As far as sunlight goes, we’re on the other side of winter; if we can make it through January, we’ll be out of the woods. But the landscape here on the U.S. east coast is still dreary, and the air is still bleak, only to get bleaker before daffodil season. As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen, as the saying goes. Now what?

Well…as long as we still have a couple of months until springtime (a groundhog’s yet-unknown prediction notwithstanding), I vote we pass the time by having fun. And by that I mean having treats—experiencing something every day that guarantees us a smile. Making a point to doing this at least until daffodils do it for us.

Treats can be food, but there are dozens of others I can think of. They’re personal, to be sure; an hour of Grand Theft Auto on the upstairs TV, with the door shut behind you, may spell bliss for you. For someone else, it’s a Sunday nap, cat curled up next to you, sunlight streaming across your legs, the sound of the radiator popping and hissing.

A treat is anything that makes your heart swell, anything that makes you want to splash around in it like Labrador in a kiddie pool. A color. A sound. A smell. What makes you feel 100% in the moment?

Photography does it for me. Four out of five senses gratified in one fell swoop. I get a bang out of putting on my snow boots now and trekking around, looking for beautiful low light or color or patterns in a wet sycamore or snow.

The beach, just a couple of blocks away, is desolate and gorgeous in winter. This shot was taken last February, in the late afternoon light.

This time of year offers more challenges for photographers (and athletes, and all outdoor types), but I have also found opportunities not to shoot the same old thing, not to be cliche, when the light and landscape are so spare. The same stuff you walked past last August doesn’t look the same now. It’s kind of cool.

In Scandinavia, people crave winter. They wait for summer to pass so they can jump into the winter sports they’ve either invented or perfected: skiing, ice skating, ski driving, or ski-joring—that’s fastening your big pooch to a harness, tying a belt around your waist, putting skis on, and letting him cruise you around the neighborhood. Apparently there are groups springing up here in the States, devoted to this most awesome idea. And after a day out in the elements, the Norse have a sauna—their lifeblood.

Doctor Who is a nighttime treat for me, a new one (okay, yes, I’m a late arrival, mock me). I borrowed DVDs of the modern series and am enjoying Chris Eccleston’s impish grin, the cheeseball special effects, and hearing Billie Piper say things like, “Nine-een-ay-ee-seven” (1987).

Back to food, because 1) I can’t veer too far from that topic for long and 2) cooking treats, and eating them, get me through these winter days pretty well.

I know many of us are trying to ease back from holiday overindulgence now, but that’s not I’m talking about when I say ‘treat’. I mean eat healthy most of the time, and allow yourself something yummy from time to time. Being good to yourself is good.

Tonight I’m writing this while checking on my vanilla fudge, which is cooling on the counter. It’s a gift to bring to a party tomorrow, and the smell in the place right now is rich and sweet, warming up this winter night.

Then there’s teatime. A centuries-old institution based on having a civilized treat in late afternoon—why did we ever diss this notion? I love my version: eating really high-end bittersweet chocolate buttons in the teeny cloud-covered bowl I got at a Ben & Jerry’s in D.C., and drinking milk through a straw stuck in the carton. Anglophile I may be; civilized, not so much.

My neighbor, in his late eighties, makes himself blueberry pancakes in his small, not-even-slightly-updated kitchen every Sunday morning without fail. Endearing creature of habit that he is, I suspect he has done so since the mid-fifties when he moved into town. He knows treats are there for the taking, and he makes a point to incorporate them into his life every day.

Life is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Even in the winter.

It’s getting late, and the vanilla fudge is finally done. Here it is in the fridge, where it will wait in the cold and dark until morning. Just like us.

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