R. Perkins Blog

Nothing is so subtle, so absolutely imperceptible as the encroachment of age upon us…

A Floating Cow, and some Beans on the Bayou (Brownwood Riverfest 2015)

August 16, 2015


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I came for the raft race. An audacious event, open to all; a distinct challenge that tosses aside centuries of maritime expertise in favor of redneck ingenuity…an adventure, requiring only a scrap heap, and the desire to coax from its depths a raft-like object capable of floating at least long enough to cross the finish line.

As I steered my challenger into the dust-choked parking area, I imagined a group of self-proclaimed raft-wranglers (good ole boys and gals), waiting anxiously at the bayou’s edge, eager to launch their crude, but capable crafts. Countless sleepless nights behind them, they stand, pondering the hours spent laboring over sketchy designs scribbled out on walls in chalk, or simply drawn in the dirt on cement shop floors like a child’s doodles on an etch-a-sketch. This is it! I parked in the first slot I found, then hurried into the park.

Engulfed by a thick fog of fine sand, I battled my way through the oncoming traffic–automobiles that lumbered like clumsy hippos through the combination entrance/exit that curiously provided only enough room for one vehicle to pass through at a time. Approaching the gate, I uttered a quiet thanks after emerging from the parking area unscathed, paid my two dollar entry fee, then rushed down the sidewalk. As I neared the designated raft race area, my excitement quickly faded into disappointment. With less than ten minutes until race time, there was only one entry afloat, and no others waiting impatiently on the bank. Ok, maybe things were running a bit behind schedule. I could busy myself elsewhere for a while.

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

A few dozen steps later, I found myself admiring the vintage automobiles The Heartland Cruisers’ had on display. My heart is always captured, and my gaze transfixed anytime I encounter a row of gleaming, restored vehicles. Whether it’s the graceful swell of a fender gliding over a chrome wheel of a sports car, or the nostalgic boxy theme of a classic pickup, I stand in awe before the roots of the automotive industry. Each creation is unique, and every feature evident of our early exploration into the usefulness, and marketability of the automobile. I must admit, the specimen that aroused my interest the most wasn’t glinting sunlight from chrome accessories, or drawing me into my reflection with a deep luxurious shine. It was instead, an old, green, rusty ford truck. Sometimes, a patina shines brighter than turtle wax.

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After my brief visit to the automotive display, I maneuvered through the maze of vendors then over to the pavilion area to check out the live entertainment. As I drifted through the crowd, I encountered a woman brandishing a spoon. “Would you like to judge beans?” She asked.

“What do I have to do?”

“Eat beans,” she said.

I briefly contemplated the profundity our short exchange. Finally, an opportunity to demonstrate one of my many hidden talents. I’ve gone essentially unknown, and unappreciated as a professional bean eater for years, and now my skills would be put to good use. I’ve had beans for lunch and dinner more times than I could count, and have been acutely aware of their awe-inspiring properties as a breakfast food for most of my adult life.  A bubble of pride swelled inside of me. This was my duty–what I had been born to do. “I believe I can handle that,” I said.

With that, she led me to a table where the other professional bean eaters were already seated, then she left, with her magical spoon still in hand, in search of more judges. Shortly, there were six of us. (That’s a pretty darn persuasive spoon). I didn’t know anyone, and with no introductions made, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe one of them went by the name Wendy, or Tootie. That’s just how my mind works.

Before me was a score sheet with instructions outlining the specific traits that qualify a sample of beans as being superior to all others. They would be graded on a scale of one to ten, taking into consideration such qualities as texture, appearance, smell, and of course, taste. Hmmm, in my professional bean eating opinion, none of these need individual consideration…unless there’s a tie breaker. Beans must have a “wow” factor. That’s to say, all these winning bean traits come together in one big magical moment the instant they make contact with the taste buds. Whenever I put a spoonful of beans in my mouth, I either want to follow-up with another, or spit it out. And if I go back for seconds, well, that particular version of the american musical fruit may just be a winner.

Sixteen bean-filled spoons, and half a dozen crackers later, my task was over. Yes, the wow factor did strike a couple of times, but most offerings presented themselves in various degrees of ordinary deliciousness. However, there were a couple that would have benefited from a visit by the spice fairy.

After I submitted my score sheet, my attention shifted back to the raft race. I hurried back across the park, arriving just in time to watch last place clear the finish line. I scanned the shoreline for a possible winner and spotted a torpedo-like craft laying on the bank. That’s it. It appeared unstable at best, heavy, and certain to sink straight to the bottom and bury up in black, bayou mud if only the slightest bobble were made…but it looked fast. At a glance I could sense the dedication involved in creating a raft with just the right measure of speed and instability. A raft that could take you across the finish line in first place, or straight to the bottom if you so much as sneezed, or chanced a look back… my kind of raft indeed. Seriously folks, if it’s safe, (whatever it is) is it really all that much fun?

I may have missed out on most of the raft race, but I met some wonderful people, witnessed a floating cow, seen some great cars, ate some damn fine beans, and I am proud of the opportunity to add “bean judge” to my list of lifetime accomplishments. Thank you, lady with the spoon. Yep, I’m ready for next years Riverfest at Brownwood, Texas. See y’all there!

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

 

 

 

 

 

Stability

May 11, 2015


Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

My wife and I used to travel…a lot. Not so much any more. Nowadays, our adventure schedule remains whittled down to a few short weekend excursions sprinkled throughout the summer months, and one short family vacation during which we spend hours standing in line. In the past, I’ve been all too eager to attribute our lack of adventure to our age. Recently, I’ve realized that this just simply isn’t true. In fact, older people tend to travel more if anything at all. I see these brave souls prowling the interstates and back roads on their Harleys and in their RVs, stoking the fires of adventure with the kids inheritance and searching for all those missed experiences deferred for family life during middle-age. Armed to the teeth with bank accounts bulging from abstinent lifestyles, and saddlebags, and fanny-packs swollen just slightly larger than a sixty year old prostate, they trudge onwards wielding their testosterone gels with great exuberance in search of that certain road with that odd little Bar-B-Q joint/bar where they shared that other joint with that strange hippie couple thirty-odd years ago. Retirement seems to create a restless stir in the hearts of the older generation. So, what is it then that tethers two fifty-ish people to their home? Did we travel before because we just didn’t have anything better to do? Maybe. Were we searching for something? If so, what? As I look around this place, I see a possible answer: stability. And how is this defined?

From my front porch I can see a garden. It needs tended constantly. There’s always a beetle or an aphid that begs discouraging, or a previously unknown blight that sends me to my laptop and off into the land of Google in search of an accurate identification and an organic method of control. Blessed with substantial rainfall, watering isn’t a problem this year.  Most years, however, it isn’t like this, and regular irrigation is a must to insure that fresh, GMO-free produce will fill our bellies. I order seeds from reputable heirloom seed companies, established with the express interest of preserving pure strains, free from harmful GMO genetics. After planting a rare variety of tomato from a seed no larger than a flea, and nurturing the tender sprout into a mature plant, I find it difficult to sleep at night if I’m away from home for more than a couple of days. (Obsession? Possibly.) The fertile garden is also a perfect arena for competition among plants. Anything utilizing resources from the garden soil that doesn’t offer a tasty return for its human counter-parts earns classification as a weed, and indifference is the only fertilizer weeds require. In my garden, however, they can also grow fat on steady applications of nitrogen via worm castings. If I don’t visit the garden for a couple of days, I return to find my veggies struggling on the loosing end of a power-grab. The annual family vacation is always punctuated with a vigorous plunge into the garden, and a cardio inducing weed scramble.

 

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

As I ponder the garden, my pug brushes herself against my legs. Lucy gets impatient:  if I don’t rub her, she rubs herself…on me.  She is  another facet of our stability–an irreplaceable, high-ranking member of the Perkins family unit. A pug certainly wouldn’t have been our breed of choice, but we really weren’t allowed a say in the matter. She was a gift from a patient at the dialysis unit where my wife works. I often feel that her presence here strikes a more profound note that what was originally intended.  Fundamentally, a pug is the same as any other breed of dog, but due to limitations imposed upon this breed by their respiratory systems, they don’t catch frisbees, hunt, or make acceptable jogging partners. This runs converse to the pug’s personality, which is as unrestrained and outgoing as the most athletic of canines. They are also sensitive to certain skin disorders and allergies that demand diligent observation and treatment practices. Where they do excel, however, is with the one aspect of human existence that we all crave; companionship. Above all else, pugs are lap dogs that require frequent human interaction to remain healthy in mind and body.

Despite Lucy’s high maintenance needs and incessant snoring, she quickly found the path to our hearts,  snorting the whole way. The constant, undying daily affection she provides her humans, offers us insight into the patient/nurse relationship that thrives within a caregiver environment. She has never made mention of it, but I know my wife must feel that her efforts on the dialysis floor inspire love and appreciation in the hearts of the patients whom she cares for each time she sees the gratitude in Lucy’s actions at home–her weird happy bark, her odd smile, her quirky tap-dance on the laminated floor as she anticipates her bacon snack. Even after we return home from the briefest of journeys she is bursting with joy. I prefer to believe that this sense of excitement rises also in the souls of those dependent upon my wife’s return to the clinic four days a week. I’m sure they’re not jumping out of their chairs and doing the bacon-snack dance, but I’ll wager their hearts are leaping just the same.

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

Perhaps the most common anchor used to moor couples to familiar surroundings is the decision to become parents. Alright, maybe it’s not always a conscious decision, but just the same, you’ve just swapped standing-room-only for waiting rooms and I-cant-feel-my-ass-anymore wooden bleachers. Also, anything with a kickstand just got listed on eBay. It’s not the children themselves that weld us in place so much as the subset of responsibilities that we inherit when we expand our gene-pool. Most recently, my sons drivers education has been the focus. I don’t recall this being such a complicated process when I was young. I learned how to drive, I passed a test and received a license. When did all these government employees get involved? After being forced repeatedly, and somewhat impolitely, to prove that me and my family are actually Americans (been here all our lives, not that it matters) I emerged feeling oddly unwelcome in my native country. In the end, however, what I choose to take away from this experience is a greater appreciation for the efforts put forth by my own parents as they prepared for me all the proper credentials necessary for a life on my own.

Stability isn’t necessarily defined as a house, a dog, a garden and a family. I suppose it’s any lifestyle that secures us to familiar surroundings. It could just as easily be a job that keeps us on the go. While many long for the open road, others marvel at the patchwork quilt passing 30,000 ft. below them while en route to their next business meeting, and ponder all the diaper changing, time clock punching, birthday party planning, and methodical yard work that keep it neatly sewn together. For these frequent flyers, perhaps that’s where the real adventure exists.

When summer is in full-swing, the Perkins family will install the sprinklers in the garden and adjust the timers. Lucy will make new friends, and long for her old ones during a stay at a local kennel, and her favorite flavor of Blue Buffalo dog food, her allergy meds, and bacon/cheese treats will be in adequate supply. The calendar hanging on the walls at our jobs will prominently display a successive row of x’s in honor of our short absence. Alerted caretakers will bid us the time-honored, oxymoronic advisory to “have fun, and be careful”. We will cram a slightly reduced version of our worldly possessions into the SUV, leaving a cubby hole for each of us to occupy. Then, resembling a scaled-down, upgraded, and much more jovial version of the Joad family, we will coax the overloaded Envoy down the road, not in search of, nor in leiu of, but rather in wonderful celebration of our stability.

Killer Furniture

April 20, 2015


A couch is a deadly thing. Oh sure, it looks harmless enough, with its soft, plump cushions and its coveted vantage point in front of the flat screen, but trust me, these are only clever features, strategically placed to tempt the unsuspecting–the otherwise energetic individual. Wooed by its siren call, we react accordingly, tossing cardio inducing chores, honey-do lists, and landscaping activities in favor of lounging, snacking on sat-fats, sipping empty calories, and…napping. Veins and rain gutters clog in unison. As the grass in our lawns thicken so does our girth. Toxins accumulate in our blood and litter our many biological systems. In comparison, numerous unfinished projects lie scattered about our property in various stages of completion and dilapidation.  Soon follows marital distress, self loathing, and possibly a summons from city hall. If we’re not careful, this bastion of relaxation may also double as our sleeping quarters. It seems as though the couch is capable of causing heart trouble on multiple levels. In short, a couch can kill you.

This piece of furniture is the lion fish of the living room or den. It’s beautiful. Inviting. Insidious. When encountered, our free will becomes anesthetized by its many keen embellishments. We spot the familiar crater identifying our favorite resting place; evidence of countless asteroidal trips taken from the standing position to sitting while holding a six-pack and a platter of nachos. The stains around the built-in beverage holder in the arm rest instantly transport us back to that frozen margarita that gave us a brain-freeze on that day our favorite team won the Super Bowl. Soon, we become trapped in an intoxicating fog of nostalgia. We are no longer the captains of our day, the predators of the chore list, or the one hammering away on that road bike striving for a personal best. We are now prey.

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

 

Hypnotized, we soon find ourselves wanting to interact with this leather-bound nemesis, convinced by our pleasant memories that it’s safe. The moment we make physical contact, however, we’re zapped with its venom. Our knees buckle, we collapse and reach out instinctively for support, but find only the tv remote as we sink into plush, familiar comfort. Now, our every desire to experience the outdoors and pursue healthy activity becomes paralyzed. The seat on that mountain bike, and the soles of those running shoes remain cold. Dandelions and milkweed sprout along property lines, around trees and flower beds, growing un-checked while the gas in our lawn care equipment slowly degrades into harmful shellac, clogging lines and filters. Days, perhaps weeks later, when we’re finally prompted into action by the sounds of the Serengeti emanating from our front yards, we excavate that lawn care equipment from the depths of storage sheds that stand like forgotten tombs housing hidden treasures.  This, only to discover that we can tug the pull-cord on the echo weed trimmer until our flabby arms fall off and never once summon the shrill scream of a two-cycle engine or the masculine scent of 50:1 mix wafting in the breeze. We will seek refuge back at the couch and scan through our basic channel lineup to free our minds from the money we’ll soon be parting with at the small-engine repair shop. Meanwhile, weeds will grow tall and develop thick, stout stems while conversely, our bodies (resting on the couch) will devour unused muscle to convert into protein, and stack fat upon thinning bones as we graze on Cheetos, big macs and fries, and sip cola. This trend continues until our go-to excuse becomes “I just don’t have the energy”.( Fast food makes a slow dude.)

The allure; the undeniable, irresistible tug of the couch isn’t just confined to the human race. This affliction  has the unique ability to jump species, and to affect other domesticated brands of life. Most notably, house-pets. I remember a dog that a friend of mine once had. Harvey was his name, and he possessed a certain prominent feature that ensured that he wouldn’t be crowded while stretching out in his favorite spot, which was notably, not too far from mine. Whenever Harvey would sit on the couch, his sizable testicle-filled scrotum would rest next to him with all the quiet dignity of a large, pink wad of discarded bubble-gum sparsley covered in wiry dog hair. In time, I began to postulate that it might actually be a separate entity; a living creature capable of existing on its own. Not wishing to chance the possible forfeit of my couch privileges, I resisted the urge on several occasions to gently nudge it with a beer can in an effort to test this theory. Some things are just better left a mystery. All efforts in my later years to emulate Harvey have failed, and I can but envy him.

 

Despite the bewitching qualities of the couch, some have the power to resist. These tempered souls march straight through their living areas without offering the malevolent, comforting, muscle-melting beast that dwells there so much as a glance. On their days off, they bound from their slumber each morning with a garden tool in each hand and the fresh scent of cut grass in their heads before the rest of us even so much as blink. Afterwards, they pull themselves up by the straps of their tri-suits and become athletes. They test the limits of their high-end bicycles hammering up the hills, and torture scores of running shoes traversing miles of pavement in the pursuit of increased stamina. When they return home, they reward themselves with a hard-earned and well deserved visit to their couch. And when they do, they’ll find no familiar depression, no crater waiting for them–only a firm, flat cushion. My hat is off to those who belong to this elite group–those who are brave enough to push themselves, and discover what they’re made of, to get things done, and to surprise even themselves with what they can accomplish by just simply ignoring the couch as an alternative, and regarding it instead as a reward.  Deep down, I think we all wish we were a lot more like these spirited warriors, and maybe, just a little more like Harvey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opal Apple Adventure; A Forbidden Fruit…Sort Of

March 22, 2015


Opal apple. Photo by R.Perkins

Opal apple. Photo by R.Perkins

Opal apples will reverse the aging process, make you impervious to disease, and alter your DNA in such a manner as to make you staggeringly attractive and irresistible to the opposite sex…or the same-sex. To the best of my knowledge Opal apples make no distinctions concerning sexual preference or orientation.

In reality, they actually do none of the above. However, at almost four dollars a pound, if an ordinary apple a day will shoo away a doctor, along those same lines an Opal should repel lawyers, politicians, Jehovah’s witness, and the IRS. I like apples. I don’t love them, but in the case of the Opal lets just call it curiosity. Normally, I would opt for the cheaper selections. Perhaps a Granny Smith (get your tart on!) or my personal favorite–Honeycrisp, but the sheer price difference of the opal piqued my interest enough to do some digging on the internet. And what I uncovered encouraged me to, well, bite.

And bite I did. I soon found myself standing in the apple section of Brookshire’s produce aisle,  closely scrutinizing each golden, slightly orange orb. I chose four. I later did the math and wished I hadn’t after concluding that each apple cost me approximately $2.50. I winced. These damn well better be good. 

I took my shoes off before taking a bite, and propped my feet up to better provide my no-show Puma brand socks an adequate launching pad because they were about to peel free, fly across the room and slam against the adjacent wall with such force that they would imprint the word AMUP into the paneling. That didn’t happen. So far, the only event to ever actually knock my socks off was a motorcycle accident back in 1989. On a lighter note, after biting into the opal apple I wasn’t flung from my recliner and into the highway, and I didn’t wake up in a hospital bed a day later with a headache, and a bruise that started in my butt emanating out in every direction displaying various degrees of color making me look like a tie-dyed version of the Brown Hornet, but feeling considerably less like a superhero and more like a squashed villain. What did happen, however, was a deeper respect, and a far better understanding of how a stable apple cultivar achieves perfection. The first three things I discovered about the opal were as follows:

  • It’s a cross between Golden Delicious and Topaz.
  • Since its introduction to the USA in 2010 it’s only grown in one place. (Broetje Orchards in Washington.)
  • It’s a Non-GMO verified product.

If the Non-GMO verified part wasn’t enough to interest me to dig deeper, or the fact that this particular cultivar was only grown in one of the United States, the fact that it’s against the law to plant one of the seeds from an Opal apple certainly cinched it for me. Now, I want a tree.

Whaaat? Against the law? Yep, thanks to the Plant Patent Act of 1930,  you can patent a seed. And why not? It takes lots of hard work and dedication to perfect a cultivar of any species and create a stable specimen. Anyone who has ever saved seeds from their garden to replant the following year in hopes of growing more of that same awesome variety of their favorite veggie only to discover they planted seeds from a hybrid can give a big amen to that. You can plant ten different seeds from a hybrid and get ten different results. I did this with peppers once, and I must confess, I liked it. (Don’t tell anyone).

Photo by R.Perkins

Photo by R.Perkins

Alas, in the case of apple trees, or other asexually propagated plants, planting a seed in hopes of growing a tree that would yield a desired variety is akin to purchasing a slip of paper with a set of random numbers printed on it in hopes of winning millions of dollars. AKA the lottery. However, the act of purchasing a lottery ticket won’t usually land you in jail, whereas the successful propagation of an Opal apple tree sprouted from a seed out of a store-bought apple certainly could. I still want one.

Why do I want one? Because someone is telling me I can’t have one, that’s why.  That being said, the Opal apple does have some outstanding, if not curious qualities. For example, after being sliced, the exposed flesh of this variety will not turn brown. I tested this somewhat by accident when I left a core resting in the cup holder of my SUV for a twenty-four hour period. No brown…at all. Weird, huh? I mean, who the hell leaves spent fruit lying around inside their vehicle all day long? This one particular characteristic of the Opal makes it a popular choice for parents who forgo the school provided lunch for a more nutritious, homemade version. It seems as though kiddos don’t care for brown apple slices. Hmpf, in my day we gave the apple to the teacher anyway.

Another outstanding facet of this horticultural jewel is community support. The funds procured from the sale of Opal apples are used to aid local community efforts, e.g. community gardens. And just in time too, because these beauties are only sold from late winter to early spring. When those robins start hopping, and the aromas from the compost piles begin to swell into our nostrils, that Opal money should start rolling in. Is it any wonder they’re called Opals?

As I mentioned earlier, Opals are currently grown only in one place here in the USA. This is because they have only been recently introduced to this continent. They originated in Europe, in the Czech Republic, therefore, I’m certain the costs of establishing an orchard here was substantial. Understandably, it will be a while before saplings, or even rootstock will become available to the general public. Hmmm, guess I’ll wait for that time to come. But if a seed should fall from an apple I am eating, in the garden, over fertile, well-drained sandy loam…welll.

Ok Opal apple owners, don’t freak-out and send the apple police my way. I realize that an apple sprouted from seed will most likely yield crab apple–a spindly, ground hugging vine-like production of an apple tree. I am also aware that apple trees, propagated through the process of grafting if the fruit produced is to remain true to the parent plant, aren’t really worthwhile to grow from seed. I still want one though.

I must say, exploring the heritage of the Opal apple has been an enlightening, if not tasty adventure. Any time I spot a new example of mother nature’s handiwork resting in the fruit bin, my interest stirs, my tummy growls, and I soon get my google on. The Opal apple is just the latest to tickle my brain buds.

Well, by now I guess you want to know what it tasted like. Well, let me tell you, it was…aww heck, just go buy one and try it yourself. Delight your taste buds. Besides, when was the last time you helped your community?

Fish Dance

March 10, 2015


Photo by R. Perkins

Photo by R. Perkins

I lost it. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my life I surrendered the ability to out-fish my son. What the heck happened? Did I teach him too well? Did he unearth a magic lantern containing a genie and make a wish? Did he slip into my bedroom late one night, and through the use of some magical endowment obtained by mysterious means, extract the pure essence of my angling abilities?

Whatever tactic the young usurper used to seize my skills, one stark fact remains–he is the reigning fishing king these days. Truth is, I’m thrilled. I mean, after a bit of consideration I concluded that by relinquishing my title (however involuntarily ) as top dog of the fishing crew, I now have more time for observation and… beverages. Let’s just call them beverages.

Upon arriving at our choice, secluded fishing spot he bounds from the passenger door of our Chevy Colorado, snags a fiberglass rod and nylon stringer in one deft movement, then plods away, leaving me in the wake of his unyielding confidence. I snuggle-up to a cooler. Icy beverages beckon and console me from within. As the young angler glides along the shoreline of the stock tank, he deftly negotiates the many pitfalls–wobbly rocks, hardened cow tracks, the deadly slippery-log-laying-in-wait-in-the-tall-grass (that one always gets me)–and I remain free to offer sage advice from the comfort of the pickup tailgate.

“Chunk it over there near that lil’ bunch of moss son!”

No reply.

“Hey! Try one of those rubber worms. Hmmm, you ain’t twitching it right. Try this.” I stand up and air-fish in a futile attempt to demonstrate the correct technique.

He operates in silence, ignoring his animated father, but I’m almost positive that he is carefully considering every syllable I utter. Why wouldn’t he? After all, I’ve taught him everything he knows, but not all that I know…not yet. I’m satisfied that he hangs on every word.

He wears only Nikes and cargo shorts. His slender muscles flex and stretch as his lithe frame drifts through the knee-high vegetation that springs from the mud like horse hair from an earthen brush. The sun’s unrelenting rays spar with his young skin, but he wears the translucent armor of youth, and he only turns brown in response. I am similarly dressed, but without looking I can already detect a shade of red. Apparently the direct result of yet another one of my waning abilities.

I soon retreat to the soothing shade of a nearby oak and rest upon a gnarled, ancient root; a half-buried wooden knot, worn slick, and bristling with cow hair. It is odd, ugly and deformed, and bears evidence of some horrible genetic event encountered by the mighty oak. I find it irresistible. I use a battle-worn Reebok to brush away a loose pile of soil gathered around its base before sitting down. Now, bathed in dappled sunlight, I continue to cast fishing tips across the water. I dress each morsel in adjectives that sparkle like glints of sunlight and verbs that resonate like ripples in the space between us. Still, no reply. Alas, just as the rubber worm tied to the end of my young fisherman’s line falls shy of the ragged green fringe of the moss, my advice must tumble into the reeds just short of earshot. Suddenly, I spring from my tortured, oaken stool like Mario from a drain pipe and dance frantically about, waving wildly and spouting censor-worthy words and phrases. What’s this? An obscene indian fish dance designed to bring good luck? Nope, just a visit from the local chapter of FAAMD; Fire Ants Against Mound Destruction. I peel myself like a shrimp and frantically brush away dozens of dark, angry specks. They resist eviction, clinging stubbornly, scrunched and hunkered down like bitter drops of hate burning like hot slag into my flesh. Standing bare and vulnerable, surrounded by my wardrobe, I hear a faint chuckle drift across the pond. Finally, a response.

I dress, then carry my cooler into the peripheral shade, being careful to avoid the charismatic root that houses the retaliating fire ants. Now comfortable, as the lid to the igloo gradually succumbs to my weight, I surrender to my imagination and allow my son time to process the valuable fishing knowledge I have so graciously dispensed. I contemplate the possibilities of fire ant eradication on planet earth. I wonder if anyone has ever died from itching. I cradle my iPhone in my palm and resist the urge to tap the safari app. Google has no place in the sacred father/son fishing trip. Suddenly, a largemouth bass bursts through the surface of the water and shatters my thoughts. A bright purple rubber worm dances with his rigid lip. Leaping from the swayed-back cooler, I spring into action.

“You need to steer him over here, son! Not as much moss here!” I point at an area to his right…he moves left.

“You’re gonna lose him!”

He wades out into the tank, reaches below the water surface, and procures an impressive largemouth bass from the edge of the moss.

“Ok, so you got lucky that time.”

He appears to ignore me, but I know he pays close attention. Damn, he’s good.

He slogs back through the lush vegetation, then threads his latest catch on an impressive stringer of bass and bluegill perch. He then resumes his slow, deliberate path around the pond and continues to build on his stringer of fish while I continue with my helpful input derived from my vast understanding of the art of fishing. Arriving back at the stout oak where I sit, he proudly displays the days catch. Ah yes, the wonderful, and fruitful result of teamwork.

Now that I think about it, It’s not so much that I’ve lost anything, but rather that I’ve discovered another facet of a simple pleasure. Fishing is more complex and richer than I ever dreamed. In life, we learn, then do, then at some point teach. (And in middle age many of us try that “do” part again. You know who you are.) Even if no one listens to us, we teach, because even though they may not pay attention, they can’t help but hear us.

As long as we continue to try to learn, we remain young, if only at heart. At some point however, as parents we must learn how to pass the torch. Learning grants us the ability to try new things and to fail so that we can laugh at ourselves. And that’s important, because it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. The tastiest aspect though, is what follows…the fish fry!

Song of The Cheeseburger

March 10, 2015


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“It’s time to plant onions”, the sign read, so I did, and so far all is going well. As a matter of fact, I’m having such good luck with following directions I’m presently keeping an eye peeled for a sign stating “win the lottery”. It’s out there…somewhere. And I remain eager to comply.

My mother taught me that the robin is the first harbinger of spring, but for me the onion holds that honor. Those delicious, pungent beauties are the first vegetables to earn membership in each new garden I create. What meal would be complete without the crisp, clean pop of a fresh, green onion between your teeth? Nothing says “you’re a dear friend” with more conviction than a bundle of neatly trimmed scallions with glowing white socks. Of all the ingredients used in fresh homemade salsa, none complete it more than the satisfying crunch of the zesty onion. Onions complement our chili recipes, and make our cheeseburgers sing. Never has a more enchanting tune thrilled a taste bud as delightfully as the song of a cheeseburger with a slab of onion wedged inside of it. However, I would be remiss and risk forfeiture of my standing as an avid and honorable gardener if I failed to at least mention the other tasty species of garden plants that offer value to the cheeseburger.

Until last frost, the hardy onions stand like rows of disciplined soldiers guarding a precious plot of land reserved for other vegetables less tempered against the cold. It’s only January, but a few gorgeous, sunlit days, unusually warm but characteristic for central Texas, tempt me to rev my tiller, wake the sleeping soil and prepare to plant the remainder of my garden. I resist, drawing inspiration from the staunch row of onions, and stick to my plan. Potatoes are next. Shortly after the winter mongrel squares his two cold shoulders towards the north and withdraws his troops from my southern homeland, I’ll slice them into chunks–two eyes to a piece–and allow them to sit silently and undisturbed in a cool, dry corner of my gardening shed. There, in the permeable darkness, their exposed flesh will stiffen into new armor that will guard them against rot and disease when they are laid into the warm, moist earth. After harvest, these delicious tubers will find their way into roasting pans and stew pots where they will simmer and absorb the succulent flavors of beef broth, or pork loin. But perhaps their greatest contribution will be as golden, crispy french fries– a praiseworthy addition to the aforementioned cheeseburger. Onions? Fries? What could impart even more deliciousness and further impress the palate?

The tomato; star of the garden. If the sturdy onion grants us a slight reprieve from the leaden veil of winter, and instills hope that a harsh season will soon expire as we press plump, papery bulbs gently into the soil, the tender tomato sprout heralds the re-birth of a bountiful age suffused with color that seems to pulsate as it illuminates the landscape. Spirited tendrils intertwine with our souls while stealing their way through trellises and wire cages. Misty green forests erupt and soon offer flashes of robust pinks and reds amid the feathery foliage. Whatever variety–mortgage-lifter, celebrity, costoluto genovese– slightly sweet and pleasantly acidic, sliced thick or thin the tomato is an invaluable cheeseburger ingredient. From the convenient currant (wild tomato) carried by the dozens in shirt pockets, to the hefty beefsteak that boasts the ability to cover the face of a burger with one slice, each variety, flavor and color of this delectable fruit (or vegetable if you agree with the supreme court) has a place in the heart of a gardener somewhere. In my heart, there is room enough for them all. Regretfully, my garden space is not nearly as accommodating, therefore, effectively forcing me to narrow my choices if I am to pursue other interests, e.g., okra, peas, watermelons, etc…

 

Photo by R. Perkins

Photo by R. Perkins

 

Come October, I’ll have grown weary of the garden, and may even consider swearing it off for a couple of years as I tug at the dried, raspy okra stalks that grip the earth as if it were prey. I’ll roll up string, and wrestle wooden stakes from the stubborn, black soil. I’ll pluck twisted brown vines from tomato cages, and drag piles of scratchy pea vines to the compost heap. I”ll itch, sweat, and decide that this is just too damn much work. But, by mid-december my rural mail carrier will plant that first seed magazine into my mailbox, and as I turn the pages, in my soul will sprout desire.

Jack had his magical beans that brought first wonder, then strife, and ultimately reward. For me, this captures the spirit of gardening. There will be many battles fought between the indisputable passion of placing that first onion in the ground and heaving the last tenacious okra stalk out by its gnarly roots, and in the end, though weary, I shall consider it all worthwhile each time I pluck from my cupboard a jar of spicy pickles, or harvest from the depths of my chest freezer a bag of breaded okra.

I believe all seeds possess magical properties. I challenge anyone to cradle a few of them in their hand and not feel a stir, an invisible, mysterious force inside beckoning to place these sacred vessels into the earth and witness the life contained therein. FYI, though it may sound logical, those tiny seeds that cling precariously to the toasted exterior of certain hamburger buns will not germinate into a cheeseburger plant. Magic, it seems, doesn’t always prescribe to my logic.

February urges my garden plans to full bloom. My supplies, seeds and desire threaten to shirk their dormant state with every unseasonably warm day. The onions stand firmly in the ground expanding layer by layer as hungry roots feast within the nurturing, silent earth. It’ll be a while before they’re ready for the table, but until then I’ll settle for a singing cheeseburger from my favorite diner. Make mine with a thick slice of purple onion, please.

 

 

Photo by R. Perkins

Photo by R. Perkins

Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

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