Sunday, August 30, 2009

Being by the Creek

Today I decided I had to get away from my computer. The trouble with being a writer is that your work is never done. There's always more to do - update your website, write a blog (which this entry in my journal is becoming!), write articles for Suite101, contact editors, work on a manuscript - It took a low pressure gray day yesterday, which put me in a low mood and low energy, to remember that I am my own boss, after all, and even bosses need breaks!
So I make a sack lunch and headed for a Missoula gem, the Rattlesnake Recreation Area, just 10 minutes from downtown, where you can feel totally alone with nature after walking only 5 minutes.
I found a spot to sit on an exposed tree root in the shade, right by the creek, to eat my lunch. As my eyes wandered over the scene, I noticed this spot is all about texture - the smooth but tough leafy texture of the native dogwood, the rough mulitcolored texture of the twisted roots' bark, the delicate softness of narrow petals of a wildflower, the rich cushiony complexity of the dark-to-pale green wet moss on the stream rocks. Then the textures of the water itself as it flowed and rolled and foamed around the rocks, streaked with indigo depths and green tree reflexions. Despite the forty or so cars in the lot, I heard no one except one quick yell from a young child, it was just me, the creek, and the plants. How many people are lucky enough to live in a place with such natural escapes only minutes away? As always, I felt blessed to live here.
Then, refreshed from my break, I headed home to update my website and write this blog entry. My mother used to say jokingly, "No rest for the wicked," but maybe there's a little rest for the writer!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wild Fruit, Tame Fruit

Summer is a time of such lushness and beauty and fresh flavor and abundance! While I love the promise of Spring, I revel in the harvests of summer, and this summer here in Montana has been yielding especially abundant harvests. First of all is the wild harvest, with our native chokecherries weighing down the branches of these tall bushes along the rivers and roadways. Chokecherry syrup is a favorite treat for me, and I've been picking the cherries and making the syrup, experimenting with methods. I've found that the best way to get the unique flavor from the cherries is to cover them with either water or fruit juice and boil, energetically mashing them with a potato masher to release the flesh from the pits. The mashing also gently releases some flavor from the pits, which I think gives the syrup its special wild quality. Then I strain the pulp, mashing more to release juice and flavor. I put the residue back into the pan, cover again with water, and repeat the boiling, mashing, and straining. I measure the juice, add an equal amount of sugar, and boil until the liquid becomes syrupy. If you used water instead of fruit juice, you might need to add some pectin to thicken the syrup to the right consistency. I pour the syrup into clean jars and refrigerate them. You could process the jars into a canner so they will seal and can be stored in the pantry if desired. We tried the syrup out on out of town visitors and had to give them a jar of it to keep up the friendship!
Later this week we visited Forbidden Fruit Orchard in Paradise, MT, a perfectly named enterprise--the peaches are so luscious it almost seems a sin to enjoy something so much. Look closely at the photo, and you'll see a hidden surprise among the leaves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doggy Reunion

I've given up trying to catch up on my year and am plunging right into the here and now with this post.
I experienced a delightful evening this week at the "Golden Birthday" party for Brea. Brea is a dog, not a person, and a party like this is unusual indeed, a reunion for people and canines who had been associated with a service dog program in Montana. Brea turned 12 on August 12, hence the concept of her golden birthday, not to mention that she and most of the dozen or so dogs who attended are Golden Retrievers.
I became a part of this group while working on one of my most fun and rewarding projects, my book The Right Dog for the Job with photographer Bill Muñoz, about Irah, a Golden Retriever puppy who began his life as a candidate for a service dog but ended up being instead the beloved and wonderful guide dog for blind piano tuner Don Simmonson. Bill and I spent many happy hours observing and working with the dogs and people in the program and made many new friends, both canine and human, in the process.
As with any service dog program, many of the animals ended up as family pets instead of working dogs--idiosyncrasies that don't matter or that even make a pet even more beloved can easily deep six a serious career. But the stories that came out during the evening showed how wonderful and varied the bonds can be between humans and dogs and made me realize that the dogs who didn't make it had become just as important in the lives of their families as any working dog.
As I have no dog of my own now, one of the best parts of the evening was the constant circling of the dogs around the humans, snuggling their muzzles under our hands and deftly tossing upward so the hand ended up on top of a soft, furry head. Knowing this would happen in a room full of what some people call "velcro dogs," I had been smart enough to wear khaki colored pants with a slick finish, so I escaped relatively unfurred, but very content.