Friday, October 30, 2009

From Brown to Green

 
 I snapped this picture from my kitchen window, fawns hoovering fallen persimmons.


Some months back a group of neighbors started a gardeners group for our community.  I presented the first program, a topic we chose for the amount of pain residents feel.  We wanted to meet a need and draw a crowd.

"Limiting Deer Damage in the Landscape"  The program took me as long to create as writing a chapter of my book...and I won't volunteer to do any more programs for at least a year, by which time I will have forgotten. 

Anyway, the gardeners group is rolling right along now, guided by a steering committee of ten great women who meet monthly for dinner and wine.  I'm pretty sure the ideas become more creative as the bottles are emptied.

A few weekends ago we held the first community garden tour, with the theme of deer resistant gardens.  Three very different yards.  Kim's, a formal landscape, Dave's, a Texas-version cottage garden, and ours, an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat.  Close to 50 neighbors came to see what could be done with hardscape and drought-tolerant, deer resistant plants.  Everyone had a good time and we're already talking about the next tour, probably Xeric Landscapes.





Three years ago, our yard was barren and we didn't even know our next door neighbors.  Now the gardens and the friends make this place feel like home.  Three years isn't a long time to make a home; but the time would have felt like forever without relationships and the inspiration of nature.  Like the difference between living and existing.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Truth of Tent Sex

After a walk at Lady Bird Lake in Austin last week, I went to the cafe for breakfast.  Black bean, egg and pico de gallo taco.  The cook puts serrano peppers in the pico and I like to start the day on a high.

Took my  favorite seat at the bar, close to the table where the older-middle-aged-guys sit. The writer walked up as I sat down, a big guy with a big voice and a belly grown from years of beer and fajitas. 

The musician, a lean man whose faded blue shirt matched his eyes, asked how the weekend went.

"I've been disenchanted.  They went camping at Enchanted Rock without me."

"You didn't want to go?"

"First, I gotta tell you, I HATE camping.  Hate everything about it--bugs, heat, cold, needing a flashlight in the middle of the night to find a place to take a leak."  He was silent for a moment.  "But when Becky asked me if I wanted to go, I couldn't tell her that."

"Why not?"

"Well, when I first met her and she talked about camping, she kind of hinted there was tent-sex.  So I told her, hell yes, I LOVED camping.  I'd be happy to go raise a pole for her tent."

He paused. "So I couldn't tell her."

He blew out a breath.  "I'm such a dumbass.  What I told her was,"  his voice rose to an earnest schoolteacher tone, "I couldn't possibly go camping with her because I didn't have any equipment now.  I had it in my twenties; tent, stove, sleeping bag, the works.  But I lost it in one of the divorces and this isn't a good time to buy more."

"By the time I finished, she was holding my hand and her eyes were sparkling.  She had this big smile and she said,  'Oh, don't worry about that, I have everything you need.'   And she wasn't kidding.  She took me over to her garage.  Every piece of goddamn equipment known to man. Including four sizes of tents, from a two-man to one big enough for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

By then I was suppressing a giggle. 

I'm betting Becky had a feeling for the truth of his camping.  She probably laughed like crazy after he left her garage.  Either way, what do you think his chances of tent sex are now?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gulf Muhley (Muhlenbergia capillaris)


Summer flowers are fading in October when Gulf Muhley comes into glory.  And this bunch grass is a gold fountain in winter, green the rest of the year. 

Feels good too.  You can trail your fingers through the rounded fronds and come away knowing what smooth feels like.

Easy care, just rake out in spring to give new fronds more room to grow.


Gulf Muhley grows one to three feet high, making it a good choice for a low hedge.  The flowing look is a nice complement to flowering shrubs or a contrast to spiky foliage.


Highly deer resistant.  Where we live, that's not a plus, it's a requirement.

Gulf Muhley grows best in full sun and well-drained sand or loam.  The Lady Bird Wildflower Center also says it prefers moist soil.  My experience is that it's forgiving.  I took the muhley picture this morning in our back garden where it's growing in thin clay over limestone.  And survived on little water through the recent record drought.    


Who doesn't need year-round beauty?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cedar Fever Cure



I made my annual Cedar Fever potion today.

 It's not Cedar Fever Season yet, that's December - March.  In Cedar Fever Season, the air is scented day and night with a thick minty piney slightly sour smell from Ashe juniper trees (known to sufferers as 'damn cedar' trees).  The female trees bloom and the males release sprays of yellow-gold powdery pollen into the air to blanket the blooms.

Most Hill Country residents are allergic to cedar sex.  Violently allergic.  In bad pollen years, the drugstores run out of kleenex and the doctors stay home sick.

As potions go, this isn't complicated, but the cooking  is aromatic.  I might have gone a little overboard in the amount of leaves or maybe I didn't get it off the stove quite as soon as I should.  
Denny says the house smells like a cross between cat urine and a Christmas tree.  You'd think an odor that strong would sink to the floor from its own weight.

I think we'll sleep with the windows open tonight.

For my Texas friends who are desperate enough to want the recipe...the potion hasn't killed us yet but we're not doctors and can't say what is best for you... you're on your own with risk and all that. 

How we do it:  Cut young Ashe juniper leaves.  Wash and chop to make a packed cup.  Put in a pot with 1 quart cool water.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Let cool.  Put 30 drops of juniper-water in 8 ounces of cool water and drink it down.  IN MID-OCTOBER.  

Air the house out.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, October 19, 2009

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)



Drought withers sinew from bone.  Opens cracks to the heart of the earth.  Steals hope.



But for one small summer butterfly, Drought sets the stage for an irregular eruption so powerful, a person standing in the road could disappear in a blizzard of butterflies.




In the way that hope follows despair, when rains finally follow epic drought, American Snout caterpillars hatch to feed, pupate and transform by the multitude.

The Texas Hill Country is home to this phenomena and its happening right now outside my house.  Thousands of American Snout butterflies are flying and feeding and laying eggs for the next generation.  Living and dying and returning hope. 



I'm not the only one for whom the Hill Country is magic.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The End




We celebrated last night.  I finished the rough draft of my novel.  The love and loss and death and birth and danger and connection, all recorded.  Things I wanted to say from the beginning and things I didn't know, channeled in mystery from characters who invented themselves.

We'll celebrate tomorrow and the next day and the next day...then I'll take a writing break to research agents and publishers.  In a short while, the revisions will begin.

I know I'll worry about getting it in print.  But for now, I'm happy to be happy.

And starting to think about the next story and where it will be set.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Almost Ceviche


My mouth learned the pleasure of ceviche thirty years ago on a sailboat in Grand Cayman. One of the crew dove for conch, cleaned it and fixed ceviche while we snorkeled. Inedible conch bits were dropped overboard to be cleaned up by the stingrays and eagle rays circling the boat. We swam with the rays, flying underwater as long as our lungs held out. To this day I feel the lift of flying when I eat ceviche.

This recipe is a riff on ceviche, a lightly cooked version, vegetables warm but not soft. Good hot or cold. If you don't like squid, try another kind of seafood. Shrimp and scallops are my other favorites (adjust cooking time as needed).

Low-cal and healthy, easy, fast, and inexpensive. Sounds like the cure for everything.



Here's the thing to remember and treasure from this post:

The Secret to Tender Squid:
ON THE FIRE LESS THAN 60 SECONDS OR MORE THAN AN HOUR
Otherwise squid turns into an ivory version of rubber.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:
2 Tbsp oil
2 jalapenos, chopped (I include seeds, leave out if hot hurts)
1/2 large red onion, chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped (I used red but yellow is prettier)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
juice of 3 1/2 lemons -- more or less according to your taste
leaves from 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, or cilantro if you prefer
1 lb cleaned squid tubes, cut into rings (okay to use frozen & defrosted squid)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Prepare everything before turning on the stove.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add onion and salt and cook a minute
Add jalapenos, bell pepper and garlic, saute a minute or so, stirring.
Add tomatoes, and stir for a few minutes until juice releases
Add lemon juice, stir to combine.
Reduce heat, if needed, to keep mixture at a simmer.
Add squid and more salt to taste.
Cook 30-60 seconds. Squid will begin to turn opaque. Remove from fire. Squid will continue to firm from the heat of the sauce.

We enjoyed this over whole wheat orzo. And it was good cold the next day.

Enjoy your trip to the islands.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

UH-OH

We just got back from the western Hill Country, out Utopia way. Doesn't a trip to Utopia sound like the best way to celebrate years of love?

As we drove the farm road home, we cataloged things to do--catch up after days away from internet and phones and tv, download and process pictures, watch football (Denny's idea), pet the cats.

What we did was CLEAN THE FREEZER and COOK EVERYTHING THAT USED TO BE FROZEN. PLUS (but wait, there's more) CLEAR OUT THE FREEZER IN THE GARAGE.


<----In line for cooking.


You might be wondering, a household of two people and three cats needs a 25 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer inside AND a garage overflow fridge/freezer?

That thought occurs to us too. But then I wonder where other people put their summer watermelons and winter bushels of grapefruits and their year-round Texas-hospitality-sized cache of beer?

This morning our refrigerators hold gallons of home-made chicken soup (carcasses + stock + breasts and $30 of formerly-frozen vegetables), three grilled fish lunches/dinners, a hunk of smoked brisket (cooked before freezing, thankfully).

That list doesn't include last night's consolation-prize consumption--Raspberry-Chipotle Grilled Salmon with Broccoli, Tomato, Spring Onion and Feta Salad (drizzled with aged balsamic and locally-made olive oil). And the second half of a bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, which still tasted good--dark cherry and plum with a pleasing undertone of earth and toast--after four days in the fridge.


Chicken soup for breakfast anyone?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Texas Metal Arts Fest - A Gruene Occasion


We sashayed out for a Texas Hill Country playday in Gruene not long ago. Gruene (pronounced green) is a tiny burg on the edge of New Braunfels. Some decades back it was almost a ghost town, victim of the boll-weevil and the depression. Now it's a funky playing-in-the-past-and-grinning-at-the-future place.

The permanent population is maybe five. But Gruene makes it easy for everyone to enjoy the town--lodgings on the Guadalupe, great music, good food, a wine bar with free samples of Texas wines, unique merchants --and public celebrations. All this makes for some of the best people-watching in Texas.

Our intentions for the day were set on the Texas Metal Arts Fest.


Everyone was shocked when it rained on Saturday; rain being more precious than gold and more rare in these parts.

But Sunday was perfect, cloudy and dry.












It would be fun to have this reminder of magic peeking out of the woodland.











Houston artist Jim Adams creates outdoor art from recycled iron. Don't you love the concept of an iron dandelion?













He wasn't the only artist making the old new again. Check out the Harley-bird at the bottom of this picture. I've been interested in Harleys since I started writing the book. Denny was glad I didn't need to bring this one home for the garden.

Note the Sunday cowgirl in the background--you know you're in Texas.



The wrench-and-pistol horse head might have been a keeper if the exhaust-pipe ears hadn't made it look like a jackelope.
















My favorite sculpture of the day was this flowing bronze fountain by Warren Cullar. He says life is his inspiration for art, and he never runs out.












He was kind enough--or crazy enough--to let me paint a little on one of his vivid bas-reliefs.











This is one he completed before I came along.














Home-grown music livened the air.










...........................................And BEVO blessed it.

Leaving us with the thought....where in the hacienda would one hang this icon?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens)

Two days after a rain, Cenizo, AKA Texas Sage, bursts into bloom, the furry silver leaves almost obliterated under pinky lavender petals.

Honeybees go crazy in bloom-time, heads and front legs disappearing into exotic spotted throats. It's a double-dipper for the bees--nectar and pollen. Click the picture for a close-up of the bees' pollen saddlebags.

In addition to providing nectar, Cenizo is a host plant for Calleta silkmoth and Theona checkerspot butterfly.

Native to the Trans-Pecos (photo from Big Bend-area Chihuahua Desert), cenizo lives in dry, rocky, alkaline soils. The plant can mature to 8 feet, is hardy to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and wants full sun to bloom. Drought tolerant, deer-resistant.

We're planting more next year.
 copyright Kathleen Scott 2009-2011 for Hill Country Mysteries

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stories

I believe stories are everywhere. Whispers from heredity, the landscape of neighbors, closed lives of strangers.

One recent Saturday morning, as we picked up trash in a community cleanup, we walked past this yard. I put down my heavy black plastic bag and took off my gloves to take a picture.

I was slower on my side of the street than Denny was on his because it was a beautiful day on a street I'd never walked and who knew when I'd walk it again? My camera needed pictures of flowers and rocks, like the bank of stone taming the slope behind this house.

The homeowner was burning juniper logs. He had a pile left to burn plus an entire huge dead oak which lay the width of his lot in back. But he was happy to stop and receive compliments. After he talked about earthmovers and boulders, I asked about the oak, had it been sick? No, it used to stand where the house stood now.

I hate to see dead giants, but it was a relief to know mortality wasn't oak wilt. Was he going to chop it for firewood? Well, he didn't know. The builder had promised to take it away but that wasn't going to happen now. No, it wasn't bankruptcy. The guy had been building the house for his own, just the way he wanted. It was almost finished but something happened and he had to sell. Two months later, he came home and shot his wife then killed himself.

No answers, just story leaking from a dead tree.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beginning of the End

I'm working on the last chapters in my book now, writing the gunfire-unveiling of revelation and the ending celebration of new life.

Approaching the end made me think about the beginning. I'm sharing it with my friends here, as it is in draft form:

Unusual late-August rains drenched the Texas Hill Country, sudden torrents pouring over arid limestone hills. Little creeks ran like rivers and springs bubbled in places no one had ever seen springs before. Runoff eroded hillsides, carrying waste into the Guadalupe River until the water turned dark all the way from the Kerr County hills through big Canyon Lake down to the Gulf of Mexico.


Upstream from New Braunfels, the water level rose daily behind Canyon’s earthen dam. Authorities responded by upping the dam’s release to 5,000 cubic feet per second. The cold lake-bottom water blasted into the river, gouging banks and limestone bluffs. Here and there, slabs of pale undercut rock crashed down, creating standing waves and troughs over new riverbed rock piles.


Warnings were issued. “Don’t drive through low water crossings.” Even so, the New Braunfels Herald Zeitung carried stories about people being rescued from trees in the stream. Authorities shut down all river recreation.


By mid-September the release rate was still over ten times the average, but authorities opened the flow to guided rafts operated by licensed operators.


One mild Monday morning a few days after the declaration, four women approached a scuffed blue rubber raft. As they walked the trail to the landing, they talked and laughed, held their faces to the sunlight filtering through thin flying clouds, and breathed in crisp air smelling of clean leaves.


A tanned young man in cutoffs, khaki fishing shirt and worn UT baseball cap greeted them, looking them over with a practiced eye. The silver-haired woman in a maroon sweatshirt had the carriage and stride of someone who wouldn’t stand for any nonsense. The others were younger, maybe mid-thirties. A slight brunette with a knock-out figure in a white knit shirt and skin-hugging jeans, a short, plump blonde with wiry curls escaping from a red bandana, and a long-legged brunette with a ponytail, whose red t-shirt stated “Life is too short to drink bad wine”.


“Hi, I’m Todd and I’ll make sure you have a good time today.”




Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary


Thirteen years ago today, I had surgery for breast cancer. A few weeks later, Denny and I married. Months of radiation and chemo-therapy followed the honeymoon.

I always think of the anniversaries together. Cancer and Marriage. The journeys were joined from the start, simultaneously the worst thing and the best thing in my life. I don't know how I would have managed the first without the second.

And I can't imagine, now, life without Denny.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus)

We haven't named them, but the lizards in our garden are our friends.

This one patrols the front garden for beetles and bugs. Last summer's drought reduced our insect population and he responded by extending his range to the front porch where the potted plants made shopping easier and he could get water from saucers.

He's so fast we're not always sure we see him, maybe that leaf-rustle was just the wind? Was that stick on the tree really a Texas Spiny Lizard?

A couple of months from now he'll retreat to a burrow under one of the rock walls and sleep until spring.

He's not the only Texas Spiny Lizard in the front garden. We've seen a grand old man about eleven inches, much larger than this guy's eight. And some little ones, three or four inches, so he must have a girlfriend too.

Unless he is the girlfriend.