For me, taking pictures of food is a prayer of gratitude. A few weeks ago I traded Ruth some kefir grains and a jar of milk for some sourdough starter and four cups of flour. This is what I got! I need a ready supply of bread for the winter so I can eat all that jam I’ve been making while the world unravels.
Peach jam on warm bread. I’m not a big fan of sourdough, but this starter and recipe doesn’t actually taste sour; it couldn’t be easier or more delicious.
Or more convenient. The next loaf didn’t do so well, a little flat, but still the perfect vehicle for plum jam and rose hip jelly.
I’m on my third loaf, roughly one a week, and still have fresh tomatoes in late October. I savor each sandwich as I deplete the tomato basket, down to the last few ripening from green I picked before the first freeze.
Grilled white cheddar and garden tomato on one of the few cold days we’ve had so far this fall. Uncanny how warm it’s been: This is no brief return of mild weather as we usually get before Thanksgiving, after some serious cold and snow has already come; this is still-summer weather broken by a few cold snaps. It’s been the longest, mildest autumn I can remember. Looks like we may be winning the climate change lottery here in western Colorado.
Basil and tomato open-face on toast. I brought in one pot of basil for winter, one each of mint, oregano, and rosemary.
Why, though? Why this obsession with fresh food and homemade jelly and bread? Because I can, here; because we have this great good fortune to live in a hospitable clime where many good things grow in abundance, and water, air and land are wholesome; because we have the luxury to tend and appreciate beauty and bounty in our gardens. Because we are lucky to live here. As the world seems to harshen and disintegrate around us, I savor more intensely quotidian joys in the moment.
Maybe the best apple pie I’ve made all season, from the Fujis that grew on the little tree by the gate, with brown sugar and spices and butter crust, topped with Cynthia’s homemade cinnamon ice cream.
All that homesteading the past few months, freezing and canning… whew! Reaping the rewards with a peachtini by the pond in October: peach-infused gin and peach brandy, garnished with frozen peaches.
Life as Art. Every little thing.
I’ve been meditating a lot on gratitude recently. My whole life I’ve had so much to be thankful for! Yet there’s always been, below that awareness, this undercurrent of despair. When I was a child I dreamed of how it is now in the world: greed seems to prevail, and our fragile planet is always at stake in some urgent battle. Solastalgia has had me in its grip since I was nine years old.
Dwelling in this remarkable valley for more than a third of my life, I finally begin to shed the anxiety that has plagued me since childhood. Gratitude and compassion have been wrestling with guilt and despair inside me for half a century; most of these days gratitude wins. It helps to live in this community that values nature, eats responsibly, and celebrates our interconnection with the earth.
Now this peaceful valley stands at a precipice: the Bureau of Land Management gets to decide the 20-year game plan for the public lands that surround us, and it wants to open 95% of them to lease for fracking and other extractive industry. Anyone can submit comments to the BLM by November 1, opposing oil and gas leasing in the North Fork Valley.
We are just one front among many in the larger fight to save the planet from fossil fuel gluttony. We will do what we can and what we must to save our small island of life from the encroaching tentacles of corporate greed. It’s an uphill battle, but we have everything to lose.
Deborah brought a trugful of apples from her trees…
… and I got a big bowl full from the Fuji.
I’ll be honest, I have a fraught relationship with apples. At one point I decided they’re more trouble than they’re worth. If you don’t at least slice them, or better yet peel then slice them, and you just eat one out of your hand: you have to bite hard, chew a lot, and the skin inevitably slides up between my teeth and gets stuck, sometimes even slicing my gum.
One day I embarked upon a quest to find an apple that was worth the trouble. After many months of many tastings, I did find one. It became clear that for me the only apple worth eating off the tree is a Fuji. So I bought a tree. And now, that little tree that has struggled with not the best placement, with insufficient protection from deer year after year, with frost at just the wrong time, that little tree by my front gate is feeding me plenty of apples worth eating right off the tree.
Pamela loaned us this amazing gadget that peels, cores and slices all in one! Apples will never be too much trouble again!
Meanwhile, the almond tree, who I knew would let me know when it was ready to let go, has let me know.
Half the tree in a big wooden bowl, the other half so high I’ll need to pick them from the deck or knock them down, my vision for this tree finally come to fruition.
Almonds, broken open or nearly so, losing their green, taking on autumnal hue. Inside leathery fruit already drying in desert winds lies an almond in the shell, some of these already consenting to crack. Inside the tawny shell not quite set, a milky tan or brown-skinned gem… Bitter. Those with the brown skins are bitter, and even some of the skinless ones a little bitter. They will benefit from blanching.
After husking I lay the nuts out to dry in their shells, and will freeze them shelled or unshelled when I can hear most of them rattle in the shell.
Rose hips almost ripe and ready to be turned into jelly.
How many frogs? Through benign neglect of my fish ponds they’ve become frog ponds. I counted a total of seventeen northern leopard frogs in both ponds at once this afternoon, an all-time record.
Two color morphs of the leopard frog, brown and green, communing at the edge of the pond. Each summer for the past few years I’ve seen a few more frogs. At least in this hazardous world where amphibians are declining at an astonishing rate, my little pond has become a haven for this wonderful native species.
And on a more somber note, with a threadbare segue, a plea for our own endangered haven, both here in our valley and on this fragile, spinning planet as a whole:
These next few weeks create our future, in so many ways. Will we make it be the one we want to see? A future honoring our planet, mother nature, our atmosphere, father sky, brother sun, sister moon? Will we choose reverence for life in a meaningful way before it’s too late?
We don’t often have a concatenation of events that provides us with as much opportunity to influence our future as we have in the next four to six weeks; right now, we have two such opportunities, one on a local level and the other on a global level. We are in a bardo now between great potential for harm and great potential for slamming on the brakes to slow the decimation of Earth.
Until November 1, we have a window to make our voices heard and direct the policy guiding the public lands that surround our valley for the next two to three decades. This is not another one-time fight. What’s at stake this time is the Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will direct the use of public lands surrounding and within our valley for the next 20-30 years.
“Because BLM did not consider new information on earthquakes, human health impact, climate change impact, and environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracturing, injection wells, and ongoing oil and gas operations, along with its inadequate risk analysis, its draft Resource Management Plan is fundamentally flawed.” ~citizensforahealthycommunity.org
We have a singular opportunity with this RMP. Let’s flood the Bureau of Land Management with ten times as many letters as we sent last time, four years ago, when this fight was for a one-time lease sale. Let’s send ten thousand letters, twenty thousand, thirty thousand. We have the chance to say now, in the policy that’s set for the next two generations: NO!
Our local conservation groups have made it so easy to submit comments. The cogent letter is written for you. Fill in a few blanks, add any personal comments, and mail or email your letter today. You can submit as many comments as you like; unlike voting, you’re not limited to one. And you don’t have to live here to take a stand. Please share and share this plea and these links to help save the organic foods capital of Colorado.
North Fork Valley organic fruit for sale in one of many markets our farmers supply throughout the summer. photos by Cynthia Wilcox
Though the industry strives to convince us otherwise, there’s a lot of indisputable evidence that fracking fluids are toxic to life, human and otherwise, that the effects of drilling and wastewater injection can spread far from the site, that spills devastate land and water, that transport by pipeline, train or truck can cause massive explosions. The list of deleterious effects goes on and on, from air pollution and habitat destruction (human and other) to induced earthquakes. According to the USGS, induced earthquakes have risen dramatically in the past five years as a result of drilling activities in states including Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
We need to stake our claim to ourpublic lands, our air, our watersheds, and not let them be exploited for profit by a few powerful corporations. We must protect all that is essential to our lives: The sights and sounds and experiences that make life here so precious, the food, the water, the soils that nurture not just human health but whole ecosystem health. We must speak now, loud and clear, spread the word, and enlist the voices of all our neighbors, of our friends and families far and wide, of anyone who has ever lived here or hopes to, of anyone who has ever enjoyed visiting this valley or hopes to, of anyone who enjoys the fruits and meats and wines of this valley.
We can make change if we undertake it at the right time, not so much when the stars align as when good intentions and political schedules coincide; in these few transformational moments what we say and do can actually make a difference. This is the time to make our choices, raise our voices in a way that counts. This is not the time to be resigned.
Russet tones of autumn emerged first last month in the Amur maple samaras, now already dried and set with seed. This maple never does as well as the other, on the south side of the house. They’re in different soils, one in native clay and the sad one in more sandy soil. I need to deep water with some extra nutrients before fall gets away.
I’ve seen first hand how leaving a cluster of peaches on a limb will result in crowded misshapen small fruit, how even two opposite on a stem can smash together and provide haven for earwigs, how too many along a slender limb can bend it to the ground; all the things Fred warned me about as he urged me to thin thin, thin.
Nevertheless, my sweet tree delivered bowl after bowl of delicious peaches, that I gave away, froze, cooked into peach jam, infused into vodka, gin, and brandy, and canned in a special syrup…
Canada Peaches! In a twist on the bourbon peach recipes found online, I packed each half-pint jar with peaches, adding about a tablespoon of maple syrup, then filling with half simple syrup and half Canadian whiskey, before processing in a boiling water bath. I hope these last long enough to eat some mid-winter by a toasty fire.
And of course a couple of peach pies.
I ate the last fresh peach this morning, and harvested the two remaining apples on the heirloom tree, I’m so sad I can’t recall its name. Are the finches feasting on wild sunflower seeds also marauding the Fuji apple? It doesn’t appear so; the leaves are grasshopper eaten but the fruit is sound, and so much of it, more than ever before, dozens of apples, I’m so happy I thinned them! At least 59 Fuji apples. I’ve got my eagle eye on these, watching for predation by those pesky birds.
September is like the last hill on the roller coaster. You’re near the top, the wild rush of August harvest has unwound behind you, there is that last push of fall fruits and vegetables to get in before the varmints git ‘em. Rosie has a big squirrel in her garden. I’ve got a stray deer here and there reminding me it’s time to put up fences around trees and shrubs whose protective rings I’ve repurposed on smaller plants throughout the summer. Someone ate two fat cheeks off the biggest tomato of the season; just yesterday I thought that’s about ripe, maybe I should pick it, but it wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t come back. This morning’s rising sun highlighted the glistening dips in its flesh when I chanced to glance over from the patio, where I sipped coffee and listened to the raucous sound of morning.
Cynthia led a meditation on sounds last week that’s reminded me to cherish more the wild sounds and deeper silence where I’m blessed to live, like the cacophony of finches in the wild sunflower patch that sprang up on the south side. It’s been years since I’ve lived with a constant musical soundtrack, and for the past several I’ve lived with only intermittent music through the course of my waking day. More and more I find myself eschewing external music, to simply hear, and listen to, the music of nature: birds, crickets, wind, bees, coyotes at night, more coyotes this summer than I have heard in many years.
A great-horned owl has come a courting me. It must be me he woos, because I’ve listened long and faraway and do not hear another. And so I croon back to him a few times, though Stellar doesn’t like it and tries to make me stop, and soon I do stop, because it isn’t fair; I can’t give the owl what it’s looking for. But I sure do enjoy exchanging hoots with it for a few minutes on a clear full-moon night, or any other.
Rain moved through again last night, this time early enough to leave a double rainbow in its wake. I alerted the Bad Dog Ranch that they were centered beneath it. The next day I received a rainbow alert from them. I love this about where we live, that we care about rainbows.
This morning, rain-washed and crisp, the golds of autumn jingle forth. Last Saturday we noticed the first hint of aspen turning up on Mendicant Ridge. By Tuesday the yellows were distinct, and after that storm moved over Wednesday night, the golds are glowing bright, clearly delineated patches among shades of greens, siennas and ochres, treed and rocky slopes. Air is brisk and the dogs are frisky.
Great cumulus clouds march in close formation lockstep briskly through blue sky, white tops glowing, their grey treads gliding low. It’s too spectacular not to walk the frisky dogs up the driveway, where I meet my sweet neighbor and we stroll our rural, precious neighborhood.
Fall blows in on these winds that feel portentous. March winds last longer than they used to, and winter winds start early, in late summer. The breeze sometimes is just a bit too strong; I feel the atmosphere whipping up, winding up all this energy, that later, maybe elsewhere, will unwind with a fury. Ever since I watched the film Melancholia earlier this summer, I’ve viewed this world differently, trusting and allowing myself to sense and feel the changes, the subtle shifts in seasonal events, in their timing, likelihood, or nature. Something is coming, and all I want to do is make jam.
Apricot jam, peach jam, plum jam, chokecherry jelly, salsa hot and mild, and the new house specialty, Canada Peaches. Also plum brandy, peach vodka, plum syrup, plum sauce, pickled beets and cukes, and all the blanched greens, peeled and unpeeled fruits, tomato sauce and peppers in the freezer, let me feel I’ve made the most of the garden this summer.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not about my garden and what I’ve grown and what I’ve put up and what I’ve enjoyed this summer. It’s about what we’ve all tended and grown and loved and eaten and shared and put up for winter, it’s about what we all do in our lives here on this fragile planet. It’s about not just this apple, but all them apples, too! The change that’s in the wind is about me and you, and the choices we make in the next few weeks. To be continued…
Apricots showed up in many festive meals last month, including these appetizers: perfect apricots cut in half, pits replaced with a dollop of softened cream cheese and topped with salted, roasted almonds.
Another place they showed up was this leg-of-goat roast at the Bad Dog Ranch, in the glaze and in a pan-cooked chutney alongside, courtesy of Chef Gabrielle.
After making apricot jam, harvesting the garden and raiding the fridge, time for a gin gimlet and fresh vegetable curry over red rice, inspired by a friend’s recipe.
Sautéed onions and garlic, three kinds of peppers, fresh tomato, and coconut milk simmer on the stove…
…add zucchini and yellow squash and handfuls of fresh purple and green basil, and simmer til soft and yummy, then serve over rice.
“Do you call a sandwich with tomato and cheese a tomato sandwich?” asked Ann. Me: “NO! That is a tomato and cheese sandwich. A tomato sandwich is just tomato. And mayo. Lots of mayo.”
The BLT is another kind of sandwich altogether, not a tomato sandwich. Sometimes you feel like bacon, sometimes you don’t. But thick bacon! How do you make a BLT with thick bacon? It is just too chewy to bite into pieces. I tried first with chunks of thick bacon instead of whole strips.
And finally solved the dilemma after cooking chopped thick bacon for a pasta sauce. Chop the bacon small and fry til crispy, then add to the sandwich.
Carrots were ready at last. Not a great harvest, but a lot better than last year. They loved the raised bed with its loamy loose soil, but the grasshoppers got their tops through much of the summer. Mostly good-sized roots, and lots of gorgeous colors.
One of the many things I love the most about living in the North Fork Valley is the food we share. We share it in gourmet or casual potlucks, dinner parties, and by the bag, box and basket. These perfect tomatoes came from Mary’s kitchen in exchange for a box of plums picked off of Ellie’s tree. We are blessed with a climate that in some years gives us outrageous amounts of fresh fruit, and in most years gives us gems like these. Our valley is the Organic capital of Colorado, and our produce shows up around the state in all the best Farmers’ Markets.
We have the opportunity in the next 56 days to influence the policy that will determine the level of industrial extraction in the wild public lands that surround our valley; those hills and mountains that comprise our watersheds, our views, our recreation, and our thriving and growing economy based on producing the highest quality vegetables, meats, wines, and recreational opportunities. Hunters, fisher-folk, tourists, people who buy the North Fork Valley’s food products around the state and country, anyone who has ever visited this valley or would like to, we need your support. You can start here. More to come.