Sunday, February 28, 2010

When Simple is Also Good - Irish Brown Bread

I have to say, the food on my Ireland trip was incredible. It ranged from some surprising pub food at this establishment to some gourmet food at a four star hotel up North. Seated up by the bar, I expected the usual bland tavern fare. What a surprise. Venison Stew in Red Wine Gravy under Puff Pastry. It was incredible, though the smell of the Lamb Stew next to me was pretty tempting. I sent my compliments back to the chef, and wished I could have snagged the recipe.
Seafood was plentiful. In Portrush, some Tiger Prawns with Garlic Roast Vegetables. No picture as it was gone too quick.

In Dublin, on in the Temple Bar District, there was this great little discovery for a couple of dinners.
Salmon over Pan Roasted Veggies. (Have you noticed there appears to be a Guinness in each picture?)
And the best Fish and Chips I had during the whole trip, as fresh as you can find it.
We won't mention the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Donegal. But Irish cooking back in my ancestors day was a lot more simple. Potatoes were boiled, not mashed with roasted garlic. Soda bread? It was not the Americanized version with white flour and lots of sugar and currants. (though that is tasty). It was course flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk (if you were well off) or sour milk (if times were tough). Plain simple food, for hard working people tilling the earth. Folks back then weren't intent on gourmet. In the Ireland of my ancestors time, they were considered successful if they just stayed alive.

So for tonight, in honor of those strong people who tilled that land, and to bring back some memories of a trip of a lifetime, some simple Irish Brown Bread.
Click on the photos to enlarge. Have napkin handy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To hunt. . some reflections from a road trip.

It's a night maybe tonight, maybe not so long ago. I'm sitting in my hotel room, with Arthur C. Clark's 1984: SPRING, A Choice of Futures, Heinlein's Glory Road, and the USA Midway Hunting Gear Catalog to read. Looking at various bow equipment, I pondered the age old question as to whether Heinlein was more a gun or a knife man. Heinlein in Glory Road talks of guns to a certain extent, mentioning 1911's and '03 Springfields, but in Tunnel In The Sky, he armed his protagonist there with a Bowie knife strapped to his hip and a smaller dagger attached to his leg. I have my share of bayonets and knives and guns around but it's a rare season I don't draw out something of the bow variety.

But tonight's reading was not about the method of hunting but the type. Whitetail season. Surfing through the net I saw an article. . . . "I Wish She'd Go Hunting with Me", a web article about getting the wife to go hunting with minimal fuss. I admire the authors intent, introducing his spouse to the love of the outdoors and shooting. For that she is blessed. Perhaps his method works on the average woman. He wrote very well. He obviously loves his family. But had my friends spouted these lines to me when I was first starting out, they know they'd have been found hog-tired out in the woods, doused with Tinks.
For women, hunting is perceived as macho and unfeminine.
Generally speaking, men are competitive and women are cooperative

She has other household responsibilities, she just can't go hunting for two weeks (like men do).

She probably could care less about the technical data associated with the cartridge she shoots
.

Women need to communicate all the time.. You will spook game because she needs to talk at inopportune times.
As she gains experience, let her do it her way. She will make up for what she lacks in focus and determination with the ability to be "in the moment" .

Hunter. The word is not gender based, nor should it be. Some of us are just born to the hunt, born to the woods, with no more need of urging to get there than a race driven horse with the scent of water in his nose.

I think of my last day of a bow hunt, sitting in a tree bind in abounding woods, stillness and quiet out among the trees and patches of snow.

Sitting up in the blind, I could stop, sit, think and survey the chilly landscape. Had it been warmer, I could have taken a nap there, leaning against the tree, but to relax vigilance in a tree blind is dangerous. I have taken a short "shut eye" while pheasant hunting, setting my gun where it would be safe, exhausted from miles of walking, simply leaning against a tree with a patch of sun tattooing my skin and sleeping for ten minutes.
The woods still fascinate me, the branches concealing  me as I wait for my prey, like any animal, participating in the cycle of the food chain. I am an omnivore and those less equipped than I, forget that at their peril. It is the bringing home of sustenance. Bringing home, not a trophy so much as a sign of provision, that those that work and strive will be rewarded with a full belly and warmth.

I can talk up a storm, but I had no problem being silent out in the trees. I have no title, I have no history. I am a simple, solitary creature out there, seeking respite from a world gone mad, leaving only a few small tracks, taking only what I need to eat, to live. The tree blind is only one small spot on one large planet, sitting up high, abjectly alone, as if abandoned in space, in man's great design.

I'll sit, sheltered beneath the trees, and wait for my prey. My weapon, carefully tended, the bolts carefully selected, the crossbow kept in working order, technical aspects that do not escape notice, even if I could only consider myself a beginner. The breeze shifts through the trees, bearing the tweets and the chirps of birds, and the occasional chattering of a squirrel.

I'll wait, as the insects of the evening begin their low monotonous hum, as though the sound were their only companion. The moon climbs overhead, stillm without light, as the earth lies beneath me, still, without darkness. I doubt I'm alone here, somewhere within a few miles I'm sure, underneath another tree, is someone like me, Perhaps being instructed by a loved one in the fine art of the hunt, perhaps alone, breathing deep the smell of the trees, a smell that lingers like cold smoke.

I am alone, but I am not lonely  Sitting up on the vast trunks I rest, and wait, the trees feeding my spirit as surely as if the roots were joined to my own veins.

When I hit the big 40, I made a will, a simple one, simply directing that I be placed, not in a box, not into a cold mausoleum. Make me ash, with the fire of woodsmoke, and sprinkle me into the waters and the woods that I love. My remnants becoming part of the rough skin of the planet, as time settles into itself and the microscopic bits of me will blend into the cosmos, seeping gently through the leaves in a graceful descent back to where we all became. The earth is a beautiful cradle in which we are all bound to sleep. Hopefully sleep will be long in coming, but I rest better knowing where I will rest.

In my job I'm at war with fate. Collateral damage is inevitable. Sometimes in the midst of it I wonder why I fight at all. As hard as sometimes we try, I realize that sometimes another's life is not ours to save. Some are hollow shells before the spirit has even left the body and we can only watch quietly as it slips quietly over the vale, walking away with revered sustenance of breath.

Perhaps that's why I see beauty in so much, because I deal with death on a daily basis. Leaning against the tree, sun glinting off of icicles on mighty wood, the secret whisper of wind invisible to me and silent. Would we find the beauty in anything if everything lasted forever?

The sun is setting fast. Time to leave the forest, the small chattering woodland creatures scurrying from my enigmatic gaze as I climb down. The autumn air brushes my cheek leaving a blush no cosmetic could compete with. I walk back towards home, happy to be in the company of Autumn, gallant and fleeting as it is. I scout for one last deer as I near the edge of the woods, eyes drawn to stained glass leaves, moving quickly across the forest floor, past the solemn gathering of trees.
The creatures of the forest muse my departure, as nature continues without me, leaves lying vanquished on the earth's bed, there in an embrace of cold and death. Clouds move across the sun, water drips like blood from a branch above. I quietly walk across the leaves that blanket the earth's secret, leaves like little markers of lives who have passed here.

I am a mother, I am a daughter, I am your friend or your neighbor. But that does not matter, for out here, I am a simply a hunter; one with the earth.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A WINTER'S HUNT

It seems we have had more snow this winter then in all the years I've lived in Indiana, as if the state is purposely thumbing its nose at Al Gore. Perhaps it just seems that way as this year I'm having to shovel regularly, with the house for sale and the Realtor needing a place to park and walk. Myself, I'd just put the truck in 4 wheel drive and back over it all, ready for some driving on poorly plowed country roads to get to the city. Driving in snow and wind doesn't bother me one bit. Wrestle a swept wing jet down on an ice slicked runway in a stiff crosswind on some crappy, short foreign runway and driving a truck in a few inches of snow seems sort of mundane.

But this winter, it has been one storm after another, though we have been getting much less than our neighboring states to the East who are still digging out.

I've enjoyed looking at it, photographing it and walking the woods in it. Unlike the summer, where the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly. Even with sunglasses on, the vivid noise of sunlight's dance plays on my eyes as I walk around my little town, causing me to blink, then smile at natures presence.
Cold or not, I have to admit, it IS beautiful. I've hunted in the snow many times, whitetail and some predators. I've played in the snow, with the children of friends, with my own friends. I can't honestly imagine living some place where it never snowed. I wouldn't enjoy living where, at Christmas, you can't tromp out into the snow and cut down your tree instead of buying one, limp and smelling of french fries from the McDonalds next to the tree lot.

As kids we'd get ours from the woods, going on a farmer's wagon out into the forest to select a tree. I'd be bundled up to my eyeballs, sitting on some hay in that wagon, there between my Dad and Mom, safe between them. It was a comforting place to be, safe in the outdoors, where nothing, not cold, or bears, or cannibalistic porcupines could get me. We'd get home only to find that the tree that looked so small in the woods wouldn't fit through the front door and Dad would have to take an axe to the bottom while we kids had our supper. Such times were the epitome of happiness.

The snow was just part of my winter, expected, and as an adult, anticipated, especially when hunting season approaches. I wait for the leaves to turn, for those first flakes. I'm up early, a cup of coffee in my hand, as the sky turns from black to pink to a blue of ice and snow that can't be recreated except in my memory. So what if it's minus 8 with the windchill. The sky is clear, and the deer may be moving to gather some food, as it's the first day in a while that the sky has been blue, the wind still, the snow resting after a late night assignation in a cornfield.


But, like anyone that heads out into this weather, I have some gear, I have someone that knows where I will hunt, and what time I will be back, so if I go silent there will be someone searching. The term "cold hearted" is not far from the truth, for nature, especially nature in the winter, is as uncaring a companion as one can find.
I leave the house around 5 am. All around me is blackness, above, only a few stars reflecting off of the fallen snow. Stars stare above, the color of utter and complete stillness. As I walk to my spot, with only memory and a small penlight to guide me, I want to hold my breath, because even inhaling and exhaling is like a cacophony in the deep hush of the white landscape. The woods are absolutely quiet, the animals of day still hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures starting to settle in for light. There is no breeze, no recognition of air even; it is the sound of nothing and everything.

There it is, my spot, my blind up in the trees, where I will wait in stillness for dawn. Waiting for the sun to traipse across the horizon as the animals of the forest follow that Pied Piper of warmth and sustenance, hoping for some food that day. They should be moving in this quieting air, their stomachs likely empty after hunkering down in the last storm.

The day is one of patchy clouds, and not a lot of sun. I came out of the blind around noon, to walk well downwind to take care of business, eat a peanut butter sandwich and some apple slices, before I head on back to the blind. I hope that there would be some movement towards evening when the sky was forecast to clear completely.
My weapon, an old Belgium Browning, is ready, as is my ammo, a few extra rounds in my pocket, stark, lethal and profound in their destiny, waiting to be summoned by the pull of a finger on a trigger. Waiting for that moment between the need and its sound. I wait as well. Waiting for that particular crunch, crunch sound that will tickle my eardrum if I don't move, as the deer move through the woods. You can't see them, you can't smell them. You can only hear that small, crisp sound as their feet break through the crust of the snow, a sound of hope and affirmation, like scent and sight itself.

Then, just as the sun began to dip low in the sky, a big buck came, moving along the tree line in the distance. I got in one shot, as he ran for the thick of the forest. As the shot cracked into the frigid air, the buck leaped into the woods, as I stare, still, amazed at how a living thing like that will keep going, and how far, when it is already dead from that single shot through the heart. But, there's no time for musings now. I need to get him field dressed and ready to transport before it is completely dark. Neighbors and friends up at the house knew to come with transport if they heard a shot. I just had to sit and wait as the sky turned sullen with darkness.
As I wait, I watch the sun leave the sky, the blood from the deer shining on the snow. He looked to be about 5 years old, approaching winter in the life of a deer in the wild. A battle lost that day for him, a moment of quiet contemplation for his life, for mine, as the sun as well, bids adieu. The sky deepens from blue to blue grey, like the whole of Lee's army taking over the battlefield between night and dawn, leaving remnants, blood red on the ground, quickly leeching into the earth, til soon, nothing is left but darkness again. And so I sit, my gun in my lap, the moon a small nightlight against a blanket of snow, a blanket that never warms, yet covers. So dark. So quiet.

We wait in the cold, isolated, only the moon's glint off of some icicles to provide any spark of light. I wait and think of those many winters past, those days of a child, a bowl of fresh venison stew in front of a fire as Mom and Dad gently murmured in the other room as they set up the tree. I think of days as an adult, of a gentle hand guiding me down into deep corridors of sleep with a soft kiss upon my lips, nights now lying safe in a bed of white and ice blue, under the long, soft moan of the winter wind.
But for now, the woods do not stir. Blood drips onto the snow, as above, water melts from an icicle, the moisture from it falling on my check, a drip that tastes strangely of salt.

From a distance comes the light of a small all terrain vehicle, the murmured voices of friends. I will have help with this bounty, I will have company in its preparation and in the meals it will provide. For that buck, one long, last winter, for which I am grateful. Sustenance for the home, and someday soon I hope, warmth to thaw a heart long held on ice.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time to go . .

As the saying goes, I have to go see a man about a horse.
I'll be back in a day or two for that Range report on the XD9. Until then, maybe a story or some thoughts from the road to come up.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Walking the Woods

I walk through a stand of trees, gauging as to where a good place would be to set a tree blind next year. The woods are chilly from a passing cold front, the air violent and raw, snow piled on the ground, with only small bits of green able to come up for air. I savor the crispness of the air, the breeze surging through the woods, its floor littered with fallen branches and the footprints of unseen deer, soft white shelter from the outside world.

I'm probably the only one out here. I see, there in the soil around an old tree stump, the remains of a small animal. A raccoon, from the shape of the skull.

How long had it lay here? Long enough for the bones to bleach to soft white, the flesh now part of the earth, the eyes, dark orbs of history. The shape was benign as if the creature simply stopped quietly and died, unlike other bones one finds in the wild, the animals of the tar pits, trapped in the primordial ooze in the posture of shock. Other animals dropped while running, the bones scattered by predators til the remaining pieces are simply laid out in a question mark.
These bones were in the shape of quiet sleep, as if the animal did simply lay down after a life fully lived, waiting for death to close the distance between them.

It only takes a few days for an animal to decompose during the summer months, likely when this creature took its last breath. Why I've seen hunters lose good game, simply because in the occasional hot temperatures of an Indian summer, a kill left too long can turn quickly. Only a few days to return to bone, to the simplest components of life, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur. Only bones left, pressing into the soft welcoming earth, the soil a rich bed of late summer.

Sometimes all I find are bones, laid bare to the elements, or burned clean. With the right temperature all things will burn, yet bone itself stubbornly resists all but the hottest of fires. Even when all the carbon is burned from it, bone will still retain it's shape. An insubstantial ghost of itself, it crumbles easily, the last bastion of the person's being transformed into ash. Yet in that ash remain large pieces, calcined and with the consistency of pumice, yet when held in the hand, almost seeming to posses a trace of warmth from within their core.

But even if they can not speak to me, sometimes what is left gives us a clue. Who was this person? In what manner of violence was their end? It's a world few wish to visit, yet it drives me, the mystery, the puzzle . . . . perhaps because I realize that the final mystery is ourselves.

The use of physical evidence to build a theoretical model of a given crime or accident scene involves a number of sciences, the chemistry of death, and the engineering of the body. Even in the cold quiet of the wood, I stop and survey the scene, making mental notes in my head. How long had it been laying here? Bones, especially ones that have burned, do not give up a time of death. For that you need to trace the extent of decomposition in volatile fatty acids, in muscle proteins and amino acids, all which are normally destroyed in a hot fire. Even in the woods, simply surveying my environment, my brain sifts through ideas, time lines and theory based on simple white bone.
I walk among the dead, sometimes without cause and sometimes for reason. Treading carefully on the small broken artifacts of life, part pathology, part engineering, going beyond either. For after the mechanics of motion have stopped, after human physiology has broken down, and what once was animated life, a heart that loved, a soul that dreamed, is reduced to flesh or ash, decay or dried bone, the dead will still bear witness.

They can tell me a story.
I look quietly at the remains, as I listen to the audible, celestial stillness of stars coming out. I stop for a moment, perfectly still in the quiet, watching the ink seep from the sky overhead while in the east, the sky is all blood and fiery sky. I see a hawk dive down black and clean as a shadow. It's wings cleaved the shimmering air and the rising air was the pristine lift that moved it forward, the perfect stream in which it swam, and dwindled and vanished, having killed not for hate or profit, but simply to eat, taking not any more than it needed.

Time to leave the woods, to get back to reports that wait. Back to bones that wait to tell me their story in front of the night fire, as my own heart, beaten and darkened by soot, contains in its core, one small piece untouched, that has the capability to smolder back into life. I leave the woods as the moon comes up, there standing at the shore a heron, its reflection the only thing moving on the rippling surface. It waits and waits, in defiant countenance. Waiting for what? Dinner, or simply the water to respond to his presence. Maybe it waits because fate does not wait for him.

I hurry back to the house, there waiting in the dark. The night doesn't frighten me. What is night but short space when the dark dims so soon, and the echo of a owl's wings brush against the windowsill? Just a short interlude in the sun's dance. Despite the bitter cold am home out in these trees, in evenings that draw up into warm folds of dark cloth against my cold legs. Always looking, aware of all around me, as I am trained to be I watch the trees, a few stubborn leaves still attached, a brace of tattered flags against ancient wood, branches a canopy of familiar order.

We will all die, but we will not all truly live. In the studies that I chose, I do my part to see that perhaps just one person inherits more than the wind and the dark. And in that, though I sometimes walk home with the night surrounding me, I live fuller, breathe deeper, and see well, my place in the order of things.

For I'm aware that even in these words there is danger, a falling tree branch, a fall of your own, there out in the cold that would kill before dawn, with temperatures at the minus level. Life doesn't always go out in a burst of brilliant light or a blaze of glory, sometimes you are simply looking up at the sun when fate reaches out to bite you in the behind. You expect death to arrive with fanfare, but instead it usually comes in the most ordinary of circumstances. The Roman goddess Fortuna grabs the remote and changes the channel. Click.

Nothing left but thought and bone.
So I continue to walk these woods, walk through this life, taking great risks and getting bruised in the process. It's a sense of communion with the infinite, where for a moment anyway, the world has that sense of equilibrium, the ordered composure of life and death, of which we all play our part.

The sound of a car, and a flash of headlights, illuminates my form, startling the heron into flight. A neighbors teenager, racing around the corner of a rural road, not always wise on an ice slicked surface. I stay back until he is well past, then wander in, some coroner reports to study, other reminders of risk not won. Back behind me in the woods the bones of a small animal lay gently on the ground, while snow falls like tears outside of its earthen tomb, falling with the weight of astonishing clarity.

Be careful out there, for there are lines, that you should never cross, for once you do, when you go over, you can not come back.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Good Things in Small Packages

This weeks upcoming Range report - The Springfield XD9 Tactical. A friend let me try one to see how I liked it. I did. Something doesn't have to be humongous to be a classic. Like these, a simple cupcake, hardly more than three or four bites. But those are bites that count.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Frosting

I made these over the weekend as I felt like baking Sunday. If you are going to make for a household with children, leave out the liquor and use vanilla flavoring. They're still awesome.
The topping? Flake chocolate by Cadberry, brought back from Ireland. I found it served with the ice cream there. It's a soft, light colored chocolate that's fresh as can be, but crumbles. This ice cream truck was found at a very cold, wind swept beach near Portrush, Northern Ireland. In each little dish of ice cream was a small roll of Flake. I have to admit, I only bought a hot tea with milk and sugar from the nice gentleman and his companion there, but the ice cream looked wonderful. It also gave me an idea after I found a small grocery and bought some Flake of my own.On top of the ultra creaming frosting. . . perfect. Click to enlarge, you know the drill.

The cupcake itself, pure vanilla, light textured, a firm crumb on the outside, and soft as marshmallow on the inside.
If you enlarge this one you can see the stealth snoot in the background, trying to look casual in case I dropped it during the photo shoot.
I didn't. My grip and stance are still good.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spicy Venison Surprise


This was a "what can I make with what's in the freezer and cupboard" dish that started with a couple of cans and NO recipe but turned out really good. It's basically chili but with the corn and black beans and consistency, serves up more like a gumbo and it was awesome over some rice, with cilantro and sour cream and cheese on the side.

How does it start?

Well it starts with a little trip north with your three closest guy friends.
Then a couple of very cold days later. . .
You all have some venison to grind up in the kitchen.

This was a "what can I make with what's in the freezer and cupboard" dish that started with a couple of cans and NO recipe but turned out really good. It's basically chili but with the corn and black beans and consistency, serves up more like a gumbo and it was awesome over some rice, with cilantro and sour cream and cheese on the side.

How does it start?

Well it starts with a little trip north with your three closest guy friends.Then a couple of very cold days later. . .
You all have some venison to grind up in the kitchen.

To a pound and a half of that fresh ground meat, which you've packaged and frozen for work nights such as this you're going to add. . .

28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel
1 small can tomato paste
3 tablespoons Penzey's Chili 9000
(Penzey's has stores in most large Midwest cities and you can buy on line).
1 Tablespoon Penzey's Southwest Seasoning (or substitute ancho chili powder, a dash of oregano and some garlic powder to equal 1 T. for the Southwest seasoning)
1 small can chopped jalapenos (I used the hot ones, if you're timid you will want mild or medium)
2 cans black beans drained and rinsed
3/4 bottle Coca Cola WITH SUGAR (bottled in Mexico, sold in Cosco and from some Coke distributers), well worth the money for the clean, clear taste in my opinion.
2 cups fresh corn, frozen (more of Farmer Frank's awesome corn)

Mix and cook in crockpot or on stove on low for a couple of hours. (You can add a 1/4 cup water to it if it's going to cook for a long time or uncovered). I made this last week, and shared a couple of bowls with two male coworkers. It got a definite "thumbs up".
I'm not sure what to call this, it's more soup than stew, but holds up well to a spoon. The broth (OK it has sugar in it) is divine. "Bambi Broth?", "Venison Surprise?", "I May Need to Sleep in a Separate Bedroom Stew?" You be the judge.
 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wilderness Within You

photo h/t Mark in AK
What I remember of those mornings camping under the wing was the smell of woodsmoke mixed in with the smell of aviation fuel.

Alaska, a river far up, towards the Brooks Range. A small float plane and darkness that only flirted with me, while stars as hard as flint sparked something in the sky.

I was never one for the organized camp, driving to some park where the Winnebago's were so close together as to resemble a subdivision. The smell of cigarette smoke mixing with propane, punctuated by the screech of a woman from three campers down, who's idea of roughing it was no room service. Kids, running wild, ghetto blasters on their shoulder as they whizzed around the camp site on skateboards being pulled by what was either a dog, or a small rat. Overweight and pale adults lumbered around like somnolent bears, their weary movements punctuated by an expenditure of breath that appeared to be far more work than any pleasure those moments gave them. Where's the beer, babe, and could you see if we can get Judge Judy up here?

Where's the exit please.

That is not my idea of camping, there with TV antennas and portable laptops and radios, campers moving like elephants on Ambien, bulky and blocking the view. The residents therein not seeing the outdoors, but still contemplating their lives back home, the fretful worry of urban homeowner association war fare.

Give me a spot for just myself or perhaps a friend, days sliding into sunset, marked by little more than the sum of breaths taken freely. It was hard to tell one day from another. Mornings would creep in on the breath of small creatures watching from the trees, days spent in reading or hiking, nights simply laying out like one single point of a compass star, feet pointed towards my future, pointing true. I didn't move quickly when I awoke, looking at the morning sun with the mild inscrutability of those animals awaking, functioning outside of a watch, having left time laying upon the slow and imponderable shore on which my small plane is moored.

I've found few people in my life that can be content with time alone like that, most preferring the excitement of crowds, the adulation of the unknown, look at me, watch me, head towards the lights and the noise. Not I. I can't find peace in that, though it haunts the edges of it, as if it almost knows what it is like, but can't give in to it. The peace isn't just the silence, it's not the trees or the animals or the water. It's all the senses wrapped up in one as you breathe it in deep from the musty confines of a sleeping bag as you lie under the starts. That smell that has a color, almost green, not the longing green of envy or the gray green of aromatic herbs, but the green of clarity, a smell that makes you weak for childhood, when every morning came with this sense of freedom and purity.Then rising, making sure the bears didn't make a snack of your food there downwind of you in the tree, making coffee that Starbucks would turn their nose up at, as you munch a biscuit with all the flakiness of Kevlar. It's small quiet moments there as the earth awakes. It's simply life, there, your life, what you make of it, and nothing more. It's the feeling of succumbing to something that laps away at you when in the confines of an office or a lab, at the same little spots in your life. It's falling in love with something that haunted your dreams before you could articulate desire.
I camped with my best friend back in our late teens and I think of those nights, telling stories in front of the fire trying to scare one another as off in the distant the stars flared against a background of ebony velvet. We'd sip a can of Coors (we were young, and knew no better) and talked into the wee hours. Adulthood was looming, both of us soon off to college, both of us still naive to the ways of the world and of men, but both aware of the redemptive power of the woods. We'd look to see if we could see the Northern lights. This far south it was unlikely, but it never stopped us, sharing stories and dreams, not realizing how far the years would take us from this place.

Years later, there on the banks of a small River in Alaska, I missed her company, but the time was still good. I set up camp, there, fifty miles away from another human, under the nervous branches, and downwind of anything that looked like a bear sushi bar. My shower? A gallon jug of cold river water poured over my head. Breakfast was made in a fire, or above it and like any good Cajun restaurant I could blacken anything on request, and usually without meaning to. After the world stilled, I would sleep, a small measure of whisky warming my belly, the splash of a trout just a few feet away, challenging me to a duel that would be breakfast. Why did I not do this sooner?
It was my first trip alone, after he was gone, running north to heal, and finding the bank of this river, as far away from another human being as I could find. I lay there in my sleeping bag, under the stealth of a small tent, wearing a worn night gown that smelled of the past, the movement of the tree branches shadowed on my tent walls, like hands waving goodbye.

Water rushes by, the sound of it ebbing and flowing, lapping at the corners of my sleep, there among the soft sighs of my dreams. This is my time, here, now. There will be time enough to get back to the city, to get back to life, but for now I need these small spots of concentrated life under the trees, the affirmation and promise of a wilderness that still, even years later, waits for me like a lover. Sleep came easily and deep.

Then morning, fried trout and a couple of potatoes, and the roar or a Lycoming engine starting back up. I'm off to another day under the open sky.

When was the last time you turned off the television, packed away the laptop and just went outside to yourself? The world will wait, but that peace you thought was beyond you, might not. Don't hesitate. I started writing years ago, then quit after my young husband burned my journal, not for the thoughts it contained, but the fact that he could not contain me. I didn't write again for 20 years, afraid that the words had disappeared. But they were there, just waiting for those quiet moments to be released.
Haven't you ever dreamed of soaring in a float plane over white-blue mountains untouched by man, to cast a line into pristine rivers for your dinner, the hush of a thousand acres enveloping you as the fire crackles outside your tent? No adventuresome adult with any of the juices of their youth in them has moved beyond that dream. Make the choice to follow it. What you gain for that choice will be more than a few photos and a empty bank account. The true harvest of your dream will always be as intangible and indescribable as the tints of a Northern sky. It will be a landscape of magic, a segment of the crystalline sky which you have reached out and held on to, if only for a moment in time.

If you take anything away from this blog, be it recipes, fun or simply family, I hope this message will remain. It's never too late to get back to the wild, the the elements of the earth that will make you happy. Shed the city, shed those that don't believe in you, cast away the layers of hurt and breathe deep.

The wilderness within you awaits.