Austin. My sister’s first performance with the Austin Burlesque Alliance was on January 30th. I made the trip to delight in the Star Trek Burlesque and have a few drinks and meals in this amazing city. Despite a trip into the city, a walk in the park, and a coffee along the river, the photo that showed up for this trip is a smoked Manhattan from Eastside Showroom. I will admit that that was a pretty amazing drink. And it was a bit like the trip: classically smooth with a twist of magic and whimsy. And very memorable.
In the Garden. My first pea harvest was much anticipated. On a warm afternoon in November, I had spent an hour stringing support lines between the row hoops before making my first planting of twelve beautiful little seedlings: six Oregon Sugar Pod IIs and six Sugar Snaps. They were crisp and green and stood ready to climb. I was thrilled and could already taste the pods in a salad or steaming bowl of pho. At this point, I will reemphasize the words first planting. I had done everything right by those peas–great soil, good support, and a hearty watering. But I didn’t account for one thing (or should I say several annoying little things?). Two days after planting, I returned to check on my crop. When I came to my plot, my darling seedlings were decimated. Where plants once held five to eight leaves there now stood ragged stalks. In some places, the seedlings were pulled entirely from the bed. I couldn’t contain my shock and let out a very audible gasp and “N0000!” A pair of gardeners in a back plot looked up. “Birds,” Heidi said in her deep German accent. And she was dead right. I had not used bird netting. My baby pea plants had been a delicious snack for white crowned sparrows. In sympathy, John offered me some extra netting. So I gathered the straggly survivors together, watered them with frustrated tears, and then attached the protection. And prayed. Thankfully, several plants survived, and I was rewarded with beautiful pods in February. However, I have had to be ever-watchful of possible sparrow assault. The little devils are crafty. They sit on the netting and weigh it down until they can reach any leaf or tendril that makes its way near the edge. If the wind pulls a corner up, they find their way in. I know what they’re doing, and I shake my fist and tell them so. When I come into the garden, they dart along the ground ahead of me chirping and fluttering to warn their accomplices who sit atop the broccoli net or are busy tugging at a radish top found too close to the danger zone. Jerks.
Camp Miakonda. I was in Toledo for Easter and went with my friend and her boys to look at the scout patches and tour the camp at the DeVilbiss Scout Reservation. We peeked into empty cabins, laughed at the restroom titled “The Royal Flush,” and stood on the bridge to look down at raccoon prints in the sand along the stream. I hadn’t been to Camp Miakonda for decades, and though there were definite improvements with new buildings and refurbished old, I still felt the familiarity that sparks fragmented memories. My mother was a Cub Scout den mother, and my father was a Boy Scout troop leader. I had spent many Saturdays coming out for family days and jamborees. I also went to troop meetings when my mother worked, and the echoes of knot tying, pine box derbies, and ranking ceremonies flooded my mind. When we stepped inside the octagonal Council Lodge, it still had that familiar musty smell of aged wood left to stand between gatherings of little boys, young men, leaders and families. And in my short term as a Girl Scout, I had stayed in a cabin not far from there. I was quickly reminded of that same mildewy wood but this time mixed with the acrid bouquet of coal that smoldered in the potbellied stove. The heat was meant to cut the chill of the room, but it never seemed to dry out my sleeping bag. When I was shaken back to present day at the camp, I had a bit of envy that the boys’ scouting memories were just beginning.
San Francisco. Spring in Golden Gate Park. The trees are budding, and flowers are bursting. The Rhododendron Dell is finishing its blazing pinks and reds to give over to dapples of iris in blues, yellows, and white. The waxy camellias dot the border with peach and crimson. This is a place of solitude in the midst of the bustling city. The winding paths lead to the mall at the center of the park where the foreboding statue Poeme de la Vigne stands at the east end of the De Young Museum. As a lover of wine, I am drawn to the 11′ dark swirling ode to winemaking and the rites of Bacchus to protect the vine. The gods, satyrs, and all manner of bacchantes, combat the attackers of the grape. Their faces emote both anger and ecstacy heightened by the darkness of the bronze. The eerie details on the insects, rat, spider and snakes make this “poem of the vine” a frightening, yet oddly alluring piece.
Sonoma. Back in the mid-90s, I flew from Ohio to spend spring break with a friend who lived in the Monterey Bay area. Together, we headed north to visit the wineries of Napa and Sonoma–the inaugeral trip for a budding wine enthusiast. As we were ambling around Sonoma Plaza a mass of purple enticed me to an alley. There I found a glorious flowering wisteria. Its two foot long racemes were the longest I had seen. They hung over the arch of a locked gate and framed a hidden courtyard where, set far back, a splashing fountain drew a little bird to drink. I snapped a few shots (snapped since my camera still used film). And that moment became my vision of Sonoma. I loved my photos of that courtyard so much so that, in 2000, I commissioned one of my students to paint it. He caught the beauty of the wisteria and the play of light on the water droplets. The painting hung in my home in Ohio as well as several of my California dwellings. In May 2016, twenty years after that first visit, I found myself standing in front of that gate again. The wisteria had been trimmed, and the archways were replaced with ivy. The gate stood open to expose a developed alley with shops and tasting rooms. But the fountain was still there. And, despite the less mysterious surroundings, it still evoked that Sonoma romance.
Paso Robles. I love Daou Vineyards. Whenever we go to Paso, the tasting room is a focal point of an afternoon. I have hundreds of photos from the vista and many bottles of their vintages. The view of the valley from 2,200 feet is breathtaking. The Bordeaux varietals– lifegiving.
Carmel Valley. The summer had been cool on the coast, so my beloved and I were happy to take a trip inland for an overnight at Holman Ranch. After a several laps in the pool, we relaxed with glasses of Holman Ranch’s .5 Brix and watched the sky darken over the vines and mountain side. That night, as we lay looking up into the cabin’s skylight, we listened to the frogs and nightbirds sing. Peace.
Saugatuck. Best friends make every place special. And a girls’ getaway to Saugatuck was no different. After a generous brunch at Ida Red’s counter, we wove our way through the little shops and art galleries along the downtown waterfront. Selling every manner of goods–from hardware to wine–each store is a little jewel unique from the one before it. But getaways aren’t just meant for shoppig. August is a humid month for Michigan, so time in the pool at a The Saugatuck (a retro 50s motel outside of town) was a must. Nothing says laid back summer like floating with an icy spritzer in hand while Pérez Prado & His Orchestra’s “Cherry Pink (And Apple Blossom White)” drifts through air. I kept waiting for someone to pass a tray of shrimp puffs. Once the heat of the day relented, it was back to town for a bit more shopping and then around the bend to the Oval Beach to watch a the sun sink into Lake Michigan.
Home Base. In the spring, a family of scrub jays brought their fledglings to our holly tree. At that time, I had put some stale peanuts on the wall for the parents to feed their three little charges. Soon the youngsters were swooping to inspect the peanuts for themselves, and they circled down from the roof of the house, hollering and clicking. They didn’t quite know what to do with the nuts, but they had a good time flying about. As spring turned to summer, the adults and one of the youngsters disappeared, but two jays would frequently return. When I had an extra nut or two, I’d put them on the wall, and the birds would show up to take them away. One morning in September, there was chattering and squawking on my doorstep. It was the “boys.” They stood on the doorstep and called for me. They knew where those nuts came from and didn’t want to wait. I grabbed a handful of roasted Spanish peanuts and lined them up outside. Up and back they flew with the nuts in their beaks. They had trained me.
Cachagua. Pressing the Syrah at Wine Camp. I just love this photo of the cake.
Carmel Valley. If the weather is cool and you are sitting outside at Cowgirl Winery, expect the chickens to surround you and beg for the popcorn in your bag. They are relentless but so darn adorable.
Thicket, Texas. The first weekend in December means Dickens on the Strand in Galveston and a weekend to catch up with sorority sisters. Unfortunately rain washed out the event, so the costumes stayed packed, and the weekend turned to indoor activities at Mocking J Ranch. Glogg and wine, football and Christmas movies, and plenty of talk. When there were breaks in the storm, we were given a chance to meet the ladies. And they beg for treats just as much as chickens.