I’m trying really hard to stay positive as the news gets grimmer and grimmer. The Delta variant and now Afhanistan on top of everything else. A good friend of mine gave me the prompt “unprecedented” to write about. We’ve been hearing a lot of that word lately. Here’s my take….
There was this magnificent great horned owl that lived in the hayloft of the barn, part of the old farmstead that became the Nature Conservancy field station on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. A month ago I spent a week there as a participant of the Outpost writing workshop sponsored by Fishtrap, a non-profit writing organization located in Enterprise (see my previous post, Writing the Zumwalt Prairie).
Occasionally we would see this stately bird from its perch at the hayloft’s opening scanning for prey and looking down on us sternly from above.
Owls are unique in that they can rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction. Their feathers are constructed in such a way to facilitate silent flight and their eyes are 35 X more sensitive than the human eye needing only 5% of the light we require. Add to that their extremely acute hearing and you have an extremely adept hunter.
Since owls typically swallow their prey whole, they have a daily ritual of regurgitating a tidy package of fur, bones, feathers, and the like into one tidy package known as an owl pellet. When one dissects an owl pellet you can piece together the skeletons of the small rodents, and birds they consumed.
During our writing circles with our teacher /poet Kim Stafford, he encouraged us to always be paying attention with all our senses as we experienced the prairie around us, being mindful not to disregard the other visitors to our psyche as well. He stressed to capture those thoughts and inspirations on paper or voice memo before they escaped us- much like the owl and its prey. These morsels of observation are what feed us as writers. Kim is never without a small notebook and pen. I often saw him jotting things down as he went about his day.
To be any kind of creative it is important to pay attention from wherever our perch may be. Writing, (or sketching) like an owl is the essence of personal expression.
by Alanna Pass
I am learning to write like a great horned owl
I sit on a high perch
so that I may swivel my head in all directions
observing, listening, smelling
for inspirational prey
I leave my perch at a moment’s notice
a presence detected
with a silent swoop I spread my wings
extend my outstretched talons
and snatch my prey before possible escape
I bend head to toes
open my hooked beak, extract this morsel
and swallow it whole
repeating this routine until I feel a blissful sense satisfaction
Then I rest
to coalesce all my inspirational prey into one tidy parcel
I project my written pellet into the cosmos
to land at the feet of others
with the intention that they may also
experience the wonders, the truths, the inspirations
that I have lovingly collected, digested, and presented
In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
This year’s garlic harvest is in. It‘s always a bit of magic when the spade brings to light the seed I planted in the fall. From singular cloves come beautiful heads of garlic ready to enhance my cooking and that of others. Trim the stalks and brush their smooth skins – a ritual I never tire of. Then off to the racks of our root cellar (actually a former darkroom) where they will cure on racks. Typically the harvest will last until mid spring if stored correctly.
We use garlic liberally, often pressing an entire bulb and storing it in a container for use during the week. When I was a young cook I used to follow recipes that called for a clove or two of garlic. I could never taste the difference. If you want some pizzazz to your cuisine, be generous 5 or 6 depending on the size of your cloves. Trust your taste buds.
Over many years none of our acquaintances- even my closest friends have ever complained to me of garlic breath. A good tooth brushing will take care of that!
We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service. I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW. It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!” Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.
We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this. These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon. Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat. Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.
My house has no AC. There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated. This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.
This morning there was an event in my garden- the garlic scapes were ready for harvest. What is a garlic scape? It is the flowering stalk that appears about 2 weeks or so in June before the garlic is mature enough to dig. It’s always a bit of a miracle to see it mature since I planted it way back in November. We ran out of our garlic about two months ago so it is exciting to know that soon we will have fresh garlic to enjoy.
This is where it gets a bit complicated. There are 2 types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic is the only type that produces scapes. They have, as the name implies, a long hard neck or stem. they have fewer cloves but the cloves are huge. Softneck garlic has soft stems. They are the type you see in braids. Their bulbs can get huge with more cloves but they are not as big as those of the hardneck. Generally, they don’t store for as long as hardneck either. They are impressive and make great gifts
I grow both kinds, Susanville, a softneck variety, and Musica, a hardneck variety. Any type you grow at home puts the tiny store-bought garlic from China to shame in terms of flavor and size. (Why we import that inferior garlic from China is a mystery to me!)
Garlic scapes have a mild garlic flavor. Tonight I will brush them with olive oil and place them on the grill with other vegetables to serve as a side dish. This is my favorite way to serve them. I also sauté them and add them to everything from eggs to stirfry. Look for them now at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores for a special treat.
My Dublin Bay roses bloom every spring capturing my heart. This year they seem so profound that I had to write a poem about them. I dropped my shovel, and my pruners and ran inside to do just that so as not to loose my inspiration.
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey. The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public. It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike. It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.
The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up. At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not. It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine.
It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.