Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aesthetics of Decay: Birds

Story and photos: Trina

Now that you've had a gentle, flowery introduction to the Aesthetics of Decay concept, I offer one of my favorite photographic subjects: dead birds. I'm coming off as a bit flip, I realize, but in truth, it is with an attitude of reverence that I photograph these things. Death is part of life, and in many ways an image of death is the most potent symbol of life, the most effective reminder of its fragility, its transitory nature.

I seem to stumble upon an inordinate number of dead birds in my daily wanderings. Whether it is because they are a particularly fragile life form, or my eyes are especially tuned to see them, or I'm frequenting unusually deathly places, I don't know. I do know that I find them irresistibly haunting and moving.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Aesthetics of Decay: Flowers

Story (er, 2 sentences) and photos: Trina

A blooming flower at its peak is of course a lovely and beautiful thing. However, I find that the withering, shriveling, folding, wrinkling, and curling that mark a flower's decline are much more intriguing than just a perfect, pretty blossom.

More aesthetics of decay photos to come: birds, fish, leaves, calalilies, home, animals...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Waterlily Wanderings

Story: Greg
Photos: Trina and Greg

I will take some comfort in this fact: Much of the area near where I live was explored by a man with one arm. Legend (or history, if there is a difference) tells us that John Wesley Powell, one-armed Civil War veteran, traveled the rivers, canyons and mesas of the Colorado Plateau in 1869 and again in 1871. He and his party were the first of their culture to see many of the places they visited.

So... What? I am left with one useable arm and suddenly I think I'm on par with this famed explorer of the American West? That I am off to wrestle wooden boats down the Grand Canyon? Er, no. I admit some trifling differences between The Explorer and me.

The biggest one being, I suppose, that in a matter of weeks, I will once again have the use of my arm. And no matter how shriveled, white, weak and wormlike it may be when it re-emerges from this cast, its return will afford certain advantages that were forever lost to JWP. Powell, however, didn't have to give up mountain biking -- lucky him -- as his era preceded the advent of the mountain bike.

So with Trina's assistance, I have set out to stay active and to keep exploring the world around me as I wait around for my arm to heal. You have noted the mushroom hunts, I'm sure. And I've been riding my town bike since day one, and as the arm heals inside its cast, I've been upping the miles. Even worked my self up to an hour's riding the other day to a nearby town for a meeting, then back again. And I'll take any excuse to ramble around with Trina.

Like this day trip up the local mountain. Not exploration in the grand sense, but just the kind of little trip that keeps the sense of wonder turned up high, a combination of wading through the swampy fringes of waterlily ponds and sitting quietly to see what will show itself. Here are some of our pictures.

Waterlilies -- even before we left home.

Wild waterlilies.

Swamp rat-dog.

Marsh rat-dog.

The swamp tried to suck down Trina's shoe, and almost succeeded.

Cute little weasel that came by for a visit and who was stealthy enough that the dogs never seemed to notice.

Late summer flowers.

Harvest Textures

Story: Trina
Photos: Trina and Greg

The Marina di Chioggia saga is drawing to a close -- nearer, anyway. (Part 1 here; part 2 here.) We cut all two of them loose and while they are curing, awaiting their fate as autumn or winter feasts, I've been enjoying their lumpy, bumpy, gnarly texture. I don't believe I've ever grown anything quite so ugly!

We grew our melons and squash on vertical trellises this year, tying them to the trellis in mesh bags and panty hose to support the weight of the fruits as they grew and ripened. Without support, when they're ripe they'll just fall right off the vine and plop to the ground, breaking open and inviting in bugs and subsequent rot.

We missed a couple of precious Collective Farmwoman melons, and by the time our noses led us to them, they were hollow, rotting husks full of flies, worms and frass.

Green nutmeg melon -- an enchanting name, and the flavor is positively mediocre!

Even something as ordinary as a raisin is better when it's homemade. This is an Italian cornmeal cookie made with pine nuts and our own raisins, dried from the table grapes that ornament my courtyard wall. Yum!

The first of the speckled cranberry beans:

Still life with ants and lettuce:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tripling the Take

Story: Trina
Photos: Trina and Greg

It's a good thing Greg has a broken arm because if he didn't, I'd never have been able to talk him into going mushroom hunting for the second time in a week. He'd have insisted, of course, on mountain biking, and we'd have missed the staggering abundance of the forest that resulted in our bringing home triple last week's take of boletes.

The squat, bulbous, orange-capped boletes -- and countless other fungi in wildly varying shapes and shades -- are magically pushing up out of the earth just about everywhere right now, and every one of them seems to exude its own unique character and personality. I feel strangely compelled to photograph every individual encountered, as though taking its portrait.

After watching someone's how-to-field-clean-boletes-video and the lesson learned from the hours upon hours of cleaning last week's haul at home because I didn't clean them thoroughly enough in the field, I added a soft-bristled pastry brush to the mushroom hunting tool belt and not only trimmed in the field, but also brushed each mushroom free of every speck of dirt, every pine needle, every strand of dried grass.

As most every activity in life is slightly modified right now due to The Cast, our special three-functional-arms-between-us mushrooming technique was this: I'd sit on the forest floor working mushrooms while the one-good-armed Greg and highly trained truffle hounds scouted and delivered single-armloads to my cleaning station, dropping them in a pile at my feet. Getting them clean (the mushrooms I mean, and your feet too I suppose) before you jostle them all about in bags makes for much quicker processing when you get them all home, which matters significantly when you're dealing with -- may I gloat? Just briefly? -- 42 (forty-two!) pounds of mushrooms. Having already done the cleaning in the field surely preserved a little of our sanity this evening; even so, tonight we sliced and diced and cooked until we dropped. Can you say "stroganoffallwinterlong?"

These do not go in the stroganoff:

After we had decided we had harvested enough, if not too many, mushrooms...

"Ok, this is good. Let's quit and go ride."
"But, look at this nice one over here."
"Well, maybe just one more. We can't leave a beauty like that behind."
"Oh, wow, here's a whole stash of them!"
"No! No more mushrooms! Ok, bring 'em over."
"Ok, let's call it a day."
"Wait, I just found five more. Don't you want them?"
"No! No, no, no, no, no! Yes!"

... we actually did incorporate just a brief spin on the bikes down a safe, smooth gravel road expressly for the purpose of preserving Greg's sanity.

We kept having to lurch to a stop, however, dropping bikes in the ditch and bounding into the bushes when I spotted yet more boletes peeking out of the roadside undergrowth.

"I thought we were done hunting mushrooms?"
"Yeah, but...."

Please remember: eating wild mushrooms is dangerous. Wear a helmet.

Lastly, a word of explantion is in order regarding Sprocket's Wonder Dog cape. He is a superhero. We aren't hiring him out as a crossing guard. He is guarding precious mushroom booty. He isn't Greg's service dog. He can now play safely in city traffic. He is a fashion maven. Mostly, we don't want him being shot for sport.

It may not be open season on game yet, but here in the Wild West, that doesn't stop truckfuls of not-so-gentle men from driving around on mountain roads with rifles and shotguns, shooting at anything that moves out in the meadows. Chipmunks, marmots, birds, little red dogs that look exactly like red fox bounding through the meadows hunting mice. Having encountered such truckfuls of men more than once on our adventures, we decided Sprocket needed a Wonder Dog cape, preferably in the lovely shade of "hunter safety orange." We find it a little embarassing, but worth it for our peace of mind, whereas Sprocket seems to be reveling in the super powers it affords him.