gall and gumption

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I should just mention that Sunday afternoon I took the dogs for a walk out by Little Seneca Lake, a big reservoir surrounded by parklands just at the back of Germantown. I western side because there are fewer people, and that was lucky. I saw a fox with a most definitely bushy tail. I think he may have been rather an old and seedy fox. Also I saw a beaver. The beaver was swimming, mostly submerged, this dark shape under the water with a nose sticking out. For a while I thought it was a log, but when it got wind of the dogs it dived with a great thwack! of its tail.

I can't believe I've been here a year and three months, or that my last daylight glimpse of California was the Sonoma Coast. Tom and I drove out there my last day, he took lots of pictures and when I turned my back on it at last I was very sad to go. New geographies are sort of meaningless for a while until you pick features out and build some kind of personal connection to them, some kind of meaning. And of course for my first few months here I was so wretched that I did not see much. It was the widening circle of dog walks that got me out and about, and now that it's spring again I discover that out of all those brooding walks last year I found a mental amusement that i did not have available in California. And I'm looking forward to it again.

Mushrooms. Or, if you prefer, fungi.

One day I might actually go get a guide to local mushrooms so I can call them by their proper names (if those proper names are pronounceable). In the meantime I identify them by this unscientific method:

The ones that look like biscuits
The ones that look like magic markers
The ones that look like big slabs of liver
The ones that look like ostrich eggs
The ones that look like Mexican pastries
The ones that look like the scenery in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The ones that look like a turd that's been stepped in (these are uncannily convincing)

There are many others, but my sightings all occur in a sort of flash as I'm being dragged along by the dogs. These are the ones I remember from last year, and the great thing is that I'll get to rename all the new ones. I'll try to keep better records.

I'd like to draw them [bitter laugh] but Misha, my Dad's dog, has a fear of nature not to mention other issues so there's no sitting quietly outdoors when she's around.

One thing I do not want to see this spring is native (i.e., non-gentrified) Marylanders butchering a turtle like I saw last spring. The natives eat turtle. Luckily when I happened on this crew the turtle had been long dead. That sighting was one of those little things that occasionally happen here that tell me I'm in the South.

(Oh and this just occurred to me. You know when you drive through Georgia there are all those big signs advertising pecans at these roadside pecan places? Does anybody really eat all those pecans? Are there people for whom the words "PECANS" in letters two feet high just produce mad cravings for a big ole sack of them? I don't know why, but the word "PECANS" in any size lettering leaves me quite unmoved. ARTICHOKES, however, never fails. If I see the words "ARTICHOKES" at the side of the road I want to stop. And berries. I will brake for berries.)

One of the other ways I would realize I was in the South used to happen at the old job, when I went to a nearby supermarket for lunch. They had a big, pretty good salad bar and a hot self-serve as well. This was in Prince George's County, which is a very black area. And all the food in the hot bar was basically Southern: Ribs, fried chicken, collard greens (apparently you cook them until they are close to dissolving, then, oddly, they look and taste a little bit like the vegetable we call callalloo in Jamaica), spoonbread, dirty rice. On Fridays -- or FRY-days as I prefer to think of them -- the place really went South. Everything was deep-fried in batter or some kind of breading: fried chicken, fried catfish, fried broccoli, fried okra, fried wings, fried giblets and some little mysterious lumpy bits of things, like popcorn clusters, that were apparently just deep-fried friedness. Over in another display case in the deli I saw packages of "Northern cornbread," while over at the department of Fried Things I noticed that there was "cornbread." I don't know how "Northern cornbread" differs from "real" cornbread. FRY-days were the busiest day over at that deli.

Oh, and on Sunday my father learned what the expression "chicken-fried" means. He already knew he didn't like it but did not know that "chicken-fried" was the thing he did not like. I didn't intervene in his decision to order chicken-fried steak because 1) I thought he liked chicken fried things and that was what he wanted, and 2) I didn't want to boss him around, which irritates him; and 3) he habitually changes his mind so suddenly and inexplicably that advice is no help anyway. But don't worry; even though I have worked out these reasons why it isn't my fault, and he scraped the batter off the steak and ate it, I still feel vaguely guilty!


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