Collapse, rebuild

A surprisingly epic tale is to follow. Whether it is educational or not I do not know. I know that I learned a great deal, if such is possible for one who considers most erstwhile knowledge as mere information. I share with the fragile hope that you will gain something, something that otherwise would have been difficult to gain. No pain, no gain, they say (smiling emoji).

It began with an innocent ominousness. That’s right. Perhaps the refrigerator is tired? Notice how it’s leaning to the left? It refused to speak of how it was feeling. Normally, as in always, it had stood straight.

Closer (intrusive and destructive) inspection revealed that it was not so much the refrigerator but the floor that was having the problem.

I trust you will notice the glorious 5 x 7 beam that seems to rest at an improper angle. Failed in the line of duty. Broken, rotted really. No longer suitable for use as designed.

Perhaps it becomes clearer now.

Not obvious in this picture (because it’s not there) is the fact that the middle beam was even more severely compromised. Unsaveable, a lost cause, gone caput. To restore this pantry to its former functional state, that’s the journey this post will narrate. Below you can behold what I came to fondly describe as the ‘bridge of doom’. The refrigerator had fled, of course, into the space behind that wall on the left – a peculiar space four feet wide and fourteen across (fourteen deep if you just looked into it) left there to keep firewood indoors. Of course the refrigerator needed to be visited several times a day, and from the kitchen, from whose door the photo below was taken. Therefore each day, with due attention to balance, several times I would traverse the beam, sometimes hands full, asking myself why why why was it not worth temporarily making a safer way. The challenge, of course. That which does not destroy me, etc. I’m very glad to report a mishap count of zero, not that this justifies my decision making process.

Getting down into the pit and looking under, toward the kitchen. A thin layer of wet earth on top of bedrock outcroppings, simple wooden 4 x 4’s, rotten at their base, and then another stone cross wall perhaps 10 feet in.

It gave me many hearty laughs to see the devil-may-care precision with which these underlying/supporting walls were constructed. What is good enough? Our friend Boris would know, may he rest in peace, but who even remembers Mr. Gudenoff now? Good enough certainly were my tools of destruction – my Grandfather’s sledge hammer, two Japanese pull saws (one ‘timber class’), and old oak-handled pry bar, a standard hammer. These worked great.

How quickly (three weeks?) from despair to hope? Would that the time were so short for the many, that the causes were so delightfully addressable. A most industrious neighbor. who in addition to farming also runs a sawmill on his farm, cut the new 5 x 7 beams, notched them into place, shored up the new beams as shown below, and supplied the planks that I might complete the decking. This was an utterly fabulous turn of events and one for which I remain most grateful.

Some of said planking below, prior to deployment

Ah but rot, rot and conscience and good sense – what can one do, when beholding rot, too much rot, but address it?

It’s a hard line, to say what is sufficient. For this whole project I’d decided that the mission success criteria would be a minimum of 5 and ideally of 20 or more years of function, at minimum cost, inasmuch as I (continue to) hold larger plans for the re-doing of this whole space but at the moment that project must wait. I happened to have some lovely red oak 6 x 6 orts, however, and one of exactly the right length was in the barn.

Hope increases as these bits of good fortune accrue.

As it had been, I decided to stick with the three layers of decking. The first two laid the long way, divided on the center line so that of could remove the floor in halves if such a need were to arise.

An extra bonus was to re-use some of the old decking as shelves where the refrigerator was. But wait! I know your eager mind has had the fate of the refrigerator as a significant and unabandoned thread. Fear not. As with most projects, they grow. I was aware that simplest would be to put it where it was, but because the wall between the firewood cubby and the pantry was not in the long term plan anyway, and the firewood cubby by itself was providing no utility, and a larger pantry would be more useful, well – the refrigerator would go in corner of the firewood cubby space and therefore be brought back into the pantry by the destruction of the wall. Voila! (some emojis).

A brief shout out has to go to the ‘slick’ below, a old word for a wide chisel, as well as to the oscillating multi-tool. I learned about this tool from the industrious farmer. I asked if it had a simpler name, as no one wants to say “Hey, do you know where I put my oscillating multi-tool?’, but if there is a secret name for it he either did not know or would not share. This, in my piggery, I christened it an Omt. Do not attempt to guess how I divined the name. I’d never had or knew of omts. Sublimely useful.

This epic sure goes on, eh? It took months, several nights a week, some weekends. Below find the wall to be destroyed. Layers of paint and wallpaper and horsehair plaster, cottony insulation, some wiring

Sparing you then the many photos of intermediate destruction, please find wall removed and thus refrigerator re-integrated into pantry. The old door, now a door to nowhere, was left at the request of my daughter. No worries, the whole space is temporary and experimental. Of course.

There was still much to learn, however, especially regarding the place of humility. The original pantry floor had no insulation beneath it. The room never seemed cold, but then again there was no reason to spend any time in it. Spending time there made it very plain that it was borderline icy on cold days, that the refrigerator was lifting the temperature of what it contained. So up came the carefully laid board (but there the fact that I had not nailed them down was a great thing) and I now had to lay insulation between each of the 3 foot segments between the beams.

In order to accomplish this, and to have the pink side up, it seemed that staples just were not doing it, and that some sort of slats would do much better. Pile of custom cut slats below, pre-nailed even. Detour city, but in the name of better outcomes.

Last panels before being placed. Notes on virtue of forethought. And as for fiberglass dust? I ask not.

Note now the ceiling, multi-layered, the dangling wires, and

the floor – quite discontinuous

challenges, at my (low) skill level. I took it ploddingly, addressing each problem directly but without much thought on the overall unity. If function is first how far off the mark could this be? Below the outlet in the ceiling, but essential and convenient to the very patient refrigerator.

an even uglier but nonetheless functional outlet placement –

and again sparing you – this time of the details of ceiling and floor unification (I know, you’re welcome), we get to a colored floor. Much debate has raged, and it seems that the perception of the color of the floor is greatly skewed by gender. Only the colors blue and purple have been reported as being seen.

Shelves in the same color

You may recall the stencil footprints around the door in the bridge of doom picture. When I’d moved in, the stencil itself was taped to wall, as if the stencil-er had been called home suddenly. I took it down and set it aside, not knowing that more was meant for it in this life.

I remain very tickled by these, as I am by the little entryway below No doubt you are aware that if you give a mouse some building materials, he may build a neo-classical Greek revival entryway, in keeping with local architecture.

Now that black wall – it was not meant to be a black wall, but rather the blackness as a backdrop for some wonderful non-representational art.

All stories, this one true, weave into thousands of other stories. Much was learned in re-building this pantry. The log slices above grew profound mold, mold that no bleach or ammonia could remedy, so down they came. The pantry is far better than it was, however, and I richer and thankful for the experience.

Summer in Sao Paulo

A summer in Sao Paulo could be so many things.  Mine was so few of them, as it was mostly business, but there was much that I saw and learned of the people and in the nature.  A few pictures and remarks, not that am a travel blogger, but since I was off my continent I figure an exception is permitted.

A tree eating a wall – a wall upon which the verb ‘to see’ is written.  This is one of the first things I saw, right outside the Pullman Hotel in Via Olympia.  It spoke to me.  I would wish the tree/all trees to succeed in tearing down as many walls as it/they wished to tear down, but to tear down the power to see, if that was the consequence, I hesitate.  Would a nature that was blind but vigorously growing be a superior nature?

I didn’t get around much initially, the fact-based rumors of the danger of the city had retarded my natural tendencies to wander.  Pushed them into a stealthier place.  I brought with me top-siders that holes in them.  Subtly inconspicuous t-shirts.  Sweat pants.  I carried an expired driver’s license and R$300.  Hey-eyes!  Hey eyes, you say?  Yes, because the Real (rhymes with See Al) is the currency, but you must know that when an R leads a word of course it changes to an H (is that not obvious!?) and that when we pluralize the Real it becomes Reai.  Really, such that we say ‘hey eyes’.

There are almost no bar stools in Sao Paulo.  My normal approach when manually discovering a new city is to have a few beers with the locals, talk, ask questions, listen to stories.  No go here.  All tables.  I could listen, but my listening in Portuguese was very weak.  I felt like a dog – I could understand some, perhaps even the important gist – happy, sad, etc, but specificity was not happening.  It feels very lame to get out the cellphone and do the Google Translate thing and point at it.  Google translate does have a cool thing I discovered though, on this trip, that you can point it (via cellphone) at a newspaper, for example, or any text, and it will substitute the translation for what it is seeing.  Bad ergonomics though for consuming much data.


I did go to the Botanical Garden one Saturday.  Leaf cutter ants were fun to watch. Sloths and monkeys were advertised as lurking in the forest too, but perhaps it was a shy day.  I did also go another Saturday to the Ibirapuera park.  That was very nice, teeming with humans though.  Took a long walk to get there.

I did read the paper every morning.  The staff at the Pullman was very nice.  They’d help translate things and make sure I tried all the special things.  Beware the shell of the cashew, says the man who tried to chew through one.  Lip burns that only took a few days to heal, no big deal really.  The cashew fruit though, and the juice – most delicious.

I could say a thousand or more things about my time there, probably much more, but this really isn’t a travel blog.  Looking out the window of the Mercure, where I also stayed for a time, was what ultimately became the sense of Sao Paulo for me

this overwhelming density of urbanity, people packed and stacked high, thriving, perhaps, but certainly bustling, bustling beyond my ability to comprehend.


Workshop Video +

Here is a video of my workshop as of late May: Workshop Video.  It’s a full-on place now, layered in delightful smells of all different cut woods, and cut stone, and metal, with nooks and crannies where all manner of potentially useful or rare/unique items dwell, and of half spun ideas too.

For example, and this is a good example,, you can see the Hotei Buddha there on the right – you know, the joyous one, almost always has his arms up in the air, exultant – all that.  And you know I’ve been wanting to make my own wooden Hotei Buddha forever, or at least since I’ve been dragging this guy along since has to be 1985 or 1984.  Even been gathering up suitable pieces of wood – sizing them up.

And then if you click on the picture you’ll notice in the center right that there’s something of a compound puck there.  And that’s indeed what it is, no need to ask why.  I don’t ask why when the need to do something comes over me.  Anyway, then I balanced the puck on the upraised hands of Hotei and I liked it.  The idea that he is still exultant, that now it is not perhaps his freedom that is animating his exultation, but rather his strength, his work.  That I liked a lot, enough to start carving.

Turns out I had a beautiful piece of live oak just waiting.  Probably been drying in the shop for two years, and it came in supposedly dry.  Barely a crack in it.  A knot or two, ok.  Removing big material gracefully is the first challenge of carving.  Angle grinder?! Engine of danger and terror?  Extreme concentration is mandatory.  Look to the right of the Buddha and you will see the fearsome teeth.  Expand the picture.

Anyhow, so angle grinding and table-sawing I go for a half an hour or so, recognizing that this is not going to be a quick and easy thing at all, when suddenly the Assyrian emerges.  I’m not joking.  They say how things are revealed when you carve, or how you reveal something.  I’m not saying that I saw the Assyrian and in a collection of masterly strokes revealed him, rather that by random happenstance he appeared.  What Assyrian you say?  Look at the picture again.  Before you expand it, imagine a 3/4 profile nose right.  See the knot as the eye.  See the lighter area in the center right as the nose.  See the little jut 2/3 down on the right as the chin and likewise the jut on the left as the hair or helmet.  A fierce fellow indeed!

I do not think I have a duty to change direction and abandon the workful joyous Hotei for this Assyrian, but I do think he deserved mention and that the question of when to change direction in a representation also deserves consideration.  Hopefully I will check back in here with images of the completed Buddha.

This post really was about the workshop video, but in a way this story of the things that happen in the process, and the things that happen before the process, these things really explain the workshop better than any attempt to do so directly.

Tobacco 2

Greetings Dear Readers, earthbound or nay.  This transmission comes to you from the usual place on the usual frequency.  Those transmissions encoded in the shifting shapes of clouds and the specific patterns of raindrops landing I will not take responsibility for, though I will reluctantly acknowledge to contributing, albeit to the most minor of extents, to that grander milieu of phenomena.  Thus are the skids of mysterious incredulity greased.

Today’s post, a trifle long in being made, follows up on last August’s Tobacco 1 post, wherein our hero, Umgurk, having lost his reindeer, and it being dark and cold, sets forth… (wait, that’s not what it’s about).  That prior post detailed a little of the history of tobacco and that I was seeing how it grew.  Following that post came the tale of a strange ark, not a water bound ark, that would carry life forms (plants) across a condition they could not survive (winter) with ample room for roots.  OK, looked at another way it’s just a large wooden flower pot, but strange ark is much more poetic and suggestive to the imagination.

I had put the chosen tobacco plants which otherwise would have died and set them in the strange ark.  All winter long I watered them and throve they mightily.  By the end of March behold –

Tobacco plant

with flowers no less

Tobacco Flower

Not long after these pictures,, the largest of the plants fell under weight of its luxuriant leaves.  This told me it was time to harvest the first batch of those leaves.  The internet is full of accounts of how tobacco leaves are to be dried, subsequently fermented (cured), and thereafter used.  At the end of last summer when I had many tiny (3 or four inch) leaves I had tried to dry a few.  When stuck together they would molder.  Those not moldy were somewhat fragrant.  I tried an experiment – you heard it here first – I had some bluefish (I seek the collective permission of the universe to refer to the bluefish as mackerel here – there are meaningful similarities, a dark fishy-fish, though of course there are differences too) so anyway I had this mackerel (how easy was that?) and a whole bunch of fresh tobacco leaves – what about tobacco smoked mackerel?  How could an avenue as appealing as this have gone unexplored by earthly civilization?  Forty or fifty little leaves later (thrown into the grill underneath the fish), and it did produce a zaftig fragrance, I possessed the prize.  A similar result might have been produced by soaking the fish in water long standing in un-emptied ashtrays … but not really.  I just think that important adjustments might need to be made such as how many leaves, how much fire, tiger mackerel?, under which stars, etc.  The culinary road to heaven crosses many uncontemplated byways.

Trying to be fair to the many forms of goodness available in our universe I did consider the converse, of setting the leaves (misted) on the grill and the mackerel into the fire itself, so that the mackerel smoke could condition the tobacco.  I think that such tobacco would really open olfactory minds.  That idea is filed under “For another time”.

Back to the main theme, then.  I clipped off the biggest dozen leaves from the fallen plant and stood it back up.  I strung the leaves on a wire next to a heating vent in the workshop, hoping that the flow of air would deter mold.

Drying Tobacco 1 Drying Tobacco 2

and as yet (+ ten days) there is no mold.  The leaves continue to feel damp.  It is surprising how much moisture they contain and how strongly they clutch it.

Episode 3 of this series may feature efforts at curing and fermenting (assuming the drying does not fail), further escapades in tobacco-fish synergies, news of subsequent generations (the lead plant, having flowered, has produced many seed pods), or heaven knows.  Until that time may you thrive peacefully, or lean more in that direction, or not find the pain of being unable to thrive to be unspeakably odious, or – just do your best, ok?




This will not be such a learned post, in that I could/should provide a host of links to educative references, so forgive me those who have come to rely on those.  Here’s one link though, Wintergreen, that should give gross background, more than that this is a flavor of chewing gum.

Wintergreen Leaves

The basics here are that it grows in the many oak/pine/maple woods locally and for decades I’ve occasionally picked and bruised a leaf just to smell the very lovely smell, thought of in gum as a kind of mint but really not being a mint at all.  Nowadays they get the same flavor from birch twigs so these little leaves get left alone.  The plant grows very close the ground, never gets big, but the leaves stay green in the winter.  I wonder how it got its name?

I did enough online research to learn that the native Americans made a medicinal tea from it and that just boiling the leaves does a very poor job of extracting either their flavor or their virtue.  OK, I did do enough research to learn that the Wampanoag word for it is gôgôwibagok.  Say it five times fast.  Seems that to extract the flavor and goodness it must be allowed to ferment for some days in a warm place, till it starts to bubble.  I washed the leaves, put them in a water bottle, and set them on the windowsill.

Wintergreen Leaves Immersed

Days pass.  And more, as if days pass of their own volition.  I notice the bubbles.  Smells good.  Ten days I let it ferment, or at least sit in tepid water.  The water vaguely tinted brown.  The bubbles never got too rowdy.  Eventually I figured I had to boil, test, and bottle.

Wintergreen Tea

So far the test has gone well.  I drank five ounces 45 minutes ago and here I am typing. The active ingredient is methyl salicylate, a cousin of salicylic acid, which in turn is the active component in aspirin.  The easing of aches and pains and the reduction of fever really were the only highlights I could expect, and I did not have aches nor a fever, so I’ll take the absence of detriment as the ok for this concoction.  Be warned though, methyl salicylate is toxic in sufficient quantities and you should probably only go this route if your insatiable natural curiosity so commands.  To temper the warning though, folk wisdom is wise for a reason.  In their day, these leaves helped the sick.  You’d have to go way way beyond soaking a handful of leaves in water for a few days, like off the spectrum beyond, to turn a natural medicine into an unnatural disaster.

Anyway these are my happy bits for the day.  May you explore the natural world with continuing ontological wonder.

Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak

Really.  In many ways this missive will miss many marks, yet squirrels do eat acorns.

First, to translate, the Mohegans, a Northeastern US tribe of Native Americans, whose language is in the Algonquin family, might declare “Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak” if they meant to indicate that squirrels eat acorns.  I get to this for several reasons and in several ways, but first, myself not being much of a Native American, wish to briefly go on record against the titling of this post as being an wicked act of cultural appropriation.  I don’t think I even need to testify that my respect of all indigenous peoples in the practice of their culture far exceeds my respect of we in the practice of rabid modernity.

OK.  It was my intent this week to gather a great mass of acorns and make them into cookies and acorn butter.  I had done this once before three years ago and it turned out plausibly well, but that was before I had this ability to document such an enterprise so readily.  I figured that this experience ought to be preserved that others might benefit (I do have to wonder how my imagination comes up with such hypotheses).  Let me start with the process of gathering the acorns.  Even though it’s really a pretty straight forward thing I found so many points on the way that were not acorns yet held related interest.

I set forth with my dog one morning near the end of September to the local woods.  It’s a big woods, well, in this suburban area a woods of 1000 acres is considered big.  It’s no wilderness.  Much of it is forested in pine, maple and oak.  Knowing when the right time is is very important.  Too early and nary an acorn.  Too late and the acorn weevils have won the day.  Acorn weevils, you ask?  Yes.  I’ve never seen an adult, but I’ve seen the larvae. The larvae are planted into the acorns by their mothers.  They eat their way out and drop to the forest floor.  Funny looking things, supposedly.

Acorn Weevil - Lignyodes helvolus

Anyway, I know to avoid acorns with a tell-tale little hole in them – that’s where the weevil larvae have eaten their way out and wreaked important havoc on the integrity of the acorn, especially for eating.  I’ve not always noticed the hole that gets the larvae eggs in there.  I was encountering about a 1 in thirty ratio of acorns with larvae.  Maybe one in twenty where somehow there had been a larvae, you could tell from black marks in the nut flesh itself, but no larvae to be found.  Most were clear though, of those I picked up, but if I picked up all I think most would not have been clear.

Now the actual looking for the acorns – of course they are near to oak trees, and in the woods I was in these would be red and white oaks, so named for the tones of the wood they yield.  Red oaks drop acorns every second year, while white oaks produce new ones each year.  The actual looking involves looking for the recently fallen, so to see a few recently fallen ones together suggests some sort of active drop zone, as soon the squirrels will come, and they can tell the good ones.  Thankfully the squirrel population in this woods is low, as we have just enough wild cover that we have natural predators. Foxes, coyotes, an occasional lynx.  Now and then a bear proves that he’s more than a myth, but I don’t see the bears as really gobbling up all the squirrels.  Remember the fox who ran by in the early spring?  I think that’s a squirrel in her mouth.  The looking for acorns though, as one goes quietly in the underbrush, guided by what seem nearer or further oak-like silhouettes and the occasional sudden messenger sound of an acorn falling close or just a little farther away – should I go and pick that one up?  Has it fallen just for me? Quercus, Quercus, can you hear me – do you laugh that I would think to call you Quercus?  Might the Algonquins who called you mitigomij, the Abenaki who called you wachilmezi, the Cherokee who called you tsu-s-ga – might they know your real name?

And here I stopped for a moment.  Real name.  How powerfully romantic.  And for what, the ancestor spirit of all oaks?  Still present?  Are you here, can you hear me?  If I could speak your name, if you had a name, would you answer?  Will you open the door for me, the door to where the great oaks live powerfully ideal oak lives,raining apple-sized acorns down, fit for dire Pleistocene mega-squirrels, the door to where abundance and magic dwell?  If only I knew your name.  Even the earth-wise natives who roamed the forests and lived on the acorns, did they know your name, and if so how, how is it that they had different names, unless a name is only a name for the limited experience we can have, so that a name is like “I encountering what I imagine you to be” and is more colored with our imagination than the real oak or object named.  Maybe names are the weakest things, a device of megalomaniacal monkeys, a tool perhaps for them to refer to some cluster of phenomenon (and thereby hopefully control them), but by no means possessed of the magic and truth they’d like to imagine.  Quercus, can you open the door?  If there were true names, names inseparable from the being they named, what would it be?  There’s another challenge I’ll mention, that of this oak vs. that oak.  It is easier to imagine that a given oak has a given name.  The tree Orgovius.  The tree Reefshnees.  One might never know how they got such names, but it could be that only the given tree could have such a name.  All trees though, especially trees, are connected in time and space through the seeds, that the first tree morphed and gave life to ten or a thousand trees – I think it is right to consider those children very much like branches, and those children then each another thousand, until somewhere some one of them was Oak, and the millions of children and progeny are also oak and that invisible tree which spawned them all lives in them and (it taunts the imagination) in many ways is presently here, is a giant thing that is more than spirit, and the name of that – perhaps such a name, were it to exist, would be not something rendered in a narrow frequency of sound, but maybe in smells and a music of sounds and patterns of growth and decay, or maybe (the name) is just not a thing for it, that while it is real and immense and present it has no recognition whatsoever of our puny magic of names.

Without true names I am only as good as my attentiveness to what is here.  If there is an available magic it is found in being present.  I hear you, though I know you not.  Look, there are a bunch of, why they are practically watermelons they are such big acorns, and there, where the path rolls down, look how the fallen acorns have gathered in clumps, and here, in this hollow with last years leaves, so many, so many fat and good ones.  The more I looked the more the blessings I received until I had filled the five pound bag almost all at once it seemed, and indeed, could have gone on had I a village of helpers to un-shell them, but for now, this business of gathering acorns, accomplished, and with wonder and thankfulness.

Before going on I do must have to say that another branch of the thought on names, their true-ness (as inseparable from the being so named), and even leaving aside for a moment the comparatively new idea to me that no true names may exist, a rush of thoughts were drawn along the line of the ancient story of the Tower of Babel.  Remember that thing with the tower?  Supposedly at that time all persons spoke the same language. Perhaps not a language of “true” names but one shared by all.  The word for oak, whatever that was, was never in dispute, there was only one name.  A very amazing circumstance.  That across the whole of the earth all monkeys shared the same words for the same things. And it was arbitrary?  The word was somehow randomly chosen?  Or is it that the names came from our nature, as I suggested above, I encountering both you and what I imagine you to be.  Tiger.  What a grave muddle, not a random thing nor necessarily a true thing, yet from our nature.  Something perhaps of a necessary consequence.  Anyway I’ve not even gotten to the point yet, that here supposedly we were, all sharing a language and building towers and other monkey what not when supposedly God takes notice.  Not liking the look of that, he says.  I shall confound your tongues so that you will no longer understand each other.  Is this why I cannot talk to a tree?  Back before this confounding, if there was only one language, did all creatures understand it?  There’s a lot one gets into when gathering acorns, or at least that one can.  The forest is full of avenues of wonder.

This story of the confounding of tongues has always sat ill with me.  If we’re gonna go for an omnipotent creator God, could that God really be so piddling that he was afraid that people might understand each other?  Or was the message subtler, that since perhaps there really are no true names, that therefore to rely on truths that can be gotten to via language alone, is to be deceived from the start, is to be self-enchanted, too much in a land of monkeyshines and too little in the immense sea of what is possible.  Maybe even knowledge, if this is the metaphysical digression paragraph, is like that too.  In the grand scheme it’s either small or wrong or both.  Whether the reason we don’t have true names is because such just aren’t available, or because the almighty creator got wigged out at us very tricky monkeys, the facts are that neither do we understand each other nor do we understand things with a keen and magical precision.  It’s not going to happen soon either. The long and long of it is that I gathered up a bunch of acorns.

Full Dish

So finally I can get on to the story of what I did with these acorns, but it could be that most of you will not get here.  Oh wait – I’m having a reflective moment.  Maybe, oh, no  – I won’t go that way.  Really – we get to progress on the acorn channel.  Here I am preparing philosophical cookies.  I know beforehand that unless great care is taken they will come out objectionable to modern man.  Bitter.  But this is a little ahead of the story line.  Shelling.  Five pounds of acorns.  About three hours.  Here are the tools I used.


The nut cracker is excellent with that backing plate.  The knife is good too in that it’s not too sharp.  It’s pretty easy to stab or slash oneself accidentally when applying what sometimes is more than a little force.  The array of bowls follows.

Shelling in Progress

Cracking one acorn then prying out the nutmeat was a very slow way to go.  Better to crack thirty or fifty in a row, then pry out the batch.  The cost of changing the tools in your hand fifty times pays back well.  Also more force on the crushing better than delicate.  They are not brittle, so it’s not like a little crack in the shell means the resistance is broken.  Crush quickly and strongly.  Next.

Three hours later, a bowl of shelled acorns.  I did not take photos of the acorns containing acorn weevil larvae, that is too visceral a negative association.. Google it if you must.

Bowl of Acorns

I set the acorns in water and set them down to leach.  When the water got red I dumped and re-filled, about every four hours.

Let the Leaching Begin

Tannins in the water

I think the last time I did this step I leached with a low simmer of heat.  This time I did not.  It took six rinses to get the tannins out, or so I thought.  Foreshadowing.

I then took the acorns and put them under a towel and beat them.  It was nothing personal. I think this step would have been better before the leaching, so as to expose more surface area.  After roasting they looked great.


Roasted Close Up

And I ate a few but they were still quite tannic – bitter.  I plowed forward though, for sugar and honey were on the other side – what is not fixed by sugar and honey, oh America?  Tell me!

I used a blender to grind them to a peanut butter like consistency.  About half of them actually.

First Grinding

In the first cup above are just a few shelled acorns, as I said, noteworthily bitter, not a flat stop don’t eat it bitter, but only for those not against real bitter.  The second cup is just a dry grind of same.  The third adding honey, but not so much, maybe two ounces.  The fourth with salt and honey.  Overall these all were just a little too bitter for any common taste buds, mine notwithstanding.

Not wanting that the cookies should be a fail, though, I wondered if heat in the leaching would produce a stronger tannin removal.  I took the second half of the acorns and gave them two hour long boiling rinses.  The water turned heartily brown red the first time and less so the second, so I thought, I think rightly, that the end of the utility of the method was near.  I could have ground them more and repeated, but to my taste they now had a nice ‘signature bitterness’ – flavorful, like hops or too long brewed tea, something one could identify and appreciate.  Therefore once again, I proceeded.  The acorn starch below I got at the same Asian market from which I rescued the radish last year.

Acorn Starch

Acorn Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 light brown sugar
3/4 cup coconut sugar
2 eggs medium eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup acorn starch
1 cup rolled oats
11.5 oz milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup acorns ground to a chunky nut butter consistency
3/4 cup acorns not too much chopped at all – chunky

Mix it all together, use a tablespoon to portion out dough.  Bake at 350.  Made 36.

Acorn Cookies

Fine milk chocolate chips, a cup and a half of sugar were enough to persuade the majority of tasters, including some very polite Jehovah’s Witnesses who had stopped by, that these were good cookies.  Eating a few myself I feel the anticipated benefits – clear vision, increased strength, enhanced clarity of thinking, exuberance, I think I’ll live longer, I’m now impervious to dull axes.

I ground the remainder of the acorns with a hand grinder and mixed them with the initial bitter ground nut butters.  I mixed a much more liberal amount of honey with these, and added just enough salt.  I am thinking an acorn baklava next, with this surplus.  I know it will work.

Second Grinding

All in all this was a very satisfying journey.  Lots of mistakes, lots of things learned, lots of little surprises and twists, some decent eats, some knowledge of what our ancestors had to negotiate to eat acorns.  I’ll close with a link to real native American acorn preparation narrative.  Much more grounded and direct than this.  At the same time those are California acorns, and this is Massachusetts, and maybe the deal is that you have bring who you are to your acorn process or it won’t come out right.  Or maybe not.

Thank you and all the best to you dear readers.

Tobacco 1

Certainly tobacco has been one of the most significant plants of the last 500 years, in terms of the fascination people have with it (addiction you might call it), and the awful way it has been used by corporations to profit at the expense of abused consumers.  Man’s inhumanity to man.

I must confess a fascination though with how it took this place of influence early on.  Did Indians chew leaves for strength?  The whole idea of smoking it – where did that come from?  Our ethnobotanical history intrigues me a great deal.  Was the plant itself somehow compelling or spell-binding?

Old Depiction

This summer I decided to grow some, as the witnessing of a plant from seed to fruit gives a lot of information,  Here are some in my tombstone oak porch planter, where I usually hold the annual Darwin games (wherein some variety of unknown seeds are sown to see which ones emerge the survivor).



It takes what would be called high heat (soil temps >= 70F) for the tiny seeds – I mean tiny seeds, ten times smaller than a poppy seed – to germinate.  Once they get started though they do take off.  I’ve yet to see anything beyond leafing as yet, the look like lettuce, but I’d like it to flower.  It’s another solanaceae – Nicotiniana Tabacum, and I have a long documented interest in this wondrous plant family.


I’ve looked around a little at all the material on the subject, how to cure leaves, how to roll cigars, modern uses (syrup, cocktail garnishes),  I have not yet made specific plans for how to use the leaves but I’m delighted with the prospect of starting from the source and seeing what is possible… use them in salads?  As with so many things it is not recommended that you try this at home and each use will be well researched before being undertaken.  Fun though.  More on this as it goes.


Alabaster Detour

One of the earlier things I wanted to do, a desire born probably around the age of ten years old but never abandoned, was to be able to sculpt stone.  This wish arose both from an even older almost intrinsic love of stone, it’s strength and truthfulness and beauty, as well as the things I began to observe as being wrought from stone.  That summer of 1972 we had moved to a new town (West Bay Shore) and one of the things one does (or did) was get a library card.  The first two series of books I took out were high class picture books on both the history of World War II and on the works of great artists and sculptors. Rodin and Michelangelo were very impressive and so was the idea that one could represent the imagination in stone.  Nigh on formative.

Recently my nephew was visiting and I wanted to demonstrate the power of an angle grinder with a kutz-all disc on it, so I took a piece of alabaster I had lying around, put it in the wood vice, vrrm, vrrm, and a very impressive hollow appeared almost instantly.  I was struck by how fast that was, as in the sculpting of stone, from my limited experience, the gross removal of material is the cumbersome part.  I made a note that I’d make something out of this particular block just to try a few things.

I call this post a detour because I had actually gone to the workshop to make the first shaping of the oaken elephant I’ve been planning.  The alabaster was in the vice that I was to put the oak block in.  ADHD.  How could I remove the alabaster without working on it?  I could not..  Speaking briefly of that elephant, you might have to click on the pictures below, but you should certainly be able to see both side and front views.

Elephant Side at Start   Elephant Front at Start

Anyway, so the elephant had to get in line.  This alabaster block, I drew a circle on it, and beneath that a triangle, and all I really first thought was to use various tools to flesh out (subtractively) those shapes.  The angle grinder makes very short work of alabaster – I think for an outside project though, as opposed to in a closed workshop where the air quality rapidly deteriorates and smoke alarms quickly get set off.  Also it’s noisy to the point of obscuring thought.  Usually I listen to music and think as I make things.  In the future I’d save the use of the angle grinder for cases where a lot of material wants to be removed quickly and it’s outdoors.

After I unplugged the fire alarm I mused as the dust cleared, and finally, thinking Cyclops really, I sketched an eye in the circle.  When I brought the one-eyed circle triangle rough upstairs that night my younger daughter said, oh, it’s an Illuminati.  I did not know that there were such things (not counting ancient secret societies and/or conspiracy theories) as creatures but decided to run with it.  Really my purpose was mostly to discover how certain tools, it didn’t matter here what I made so much as the observations while making. IMAG0611 IMAG0612

I figured if you take the nose and mouth away from a cyclops, just leave the eye, that can be an Illumati.  For the purposes of explaining how such creatures survive, their exceedingly sensitive and specialized eye absorbs the energy of the light it beholds and transforms that into electricity.  That powers their immense cognitive apparatus (far more efficient than ours, as the in their model the thing perceived actually creates the energy for thought) AND the little energy they devote to their specific physical incarnation.  An Illuminati with hair as rich as this one

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probably took a very long time to get that way.  But let’s leave the ponderous bits aside for a moment.

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A standard flat and round file/rasp combo was very quick to cut this stone (I think it’s a Moh’s hardness rating of 2), as was a farriers rasp I had on hand.  I had a Dremel tool with a pea-size kutz-all ball bit that was almost as easy to use as a magic marker, as far as making lines.  What surprises me most though was how a simple orbital sander with grits ranging from 60 to 220 readily put silky polish on the stone.  A stone like this really shames the reputation of stone as being harder than wood, because it’s not.  Nonetheless, at a hardness like this I can’t see how anyone can say that tools limit their ability to shape stone.  The files, rasps and, and sandpaper were perfectly adequate.  An awl could have done that the Dremel did.  Because of this experience I really have to open my thinking to the idea that the real limit is more conception than execution, that sure, you could think of things so wispy that the stone could not hold the form, stallions rearing on two feet as well would not work, but most things will be fine.

IMAG0616 IMAG0615

So back then, for a moment, to this imaginary creature.  I kept wondering how it would advantaged or disadvantaged by having only one eye.  No stereopsis (fancy for binocular vision) as least real time anyway, as models could be made by memory and traversal.  It’s the immediacy though, which of course leads the wandering mind, a la Flatland, to the mind of a fly – if flies have minds as we understand them, and whether the idea of a two dimensional reduction of the multidimensional world would seem such a non-starter, as only the barest hint of the underlying reality is so portrayed.  But enough of these conjectures.  I think the singularity of perspective, at least in the immediate sense, maps as a scary quality.  Maybe cyclopes needed to move about more, to obtain the multiple angles we take for granted.  Maybe this need to act to obtain perspective made them wiser, recognizing that a single point of view was not enough; maybe it made them more circumspect, less inclined to think that to see was to know.

What a Cyclops knows, he knows by heart.  Such has been this alabaster detour.


Early Spring 2014 – Many themes

To begin with, here near Concord, MA, we’re at April 5th and the snow is just leaving the ground.  The crocuses started to bloom a few days ago, buds are fattening, but it still freezes at night.

I saw one I’ve never seen be so bold as to come to the bird food on the deck.  I was able to walk pretty close to him before he or she decided to scamper.20140402 A

Now one of the great experiments over the winter was the planting of a previously potted Eucalyptus Neglecta at the feet of a brass statue of Ganesh in a small garden built for said Ganesha.  The garden was under snow until a week ago and now the eucalyptus is revealed somewhat the worse for the wear but with still a few encouraging bits of green.  Frozen string beans are green too, so this does not necessarily indicate abiding life.  We’ll have to see what does or does not spring forth, but this is just part of the wabi sabi journalism we do here.

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Speaking of, we do have a casualty to report.  In his life he was an ebullient fellow, known to his friends as ‘bear dog’.  Here he is pictured in brighter days.

Bear Dog with Daisies2


He was born just after the turn of the century from the trunk of a wild cherry that had overgrown it’s location.  For many years he peacefully attended our comings and goings.  Never had he a cross word.  He lay in state for a few days (pictured below).  Plans for his final disposition remain private at the request of the family.

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His friend Cat Pig, pictured below, said of him that he had never encountered one less inclined to complain of his suffering.  “He was a simple inspiration”, said Cat Pig.

Stone Cat 1

Whispers of his passing swept through the local community of artificers.  Just today there appeared what was described as a model of a burial mound.  Not many details were yet available but his impact on that community was clear.

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Cat Pig went on – “While Hobbes, in Leviathan, said ‘For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer?’ I do not think that we need to work backwards as this logic does.  I would rather that we go looking for the bear dog equivalent of an homunculus and posit a sort of inverted formation path, of spirit arising from flesh.  I’d almost like to posit that while the artificer, whoever that might be, set forth bear dog in part from the imagination and in part from this manifold flux, that with such seeds new things arise, things uncontemplated previously, things that change the world.  Don’t be surprised if you read the newspapers and see reference to the doings of some seeming ursid/canid sprite – it’s just squarely in the realm of the imagination.

And so Spring begins.

Camel and Sparrows

Arabian wind?  The needles eye is thin?

Camel and Sparrows 1

What fatal flowers of darkness spring from seeds of light?


Yesterday was Ground Hog Day.  Words above credit R. Hunter.  Juxtaposition begs questions.