Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Corduroy Roads, Take me Home

Photo from Google Images

This past weekend, my family and I settled into Caer David, our weekend cabin at my parents place.  Our extended family had gathered from afar to spend a few days together visiting and celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday.  We shot trap, ran 4-wheelers and played spoons.  We ate bountiful meals together and talked into the wee hours of the morning.  We made new memories and recounted old ones while babies slept and children played.

One afternoon, Maid Elizabeth and Miss Serenity and I went for a walk in the wilderness behind my parents home.  As we hiked on old, forgotten logging roads, we came upon a relic of another era - a corduroy road.  The road was little more than a remnant of rotten old growth timber, but it stood as a testament to the ingenuity and tenacity of the men who had built this country.

Corduroy roads are an old-fashioned remnant of the past.  Years ago, when men needed to move freight (or people) through marshy, boggy, low-lying lands, they built corduroy roads.  They would fell small trees, about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, cut the branches off and lay the trees perpendicular to the roadway.  These roads were usually built in small runs, through the boggy areas of an otherwise solid road.  Corduroy roads were an ingenious solution to a real-world problem, invented by men who depended upon their own resourcefulness.

I was 8 years old when I saw my first corduroy road.  My parents and I were walking behind our back creek on the property my folks had recently bought when we stumbled upon decaying logs on an OLD logging track.  My brother and I ran from one end of the small run of corduroy road to the other trying to figure out what it was.  Who would build such a thing in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere?  And what in the world was it?

Soon, we had our answer.  King, our elderly neighbor, who's parents had homesteaded our land, had helped build those roads as a child.  King's father had logged our property, using horses, nearly 100 years before.  The land has creeks and marshy areas, along with bogs and springs.  King's dad had built a bridge over the creek, using his team of horses to skid old growth Douglas Fir to span the distance so that he could access the timber on the other side.  Once he reached the far side of the creek, he realized that the ground between the creek and the timber was marshy and too wet to haul wagons loaded with logs.  And so, with his son by his side, he built his very own corduroy road.  Log by log, King and his father laid a road born of necessity, a road built by pioneers, both in spirit and truth.

I stood, gazing at that long-forgotten road and realized that it summed up the very values that had been instilled in me since childhood - self-reliance, ingenuity, resourcefulness.  That corduroy road, in its decomposing beauty, encapsulated all that was good and true in our country - in our people.

And now I watch the decomposing beauty of our crumbling society and quietly pray "Corduroy roads, take us home to the place we belong".

Monday, May 16, 2016

Highland Hunt & Trap Shoot


This past weekend, we enjoyed our Second Annual Tea & Trap Shoot.  The day dawned beautifully, slightly overcast with a gentle breeze.  Our tent was ready, having erected it early in the week, and all of the details had been carefully arranged.  Onion gravy was bubbling on the stove while potatoes boiled in a stock pot.  I had made scones, roasted bangers (sausages) and whipped up Devonshire cream.  I had just finished heating the teapot when guests began to arrive.

Friends and family came from miles away, wearing their best tartans and tweeds and bearing their favorite shotguns.  Men in kilts drank tea to the music of shotgun blasts and exploding clays.  There was fellowship, friendship and kindred unity in abundance.  It was the best of all things - prayer and tea, food and music, shooting and conversation.  It was a day of memories.

Wash tubs to soak the used dishes

The lounge


Looking out of the tent

Setting up the tea/dessert table


Master Calvin calls this my "GrandmaPhone"

Just waiting on the scones


Chafing dishes with the main entrees


Early yellow roses


Just awaiting guests

Maid Elizabeth preparing the chafing dishes amongst the mess in the kitchen

Sir Knight - posing with attitude

Ready for action!

The girls

Practicing

Talking strategy

Miss Serenity playing with her grandfather

Master Hand Grenade

Nothing but clay!

My dad - the winner of the shoot!

Miss Serenity and Sir Knight


The view from the front of the tent


Sir Knight at his station

Talking gear

Look at all those shotguns!



Maid Elizabeth, absorbing the recoil

Sisters - Maid Elizabeth and Miss Serenity, surrounded by friends and family

The aftermath

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Camas Fields of Blue


When I was growing up, in the pristine mountains at the foot of the Rockies, our winters were long and oh, so cold.  As spring bloomed in the low lands, our mountaintop refuge would remain white with snow and we often thought it would be "always winter and never Christmas".  And then, ever so imperceptibly, the snow would begin to melt.  Rivulets of melted snow would form in the draws and quickly fill the creeks with icy water, adding to the glacier-fed streams cascading from the mountaintops.  Little by little, green patches of new grass would begin showing through the snow and by May, a deep green carpet would blanket the hills and vales.  Spring had arrived.


Camas as far as the eye can see
As spring brought new life to our little homestead, it also brought extraordinary beauty.  Almost as soon as the fields replaced their white coat with green, they would again exchange green for blue - oceans of blue.  Camas, a beautiful blue flower, grows rampant in the fields around my childhood home, transforming our fields of waving grass into oceans of rippling blue. 


Freshly picked bulbs
Camas, a delicate and lacey flower, is more than just a pretty face.  It is also a traditional Native American food source.  Nez Perce Indians customarily harvested Camas in the spring, baked the bulbs in stone ovens for extended periods of time, dried the cooked bulbs and pounded them into flour for the baking of flat bread.  They also baked the camas (again, in stone ovens) and ate them like potatoes.  Camas bulbs were a main food source, along with Steelhead salmon, during the early months of spring and summer, when other food sources were scarce.  In fact, the Nez Perce offered camas bulbs and steelhead fish to the Lewis and Clark party when they were nearly starving on their way to the Pacific ocean.



Last weekend, Sir Knight and I delivered a wood cook stove to my parents and as we were driving through the mountainous fields of my childhood home, we noticed that the camas was in full bloom.  Although I grew up attending the "Camas Festival", I had never tried camas before, much less taken the time to dig and cook the delicate bulb.  Deciding that we needed to know more about this abundant natural resource, Sir Knight and I dug a few bulbs on our way home.

After reading various methods and recipes, we decided that a crock pot set on low would be the easiest (though, least authentic) way to cook camas for the time required.  Camas is full of inulin, an indigestible starch, that in only broken down through long cooking times at low temperatures.  The inulin, if not properly broken down through extended cooking times, causes lower intestinal discomfort and extreme flatulence - definitely not recommended! 

Leave flowers on the bulb until ready to prepare

Ready to cut and clean

Taking the outer skins off
After cleaning and stripping the outer layers from the bulbs, I put them in the crock pot (reserved for summer use only, when our solar panels are collecting massive amounts of energy) with a tiny amount of water and set the crock pot on low.  Occasionally (every 4 or 5 hours) I  stirred the bulbs and added a bit more water when needed.  By the time the camas bulbs had been cooking for 24 hours, they had begun to carmelize and turned a lovely golden brown.  I tested a small bulb and I have to admit, they were a bit soft and flavorless.  Apparently camas sweetens as it cooks and 24 hours wasn't enough. 

Cleaned and in the crock pot

After cooking for 24 hours
Camas has an intriguing, almost yeasty smell as it cooks.  It brown nicely and although it becomes very soft, it never gets mushy.  After the camas had cooked for 48 hours, I tried it again.  It was slightly sweeter this time, however, it still didn't have a lot of flavor.  A recipe I came across said to slice the bulbs (after they had been cooked) saute them in olive oil or butter, lightly salt them and serve, so that is what I did. 

Sautéed with butter and salt



I have to admit - the camas was anticlimactic.  It was good, but plain.  Mostly, I noticed that camas doesn't have much of its own flavor, it borrows flavor from whatever it is cooked with.  Since I sauteed the camas with butter and salt, it tasted like butter and salt.  I can imagine if it were dried and pounded into flour, it would make a very nice addition to more conventional flours for flat breads or tortillas.

Sir Knight and I had a wonderful trip to my parents and a lovely afternoon picking camas in fields of blue.  Although we probably won't make harvesting camas a yearly adventure, we know we could harvest it if we had to.  What a beautiful gift from God!

Before you give harvesting camas a try, make sure you know the difference between blue camas and death camas.  They both like to grow in the same area and while one will sustain life, the other will, at the least, make you sick, and at worst kill you!  Make sure you know what you are foraging!

What a joy to walk through oceans of blue in fields of green!