16 February 2015

The dairy state

When you visit a place it's good to take advantage of that region's unique qualities. Take Wisconsin, for example. The minute you drive your rental car out of the airport you're experiencing the dairy state's unusual way of de-cing its roads. Is there any other place that sprays cheese on its highways in winter?

Well, to be more accurate it's actually a cheese by-product: the brine left over from making mozzarella, when tossed on pavement, causes the salt to adhere. Wisconsin is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by using far less salt than in the past, plus the cheese makers don't have to dispose of all that brine. Pretty cool, eh?

Speaking of cheese makers, we always try to visit one. I favor the mild brick from Widmer's Dairy in tiny Theresa, Wisconsin. (That's pronounced Teh-reh-sa, not Teh-ree-sa.)

We picked up two kinds of brick (on sale) and some fresh cheddar cheese curds. Divine.

Chocolate is also a dairy product.

The same day we went to Widmer's dairy we also visited Hughes Chocolate in Oshkosh. Here, when they say "Oysters" they don't mean oysters. They mean little round chocolates rolled in crushed peanuts. I ate mine before realizing I should have taken a picture.

The endearing thing about Hughes is that it produces its chocolate in the basement of an old house, and on a cold winter day there's a window open in order to cool the chocolate bunnies.

Didn't I just read that including fat in one's diet isn't the big no-no that it used to be? That article was perfectly timed for our trip to the dairy state. I'm going back for more.

11 February 2015

Smiley faces

The first time I read :) I thought it was a typo; it took weeks before I figured it out (but that was years ago when of course I was much dumber than I am now.) This use of punctuation has become ubiquitous. While out on a dog walk I once found a smiley face fungus, making me wonder if even Mother Nature was getting into the emoticon business.

 I have mixed feelings about emoticons. It's a fascinating move from written language back to hieroglyphics and pictographs. On the other hand, do we really need smiley faces to show our intent? Maybe so. I kind of like using punctuation marks creatively.

The Swedish retailing giant Ikea has just released its own set of downloadable emoticons. I find them odd (what's that thing in the middle of the bottom row...and is that an allen wrench in the top row?) 

Ikea claims that its emoticons help in building relationships, light-heartedly recommending that couples employ them to help communicate. The main reason to watch this video, though, is to hear the right way of pronouncing "Ikea." You've been saying it wrong all this time.

Finally, in honor of Abe Lincoln's birthday: did you know that he may be the father of the emoticon?

See it? There is a wink right after "applause and laughter" on line 6. Seriously! You can read more about this controversial little tidbit right here.

 Hey... I just learned how to do "Abe Lincoln."


08 February 2015

Visiting winter

 The winter landscape of my childhood is quite different from the deep greens of February in Oregon. For the past two years I've gone back to Wisconsin to re-visit the familiar white hillsides crested with  calligraphic strokes of bare trees. It sometimes seems as though I never left.

 The snow was just beginning to fall as our plane landed, and by the end of the next day there was close to a foot. Snow transforms even the most commonplace tree stump into a thing of magic. Do you see the bald eagle?

 The little towns of eastern Wisconsin have their own charm, always made nicer with a fresh coat of snow.

 This is an "ice shove" on Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh, where in very cold weather the shallow, frozen lake presses outward, eerily moving slabs of ice, and pushing rock banks away from itself. When the lake moves, it makes a crunching, groaning sound that may include the sound of breaking glass or even wind chimes.

I suppose all lakes in the north do this, but I've only heard about it in the Lake Winnebago/Butte des Mort region of Wisconsin. This video shows an ice shove in motion:

Ah, the northern winters. I do miss them sometimes, but I was glad to get back to mild-mannered western Oregon. These days I only visit winter when I want to.

06 January 2015

A good start

December was a quiet month, so it seemed appropriate to have a quiet opening to the new year as well. We just spent the better part of the past week in a rented house overlooking Netarts bay, a mostly undeveloped place on the Oregon coast.

 You don't go to Netarts if your idea of a good time is shopping, movies, or man-made attractions.

 And you have to be the kind of person who doesn't mind spotty cell reception.

This is the place for long quiet walks on the beach.

You never know what you'll find...what is this anyway? The area abounds in many types of clams, oysters, and crabs, so my guess is that a shellfish of some kind made this star-shaped abode. It was too pretty to dig up, so I just left it alone.

 This is a view from our front window, just after sunset. (The pie in the sky is a reflection of a neon sign that could be lit up on the kitchen wall. Pretty cool.)

 Another look out the same window, taken at first light, just when the sun made it up over the hills behind us, and for a few minutes causing the three arched rocks to glow golden.

 Kelp. There is always kelp washed up with the tide.

 More kelp. I probably took too many pictures of it, but what an amazing plant.

We saw 4 dozen harbor seals, hundreds of water birds, and beautiful vistas in every direction. It was a sublime way to start the new year.

 May 2015 bring peace and beauty to your world too.

17 December 2014

Other things

Here is a dark and beautiful little poem for this season of waning light, from poet Tom Hennen's highly regarded book Darkness Sticks to Everything. It reminds me of the not-so-obvious photographs that I like best.

Love for Other Things
by Tom Hennen

It’s easy to love a deer

But try to care about bugs and scrawny trees

Love the puddle of lukewarm water
From last week’s rain.

Leave the mountains alone for now.
Also the clear lakes surrounded by pines.
People are lined up to admire them.

Get close to the things that slide away in the dark.

Be grateful even for the boredom
That sometimes seems to involve the whole world.

Think of the frost
That will crack our bones eventually.

"Love for Other Things" by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything, Copper Canyon Press, 2013.

15 December 2014

Random critters

This is a complete mystery shot, at least for me, but maybe you know what makes tracks like those in the sand on an Oregon beach? What did that...

...and did something scary just happen?

Just after examining the tracks on the beach, a bald eagle flew in front of us, with dinner held in its beak. I wasn't sure what it was, but my companion Lisa thought it was a bird. Birds eating birds...doesn't seem right, but, oh well. Once I saw a turkey eating a turkey, which was somehow even worse. You should be glad I didn't have my camera with me that afternoon.

 Closer to home we are seeing thousands of dusky geese, a sub-species of Canada goose.

This is an Oregon newt. Don't buy these if they show up in a pet shop. We used to see them in pet stores in Alabama, but the poor little guys are ill-equipped to live for long outside their native state. It's been raining like crazy here in OR for the last couple of weeks, and the newts are all over the place.

 We haven't had many frosty days, but that's ok with Ed and Reub.

Eddy and Tuck napping together
 Perfect weather for sleeping: dark and rainy.

Ah, but tonight John and I must venture out to a party. That's me on the right; I'm not a party animal. However I will adjust my attitude and when it's time to go, I'll be just fine.

13 November 2014

About leaves: a science lesson

Leaves are descended from dinosaurs.

 They are vertebrates.

 Although they appear to be cute, one must be cautious. They are wild creatures.

 Leaves are territorial, and therefore can be tense when coming upon another species.

 Introductions must be done carefully, much like cats and dogs.

 Sometimes the interactions are not friendly.

Leaves protect themselves with large fleets of airborne vehicles. They are well-organized and can create havoc at certain times of the year.

 Leaves reproduce in much the same way as homo sapiens. That is to say, they are delivered by storks.

 There is great diversity in the leaf world: some baby leaves develop into fish-like creatures.

 While others resemble birds.

 Thank you for reading this science lesson. As you leave, please watch where you step.