Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
I was scheduled to play tennis with Lurker Al today but I cancelled. Yesterday I woke up with a very stiff neck. I went to my tennis lesson because I thought it would loosen up with activity. After a miserable night last night I am worse today and have to conclude tennis did not help. No tennis today.
The night before last was when the stiff neck developed. There’s this thing I sometimes get where I suddenly develop an intense stabbing pain between my ribs and the sternum. Not a heart attack but a connective tissue thing. I can feel it very localized in the joint. It started up when I would overdo it rock climbing decades ago. The weird thing is the pain only comes at rest, usually after too much upper body activity. It also only happens to me on very rare occasions but when it does it is fully disabling for a few minutes. It sounds to me (based on internet research) it’s costochondritis. Recently there’s been an uptick in yoga, music, and tennis activity. So two nights ago I was trying to turn over in my sleep and got trapped in the covers. As I struggled to free myself I was stuck by a breath robbing pain in my sternum. I was stuck. My whole body froze as I tried to stay calm and let the spasm pass. I could only take shallow breaths. It resembles a calf cramp of the ribs. My neck must have been propping me in my mid-turn position. A few minutes passed, the pain subsided and I rolled over and went to sleep. I had fierce dreams of war and bomber planes and aliens. The next morning the stiff neck.
So today no yoga, no tennis, ice packs and aspirin. I still have the kids at 4:00. Tomorrow we planned for an epic mountain hike. I might not be up for the drive. Head bobbing for two hours on mountainous, washboard roads will not help. If we do make it, it’s likely the blog continuity will be broken.
Yesterday we went to our neighbor Priscila’s and reviewed some Mexican folk standards and worked on a new tune called La Flor de Capomo. Give it a listen. I’m currently using this brain worm as our 6 AM alarm every morning. It should make it into our repertoire soon. During our visit we learned Priscila’s family had just purchased three new goats and Prissy was making fresh cheese. She gave us a plate of requesón and crackers to enjoy. We took home some queso fresco, too. Yummy. Nothing better than your neighbor having too much homemade cheese.
With the gNash parked mere feet from the front door of our current project Burt takes full advantage of his early mornings and the accessibility. Recently he’s been going in as early as 3:00 AM. Now back on the west coast that’s midnight. I’ve been pondering what this means for Burt’s internal clock and our lark/owl interpersonal relations for weeks and then this morning happened. Burt woke up and misread the 11:00 PM as 1:00 AM. Our clock is two hours behind. He thought oh, it’s 3:00 I might as well go to work instead of trying to sleep. But it wasn’t 3:00, it was 1:00. Got that? So Burt showed up for breakfast at 8 AM after putting in nearly a day’s worth of work. In the meantime I was sleeping soundly in the spacious bed. We were both awake for breakfast of pea soup. Now it is 11:55 AM and Burt is sound asleep. I’m doing computer updates and backing up writing and photographs.
I made a pumpkin pie but I can’t bake it until Burt wakes up and lights the oven. As of yesterday we have been living in this 22′ box for seven years and I still can’t light the oven. Co-dependency is what they call it. We’re off to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for the holiday. We haven’t settled on a meal plan. I was supposed to bring my pie but Christian won some pies in a raffle and so I get to keep this one. There’s no such thing as too much pumpkin pie in this trailer.
Today Burt and Jen are finishing up the bedroom wall texture at the Kila cabin. I was going to go but I didn’t have any work to do so I decided to stay here and catch up, read, shower, and veg out. Everyone has caught the last summer cold of the season or the first winter cold. I can’t be sure which. The cold caused work delays so here we are still parked in Whitefish working on a cabin on a hill in Kila. Tomorrow we depart towards but not to Helena. We will stop first in Seeley Lake and go grouse hunting with Pete. Friday we will resume what is the start of our southward migration to Portal Irish Music Week. Music camp is pretty much full this year. There’s been some last minute cancellations but they were fully paid and we (as do all viable travel businesses) have a no refund policy within 60 days of the event. I promised to refund the money if replacements were found but so far no luck. I kind of feel bad and I kind of realize this is a feeling I must deal with if the camp and my finances are to survive.
In between snotty heads and ceiling work we made a trip out to Glacier Park. We’d heard the remote Polebridge entrance is frequently unstaffed so we thought we’d take a peek at Bowman Lake. Unlucky us. The gate had a toll collector. Since it was $30 just to drive in and see an alpine lake we decided to walk around the free Forest Service side of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Burt is just 9 months away from his $10 lifetime parks pass so we’re going to try and hold out until then on paying anymore park fees. Next week will be the last one. $30 to get into Yellowstone and Grand Teton. That will be a worthy one. Now that I write this I realize we will be surrounded by National Parks in Alexandria. Maybe we will buy one more annual parks pass. Writing as thinking.
Anyhoo. Burt fished and I stumbled along the log laden shore. The North Fork of the Flathead is a famously log chocked stream. Every year it seems somebody is caught in a ‘widow maker’ trap of logs blocking the channel. In fall the water is low and the logs are on shore. Burt caught a huge fish. He was pretty sure it was a Lake Trout but I had just read the warnings about the endangered Bull Trout looking a lot like a Lake trout, also called a mackinaw. When in Doubt Throw it Back. We discussed and we could not come up with the identifying features for one or the other fish. We were outside cell range so the internet was no use. Burt threw it back. That stung. No trout for dinner. Then Burt caught another. I informed him it was statistically improbable to catch two endangered species in 5 minutes. Not impossible but highly unlikely. That fish shook the hook as soon as we decided to keep it. Further research proved Burt right. It was a Lake Trout. The two are very similar looking but can be distinguished if you know what to look for. Now we do.
The Polebridge Mercantile is famous as an eccentric general store in the remote north woods of Montana. For 25 years I have heard rumors of its extraordinary bakery. I have been by on many occasions through the years but mostly in a rush to get somewhere else or in winter when services are reduced. Burt had never stopped. He hadn’t even heard the rumors of the bakery. Now I take good bakery rumors with a grain of salt. Good is relative. In general, the farther you are from civilization and the closer you are to a major tourist attraction the lower the quality of food. There’s a handicapping system. People will say food is good when it isn’t when they are far from home. Also, many people say that the Wheat Montana Bakery has good stuff and I think they are mediocre. The packed parking lot defies my understanding. Yesterday was the first time I ever had the chance to stop in and sample the wares but I was not expecting much. I have a healthy suspicion of all baked good recommendations. I was wrong. Again. I am glad I do not live near this bakery. I’d be a blimp and broke.
Burt and I, showing massive restraint, shared a Flathead cherry and chocolate turnover. What a delight! Buttery, flaky puff pastry filled with a thick slab of not too sweet cherry filling drizzled with real dark chocolate. “That’s the best turnover I have ever had!” exclaimed Burt. It was true for me too. It boggled the brain because it wasn’t just a one hit wonder. The bakery was filled with tempting delights. Savory scones, macaroons, huckleberry turnovers, chocolate croissants, warm sandwiches…We had to leave so I could still buckle my pants. We will never fail to stop in here for a snack again. Best bakery in the universe.
Today (Tuesday) we are in Whitefish, Montana. Locally known as Whiteflesh due to the pervasive, low-hanging clouds, Whitefish is another Montana spot I have only rarely visited. We were brought up to this northwestern nook big sky country because it is currently the home of Burt’s daughter Jen. Added bonus: Jan has a huge fenced yard and a spot to park the gNash. Even if she was merely a friend she’d be high on the visitation list. Jen took us on a walk at Woods Lake this fine drizzly day. Sixty-four degrees and mostly cloudy. Perfect hiking weather. We’ve all been thrilled to find ourselves in Montana during a wet summer rather than one bedeviled with fires and public land closures and thick smoke. There’s still time for all that but this week of July rain has surely delayed if not eliminated the fire season.
Last night we picked pie cherries from a neighbor’s tree. Today we’re going to have to do it again because we ate the whole pie. Pies must be made and eaten while the season is upon us. Today’s hike was about 3.3 miles. We took an hour to cover the first mile because there were so many birds to try and see and Burt found a ball of mating garter snakes. The ball fell apart as soon as I tried to get a picture but we saw at least 6 distinct snakes. Apparently a fertile female attracts males from all around and they all get at it in one big blob. Since time was an issue (Jen has a job) we finished the last 2.3 miles in 40 minutes. Yay, me. Now I am pooped.
There are presently 5 dogs at this RVers Nirvana. Three dogs (Olive, Elvis, and Plum) are visiting. Lupita, a 3 month old heeler is Jen and Robin’s new canine companion. Lupita is darling. Pita is trying to make Olive love her but so far Olive remains uninterested in her attention. Olive prefers a more mature, tall, dark, handsome dog. We took 4 dogs on this morning’s hike and they were admirably well behaved. A swarm of kids on mountain bikes did not cause a row. Lupita won most of the attention and that was just fine with kid-despising Olive. Not one pup ran off during our almost 2 hour walk. And no fast moving mountain bikers were chased. Coincidentally, this trail system was discussed at length during the trail event where we played music. I can attest that the system is well signed and mapped. They even have posted numbers to refer to if you happen to become lost or hurt. You can call EMS (presuming you have cell coverage) and tell them you were mauled by a bear at sign #77. The EMTs will know where to find you.
This week we popped in to visit a pair of musician friends in Seeley Lake. Pete and Rachel are naturalist types and musicians. We have a lot of common friends. They are also considering building a home so we had professional reasons for the visit to. If you are considering using our services in 2017 now is the time to contact us. We are busily consulting with several possible clients on some jobs in interesting locales.
I have never spent much time on the west side on Montana’s continental divide. It’s heavily wooded and reminds me of the eastern seaboard. I always miss the open desert but I am quickly liking this shady summer weather. This week was cool and rainy. My main impression is there are a lot of leaves in the way of any birds I am trying to identify. After many years of mainly desert living this is a difficult adjustment. On the up side there is water everywhere and the dogs are having fun wallowing in mud and staying hydrated on our walks. The other difficulty to birding is the change is species. Even a robin proved confusing when we first arrived. It’s been a while since we’ve regularly seen robins. Pete and Rachel are avid and much better birders than us. Rachel is a bigwig in the USFS so she had to work but we went wandering with Pete and he taught us some of the local calls. It is even more apparent here that you must learn the calls of the birds to have success. I am doomed to be mediocre.
Morrell Falls is on the west side of the Swan Range. It is a wide and gentle mile and a half to a dramatic cascade. On our way Pete pointed out the strange mono-tonal call of the varied thrush. It sounds just like a dog whistle. In fact Pete’s dog whistle confused both Burt and me. We sat at the foot of the waterfall and watched a dipper and pondered the sad state of American politics. All three of us are horrified by the anti-science factions. Sometimes I wonder if our society will become like Cambodia and round up scientists and kill them.
Aside from appreciating the dampness and fecundity we ate well and played some music. We even did a micro-gig in the rafters of a lodge for a trail organization.
The pipessewa flower pictured below was pointed out by Pete. It used to be used to flavor root beer. I think it is darn pretty.
A couple of days ago we played some Bridge with Norm and Howard. Norm is the guy that started us playing. We’re grateful to him for taking us on as a project. To thank him for his help Burt made dinner. Norm’s a bachelor this month. His wife is visiting her 93 year old mother in Sweden. Roxanne does most of the cooking. Norm says she left him a bunch of pre-made meals but he can’t find them. Talk about helpless. After a few hours of cards Burt whipped out some fish Vera Cruz. The cards were okay but dinner was very good. A fresh fish in tomato and orange and olive sauce over brown rice. Beet salad was on the side. Immediately after eating Howard, Burt, and I bade Norm good night. It had been a long day. Half way down the driveway we heard Norm yelling. “Wait, wait…I forgot I have dessert! I have a danish, and a half a donut, and a piece of cake with three bites out of it.” Unable to resist such a tempting offer the three of us turned around to see. How could we resist such salesmanship? Much to our surprise Norm had accurately described his dessert offering. There it was. A half a donut. A danish. And a piece of cake with three bites previously removed. The fork marks were still visible.
Recently a friend/neighbor put out an all points bulletin requesting help processing chiles to make his notorious ‘black gold’. Generally I can ignore calls for kitchen help but Jessie is a well regarded cook around here and I love chiles so I volunteered. I’m spelling chilies the Spanish way. I had no idea what this ‘black gold’ might be but I was game. I informed Burt and he agreed to participate as well.
The day arrived warm and sunny. Our host/jefe had purchased some 100 pounds of chiles, half serrano and half jalapeño. He provided tools and protective gloves. I anticipated a team of choppers and seed cleaners but when I showed up at the appointed hour it was just me. Even our host wasn’t quite ready. I helped set the shade and clean some utensils. Then I set to chopping off the ends and slicing the chiles length-wise. If someone else showed up they could clean the seeds. Immediately I complained that I was hungry. Jessie was perplexed. I informed him that the host was required to fortify his team with food. Men can be so bad at these kinds of things but Jessie was amiable and he made me a cheese omelet and added a side of a previous batch of black gold. Meanwhile another processor showed: Mayra. Mayra is also a well regarded local chef. Her family originated in Cuba and she can cook anything. Mayra and I set about the task at hand. I chopped and she swept away the seeds with a custom made seed cleaner. Jessie invented the seed cleaning tool. He sharpened the curved end of a cotter pin and it fits into the half moon of chile pretty tidily. Soon Jessie served us a kick-ass omelet and the black gold salsa was so good it inspired further work. I had a stake in this now. If I cleaned enough peppers some of the black gold salsa would be mine. An hour or so later Burt showed up.
We three cleaned up the peppers and Jessie cooked batches of them in his cowboy wok. I don’t know what it was. Some auto part attached to a propane tank. The wok held about a gallon of cooking oil. Jessie poured a bucket of chiles into smoking hot oil and cooked the heck out of them. Cooked them until they were blackened shards of flavor. Every step of the processing was fraught with great risk of burns, both chemical and physical. Scrapping the seeds sprayed oils. Flying seeds landed in cleavage. Water glasses were too dangerous to use more than once. Nobody wanted to use the bathroom. We endured. It was a hot day all around.
So this salsa is kind of strange and wonderful. Basically it’s essence of burnt chile without too much heat. The intense deep frying burns away the volatile oils that cause damage to our mucous membranes leaving behind a charred flesh. If you, like me, enjoy the burnt bits best on your pizza or grilled cheese or roasted veggies, this salsa is for you. You can add a dab of burnt chile wherever you want it. After deep frying the chiles are drained and then pulverized in a powerful blender. Add some salt. Jessie then puts it in canning jars and cooks it at a boil for another 2 hours. I think that might be over the top but perhaps it adds to the alchemy. This processing greatly reduces the raw unprocessed volume. Gallons of raw whole chiles are required to make a quart of salsa. The result is a glistening black salsa the consistency and color of dirty motor oil.
After 3 hours of work our team had hardly dented the serrano chile bag. The jalapeños remained untouched. I inquired of Jessie about past amounts and past batches. Jessie informed me that a solo effort on 20 pounds had taken 9 hours. I sadly informed him that Industrial Engineering meant we had 45 hours of work ahead of us to finish the job. The three of us had done about 10 hours of work. Where was the rest of the team? Burt, Mayra, and I did not stick around to find out. I left after 4 hours. The last hour I just chatted. My hands and wrists and elbows hurt. No salsa, no matter how good, was worth tendonitis. Rumor was that two other workers showed up for an afternoon, cocktail hour shift.
For our burns and bodily aches we were rewarded with 5 pints of black gold salsa. It is heavenly on a grilled cheese sandwich.
Pescadero is famous for its organic produce. Strawberries are one of the biggest exports from this sliver of land in the ocean. It’s kind of weird and probably not sustainable with residential development. We live in the desert and there’s enough water to grow tons of products for export. But the water isn’t destined to last if the area keeps developing as a tourist destination. Tourists and second homes use a lot of water. Vamos a ver. We’ll see. I can’t predict what will happen. Meanwhile I can enjoy the strawberries and xeriscape my own yard.
This year’s Strawberry (fresa) and Chile (chile) festival was an amalgamantion of carnival, beauty pageant, talent show, farmer’s market, and cock fight. The wide variety of activities drew big crowds. Burt and I went down twice. Early in the day we toured the booths of local growers and restaurants. Priscilla and Cornelio are big growers here. At their booth we bought some strawberry jam and lettuce. At another booth I bought pesto. Rumors are that 80% of the basil consumed in the US is grown in Pescadero. At another booth I bought a plant for the yard. A bright green succulent. And at yet another booth we bought locally made goat cheese and machaca (shredded beef sort of like beef jerky). We returned home to our lovely gNash with all the modern conveniences and made a mighty lunch.
Later that night we headed out to see what the after dark scene. On stage was the hula girl you see above. Maybe she was 10. At first I thought judgmental and sarcastic thoughts. I wondered who would put a young girl on stage by herself dancing a hula in a grass skirt and bikini? Then I watched and left my suburban upbringing behind. This girl was dedicated. She was serious. She was committed. She danced with intensity and looked perfectly relaxed. She was a star. She was communicating with her chosen art. The hula was her destiny. I am not being sarcastic. This girl wanted to be a hula star and she was there doing it with the gravitas of an ancient martial artist. It did not matte that she was on a stage in a dusty town in Mexico. She owned it. I was sad when she stopped after only two songs. Lesson learned. That and I realized (now that I have a singing band of kids to direct) that performance for the sake of performance is an important part of childhood development. Good or bad the show must go on. But this girl was good.
When the adult karaoke style singing started we hit the stalls for food. Great voices but not my thing. I just don’t enjoy the live voice over recorded music scene despite the fantastic singers. Burt and I found some tamales filled with cheese and chiles and continued to walk and eat. I only ate one tamale because I had a plan. I had a plan for churros. Churros are long skinny doughnut like pastries covered in sugar and cinnamon. Crispy and hot on the outside. Warm and airy on the inside. The churro originated in Spain but has endured as a part of Mexican cuisine. Lucky for me they are not available everywhere. Pescadero does not even have a churro cart. I hadn’t eaten one since last year. Rarely can you eat just one. They are sold 6 or 7 to a bag. If you don’t have Burt or a pile of friends you eat a lot of churros when you buy them. The perfect churro is fresh out of the oil for you. When I noticed the worker reaching for an older bag I asked for a fresh one and the owner stepped in and told her worker to give me a well made pile of churros. I got the bag I wanted.
With churros in hand we perused the games and rides. As happens every year we could not resist shooting the .22 rifles at the targets. Hit the right target and you make the sets come alive with music and dancing dolls. Burt did well. I gave up quickly to eat churros. I blame it on my churro binge. No other games appealed to us so we ambled over to the cock fighting arena. A quick look through the slats told us we did not want to go in. Unlike our previous time observing the cock fights this event was not family style. There was a pack of very serious men with a few women working the beer stands. I tried to rally for the sake of social inquiry but the door charge of 100 pesos deflated our interest. Nearby we bumped into Priscilla. Her husband Cornelio was inside running his chickens. She advised us that it wasn’t a friendly scene and that we had made the right choice not to go in. We bid her good night and headed home. It was 7 PM. Things had not even gotten started for the locals. It was still early and we were headed to bed.
So I was in a feverish stupor today when I thought I felt something crawl across my head. I opted to pretend I imagined it. I prefer to think about our cute, hot pink bakery instead. Burt and I are very ill. Fevers, coughs, rivers of mucous, laryngitis. College of Baja classes are being skipped everyday. No Bridge, no tennis, no dinner dates. Lots of TV. Some naps. Gallons of soup with buttered rolls from the bakery a few blocks away. White four is still all the rage in Pescadero. There’s no finding a whole grain anything here, never mind gluten free. I miss whole wheat bread but I enjoy surrendering to the badness and, if you believe some people, pure evil of white wheat flour. So our blood sugar is going wild and our colon’s call for more fiber but we are enjoying what we can while we are miserable.
Inside this bakery are large rolls that make great arugala and tomato and cheese sandwiches. The rolls are made every day. Next to the rolls are racks of sweets. These cookies do not resemble any US cookies. Each time we buy rolls we try to buy a new cookie. Most are some combination of bread and sugar cookie. These combo cookies are a very old tradition from Spain. Ideally they are dipped in hot chocolate or coffee. Besides the bread/sugar cookies (there must be 15 styles of this alone) we’ve found a crispy coconut cookie and a cookie with a cheesy middle. Cheesy cookie is my favorite. It reminds me of a cheese danish even though they are not at all similar. The bakery is serve yourself. When you enter the store you grab a tray and some tongs. You grab the products you want from under the plastic sheeting. Take your tray to the counter and the kid there will bag it for you using the same tongs. Two rolls and a cookie are usually 12 pesos. That’s about 75 cents. Once I was charge 24 pesos. We’re not sure if it was a gringo tax or if I picked out some more expensive cookies.
On a less tasty note we found what crawled across my head. See the 3″ spider below. My new found love of spiders only carried me so far. Six months ago I might of had a panic attack if I had seen this thing on the ceiling above our bed. Today I just got a little excitable. Mostly I want to know how something so large got in here. Everyone says it’s a very valuable spider. The Huntsman is famous for clearing out unwanted bugs. I just wish it could do its job on the exterior of the trailer and stay out of my hair. I’m hoping he didn’t leave a girlfriend behind.