After the Kensington Farmer’s Market on Sunday, I wound up with six flats of strawberries and two of peaches.  So it’s been jam, jelly, and fruit butter city here.

And I’m not done! Because you need to cook the fruit in small batches to get it to gel, I’ve been adding various spices: ginger, cardamom, allspice, vanilla to some mixes. Best so far: Strawberry Brandy Clove.  And while cooking, it’s great to listen to Koko Taylor, who even has a line in this song about jelly/jam.

First egg

At last, when I looked in the nest box yesterday, I found a small, green egg:

Americana chickens lay eggs that range in color from pale blue to olive green.

I carried it up triumphantly and Larry dubbed it “the $500 egg.” I will enjoy it with that in mind. As we are loading all the costs onto the first egg, the rest will be less expensive.

Hawk Hill

The hawks are headed South mostly, though the Audubon lecturer at Hawk Hill mentioned that they put a monitor on a Red-tailed Hawk who traveled up to eastern Oregon instead. Despite this outlier, if you live in the Bay Area, you can take an hour or two and go to the Marin Headlands, just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, and pretty much be guaranteed to see raptors soaring across the hills or over the bay: Red-tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp Shinned, Falcons, Turkey Vultures, all gliding, flapping, dipping over the valleys or the azure or fog-grey water.

All summer, the marine layer has smothered the bay area with fog  This week, the fog retreated out beyond the Golden Gate, its white cloudy puffs flirting with the bridge like a girl drawing the edge of her petticoat up and then letting it fall back. This most scenic spot (when not fogged in) is a magnet for tourists, teachers with their small flocks learning about nature, and the hawk counters, who watch each of the cardinal directions and track the annual numbers. They call to each other as the birds head from their quadrant to towards the next. They call to the monitor who tallies the numbers. And behind it all, the strange drone of the fog horns. Here are some images…

The walk up to Hawk Hill, and a tree along the way:

Here is one view from the top:

Can you just make out the image of a vulture against the fog in the center bottom of the photo? In the next one, looking East, you can see Mt. Diablo across the bay:

And finally, here are some North Quadrant hawk counters and their gear:

As a bonus, here is a poem by the now often neglected pioneering poet of the wild California coast, Robinson Jeffers:

Rock and Hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Robinson Jeffers

Random poetry

Although I sometimes do it, I think it’s kind of rude to give a copy of your book of poems to someone who hasn’t asked for it. I experience receiving an unsolicited book by a poet I don’t know as a burden. I feel obligated to turn my full attention to it, and mostly it’s a disappointment. I find that I read a new poem by an author I know and like with a much more welcoming attitude than one from a poet I don’t know. I’m all set to dislike a new poet, sad as that seems.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a book from Paper Kite Press that arrived mysteriously on my desk. I had never heard of Jack DeWitt, and had no idea where the book came from. But the first poem, “Ferranti’s Ford” pleased me, and I have been reading happily through the first section. Mr. DeWitt lives up to the wit in his surname, and as a bonus grew up in Stamford Connecticut about the same time I grew up 15 minutes down the road in suburban NY. He listened to Murray the K and WINS, both of which were the background of my teen years. So even though I was not fascinated with hot rods, and didn’t see Rebel Without a Cause till I was in my 20s, the references in his poems resonate for me. Here is a taste:

James Dean

I had just seen James Dean
in Rebel Without a Cause
& wanted everyone to know
that it was about me so
I bought a red nylon jacket
and wore it with the collar up
over a tight white tee-shirt.
I went to Jack’s Army & Navy
for the engineer boots.
My hair was perfect too,
even down to the calculated
cowlick. One day as I waited
in the school yard, looking perfectly cool
Alan showed up in his blue school
jacket. Sue Skigen turned to me
as he walked across the ball field:
“Don’t you think Alan looks
Just like James Dean?”
*           *           *

Ferranti’s Ford

Ferranti’s Ford slid slowly around City Hall
like a sea creature
                 searching for prey.
Its curved teeth
    were from a DeSoto. They drew the sun into its mouth.
                                              The color
was Titian red (pronounced “Tahitian” by the car guys):
                  no rose
          only jewels know such color
                               bright, deep, perfect–
Its chopped convertible top white, taut, low
                     –the way a shark rolls its eyes tight
                                   before it strikes
I followed it to Main Street
          –my heart pumped with each pop from its pipes.
I jumped with the wheels when he hit second gear.
                       As it rolled past the Plaza Theater
I stopped to catch my breath.
                       Then it was gone. The world was quiet.
I looked around.
                       Nothing had changed except my life.
Jack DeWitt

Unplanned outing

I had an unexpected chance to go on a walk on Mt. Tamalpais today, guided by David Lukas, who describes himself as a “freelance naturalist.” His guide, Sierra Nevada Birds is worth owning. I know of him from the walks he leads at the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop.  On those walks, it seems to me we went about 100 yards in an hour, with David describing the mircorhizal web, demonstrating how an ant lion captures an ant, defining angle of ripose, noting the continuous, complex cycle of life that surrounds us everywhere, and patiently spelling all the strange words for the avid poets with our notebooks. Continue reading “Unplanned outing”

I give a fig

Well, the fig poem project has been fun. Of course, the fig is the leaf that Eve and Adam use to cover their nakedness. It’s been around a long time.  I wondered, what about that expression “I don’t give a fig.”? I looked it up and discovered:

The saying is based on the Spanish Fico (= Fig) which gave its name to a traditional gesture of contempt made by placing the thumb between the first and second fingers… Making the Fig of Spain is called in Spanish “dar una higa.” But the Spanish for “fig” is “not “higa” but “higo”. There is a pun here, because “higa” means the female genitals – which is what the thumb peeping out between the fingers of the closed fist is meant to represent.

Given all this, I thought that there must be other fig poems. I did a quick search and found several. One of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s books is called Figs and Thistles, and the famous quatrain:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

is called “First Fig.” Less well known is “Second Fig”:

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

Of course, these don’t have much to do with figs. In fact few of the poems I found dealt as particularly with the fig as the blackberry poems do with the blackberry. So here is my effort to write a fig poem that is really about (or at least mostly about) the fig.

Consider the Fig

Why do poets seek the black art
of the berry when the fig parts
the leaves like a talisman,
slips into the outstretched palm?
A one-thumbed glove,
the fig has nothing to prove.
Soft as a scrotum,
smooth as a baby’s bottom,
smug as a full house
where wasps drowse
and raccoons wait
to plunder by night.

Spun gloss of end of summer,  concentrate
of lush long days: late
slanted shadows, sleepy children
loll in their parents’ arms,
toys scattered, lawn chairs akimbo,
hammocks swing empty. Slow
dusk drapes the landscape
and fig seeds detonate
on the tongue in one last bright
blaze of honeyed light.

Meryl Natchez

In my brief scan of the poetic fig world, I did find two figgy offerings worth sharing. The first by Louise Gluck, is about faith:

from Vespers

Once I believed in you; I planted a fig tree.
Here, in Vermont, country
of no summer. It was a test: if the tree lived,
it would mean you existed.

By this logic, you do not exist. Or you exist
exclusively in warmer climates,
in fervent Sicily and Mexico and California,
where are grown the unimaginable
apricot and fragile peach. Perhaps
they see your face in Sicily; here we barely see
the hem of your garment. I have to discipline myself
to share with John and Noah the tomato crop.

If there is justice in some other world, those
like myself, whom nature forces
into lives of abstinence, should get
the lion’s share of all things, all
objects of hunger, greed being
praise of you. And no one praises
more intensely than I, with more
painfully checked desire, or more deserves
to sit at your right hand, if it exists, partaking
of the perishable, the immortal fig,
which does not travel.

Louise Gluck

And (happily) I discovered a poet new to me, a Scotsman, Roddy Lumsden.

My Life

The fig was full of worms.
The joke was on me.
The joke went over my head.
I made myself hollow for others.
I took delight in the sight of a trap.
I learned to lie with grace.
I tried to hide horned animals in a sack.
I ate the food and then the food ate me.
And when at last I danced the music stopped.
The cream was skimmed too soon.
My wings and tail were plucked.
My mouth was primed with mud.
My larynx was a shrine.
I left the room to talk about the others.
The thorn in time extracts the thorn.
My years were two of yours.
No bird was of my feather.
I was blait and toom and fykesome.
The rice just wouldn’t fluff.
I never lived it up
and never lived it down.
The fish was full of bones.
The skunk curled on my lap.
I was torn in the bush of ghosts.
The point was not worth proving:
the proof was in the pudding
in the form of a split penny.
The jellyfish was in my mouth.
The landslide happened in my mouth.
I pressed and pressed the button
but Truth wouldn’t happen.
Time wasted me and I wasted time,
like the night lost in the wynds
and back lanes, searching for a strut
that will take my weight when the time is right.

Roddy Lumsden

I like the playful seriousness of this poem, and the word play. There are a few strange words of Scots origin. I couldn’t find “blait” anywhere, but toom means empty and fyke is a fishtrap. Roddy may have made up fykesome, which based on various definitions might mean  restless like a fish caught in a trap, or full of insincere flattery, or a combination of both. A third difinition of “fike” (noted as the root) is fig!

It’s not too late

You can still go to the amazing Heirloom Expo at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa (thru Thurs., 9/15) and see displays of heirloom plants, animals and vegetables. You can eat basil pressed watermelon, the best creamy coconut popsicle I ever had, and buy seeds, plants, olive oils, vinegars, soaps, garden tools, videos, books, and even get a free packet of compost to take home. We heard a singer who could yodel up a storm and learned a little about biodynamic farming. We watched Chef Ray carve fruit and vegetables (that’s his sculpture above with eggplant leaves! and below a squash with watermelon roses and a polka-dotted apple).At the animal barn we saw dozens of varieties of chickens , turkeys, and ducks. As there were lots of roosters, and roosters crow to define their territory, it was cacophonous.








Outside were heirloom pigs, goats and sheep, even some cows. I would love to have a pig or two, especially one of the miniature heirloom breeds, but that might stretch the tolerance of my suburban neighbors, who so far are okay with my rooster.

We met a woman who demonstrated a home-made bicycle-driven wool carder that she built. It put me in mind of my compost machine, except she’s developed a kit for sale. Anyone have sheep and need a better way to card your wool?

A bushel of blackberry poems

Even though I have been unsuccessful in my efforts to find and pick enough blackberries for jam, or even a pie, I have gathered five of my favorite blackberry poems, each somewhat characteristic of its author.

First is Sylvia Plath, whose vision of blackberries is personal–a blood sisterhood, dark, menacing full of hooks:


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milk bottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks —
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

Sylvia Plath

Seamus Heaney’s poem focuses on the rot at the heart of the sweetness–a metaphor for Irish politics, or just a childhood memory? Either way, a disturbing poem from the glossy purple clot of the berry to the rat-grey fur of the mold:


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney

Mary Oliver’s is pure transcendence, with a thick paw of self reaching for more:


When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is.  In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

Mary Oliver

For Bob Hass, the blackberry evokes so much else: loss, longing, love, tenderness, metaphysics. His thought reaches out like intractable blackberry vines, covering all available ground, coming to rest with the vibrant specific fruit. I especially love the line “a word is elegy to what it signifies” and the image of the “thin wire of grief” in a friend’s voice. There is so much to admire in the journey this poem makes between the meditative and the specific:

Meditation at Lagunitas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange–silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

Robert Hass

And finally, Galway Kinnell’s inimitable voice, squinching the joy from the fruit onto our tongues:

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell

Blackberries turn to figs

Yesterday my friend Tung and I set off bright and early with her dog Toby to go blackberry picking.

I love the process: finding the succulent black berries that are only sweet when perfectly ripe among the sour pretenders. The fat, plump ripe ones are the sweetest fruit there is. They always seem just beyond easy reach, the thorns always ready to scratch. Maybe that’s what inspires so many blackberry poems—the picking lends itself to metaphor.

But alas, despite our hopes, our buckets, and our enthusiasm, the berry crop seemed either desiccated—brown nubs instead of berries–or picked over. After an hour, I had seven berries in my bowl, while Toby had about seventy burs in his fur.

Luckily, Tung’s neighbor Catherine has a fig tree—more like a fig mountain—loaded with figs. We happily picked enough for jam in about 10 minutes.

Catherine is a fellow gardener, and grew up on her father’s farm, where she lives now in Walnut Creek.

Fig, quince, peach, and apple trees groan with fruit. There is no substitute in fruit trees for time. She was cooking ratatouille with eggplant, tomatoes and squash when we arrived.

So today, I have six jars of delicious fig jam. At Catherine’s suggestion, I added lemon juice and zest, just the perfect touch to cut the intense sweetness, with lemons from her tree.




Still, I don’t know a single poem about figs, and I know five wonderful ones about blackberries.  That will be tomorrow.

Barbara Larsen’s Enchiladas

Camping is great fun, and so is hanging out with nine-year olds, but it is tiring! Then it’s back to what’s piled up in the meantime. The garden is flourishing:

I made enchiladas entirely from garden produce except for the meat and tortillas. This was a takeoff on a turkey enchilada recipe of Barbara Larson’s who is no longer with us. Here it is in her own hand. I’ve made this recipe many times, and usig what came from the garden, put it together from memory.  It took pretty far off now that I look at the recipe.


Still, her recipe was the inspiration. Barbara let me make copies of some of her recipes years ago, and they are all good.

Barbara’s husband, Jim, has for years turned out reliably marvelous food at The Restaurant in Fort Bragg (a must visit if you’re on the Mendocino Coast). He now cooks there with his wife Susan. A patron of the arts, Jim for years had a soup and sandwich lunch for under $5 that let those of us who were low on funds and high on longing for good food savor something delicious in a n elegant atmosphere. I think the lunch is an artifact of the past, but I’ve never been disappointed in one of Jim’s meals in the 30+ years I’ve eaten there.

In any case, it was fun to make a variant of Barbara’s old recipe, even more fun to eat them, and it’s good to be home. I was too hungry to photograph the enchiladas as they came out of the oven, but here are the three that were left.