Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Some years ago, Gavin and Kelly at Small Beer Press published a little story of mine. It told of a bit of joy-finding ... an awakening that happened to fall on a St. Nicholas Day.

I keep having that story come to mind at odd moments. I tell myself I should do more with those characters, that setting, that time ... not in a way that would disturb the original story, but in a way that would move onward with the lively spirit that had led that that story's writing.

St. Nicholas day holds a pleasant place in the calendar -- marking the awakening of the mind, perhaps, to the onrushing eventuality of the deep solstice.

Quite by coincidence this morning I set myself back upon tasks that I had set aside oh-so-many months ago. Back then, I suffered the mad delusion that I ought to shoulder a co-op's rescue. Then, some weeks ago, it became clear that I needed to un-shoulder what remained of the task, and to return to my old, simpler life. Among other catching-up activities around home and yard, I put my working office into order.

This morning I finally sat myself upon an old wooden stool, dusted off a pencil, and, in preparing to begin in earnest my old task of new writing, I checked the date that I might jot it upon the page -- and saw the date to be December sixth.

This morning, too, Martha put out some laundry for me to carry up to our village's small laundromat. I undertook the minor task, and read history while the clothes were turning and churning. I could hardly help noticing, though, a publication left on the table by zealous proponents of some religious stripe or other. The publication concerned itself with the burgeoning numbers of marching atheists.

The publication's title was Awake -- which made me smile, since it made me think again of my old St. Nicholas Day story, here on a new St. Nicholas Day.

Was the pamphlet in favor, or opposed? I never checked. As a believer in not believing in beliefs, I believe I could have cared less.

Tending to daily duties on a fine, wintery St. Nicholas Day, I folded fabrics and walked homeward with quite minor but quite distinct satisfaction.

Cheers ...

Currant Wine

[also written on and intended for July 1, 2010]

Since I was thinking of starting a new currant wine, this morning I went into the basement in search of a bottle to try. I opened one from 2009, decanted it, and poured a glass to try a few sips.

It was a wine that I believe would prove agreeable enough for some home winemakers. It was not adequate for this household, though.

When I looked at the records, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I had made it as a cooked wine, pouring boiling water over the hapless red currants. Martha noted, when I saw this in my records, that last summer we had no way of knowing, as of yet, the real difference between the cooked and raw wines.

As a cooked wine, I should note, red currant is actually superior to strawberry wine -- more delicate, less fruity.

Cheers ...

A Mile Beyond the Moon

[written on and intended for July 1, 2010]

Martha ordered a copy of the June Locus when it was announced, and received it this past week, in the last days of the month. While I have been intended to renew my subscription -- for I do have a job now -- I had not yet done so when June's review of C.M.K. appeared.

Gary K. Wolfe writes the review. It is a positive one -- and in a positive note he mentions a mistake that evaded my eye and, more surprisingly, the eagle eye of Bob Silverberg, who went through the text with a fine-toothed comb this last January.

It probably evaded both our attentions because it appears on page one ... in the "Preface," where I was writing relaxedly and Bob was likely not yet into fine-toothed-comb mode. Interestingly, though, Gary Wolfe is mistaken in the sentence in which he mentions the error: "There are a few minor errors and omissions -- Rich only once mentions Kornbluth's important 1958 collection A Mile Beyond the Moon, for example, and he gets the title wrong (as Miles Beyond the Moon)."

Kornbluth's posthumous collection does come in for discussion several times, at appropriate places in K's story -- just not under the name of the collection, which, as far as I could tell, was not determined while Cyril was alive.

As an example of the collection appearing in the narrative of Cyril's life, his re-reading of novelette "Reap the Dark Tide," and his personal reaction to his own writing, came about because he was assembling the book for Doubleday.

In any case, I should have addressed factual matters concerning the book's publication and impact. By the time I was at the point when I might have been developing the subject of the collection's impact, and writing such matters down, however, I was exhausted physically and emotionally (having long before been exhausted financially) by the writing of the book; and that issue, among others, remained unaddressed. The manuscript had grown already to mammoth proportions, moreover.

I certainly should have noted the collection's title chronologically. That I did not is, indeed, an oversight.

Thanks to G.K.W. for a thoughtful review.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


... a good word for the dominating force in most lives. If you are a writer you grapple with exigencies not only to pick them up and deal with them but to put them down with freer mind, so that you may take a few moments to put pencil to paper.

If you are an unwise writer then you force more exigencies upon yourself than you really need -- say, by buying a house, digging a garden, becoming interested in some matter of endlessly opening possibility such as literary history or antiques or winemaking ... or by taking on a day job that requires some mental and physical commitment.

Any one of these takings-on of exigency might do in, dowse or drown the creative spirit. On the other hand, it seems that the taking on of exigency is not to be distinguished from engagement with the world.

This leads to a conundrum. To be a writer you must disengage yourself from the world with which you must be engaged: for your mind must be free, to write.

In essence, you, whose life is writing, must disengage yourself from whatever it is that is your life.

Is it possible to balance the two? -- the engagement with the disengagement?

Of course not. You lack the strength. Your world weighs more than you do.

Since you are part of it, your world includes your full weight. You, on the other hand, include within you only a tiny part of your world, and so command only a fraction of its weight.

Exigencies are the weight of your world.

You might see yourself as an Atlas, bearing up the globe and by so doing being a fixed part of that world. On occasion you feel moved to try balancing that vast burden upon just one hand -- even if only for a moment ... just long enough to seize a pencil with your briefly free hand, to scrawl your name somewhere, anywhere ...

Cheers ...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Understanding of Scottiedogs

The understanding of dogs surpasses all understanding -- except (perhaps) the understanding of dogs.

That is to say, they seem to understand us, even if we fail to understand them ... and that is (again, perhaps) the moral of this story.

In our Farmer MacGregor's garden, we are beset by the pestilential presence of long-eared lagomorphs -- those herbivorous mammalians of the snipping teeth and spring-wound hindquarters.

We have owned one live-trap for some time, which has proved helpful in sequestering squirrels, if not rabbits. When I picked up a second live-trap a week or two ago, at a farm auction, I figured I had a better chance of catching a buck-toothed miscreant or two ... for if I had several traps set in various parts of the garden, how could I fail?

The other day I set up the two traps toward the rear of the yard, which adjoins a small overgrown patch belonging to a neighbor. Toward that overgrown patch is where the bunny rabbits, Easter rabbits and Peter rabbits, and all their kin, run to hide once they are spotted by MacGregorian eyes.

Two traps, baited with carrots ... sure to succeed!

Little did I anticipate the strategy of wily rabbithound Scottiedog Lorna, who immediately made it a practice of rushing down the lane between the grape vines, empowered with an humanitarian sense of immediacy, while barking out, "Trap! Trap! Trap!" The traps were no more than live traps, of course -- but when a ferocious little Scottiedog comes zipping along with a jawful of helpful warning, how is a rabbit to know that a somewhat innocuous transplantation to the outskirts of the village was to be the full extent of the dread fate awaiting the entrapped?

Rabbits are all ears, though. Being all ears they have few if any places left in their already tiny heads for brains ... so upon hearing said Scottiedog, they swallowed said Scottiedog Lorna's line, and twitched their noses wisely at one another as they blithely passed by the enticing chunks of carrots.

Martha and I know this to be so: for we have observed that the traps have remained empty.

The other evening, though, Lorna showed the fruits of her strategy: for she came to show us one of the rabbits which had followed her warning (you may recall it: "Trap! Trap! Trap!") -- and which had, as a consequence, steered well clear of those devious wire-and-carrot contraptions.

Admittedly, Lorna showed Martha and me something less than the totality of the wise little rabbit that had evaded the traps.

But that is the way of Scottiedogs. Had Lorna shown us the whole rabbit, it might have seemed boastful, on her part. So she showed us only as much as modesty permitted.

The part she brought to us, when she trotted up the garden path, was the leggiest part of a wise little long-eared and boundingly leggy creature.

This leggy part is, I admit, one of the of the most characteristic parts of the rabbit.

Not the most characteristic part, though. Since bringing us that leggy part and the ears might have seemed a bit obvious, she opted for understatement.

This proves, perhaps (I say, yet again) that Lorna can speak with other animals. (Or is that not what I set out to establish ... I am no longer clear on the matter. I took a shovel and buried the documentation Lorna brought us. I suppose I should have kept it ... scientifific evidence ... etc.)

Cheers ...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Aging Spring Wines

An aspect that may take years for me to gain some handle upon is the effect of aging on different wines. General wisdom calls for aging a wine at least half a year and ideally a year. Beyond that, my impression is that wines have a certain stability, after that first year's aging.

Is this the actually the case with spring wines? Last Thursday, coming home from a day's labors -- literally labors in my case, since I had been doing some concrete work -- I fetched up a Wine 22, a dandelion wine that had seemed quite satisfactory when sipped during the time of dandelion blooming, and in the month or so before that.

On Thursday the flavor seemed to me less than ideal -- making me wonder if these wines should not be enjoyed early in spring, and finished before the arrival of summer. The wine is still changing as the season does, after all.

Does it not seem possible that the wine is at its peak at that point of its first year of age, when its ingredients are again fresh at hand, in yard and field?

Is it not just as possible that the spring-influenced imbiber is at peak receptivity for the product of the season being re-experienced?

Another thought is that basement temperatures may be part of the picture. Those temperatures are now rising from their winter lows. Bringing a wine up from the basement is not the same as it was: for the wine I bring up today, though cool, is warmer than the somewhat chilled wine I brought up in April.

Chilling the wine does seem to restore some of that spring freshness. I remain uncertain, however, about whether the wine tastes quite as good as it did when the yellow brightness of riant dandelion blooms adorned the yard.

Cheers ...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Strawberry Wine, Part III

In our days of rainy picking we had filled a few bowls.

Over the years we have accumulated a stash of stainless-steel containers, mostly bowls, which come in for regular service during the summer. At the beginning of this week we were at the point, in fact, of having bowls of strawberries, fully ripe, on two refrigerator shelves, while other bowls of ripe or ripening berries were taking up space on kitchen table and kitchen window ledge ... prompting Martha to make noises about running out of bowls for gathering greens from the garden and for making the evening salad.

So late Monday I was preparing the five-gallon crock and measuring out ingredients based on a wine we liked from last year's efforts of around this time.

Enlarging the recipe called for enough strawberries to half-fill the rock, before their being chopped and mashed down. I washed and emptied large bowl after large bowl of berries -- not quite depleting our stores, but completely using all but the ones still ripening.

Twelve and a half pounds ...

It astonishes me still -- having such a quantity of such fleeting delicacies ... mashed up and given over to the labors of yeasts.

Cheers ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Puritan Planet, Part III

In the biography C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, I discuss the elements in Kornbluth's stories "The Little Black Bag" and "The Silly Season" that allow them to be read as critiques of his chosen form, which was science fiction. Similarly, elements appear in Carol Emshwiller's "Puritan Planet" that allow it to be read as a critique of science-fiction, as a pulp genre.

A story that is emblematic of the masculine viewpoint in pulp science fiction is the famous Tom Godwin story "The Cold Equations," in which the feminine principle, the anima, the "girl," of the story is jettisoned to die in the vacuum of outer space, putatively because the action is necessary in order to save lives. The definite murder is justified by the indefinite possibility of preserving numbers of others.

Kornbluth's being a fiction of the divided individual, it interests me that this emblematic "hard science fiction" story is also symbolically a piece of fiction of the divided individual, with the anima separated and then rooted out from the masculine soul. (Interesting, too: Rick Bowes' story mentioned here recently, "Pining To Be Human," has a conflicted main character who "sees" his anima in an external manifestation. The word "anima" even appears from the lips of a character who is a woman of insight.)

In "Puritan Planet," the anima plays a redemptive role. The "she," who is called "girl" by Morgan, is a cat who simply by existing resolves the conflict of the story. The cat is named Cat -- which as Cat or Kat can be a shortened form of a woman's name. Cat's presence in the crash-landed ship calls into action Brotherhood's social organization named Animal Welfare. Cat is "a poor dumb animal" -- the defenseless, voiceless anima -- who nevertheless speaks and defends, in resolving the story's crisis; and she does so in a way outside the ability of the male aspect, as represented by Morgan. The soul's coherence, in other words, brings the story to closure. This stands in contrast to the sacrifice of coherence that brings "The Cold Equations" to closure.

It might be too much to call Carol's story brilliant -- the alert reader, for instance, knows from the beginning that Cat will prove a pivotal figure. Yet it rolls out some verbal felicities ("It was still and black and beautiful, and he wanted to stay in the soft, warm, dark forever ... "); and it offers ample reward when regarded from the historical perspective. It also suggests to me that Carol's works are of a piece -- that there is coherence to be found there, scattered across the course of decades.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Picking in the Rain

A rainy June leads to your having many moments of being down with knees to the damp ground, leaning forward among wet leaves and reaching for ripening berries. Mornings -- the strawberries beneath the row of grapes where the plants grow rampant. Evenings -- same areas again, and then in the fenced-in, protected strawberry beds. So you are getting wet first thing and then again last thing, the way these days have been going.

Yesterday, I opted to leave the house a little early, to walk up the hill and do some Maple Valley work. I left all the picking for the later gray hours of the day. At work we watched the clouds and the rains through large windows. When late afternoon arrived and the three of us -- Martha, Lorna and me -- were home from the job, as we were settling down to enjoy a revivifying nip of whisky, the sun started peering and then staring out from between clouds.

"Picking strawberries in the sun ... why, that is not how it is done," I joked. The irony of the evening, when the sky-change might have made the picking of berries more an idle pleasure and less a sodden task, is that I never got around to picking. We were looking into ideas and possibilities for this and that -- mostly writing-related travel later in the year -- so that suddenly I noticed we had reached the point in the evening when, even with a clear sky above, things were too dim for seeking reddening glimpses among the greenery.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Puritan Planet, Part II

Carol Emshwiller's "Puritan Planet" is interesting additionally (see previous posting) in that it can be read as a commentary on the masculine hierarchy.

The hero, Morgan, in is a forced-landing situation -- with the landing complicated by the fact that the obviously inhabited world he is landing upon offers him no support for his landing there.

The planet is named Brotherhood.

Morgan reflects on the irony of this name in the face of its uninviting aspect. Later, when in contact with its representatives, he finds himself speaking with individuals who state their concern, first and foremost, for the children of their planet.

Morgan is seen by these inhabitants of Brotherhood as not a "brother" but as a threat to these children. He is seen in this negative light due to his displays of masculine coarseness. Because he is seen as a threat to the children's innocence, he is left to die in the place where he has crash-landed.

The Brotherhood representatives, in other words, give lip service to a maternally nurturing spirit. In their actions, or inaction, however, they demonstrate a brutal, perhaps violent, perhaps masculine character.

Brotherhood is isolationist and exclusionary, rather than open and receptive to outside influences and to possible change.

Cheers ...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Puritan Planet

Reading Carol Emshwiller's "Puritan Planet" has generated several thoughts. One is that Carol's distinctive contribution to the science fiction pulp genre reflects a mindset that echoes well with the current concerns of Wiscon attendees.

The central character of "Puritan Planet" is "a big, square man" whose name is Morgan. However big and square he may be, from the opening paragraph he is displaying elements in his character somewhat at odds with that big squareness. He is deeply and unquestioningly concerned for the welfare of others who cannot care for themselves, to the extent of placing himself at some risk when acting protectively; and in his manner he is freely expressive of his feelings.

In Carol's more recent fiction -- here I am speaking from general memory, not of a particular work --- a sort of character appears who may be described as male but who displays openness, curiosity, sympathetic feelings, and some amount of capricious logic -- none of which are necessarily feminine aspects but which resonate nicely with my understanding and experience of what it is that, at times, makes female personalities valuably different from male personalities.

This stands in contrast to some overtly feminist fiction, in which the female characters are strong, decisive, experience-hardened, and not at all capricious or outwardly emotive. They are emulations of an old masculine model -- one that saw heavy deployment in the pulps, including the science fiction pulps. (In speaking of "some overtly feminist fiction," I am again speaking from general memory, from my reading experiences of perhaps a decade ago -- so these impressions may, of course, be less than perfect.)

What Carol seems to have done from early in her career was to conform to the pulp model of the masculine hero (Morgan is big and square and, importantly to this story's proceedings, one who curses freely) while at the same time housing within this masculine outwardness a richness of character that seems in many ways to be female in its expression.

Her approach might be regarded as subversive, because of this. She was subverting the pulp hero to serve her own non-traditional artistic ends.

Yet this approach may have been a natural expression of Carol's personality, and not a conscious practice intended as subversive. The approach reflected her instinctive way of adapting to the given marketplace situation.

Cheers ...

Friday, June 11, 2010

The New F&SF

I mentioned the James Sallis review, the other day. The review appears on pages 33-38 of the July-August double issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction -- an issue apparently not yet on the stands, since Rick Bowes reported on Facebook this week that he had yet to receive either contributor or subscriber copies as of yet ... while I had received a copy in the mail at midweek, not too long after having received an electronic copy of the review.

The published copy arrived here in Cashton thanks to special attention from Gordon Van Gelder. He sent the copy first class from New Jersey, bless his heart, in a manila envelope spotted with The Simpsons stamps.

An amusing aspect of the review that escaped me, on first reading, was that Sallis calls the biography "imminently readable" -- which means the book will become readable, any day now.

No doubt most readers will wait for that to happen, before investing in copies of their own.

... but in any case I remain impressed with the heartfelt response that Sallis has, to the biography. I feel a bit humbled.

For those who have too little or no exposure to the fiction of Bowes, by the way, "Pining To Be Human" displays many of its characteristic strengths and beauties. The first paragraph is magically effective:

"So many years later I can still see the Witch Girls gliding over the grass amid the fireflies of a summer evening. I first saw them the July when I was four. That season in 1948 is the first piece of time I can remember as a coherent whole and not just a series of disconnected images. That evening I saw magic and told no one."

Do those lines not transport you elsewhere than here?

The phrase suddenly occurs to me: "shattered continuity." Are Rick's words so convincing because of the shattered aspect -- or the sense of over-arching continuity ... the latter which gives many pieces of his fiction their mythic feeling?

Cheers ...

The Weight of Strawberries

Tuesday in the rainy morning I spent an hour bent among the strawberry plants, picking. I was especially concerned about gathering the still-white ones showing their first touch of blush, from among the plants growing below the Kay Gray and Canadice grapes.

These plants among the grape vines I had meant to weed out. Since I have yet to get to that task, though, I have been taking what fruit I can before the robins eat it all. Last year from these plants we harvested almost nothing: the birds were voracious. This year by picking at first hint of ripening, we are adding to our strawberry stores.

After picking below those grape vines, I picked in the areas that are fenced and netted -- and then walked up the hill to Organic Maple Co-op, the place where I am putting in some days of work. In the course of moving some 400-pound barrels of syrup that day I threw my back out, a little -- enough for a few days of discomfort. The fault, of course, lies with the strawberries. I was bent over in the rainy chill for an hour -- then went and exerted myself. Were only strawberries a more respectable weight -- say, five or ten pounds apiece -- then even in the rainy chill I would have limbered myself up for other tasks of the day. I would have been sweating, wheelbarrowing the strawberry harvest up from the gardens to the basement chutes where I would dump the morning tonnage.

Instead, what are strawberries? Tiny bits of soft and seedy ripeness that at their largest will fit in multiples within the open palm of the hand, weighing probably less than the heads of the robins we would like to decapitate for their marauding incursions. Strawberries as fruit are tiny, low to the ground, leaf-hidden, and connected to their parent plants by whiskery bits of green thinness.

No wonder they break backs.

Cheers ...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Speaking with Madle

On Monday I had a nice telephone conversation with Bob Madle, one of the few souls around who was present during those heady days of late-1930s science fiction.

I believe I have yet to note the correction here, for those who have the C.M. Kornbluth biography, concerning page 70. Even if I noted it before, it bears repeating. In the photograph, Bob is standing in the middle, holding some posters or a portfolio of some sort, with Robert Thompson to his left (as in stage left). The figure (stage right) who is mostly turned away from the camera, and whom the caption makes out to be Bob, Bob tells me is almost certainly Sam Moskowitz.

This photo was correctly captioned, in the proofs of the book. At a late moment an editorial question arose, since the caption was seen to be ambiguous. I apparently misunderstood what the editorial question was -- or else the editors misunderstood my clarification -- since the incorrect attribution then appeared in the published book.

This was quite embarrassing, since Bob not only helped me with numerous matters relating to the text of the book, but was also the source of that photo.

In any case, Bob is impressed with the biography -- which impresses me. His mind is so full of factual detail, concerning so many events that I describe in the book, that to have the text gain his approval is to set my mind at east about it, to one degree more than it already was.

"It's a remarkable book," he said, Monday afternoon. "I read every word, every footnote -- every ibid., ever op. cit..

Cheers ...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not the Original Science Fiction Stories

The title I gave here earlier, The Original Science Fiction Stories, turns out to be not quite that -- even though that is how it appears on the cover.

On pages 188-9 of the issue I picked up, Lowndes notes in response to a letter from Edmund Meskys: " ... the title of this magazine is Science Fiction Stories. That phrase 'The Original' is just there to indicate that we were the first to use the title SCIENCE FICTION and SCIENCE FICTION STORIES, whereas all others using this title had preceded the words 'Science Fiction' with some adjective -- Astounding science fiction, etc. But it's no more a part of this magazine's title than is 'The Honorable' before some distinguished person's name actually a part of his name."

To clarify -- this magazine was first to use "Science Fiction" without an adjective ... not the first ever to use the phrase, for its title. Interestingly, the Clute-Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that John W. Campbell, Jr., nursed the ambition to drop Astounding from his Astounding Science Fiction title -- but was prevented from doing so by the appearance of the magazine entitled simply Science Fiction. The latter stole Campbell's thunder, as it were, even if the thunder was not particularly resounding.

(The Encyclopedia also, very strangely, alphabetizes Lowndes' magazine under the name The Original Science Fiction Stories .... giving the argument that this was, indeed, the way people referred to the title at the time. The magazine's indicia clearly indicates the formal publication, title.)

Cheers ...

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Not-So-Odd Job

I have been distracted somewhat from my writing here for the blog, and have had most of my normal routines vigorously tossed out the window, by my having taken on this new job that I mentioned here the other day.

I was interested in this job somewhat but never quite pursued it -- I was comfortable in my already complicated life, after all .... yet I ended up with the work, all the same.

A pattern exists in my life which is quite clear, now -- that I tend to step up to help resolve a less-than-desirable situation, if that less-than-desirable situation happens to be afflicting a co-op. This first manifested in me becoming manager of the struggling Turtle Creek Food Co-op, in Beloit, in the late 1980s. The co-op's struggle continued, while I earned almost nothing for my labors; yet the co-op did last another four years. I was by no means ideal for the job except in the sense that I was somewhat willing to taken a vow of poverty in support of what seemed a community Good, having already quite decisively taken and frequently renewed a vow of poverty in order to pursue the creative life, throughout the earlier decade.

Having stepped up to take on that task was perhaps a mistake. The task was there to do, though. Likely I failed at it it to no greater degree than I excelled at it.

In the second instance, however, I am fairly sure my failure was complete -- for at a point of leadership crisis at the Stevens Point Food Co-op I become involved in trying to reshape that leadership, and ended up in a position that was wrong for me. I had sworn I would never end up a part of a day-to-day cooperative management team. I felt some interest in managing store matters in a logical manner, but also felt an equal disinterest in holding endless meetings ... so I bailed out of the situation pretty promptly, but not prettily.

I suppose I am exactly the kind of dust that coooperative vacuum-claners suck up: for in recent weeks it again has been a co-op that has done just this, with regards to the dust that I am. The differences from earlier situations are several. In this case, I seem to have actually resolved an operational problem, simply by stepping in. (You might think of a dishwasher stepping into a restaurant and suddenly ending a half-year cooking dilemma: it is akin to that.) Despite my early expectations, moreover, this new job has turned into one requiring a fair degree of physical labor.

This has a bit of an odd feel for me, since physical labor has always seemed something to be volunteered, rather than to be paid for. I have certainly taken my share of odd jobs that involved simple physical work -- yet I did always think of those jobs as "odd." The opposite of the odd job is apparently the regular job, which this one seems to be.

(As you may be thinking, it does occur to me that my life might have been easier had I viewed matters otherwise than this, sooner.)

For a third difference, this is a co-op on the producing end of the spectrum, not the consumer end. Many of the myriad forces that pull together and tear apart consumer co-ops seem to go unfelt in producer co-ops.

Cheers ...

Friday, June 4, 2010


Novice Scottiedog asks, "What is the difference between a workdog and a playdog?"

Scottiedog Master: "They are the same. That is the difference."

(Author's note: Tallie Alexander's sons, at one point, called their Grandma Roxie's dog, Muffin, a "workdog." Roxie liked this; and the term has always seemed to me an excellent one ... even if the finer nuances of its childhood meaning might escape me.)

Cheers ...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sallis Reviews the Kornbluth Biography

An electronic file has just arrived from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Upon the file's digital pages are the six pages of the F&SF review, by James Sallis, of C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary.

My first reaction on seeing this was to think that Sallis was an excellent choice for reviewer. He does, indeed, home in on many of the major themes and arguments of the biography, with great accuracy -- and does so with a stylistic approach entirely his own.

It seems to be a deeply felt, deeply sympathetic consideration of the book.

I am, in response, deeply grateful.

Cheers ...

On Missing Wiscon

Our normal activity for Memorial Day weekend has been, for many years, attending the feminist science fiction convention named Wiscon. It is held, these days, in the Madison Concourse. This year I made the decision to attend Wiscon countless times. despite lack of means.

I made the decision not to attend countless times plus one.

I had particularly wanted to go this year to see old friend and collaborator Richard Bowes, a fine novelist -- one of the finest, in truth, in my reading experience -- and to see again Carol Emshwiller, who came to my assistance during the writing of the Cyril Kornbluth biography.

But ...

The financial situation is in the process of changing, here in our household, because of my having taken on a job -- one that seems to be the kind of job best for me: one that saps less than the full energies that I should be putting into creative activities ... yet while the financial picture is changing, it has yet to actually change. I could not quite contemplate going two thousand dollars in debt to buy my author copies of the biography, and then adding atop that the hundreds required to spend time at the Madison Concourse. Moreover I have yet to prepare the promotional materials I need to have at hand, in any convention appearances ... so had I, this year, opted for Wiscon, I would have been making the drive down and spending the days and dollars without books to show and sell, and without materials to hand out. However much the value -- it is immense -- of seeing friends whom I dearly want to see, it seems far better to wait until I can attend conventions better equipped.

Staying home allowed us the pleasure of frittering away time, doing some Memorial-weekend rummaging. At one point in our wanderings we went into an antique shop in Centerville which usually we have seen closed and so never had investigated. A great many wonders awaited us inside. What I walked out with, though, for $2.50, was a copy of the January, 1960, issue of The Original Science Fiction Stories -- a magazine with which I had no familiarity. Its editor was Robert A.W. Lowndes, though -- the figure who, as Robert W. Lowndes, Bob Lowndes, or "Doc" Lowndes, has such prominence in the Cyril Kornbluth biography. What prompted my purchase, though, was the prominent notice on the cover:

"Puritan Planet," by Carol Emshwiller.

A perhaps stranger reminder of the Wiscon we were missing came for Martha at the Agricenter in Viroqua, where we stopped on Sunday to look at some plants. She was writing a check, so picked up the pen lying on the plant-nursery counter ... a pen from the Madison Concourse. The clerk said she had never seen the pen before.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Strawberry Wine, Part II

As I noted before the holiday, the situation seemed promising for doing a direct comparison between cooked Wine 30, strawberry, and raw Wine 32, also strawberry, made soon afterward.

Having opened Wine 30 on that day, I went back into the basement to find Wine 32 -- and turned up Wine 30 after Wine 30. Somewhere among the bottles we may yet have some Wine 32. My suspicion, though, is that I had left the Wine 32 bottles on a table nearer the front of the basement ... so that they were the ones that I fetched up on whatever whimsical evenings they were that came along, when a bit of something different sounded like just the thing to break up the same-old.

The chances are good that this nicely set-up opportunity for visual and nasal and lingual comparative testing has passed us by.

On the other hand, the chances are mighty good, too, that had I found a bottle of Wine 32 in the basement, that day, I would have uncorked it, decanted it ... and then we would have said, "Ah! Better!" -- and consigned Wine 30 to the fridge for cooking, without giving a thought to doing a thoughtful, careful comparison.

For I did bring forth a Wine 29, rhubarb-strawberry, instead -- a raw wine -- and we said, "Ah! Better!" -- and consigned Wine 30 to the fridge for cooking.

We have quite a lot of Wine 30. We had better do quite a lot of cooking.

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Raw Wines

"Raw," in our household term for certain wines, refers to the treatment of the essential ingredients in the first stages of wine-making.

While winemakers besides us must have a term at hand that carries the same meaning, we lack knowledge of any such ... so we keep speaking of "raw wines." (I half suspect some passing note in H.E. Bravery or Terry Garey suggested or gave us the term, though.)

The basic ingredients in a raw wine are used in a raw state; in a cooked wine, in a cooked state. The spring wines offer a nice illustration of the difference.

Dandelion wine, as we have made it thus far, is a cooked wine: the water is boiled and then poured, while still boiling-hot, over the flowers. (This stage of dandelion winemaking we do in enamelware, not in a crock; the water-and-flower mixture then cools, while covered.)

Rhubarb wine, on the other hand, is a raw wine: the water is boiled, as a sterilizing measure, then allowed to cool in a covered enamelware pot. Only after cooling is it poured over rhubarb pieces.

As it happens, we have never attempted a cooked rhubarb wine. One early recipe we found -- early in our winemaking, and early in its publication date ... as I recall, around the earlier 1900s -- was a rhubarb wine recipe. Simple though it was, it seems to have pointed us in the right direction for quality home winemaking.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strawberry Wine

Earlier this year we tried some of last year's strawberry wine. What pleased us about it was its not-so-strawberryish nature --

Limpid, faintly aromatic, delicate of flavor, with an edge of tang to its dryness.

This last Sunday morning I went looking for a breakfast wine, and thought that with the strawberries in the yard blooming and beginning their fruiting, I should bring up from the basement a bit of strawberry. I found a goodly many bottles of a particular batch, and emerged with a liter in hand. Decanted, it had an amber-tinted red-fruit color, with a definite strawberry smell. The taste was a bit toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, with typical strawberry flavor dominating.

While this wine towered above our strawberry wines of the year before, it was not quite what we wanted to be drinking, beyond the first half-glass or so, on a Sunday morning.

I checked in our records, where I discovered that this batch was a cooked wine. The wine that we started immediately afterwards, however, was a raw-fruit wine. That must have been the one we had tasted and found satisfying, earlier in the year.

Last summer the idea was taking firmer root in our minds that cooked wines were the sort we would rather not drink -- while raw wines offered the prospect of pleasing drinking. And here we had given ourselves a chance for a clear comparison ...

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rhubarb Wine

A five-gallon crock ... plus just an awful lot of chopped rhubarb ... with the crock filled to maybe the four-gallon level.

With there being so much liquid within rhubarb stalks, I figured I might have enough to fill a three-gallon secondary fermenter.

Such was the volume of rhubarb remaining that I had enough for only two one-gallon secondaries, when I emptied the crock two days ago.

For this batch, I had only chopped the rhubarb, not crushing it with a rolling pin as I had last year. The rhubarb pieces were still holding onto a fair amount of liquid within them. By the simple expedient of leaving the chopped, fermented rhubarb in a stainless steel colander overnight, I might have managed to get some of that third gallon. I probably should have had our small fruit press ready, to crush out the remaining juices.

I did, at least, leave the pieces in our largest stainless steel bowl overnight. By morning, it was evident some liquid had settled out. So our refrigerator now has a quart jar of much-too-new rhubarb wine in it. Have I tasted the wine? Strangely enough, no.

I ate a piece of the rhubarb, though: crunchy, tangy. Yesterday was another unseasonable day -- still over 90 degrees after 5 p.m. ... in May! -- so that it was in the evening, some twenty hours after working on the wine, that I dumped the partially alcoholified rhubarb pieces in a patch of dirt that I had been preparing for some planting. Air temperatures had dipped below 90; humidity was such that I sweated away only half my body weight every fifteen minutes. I forked the rhubarb wine remains into the dirt: for were not the rhubarb pieces already biologically composted, to some degree? I plan to plant in that dirt some squash vines that were volunteers in our compost bin.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Standard Appearance vs. Personality

The severe pruning I gave our two Kay Gray vines and single Canadice vine, last winter, seems to have had its effect; for the new shoots coming up have flower-cluster buds upon them.

While the clusters seem less thick then they are on the other varieties, that they are there at all is a pleasant fact to contemplate. For these three, last year was in essence an extra one for encouraging vine development without obtaining fruit.

In the unseasonable heat, yesterday afternoon, I worked on shoring up wire supports for this trio. My system is the four-arm kniffin system -- more or less. I need actually to add height to the entire set-up, to be following this model correctly.

Earlier in the season, after seeing a vineyard employing the Geneva double-curtain method of growing, I considered reshaping my entire system of wire-supports.

The idea that had prevailed in our first seasons of growing, however, was that we would need to mulch all the vines each winter. Their trunks, as a consequence, have personality. Rather than shooting up straight and perpendicular to the ground, in the manner of your typical well-controlled vineyard vine, these trunks twist a bit, turn a bit -- for they start from the ground at an angle and then bend back toward the vertical in the course of reaching the wires.

The option remains open to re-grow these vines from vertical shoots rising from near the base of the vine. What do I want, though: standard appearance, or personality? Certainly the venerable wild grapes you see ranging up into the trees, in woods in this area, have curvings and bends in their trunks, They trail along the forest floor, or even loop back down to the ground from some high branch before rising back into the forest canopy. Appealing to the eye? Yes, indeed.

It is a vine, after all, not a tree ... although the normal aim in grape culture seems to be the achievement of a treelike appearance. The idea appeals to me, of letting these twisty vines grow thick and gnarly over the years ... yet so does the idea of regrowing them, so that I might set up a better trellis system for coming seasons.

Cheers ...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Nod for the C.M. Kornbluth Biography

I am more than a little pleased to have the new book be noticed by the new reviewer for Analog.

For those who do not know, Analog: Science Fiction/Science Fact is a magazine that has published a great deal of fiction close to the core of what science fiction is and has been. While not a showcase for experimentalism or for literary-excellences-to-the-fore fiction, Analog has published fiction of mine which was, for me, challenging to imagine and challenging to execute.

My Analog stories seem particularly important in my quite-minor international literary profile. One story of mine from Amazing Stories was translated and published, without my permission, in Spain (it was a story stellar perhaps in concept but, I believe, less than stellar in execution: so the literary pirates undoubted received their comeuppance in the readers' reaction to their having stolen something so eminently not worth the stealing); and one story of mine from the short-lived Expanse saw translation and publication in China. From among my Analog stories two (to my knowledge) have been translated and published in Russian (in one case it even occurred with my permission), while another was translated and published in French.

In any case, I believe Analog has published more of my stories than any other single magazine ... and it has published several personal favorites from among my own stories ... and so as a magazine it holds reign over a region close to my heart. Never mind that the science fiction field's more lofty-nosed cognoscenti largely ignore the magazine's existence.

The new reviewer working under the banner of "The Reference Library" at Analog is Don Sakers, whom I have not, to my recollection, met in person. He has given quite a generous nod in the direction of my biography of Cyril Kornbluth.

I like this line in particular, from Saker's review: "A scholarly text (with the requisite 40 pages of notes) that reads like a novel, Rich's book is nothing short of a delight."

The review is located on-line at ...

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Late this afternoon I was wielding a garden tool that is some kind of a recent-design scythe, reduced to garden scale.

Martha and I have an area in our backyard that was once a squash patch ... then a weed patch ... which this year we hope to revert to vegetable gardening. Over the course of the warmish spring that we have had thus far, the grass in this patch has grown high, reaching knee-height already, while the miscellaneous forbs have kept pace.

With my whacking vorpal blade, or perhaps hortal blade, I sheared away a goodly pile of grass, which will become mulch for some garden bed or other. Some of these cuttings have gone already onto Martha's square patch of garlic plants.

In making this mulch-pile, I was fairly careful to keep out the dandelion heads, which are going to seed in these days of early spring heat.

There remained a fair amount of tall green stuff to cut back, in that garden patch -- even after having made that largish pile of dandelion-free mulch. So I scythed down the rest of it, making a point to cut down as many dandelion heads as I could.

Since the finches like them so well, it seems likely that dandelion seeds are rich in protein and nutrients -- and thus perfect material for composting.

We happen to have some rather large clear-plastic bags at hand ... so I stuffed a bag full of this mixture of grass cuttings, dandelion seed heads, and dried leaves. I will let this large, bagged mixture steam and boil in the sun for a few days or a week -- which may be long enough to break down the seeds, or at least to steam-boil them -- and to begin the process of breaking down the cut greens ...

And then, after that week or so, I will add butter and crisped bacon, and will serve it for breakfast. All our friends are invited -- so we will, of course, expect you.

It is, as I noted, quite a large bag.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wooden Spoon

A rather nice and somewhat accidental purchase at an auction last Saturday is a wooden spoon long enough to comfortably reach the bottom of a five-gallon crock while still leaving ample room for the grip. I had no thought about this spoon's being just a little longer than normal until this morning when I plucked it out of the kitchen crock that holds these utensils (this crock being a salt-glaze with a bottom hairline inside -- so a piece to ease the eye, not one to employ as a tool to help fulfill imbibitory ambitions) and used said spoon for the first time in stirring wines.

The spoon stirred up this thought, at least:

That our second two batches of dandelion wine might go on into their secondaries any time now: for when stirred, their fizz dies soon after the stirring ends.

The rhubarb wine, first batch of the year, is the one in the five-gallon crock. It should stay in that primary fermenter a bit longer. The yeast's work is greater, in breaking down the rhubarb fibers.

Stirring wine in a crock is lovely work. You do it in a few moments -- and in those passing seconds have done so fine a job that you can forget about doing the job again for a day.

Once I move these batches of dandelion into secondaries, I will have no call to be stirring that particular wine again, this year. Around here, the flowers have largely given way to the seed heads that are so pleasing to the seed-eating finches.

Strange, as always, how the riotous season of dandelion shock-yellow brilliance ends so soon.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creative Antiquities, Part II

I did go and read my old verse, "Dream-mare," in that on-line zine named Surprising Stories (as you may do here:

It is a piece of verse I remember feeling quite satisfied with -- and somewhat dissatisfied with. On the one hand, it is, to my mind, a good example of a particular type of verse ... you might call it short dramatic verse, since the dramatic element takes precedence over other aspects. This sort of verse suited some areas of the small press, being the staple especially of the dark fantasy and horror-emphasizing zines.

Back in the 1980s I felt I excelled in writing short poems in which some single element loomed over others, within the confines of rhymed, sometimes idiosyncratically metered verse. Oftentimes the verse in these zines took the form of stilted balladry, in which the sentence structures and the line structures were, for all practical purposes, one and the same. In mine I usually held to a pattern of straight rhymes or slant rhymes, while making every effort to de-emphasize the pattern by means of phrasing. I avoided having the sentences align with the metrical line wherever possible -- which is a practice that allows you to instill a strong sense of closure within the final line of the verse.

That last line is the one place in a verse where the end of the sentence and the end of the line can only fall together.

I remember one editor, in writing to me and accepting a poem or two, saying that he finally understood what I was doing in my poetry. He had just discovered that if he read my poems as if they were spoken colloquially, or conversationally, they suddenly "worked," or "made sense." Previously he had been in the habit, apparently, of pausing at the end of each line. The editor's exact words, of course, escape memory. Yet I do recall the surprise I felt, that this should have represented a leap, for him or her. (As I recall it was a him.)

This Surprising Stories, by the way, seems attractive. I was happy to see the index page -- for it is very much the sort of cover you might have encountered, a quarter-century ago, when you opened a large manila envelope sent by one of the many intrepid editor-publishers of those times. The presentation of the poem is quite nice, too -- with an effective illustration by La Joillette.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writing Without Payment

As a human being you house within you the potential to do an infinite amount of work for no payment. As a writer, you tend to realize the potential.

The poetry I mentioned, last posting, provides a nice example. The strange aspect of the matter is that we who felt the urge toward poetry, in earlier Age of Masses decades, put out cash in order to even have the whisper of a chance of publication. Back in that strange time, absolute requisites for the poet included the purchase of paper, envelopes, and, above all, a great many stamps.

Stamps! I feel the great philatelic treasure trove of the Modern Century well might be all the self-addressed, stamped envelopes of the greats, the not-so-greats, and the not-great-at-alls, among the poets and other writers of the generations before mine. Those envelopes would have been postmarked in towns and cities where all the presses, small and large, pursued their own struggling lives; and they would have borne the writers' own names and addresses, typed there by their own fingers. As I did in the 1980s, those writers must have thrown all such ephemera away. The latent philatelist in me would love to hold the envelopes that returned rejections to the late greats. What immense histories would be contained within those slender, emptied confines.

Who knew to what a degree matters would change? The stamped, self-addressed envelope still exists -- but in a time when so many small presses and even professional presses accept electronic submissions, their existence must be under threat.

In recent years I have been in the situation of still writing poetry but not, by and large, sending it out. One element playing into this is the rise of electronic submission. I find it hard to bring myself to commit that act. A part of my soul cries out, "What, no postage costs? Where is the expression of commitment? Where is the demonstration of determination? No wonder the world has gone to the wolves!"

Cheers ...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Creative Antiquities Dusted Off for Display

Thursday morning I read an e-mail from Fairwood Press's Patrick Swenson. He wondered if I had any thoughts about which of my various Talebones stories should go into the Best of Talebones collection he is editing.

A nice question to ponder.

Later, in the afternoon, I read a penned note from John Thiel, forwarded to me from Beloit. The Magazine of Speculative Poetry still uses the Post Office box I used for many years; and once in a rare aeon it receives mail for me, sent out of the misty pages of the past.

Thiel edited a small-press magazine named Pablo Lennis back in the 1980s -- an affair of wild, every-inch-used mimeography, as I recall it. I sent him a few poems. His note of yesterday reads, "We have your poem 'Dream-mare,' which I published in Pablo Lennis, up on the Net in Surprising Stories, found at"

To receive a note about a poem being published ... handwritten on a tiny slip of paper measuring only 3 by 4-3/4 inches ... takes me back to the 1980s. I was no Lyn Lifshin in those days ... (Lifshin published in every nook and cranny of the small press, and was remarkably good at producing short free verse, employing lines of only a few feet) ... yet all the same I sent out scads of verse of varying qualities. I felt the call to do so; I regarded it as my writerly duty to press my talents to the utmost, and to pursue opportunities in any mimeographed literary extravaganza that came along -- which included quite a lot of miscellaneous science fiction and horror-oriented zines, besides the general litzines. The scene was a lively one, helped along by Len Fulton at Small Press Review and Janet Fox at Scavenger's Newsletter, among others. Some poems I felt great confidence in; others I doubted.

I am unsure about "Dream-mare," right at the moment. My opinion must await my viewing the relevant pixels.

An interesting aspect is that I am being informed of publication after the fact. I am, I should say, glad to be informed at all. Since the prevailing attitude in electronic presses remains a bit free-wheeling, I applaud any instance of editorial courtesy. At least one earlier Internet publication of mine is a poem republished without notification: some litzine editors of a bygone decade had decided to perpetuate -- or to perpetrate -- their publication online. To find my poem republished in an Internet publication without my say-so displeased me to a degree less than, or equal to, the degree it pleased me. As an advocate of small-press effort, I do understand when a certain fluidity plays into matters of print and reprint rights ... or I do understand, at least, when it happens only on a rare Thursday. In the case of these poems, I feel it to be nice (or at least I hope it is nice) that they have a chance to rise out of their printed obscurity -- even if the method employed in their raising is that of submerging them into a second sort of obscurity.

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Arrangement of Ancient Thrones

A friend of ours, Bryan Thao Worra, who is a poet active around Minnesota's Twin Cities, wrote the other day asking how the new book was coming -- just out of curiosity. That there is to be another McFarland book from me is a matter of record; so it seems just as well to munder and wonder about it publicly, as privately. I tend not to talk about works in progress ... but I talk about wines in progress, yes? What harm ... so long as I am speaking of nuts and bolts -- of grapes and wire-bending pliers.

Bryan's question came about when the realization struck me that I had put aside all work on the book a week before the recent family visit, to have time to rearrange the house; and that I had failed to return the book to its somewhat central place in my life since then. The manuscript was supposedly due for delivery (for an already-deferred deadline) around the time of that visit; so I had obtained another extension, giving me a few months more. I will need them -- especially since these are heavy gardening-and-auctioning months.

My typewriters were stashed here and there: that was part of the problem. Finally this week I dedicated a few days to wrestling furniture around, rethinking my main workspace arrangement; and I brought back into the study necessary tools -- the books, the notebooks, the typewriters, even the typing paper.

Early in our time in Cashton, at an auction in a downpour, we paid a fair dollar for an old kitchen table that has crackled white paint on the underparts and a top of bare boards joined in the manner of narrow floorboards. This attractive, somewhat weatherbeaten piece has moved off our front porch and into active use, at last. Somehow its height -- a bit lower than most desks -- suits me: I am writing at it now ... sitting on a wonderful old glass-ball clawfoot organ stool that still has much of its original finish ... with spiral-bound notebook upon the bare boards, which are dark-cedar hue ... and in being here I feel utterly at home. A phrase comes to mind -- "A writing serf who feels like a king." Being surrounded by simple old things aids the flow of thoughts -- while the sterile products of our Age of the Masses global mega-industry tend to steer mental flows toward conformity and imitation.

The genuine creativity found in writings by some literary figures of past centuries flowed not only from their minds and heads. The writer's spirit is a spirit of exteriors as much as it is a spirit of interiors.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part VI

One bibulous evening last week, having been made curious about Wine 21 (from discovering that transition I had made in winemaking practices last year, between it and Wine 22), I opened a bottle. Martha and I had a glass apiece. The wine was a nicely amber-tinted yellow in color; clear; not sweet but not truly dry ... and having found it drinkable, we had a bit more ... upon which it entered my head that we really must compare it against Wine 22: for while it was quite drinkable we were not so won over that we wanted to go onward much further with that bottle. So I brought up a Wine 22.

Even within the bottle, this wine looked much clearer -- even though Wine 21 had seemed quite clear in the glass.

Decanted, the difference was heightened. In Wine 22, made with Montrachet yeast, the liquid was much more subtly colored, so that it had much less of the rich dandelion-petal color. Held up to the light alongside a glass of Wine 21, it had the look of a white wine, while Wine 21 had almost the look of lager beer. The flavor, in comparison, was also lighter: it was more sprightly in its resting on the tongue, and more delightful in the mind. To make sure how delightful it was, we had a bit more; and while it was more drinking than we needed to do, that evening, for the sake of knowledge and for the sake of clarifying our vinous vision we persevered in the exploratory sipping, so that we could assure ourselves that the rest of the bottle lived up to that first glass.

By this point we agreed upon wanting no more of the first bottle. The rest of Wine 21 sat in its pitcher until morning. I poured it, along with the bottle-dregs of Wine 22, over pieces of chicken in a covered glass dish. This being not quite enough liquid to cover the meat, I opened a bottle of onion wine -- it is our Walking Onion Wine -- to fill the dish to the brim.

The chicken sat in these wines all day -- delighted at its fate, no doubt.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday's Rhubarb Wine and Eggs: a Recipe

After you have had your potatoes cooking for a time in a covered cast-iron pan, open a bottle of rhubarb wine. Decant it carefully, and serve.

In a mixing bowl, put in four or more eggs. If yours are like the organic jumbos we have been obtaining recently, this will mean you will have anywhere from six to eight yolks. If your eggs are the small sort with but a single yolk, you might increase their number, for this recipe. Into your eggs throw the dregs of the rhubarb wine that remained in the bottle. Mix well.

When the potatoes are cooked, take cover off, that they might brown in the pan. Allow time for that, then oil a copper-bottom steel frying pan large enough for omelette-making. Add a bit of butter. When hot, pour in eggs; allow to cook at medium flame. When the eggs are solid across the pan surface, but not quite so at their upper surface, place a half-cup or so of chopped parmesan cheese atop half. Fold the eggs over. Continue cooking for long enough to set the table.

Enjoy, then, with the rest of the rhubarb wine.

Cheers ...

Sugar and Dry Wine

Our first efforts with store yeast may have succeeded as well as they did because of our desire to produce dry wine. I put in a quite low amount of sugar -- at least as compared to the average wine recipe. I used 1-1/2 pounds for the gallon-size fermenter. The yeast was adequate to the job; the results were tasty, clear, refreshing. They were quite citrusy, because I used more chopped lemons than I currently do, per gallon -- and because those wines stayed in the primary fermenter longer than my current ideal of perhaps seven to ten days. (In those first wines, in fact, the primary fermenter was the sole fermenter. This was part of the experiment in primitive wine-making techniques.)

As I understand it, dryness in a wine is not merely a measure of low sugar content. Those first wines we made were low in alcohol ... so while they were "dry" I suspect they were not dry.

Ideally, too, wine should have more body, or "mouth feel," than did those first dandelion wines we made.

Sugar levels have an obvious relation to the ending levels of alcohol -- and I suspect they play a part in that mouth feel, as well.

So the current direction I am taking in winemaking is to see to what degree I can increase the sugar while still keeping to the dry end of the spectrum. Last year's efforts, in which I was using around two pounds of sugar per gallon, seem closer to the ideal. They are dry without seeming too dry; they have a cleanness of taste; and they seem adequately stimulating, in the daemon-alcohol department. I remain curious about how far I can push the recipe -- although I plan to stay well away from the old-fashioned sweetnesss of three pounds to the gallon.

I should reiterate that our "gallon" is approximate -- given the nature of the vessels we use, given the absorbing of some liquid into the flowers ... and so forth.

Cheers ...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rediscovering Victorian Drinking

What motivated me to attempt the discovery, or rediscovery, of the winemaking techniques available to the pre-automotive farmers and householders of America?

Partly it must have been that very lack of Martha's and mine, of the necessary equipment for Age of Masses winemaking. I was simply making do -- while trying to think how early-Modern winemakers made do.

I was also curious about what it is that they drank. I have studied some of their lives ... but how did their kitchen wines taste? What was it that they served to one another, in their Sunday-afternoon circles of visiting and socializing? What did they sip, on a convivial evening?

Another aspect to the situation is the almost inescapable presence of sulfite additions to the commercially produced wines being sold here in our Age of the Masses times. Did sulfites come into use as stoneware jugs fell out of use? (I would guess not, since books such as Bravery's will include mention of both Camden tablets and jugs that were presumably stoneware.) Whenever the transition did happen, sulfiting became an industry standard, and, perhaps soon thereafter, a household and farm standard.

Sulfiting seems to have made possible the mass-shipping of cheap wine around the globe -- as anyone knows who, like Martha, reacts in the lungs to their presence. Cheap imported wines bring on a worse bronchial reaction than do domestic ones. The sad aspect of the situation is that sections of organic wine, such as found even in our local-boosting Viroqua Food Co-op, are dominated by foreign wines.

We have come to dismiss cheap and inexpensive import wines out of hand. The mega-production that makes the prices possible seems to lean heavily on sulfiting practices that compromise one's chances of enjoying the wine.

What is the use of wasting those fewer dollars per bottle, when you might be fruitfully spending a few more dollars for a better experience?

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

April 2010 Flowers with 2009 Wine

Here's a picture I took in late April after we picked flowers one afternoon. The Old Style pitcher is full of Wine 22, started in early May last year. Decanting the wine carefully is our usual practice, to minimize stirring up the lees.

Cheers ...

Notes on Sugar and Lemons

Sugar: Last year at various times I used organic sugar, organic maple sugar, commercial sugar, and honey. No longer being in a place like Stevens Point where the co-op was a few minutes' walk from our house, and being here where the co-op is fifteen miles off ... and where the organic sugar at the grocery stores is in pricey small packages ... I have resorted to grocery store, standard-grade sugar fairly often. (If I use gasoline to make a special trip to buy sugar at the co-op in Viroqua, I figure the special trip negates the positive qualities and impact of using organic sugar.)

My order of preferences is, in any case, organic sugar, cane or beet; cane sugar; beet sugar. The ordering reflects worries about the increasing possibility of GMO beet-growing. Using much organic maple sugar is not too much an option, given the price. I am undecided about honey -- but would like to experiment with it more.

This year, my cash flow may be such that I can invest in a large bag of organic sugar, which would eliminate further use of standard-grade.

If you follow the just-posted recipe for Wine 61, you might start at 4 lbs. sugar, which is closer to the sugaring level we used last year. I will note in another entry reasons for trying more sugar this time.

Lemons: On co-op trips I buy organic lemons by the bag. (I also sometimes use oranges or other citrus fruit in wines.) I chop them whole -- so the peel is definitely part of the mix.

Use of whole lemons is a Victorian element. While out of necessity I have used some standard citrus in wines, whenever feasible I use organic citrus. Five lemons in this batch is perhaps low; so in batches use more rather than less.

Cheers ...

Wine 61 Dandelion Wine Recipe

1-3/4 lb., or about two gallon bowls, dandelion flowers, with calyxes mostly removed;
2 gallons-plus of water, boiled;
5 lbs. sugar;
5 lemons, organic, chopped;
Montrachet yeast (only partial packet);
1 year's worth of patience.

Martha did all the picking on this batch. While I use a jackknife, she uses small clippers for cutting off the lower green cup, or calyx, of the flower. The tops of the green sepals remain. (Leaving the calyxes on is an option, adding a bit more bitter quality to the end-taste.)

I boiled the water a few minutes, then poured over the flowers. Covered; let sit.

The next day, I sterilized a three-gallon Red Wing stoneware crock. Poured in sugar. Sterilized large sieve; through it, poured dandelion water. Chopped the lemons -- not too finely. Threw them in. Sprinkled yeast. I used an enamelware lid large enough to fit this mid-sized crock.

This batch I plan to leave in the crock, stirring once daily, until the fizzing activity is noticeably diminished -- which may take only a week. I'll move the batch into secondary -- which may end up being two one-gallon jugs, unless I decide to combine it with another dandelion wine batch to go into the three-gallon secondary glass fermenter (assuming it to be available at that time).

The batch will remain in secondary for a month or two or more; then will be in bottles until next spring.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part V (Yeasts)

A former bandmate of ours, electric-bass player Mark Marti, reports that he is engaged in dandelion-farming -- an admirable place to begin to exercise one's agricultural predilections. This has made him curious about appropriate yeast for relevant happiness-inducing activity, and about recipes. More about recipes later.

Last year I made the transition away from my early experiments, and adopted more contemporary practices in winemaking. The main transition seems to have fallen, by accident, between the two dandelion wine batches of last year, which were Wine 21 and Wine 22. The former, No. 21, was my last "Victorian" wine. I had spent the previous year exploring the question: How did the 19th century farmers and householders make wine? Plainly they did make wine; and likely they did so with plain methods, using materials easily at hand. Early recipes call for "yeast" (except for those recipes that rely on airborne or fruitborne yeasts, and that therefor mention no such thing) -- and plain-old yeast was available at the grocery or general store as prepared by Red Star or other commercial outfits. (One old hardware organizer, or index, that I have in the tool room is made of a wooden box, with drawers inserted that were fashioned from Red Star yeast tins.)

Farmer and household winemakers likely used store-bought yeast cakes. Me ... I took what was at hand, as they did -- which meant I used dry yeast.

The flaw in this quasi-historical reconstruction is that brewing yeasts were likely available in the latter 1800s. My thought, however, was that it was not as readily available -- a situation that remains the case today; and so my question continued to be the same. Was making such a wine doable? And if doable, was it palatable? In all cases the first answer is Yes. In some cases, the second answer is Yes. Store yeast produces an acceptable wine without an undesirable yeasty flavor in the spring wines -- the flower wines, the rhubarb wines. Once you move later into the season, and into fruit winemaking, the situation gets shakier. I am inclined to think it is because the spring wines rely heavily upon added sugar, honey, whathaveyou, to feed the yeast -- whereas the summer wines contain some or all natural fruit sugars. Store yeast may be insufficiently robust to deal with fruit, making it less able to compete against and overwhelm the efforts of natural plantborne and airborne yeasts.

What also seems the case is that grocery-store yeast has less tolerance for an alcoholic environment -- so that it gives up the job before the job is done. In the fruit wines, this results in slightly too-sweet wines -- which fall outside the class of palatable drinking, to our tastes.

The vigor of contemporary wine yeasts is unquestionable. Two or three days after the start of this year's first two dandelion wines, I gave them their morning stirrings with a wooden spoon, causing the batches to release zillions of tiny carbon-dioxide bubbles. They set off a loud fizzing. Even after I had put the covers back on the crocks and walked across the room I distinctly heard the bubbles.

In Wine 21, in any case, I used store yeast. In Wine 22 I used Montrachet yeast -- I believe we had just received our first order of "real" winemaking supplies. Montrachet seems to be a dependable, somewhat all-purpose wine yeast, quite suitable for flower wines. Our friend Terry Garey, a Minneapolis poet and winemaker, in her recipes often calls for Montrachet, as I recall.

I have been planning to try a batch or two with a different yeast. It may yet happen this spring. So far, however, all our dandelion wines have put Montrachet yeast to work at producing the daemon alcohol.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part IV

Speaking of organization and reorganization: ... how can you organize your life, if you have no clutter? The one requires the other. It strikes me that the more clutter you have, the greater is your potential for leading a life of organization. Therefore, to make your life simpler through organization, clutter it, first.

I recommend auctions. We re-clutter our lives on a regular basis by that means.

Wine-making offers an example of this principle. To make wine you need a certain amount of equipment. In our case, we pick up vessels and bits of equipment in a piecemeal manner, often counting on chance opportunities to arise at garage sales and auctions. As a result, our winemaking has happened amidst a burgeoning chaos, requiring odds and ends of this and that, scattered here and there through the house.

Gradually as we picked up more equipment (clutter) and know-how (mental clutter) we managed to better use our space and our hours (organization). Organization is impossible without clutter.

I am not saying we have reached an optimal situation. The optimal situation would call for more clutter than we have accumulated, as of yet.

Cheers ...

Dandelion Wine, Part III

While it seems strange in retrospect to have made only two batches of dandelion wine last year, this year having found ourselves thrust into the thick of spring activities makes it easy to know why: garden-plot digging and widening, garden-plot weeding, lawn-mowing, seed-planting ...

If dandelions would only flower more conveniently at mid-winter, we would make more of the stuff.

A greenhouse for dandelions ... not a completely irrational idea.

Retrospective accomplishments often seem sparse. Take my writing record: last year my record of publications will always look sparse, in large part because of the twenty-ton monolithic slab of C.M. Kornbluth biography that planted itself there. Comparable to the meagerness of our dandelion-wine production is the slimness of my poetry-publication record last year ... or of my short-fiction publication record ... victims of the ever-more-complex pie-cutting of my active hours ...

And how will this year look? -- especially after adding one more reason for enlarging the daily pie, to make room for this public journalizing, AKA bloggerie? ("Blog, blog, blog," Martha said to Lorna this morning while I was sitting in the parlor with pencil and notebook in hand. "It's a Blog eat Blog world.") ... but will this year look even more sparse than last?

The method behind the madness of making huge pies of one's life is Organization -- and constant Reorganization. I keep hoping the reorganizing aspect will diminish with time -- although such aspects of the situation as having no guest rooms except my workspace may guarantee forced reorganizations for years to come.

It seems promising, though, that in the course of the present weeks of house-and-life reorganizations, we have started three batches of dandelion wine, which are fermenting away in two two-gallon and one three-gallon crocks.

Cheers ...

Friday, April 30, 2010

In Spades

As with anything else, the work of the garden comes with bright moments and none-so-bright ones. This morning -- blustery, overcast, heavy with storm-premonitory humidity -- I was spading up some sod, removing it to make a place for planting peas; and I was thinking how gardening implements of iron and steel must have served so often in history as weapons -- so sharp are they, so sturdy, having been fashioned for rough work in the soil. My mind went back to a watercolor I painted back in the early 1980s of some Markrichian characters who were farmers taking up their implements of agriculture for reason of war.

It had to fall after such a meditation that, at last, I did what I long have feared to do, while gardening -- which is to do in one of our most favored garden denizens, genus Bufo. What a moment of horrified realization followed the act. The spade I was using, in common with most of our garden tools, is venerable ... and it has a name upon it, a somewhat suggestive one: "Razor-Lite." The manufacturer was Union Fork & Hoe Company.

I will atone for this inadvertent violence ... although I can hope I have served enough time in anuran habitat support, and in tadpole-raising activities, still to be viewed with sedate impartiality by the Great Toad in the sky -- or in the earth. Yet the idea of raising tadpoles again is far from distasteful: so I might as well engage in that atonement.

Later in the morning I was using another old implement, a cultivator, in removing some violets from beside the asparagus bed, and broke the handle where it fits within the cultivator head. The fix will take some doing. it being so fine a tool, the fix will be worth doing, though.

Near the Hansen's cherry bushes, I saw I had set my white coffee mug on an overturned galvanized tub. To my pleasure I saw it still held cold coffee -- with a tiny cherry blossom petal floating it:

Speck of white upon pool of black within white.

Visually delightful. And delicious.

Cheers ...

Dandelion Wine, Part II

I was staring across a wide, long lawn in Tomah yesterday, thinking that the purpose of a lawn is to provide ample, open space for the raising of dandelions.

The joy stirred in the mind by the eye's taking-in of dandelion floral radiant sunniness, especially when framed by springly green grass blades, is to be surpassed only by the joy prompted by the sight of concentrated yellowness of harvested flowers filling a bowl.

A different portent hides behind the latter vision, of course.

Last year I was dilatory and negligent about making dandelion wine: it must have been a hectic spring. Or I made it that way. I had freshly finished the C.M. Kornbluth biography; and everything else in my life that I had been neglecting and sacrificing for the sake of the book's completion I had now to attend to. So only two batches of dandelion wine ended up making their way into crocks -- and they did so belatedly, too: for those two were our Wine 21 and Wine 22, made in the first and second weeks of May.

Afterwards, I was a bit late in moving them into secondaries. Yet what we have tasted thus far of Wine 22 -- it was a two-gallon batch -- reassures me that the promptness that eluded me last spring did not result in satisfactory wine-making eluding me, as well.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Scottiedogs Assist Antique Restorers

Lorna, our Scottiedog, has a collection of various and sundry stuffed animals -- some of which she has bought at auction. (She recently obtained, for a quarter bid, two large boxes of stuffies. Her budget is not a huge one; so she is careful with her bidding.)

She is fond of many animals, in stuffy form. Rabbits rank among her favorites; and it is in her treatment of those rabbits that Lorna proves helpful to the antique restorer -- for her habit is to tear an ear off a stuffed rabbit. Not usually both of them, for some reason.

A stuffed rabbit ear, I have discovered, makes a wonderful cloth pad for administering oil to old, dry wood -- especially rough-surfaced wood. I recently have bought a number of wooden crates that are interesting for their advertising: Schlitz Beer of Milwaukee, Atlas Beer of Chicago, Canada Dry from a Madison bottling company, and American Soda Water Company of Milwaukee. As you may know, crates are often indelicately finished.

Stuffed rabbit ears are made of fuzzy-tufted artificial-fiber stuff, stitched around the edges in a double layer -- so that they are perfect for dealing with wood that might send splinters through your average oiling cloth, or that might tear apart your piece of lamb's wool.

So I was happily using a Scottiedog-removed stuffed rabbit's ear while oiling those old crates, yesterday. And of course now I nurse an ambition to buy every stuffed rabbit I find at garage sales this summer.

Cheers ...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Days of Bottling

Two batches of beer received attention they were supposed to have had a week ago -- at last, on Saturday night. One batch went into secondary; the other, into bottles. Martha's first attempt at a peat-smoked porter seems especially promising -- maybe I should say wildly promising. It makes a fine draught beer just as it is. The peat-smoked flavor comes through nicely; the mouth-feel is smooth. The batch was small, resulting in just over a case of bottles, now being basemented for a month.

Martha kept her bottle-sterilizing energies going into Sunday, which gave me all the goading I needed to catch up on more wine-bottling that afternoon. Some of the wines coming out of secondaries seem doubtful -- especially the apple-berry. I have the feeling apple wines will prove challenging to master. Others of the new wines seem more promising. Martha thinks Wine 40, a dry Cherry, may turn out quite fine, by Fall -- while I am less hopeful about the flavor. Wine 42, also a dry Cherry, however, gives me greater hopes. The Elderberry wine flavor was quite nice, at this stage -- but maybe too woodish? Too weak in alcohol? The Black Currant wine, though ... great stuff even now, to judge from our few sips.

We made a few blends with the left-overs from bottling -- with the single bottle combining red and black currant wines at about half-and-half proportions being the one we will likely be most curious about, come Fall.

Cheers ...


What great chaos results from tidying up a house for visitors. I just wasted an hour or two fruitlessly looking for items I thought were safely accessible ... one of which I need to find today ... frustrating!

A bit of progress did occur during the visit, even though elder sibling's stated goal for the visit was to see more of Wisconsin -- which kept our familial rear ends planted in car seats. One morning, though, he and I began weeding the backyard area around the established hop vines. I finished the job this weekend, and made my final decisions on placement of the new ones.

I moved and re-wired my trellis for our pair of Willamettes, which are starting into their second year. Opting to keep the new hops nearby, at five-foot distances I planted the Mt. Hood and Cascade, and, in a corner, the two Sterling rhizomes. We may end up a bit overwhelmed with cones, this fall -- which prospect fails to alarm me.

One decision I had to make was whether to raise more trellises. I finally opted on the tall-pole method of growing, for the new vines ... which means that next year, or maybe even this one, I will be toying with different pole-anchoring methods. Right now I am imagining tall steel posts, with wooden poles strapped onto them.

The poor hops rhizomes had to spend far too long in the refrigerator awaiting their planting, due to the hectic nature of these past few weeks -- but seem none the worse for it.

Cheers ...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part V

At an auction today, to the north of here, I was just starting to examine a trio of large crocks when a fellow walked up and said, "Are they all right?"

I said that I thought so, and of course right at that moment detected a hairline crack in the one I was then examining.

"Know how to tell if they're good?" said this expert. "You rap them with your knuckles. They sound different if they're cracked." He rapped on the crock in front of him. It gave off a low, hollow tone. "This one's good. Rap on that one."

I gamely rapped on the one in which I had found the hairline. It had a higher, hollow tone.

"See?" he said, and walked off.

The crock in front of me was smaller, however: so of course it had a higher, hollow tone. The third crock had yet a different hollow tone -- being yet a different hollow shape.

I resumed my examination, using my inexpert means, and found hairlines in all three.

I left before the auction proceedings reached that building, so can only wonder whether the expert bought the "good" one.

I thought they all sounded good: the three crocks, and the expert. All four were cracked, though.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Where To Read Rich's Life of Kornbluth

The aforementioned Dutcher is a librarian -- a not-uncommon occupation among those who feel the writing urge, as he does; and as a librarian Roger knows where other librarians have hidden all their library-related numbers. The other day he grew curious about how many libraries have added C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary to their shelves. He came up with the number of fifty-eight -- a number to be remembered, as Martha just noted to me, for being the year of Kornbluth's death and also, it happens, of my birth. The year fifty-eight of last century, that is.

Roger also notes that most of the fifty-eight are academic libraries -- all but two of them, in fact. This is to be expected, even though I wrote the book with the aim of making it interesting to the reader ... the reader as an all-encompassing type, and not just the academic reader.

Thanks to Roger for the revealing of librarianesquerie.

Cheers ...

Martha's Violet & Sweet Woodruff Bitters (2009)

1 tbsp organic maple syrup
1 cup loosely packed violet flowers, assorted colors
about 1-1/2 tsp dried woodruff
Taaka Vodka -- to fill the jar ...

And the jar was an 8 oz. honey jar -- the sort that is sold as containing a pound of honey. (This should clarify notes earlier here, about small honey jars and one-pound jars.) (And Martha has the memory, now, that the flowers may have been all white.)

Once you combine the ingredients in these magical proportions, you let it sit in a dark, easily-forgotten-about corner for X amount of time, with X being a variable existing in a mathematical relationship to P -- your patience, of whatever sort your patience is. If you are like me, P is not a constant.

I would suggest setting your X at four weeks, perhaps allowing your P to shorten that to fewer weeks -- or to lengthen it to several months.

I offer this elaborate and complicated bitters recipe to satisfy the bitters-making ambition newly a-borning in Roger Dutcher, esteemed editor of The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. He has violets and woodruff growing in his garden and hopes to render them subservient to the after-dinner table.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Earning in the negative amounts seems ridiculous; yet on paper that is what I managed to do last year -- by great amounts (with "great" referring more to my scale of living than yours; I doubt it would seem great to you). The goal of the free lance writer is to earn enough in a year to need to pay taxes -- and, with any luck, to earn enough in the following year to pay those taxes.

If you have grown up on stories of writers who make two dollars their first year of writing, two hundred in their second, and then two zillion in every year afterward, it may seem a bit ridiculous, too, that a writer may still, later in life, be falling well short of the simple goal of earning enough to pay taxes -- i.e., to live on.

The story of free lance writers has been more of the struggle-to-ge-along nature than otherwise. That the ones earning living wages win not only the money but attention, too, is natural. What the public fails to hear about is the quietness of the news of all those years for all those writers when the wells are a bit dry.

Not speaking of the creative wells, of course.

And the irony is that those years are taxing that go Federally untaxed.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Currant Blossoms

This past week the currants bloomed, tempting the bumblebees out of hiding to hover among the stems and leaves. To imagine how the black currant blooms look, before opening ... think of wooden spinning-tops hanging in small clusters, with their tips downward. The stems are slender, and light green. The upper parts of the buds are rounded, and the same color. The lower tips are lavender.

Even when those lavender points open slightly to invite the fuzzy pollinators, the floral display is so tiny and non-eye-catching that it is hard to think of an immense bumblebee taking much interest.

On the other hand, we have been taking interest. The bud and flower clusters are lovely, in a quiet and reserved way.

We were struck during these past two weeks how the new-green leaves of the red currant, as they unfold and develop from the buds, are tinted toward their middles with a slight ruddiness. The black currant leaves are the ones in which we might have expected to have seen such tinting; but they are a bright, light green, exactly the "spring green" we kindergarten-raised children of this Western empire were trained to know by our wax crayon labels. Why do the black currants -- so full of odor and flavor in the leaves, with berries so dark of color and so resiny of flavor -- have these plainer-colored leaves, when they are new on the canes? They are brighter, more vibrant ... fresh-looking, springy, uncomplicated.

Martha and I were hoping to be starting new black currant bushes, as time and opportunity allowed. Not until we noted this difference in the leaves, though, did we realize that the volunteer currants growing in our lower-yard carrot-and-beans patch of last year were not red currants. Wild red currants were growing beneath some trees only a few dozen feet away -- so this was a reasonable expectation.

All of these volunteers have the bright, fresh-looking, eye-catching leaves of the black currant. We have a small nursery of them, now, together with a few starting-out gooseberries, below one of our original strawberry beds.

Cheers ...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unseasonable Seasons

I commented to Martha that it is only April and we may already have had more hot weather than we did all last summer.

Last summer was a time of cools and wets and sloshes and overcast drearies ... and of course it was a year when we were crazily growing great jungles of tomato vines.

Our vines, typical in their preference for a bit of balmy heat and a lot of summery highs, banded together and handed us a petition demanding that somewhere in the mix of springlike and autumnal days we slip in a few hours, here and there, of torrid summer. Recalcitrantly, we refused. The last thing you want to do, as a gardener, is to give in to your tomato plants. True, I had nurtured hopes of advancing further into the mysteries of tomato wines, that year ... but you must stand by your principles. Just to show them who were the gardeners -- and who, the gardened -- we reserved the balmiest days of year 2009 for the period after the first frosts -- and then laughed with hectic glee that we had not bothered to protect a one of them, but had let them all slump over, frost-slaughtered to the very last pathetic one, by those first few freezes.

Of course, we had been rendered insane by that time -- by a lack of tomatoes ... a mental disturbance common among gardeners living through a summer of overcast drearies. But how were we to know that, at the time?

Cheers ...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Larval Thoughts

Yesterday morning while digging in the garden I turned up a little, smooth, brown pupa of a moth. I reburied it and went on digging.

Which prompted the thought that I have a bit of a double standard, when it comes to Miller Moths ... sort of a catch-all name, I suppose, for the cutworm-type nondescript gray moths of cultivated areas everywhere.

If I see one of these moths, I watch it for a moment with curiosity before going my merry way. For I like moths.

If I dig up one of the pupae, I rebury it. For same reason.

If, however, I dig up a cutworm in the dirt ...

Last year the robins grew so accustomed to us that we could feed them. Martha discovered this: for if she dug up a lovely little grub, she could toss it toward her current pet robin, which would then hop forward and pluck up the morsel. It was probably one of her pets, too, that soon accepted grubbed-up grubs from me.

And this means that Martha, too, has this double standard -- in this case with regard to May beetles or June bugs. Whatever you want to call them, we are fond of them.

The grass-root-eating grubs she was feeding the robins were undoubtedly June bug children -- alas.

Well, I do the same. That morning, besides the pupa, I unearthed an adult June bug .. or April bug.

I smiled benignly upon it and reburied it.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy U.S. Tax Day

A happy U.S. Tax Day, to one and all. We scatter historical New Year's Days across the calendar, disguising many of them as something else; and of these holidays U.S. Tax Day must be among the last, being scheduled somewhat with the arrival of Spring. This past year, for me, of course, I knew all along that the Fisher King was dead -- to mix my mythologies of Celtic Britain and U.S. Government -- and so of course I look forward to the rejuvenation implicit in the arrival of this festive day.

I will be celebrating Tax Day by further house cleaning -- a traditional way of celebrating Spring -- and perhaps by planting hops, which in name are so perilously close to hopes that I am immediately inclined to favor the theory (hereby introduced to the world) that hopes are, indeed, the best bittering agents to add to the yeasted malt of life.

I was pacing around our small gardens, this morning, weighing the possibilities for where those new hopes should go. These viny plants like ample sun -- what hopes do not? And they need a considerable amount of upwards space to grow into -- ditto. As with our existing two vines, I may resort to a trellis system ... for what hopes will grow properly if left unsupported? Etc.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

... And on to Bitters

Speaker of bitter, as in beer-type beverage, we made a number of the similar-sounding but unrelated bitters two years ago and also last year ... then fell out of the habit. Last night I shook the last couple drops of a bitters into a drink. This bitters' identifying number had come off: but I believe it was Liqueur/Bitters No. 6. (For some reason we started numbering our liqueurs and bitters in the same list; so we have kept up the practice.) This bitters' recipe, from September, 2008, is simple. From our notebook: "Wormwood (Vodka) jam jar. Two pinches wormwood, 1/4 tsp. maple sugar. Phillips vodka, not quite to fill." How big was the jam jar? I failed to note. A half-pint?

We have plenty of Liqueur/Bitters No. 7 left -- "Violet and Sweet Woodruff (1 lb. jar) -- which Martha made last May. We have plenty, in part, because she finds it too overpowering in drinks unless added in the smallest amounts. Sweet woodruff, which grows in our front yard, has a powerful flavor. I myself like this bitters, in the smallest amounts, in a mug of hot water.

Feeling the bitters pinch (we have all kinds of liqueurs, apparently) I started a new one last night, in a small honey jar -- the capacity of which I just measured: it seems to hold 5/8 pint. This is Juniper-Elderberry Bitters. The recipe: 1 tsp. maple syrup, about 1/5 oz. dried juniper berries, 1 sprig of quite dried-up elderberries, five leaves of dried sweetfern, 1 pinch dried wormwood -- and then Smirnoff to fill the jar. Thank you, John Hilden, for the Smirnoff.

The juniper berries have a literary background: for I picked them when we were visiting a delightful little park well to the north of here which celebrates the life of the author of Caddie Woodlawn. Maybe I will go back and change the bitters' name ...

Cheers ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bottling Bitter IV

I should note that neither of the two checks that rescued me from financial despondency (note the usage) had anything to do with the Kornbluth biography. McFarland, being an academic press, is not the normal home for the freelance writer -- for it pays on the basis of sales, only. It pays royalties, without offering an advance on those royalties. I knew this when I put myself into the situation -- and a bit crazily I still relish having done something that is extraordinarily foolish to do as a freelance. From the time I started matters rolling with McFarland, in 2008 at Denvention, to the time when the first few pennies of royalties start rolling, will be a period of two years, or perhaps slightly more.

Had I an income of any sort, this would not seem so long a time -- which is why mostly academics write for McFarland. They can afford to do so.

Much of my life as a writer I have pursued by going down the probably-wrong path -- sometimes because that probably-wrong path has been the one that has looked most open to progress.

Let others take the obvious road, say I.

(In a similar way to the situation noted above, many academics are successful writers -- because they can afford to write.)

In any case, now that some ink drawings and a toy-collecting-research job have helped reopen the financial bottle, I seem finally to have enough mental wherewithal to contemplate realistically the promotion of this unprofitable book. Jacob Weisman at Tachyon Publications told me it was almost essential that I attend the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, in March -- for it has exactly the right academically-oriented attending membership ... and of course ICFA came and went, a few weeks ago: the opportunity fell victim to the financial Charybdis even if I did not. Similarly it seems to be the authorially responsible thing to do, to make the Madison convention, Odysseycon, this upcoming weekend, my first foray into book-pushing authorial appearances: it is local; it is relative inexpensive ... but when membership rates were cheaper, I was unable to make the commitment; and now a family visit is impending -- which means I cannot spend two or three solid days away from home (and from the massive home-reorganizing involved in preparation).

The positive aspect of this is that any such promotional activity gradually gets pushed later in the year ... when perhaps a few more people will know ahead-of-time that the book exists.

I have had several dreams in recent weeks, by the way, in which I was explaining to others why I had made no promotional appearances for C.M. Kornbluth. (See the exciting dreams had by authors?)

On the other hand, this morning I had a detailed dream about being employed by the local vineyard. As detailed as it was, though, I cannot remember if I fretted about how I was ever going to finish my next, unfinished, well-overdue book for McFarland ...

Cheers ...