Saturday, January 24, 2009

Words I'm Writing: First Lines

From time to time, the beginnings of a book pop into my head. Here's another one.
I ran into Alise's mother in the supermarket. She was cradling a carton of eggs in one hand. She had lifted the lid and was peering inside, checking for broken shells as she walked through the produce section. I had been looking at apples.
I hadn't seen Alise's mother in three decades, but I knew who she was. I could see her daughter in her--the same mass of wavy (now-silver) hair, the same slightly rounded tip to her nose, the same compact yet generously proportioned figure. I walked over to her, almost walking into her. I blurted something. What I think I said was "I hope Alise understands my silence--that my silence is not indifference--that it's because I feel so strongly. It's because...." 
I wanted to say more, but I couldn't.
It was a most natural thing to have said--or so it seemed to me. Still, it was incomplete and therefore vulnerable to misunderstanding yet again; it was one small link in a chain of thoughts that had been running through my head for months, never with any opportunity of expression. I imagine it came as something of a bolt from the blue to Alise's mother. She could not possibly have known who I was or what I was talking about.
I left the store quickly. I was halfway to my car when I realized I had walked out with an apple clenched in one hand. It had a small round sticker on it with the name of the apple variety. The sticker read "Pearl." I got into my car. I set the apple on the passenger seat and drove home. I next remember sitting at the living room table holding the apple again. I had no idea what to do with it. I couldn't take it back to the store. I couldn't throw it away. I wanted desperately to eat it, but I couldn't do that either. It was not mine to eat. I walked out into the garage, apple in hand. After some thought, I finally dropped it quietly into a box of old letters from Alise, hoping it might keep there, dormant, incorruptible.
Where to go from there? Nowhere.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tidbits: Juggling

I'm trying to remember how to juggle: The mandarin oranges are suffering terribly.

Birds I'm Watching: Yellow-rumped Warbler

Saw a yellow-rumped warbler in the garden today, puffing up his feathers to keep warm in the rain. This is the only type of warbler I've ever seen in the yard. The last time I recorded one was five years ago to the day--January 23, 2004. A very showy, if nervous bird. There was a lot of activity generally today.

Lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches were eating rosemary seeds and appeared to be taking nectar from the flowers by pinching them off at the base and sucking. Sparrows--I couldn't decide what kind of sparrows--and house finches (including a pair of the orange variant) were plucking seeds from the coral bark maple. All the birds were stealing manzanita blossoms and presumably getting nectar from them, but they were giving as much attention to the fallen blossoms as they were to those on the tree (Arctostaphylos densiflora "Sentinel"), and--somewhat annoyingly--the same birds were plucking unopened buds from the pink flowering plum tree (Prunus bleiriana) on the other side of the yard. There were quite a few seagulls flying around as well--which usually is a reliable predictor of bad weather around here (they move in from the coast, to the west). It has rained most of the day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Miscellaneous: Amusing Web Site

Ran across an interesting Web site this morning, the Idée Labs site. It has tools that showcase technologies that match images by their "alikeness." One section allows you to choose from a color palate. Your color selections are then used to call up a random selection of images from Flickr or a stock photo database that use the colors you've selected. Feeling blue? Choose blues. In the pink? Choose pinks. Give it a try. Above are the first fifty photos selected for me using a suite of pinks and yellows I chose.

Plants I'm Growing: Iberis (Candytuft) and Aloes

Iberis, or candytuft, started blooming today. I've come to really like this plant. It stays a deep, vibrant green throughout our hot, dry summers and blooms in the middle of winter, while most everything else is dormant. 

Two of the three aloes I recently added to the garden as supposedly frost-tolerant species have more or less succumbed to the cold snap of a week or two ago. All the leaf tips of Aloe mudenensis have turned brown and shriveled (the plant may survive), and Aloe distans has gone pale and mushy. So far, A. pratensis is holding its own. Assuming it survives unscathed, it will swell the ranks of the aloes that I know can be grow unprotected outdoors in the 95405 zip code area. The stalwarts are (roughly in order of hardiness) A. striatula, A. aristata, A. buhriiA. nobilis,  A. brevifolia, and A. polyphylla, probably all native to high-altitude habitats in South Africa. A. buhrii, has done especially well (see photo). Two or three other species survive with protection, but I like to let the climate choose the plants; if it can't survive without coddling, I let it go and try something else. I do my best to avoid plants with no hope of survival. I have a shipment of a few other new Aloe species on the way. Stay tuned.... 

Finally, some real rain today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wines I'm drinking: Carménère (Follow-up)

I recently wrote in these pages about three Carménère wines I tasted with friends (you may want to start with that post). The tasting fueled my curiosity. I quickly located another five 100% Carménère wines from Chile at Beverages and More. Tasting notes follow. My post of January 4 (linked above) gives some background information about this intriguing grape.

2007 Natura Valle Colchagua Carménère 
Very, very deep blackish red. Darkest of the five wines. Strongly scented. Attractive right off the bat. Citrus scents, leather, roasted meat, graphite. Not much overt fruit, but a hint of raspberry with a little time. Later seemed more like black raspberries and a little oak became apparent. Crisp and fresh on the palate. Rich, good body, good acid as well, and has quite a long finish for a wine in this price range. Nice chewy, grainy tannins on the finish. With some air, gained an interesting, slightly raisiny flavor. Gained a nice core of restrained fruit. Very tasty. The best of the five wines in my view. (Beverages and More, $9.99, $6.99 with members discount card)

2007 Cono Sur Valle Colchagua Carménère 
Medium-deep blackish purple. A bit thin at the edge. Floral, perfumed scents. Lily-like scent. Roasted meat. Something reminiscent of a wool rug (reminded me of my days selling oriental carpets). Rather closed on the palate. A bit nondescript. No obvious faults, but very closed still. On the tart side--probably good with rich meat dishes. Grainy, gritty tannins on the finish. With a little time, the wine opened up to reveal citrus scents. Slowly gained in length and body, but still quite closed. Needs time. I tasted all five wines again the following day. This was still tight, but really not bad at all. Will be quite drinkable with a little patience. Probably my second choice among the five--but see the notes on the Explorador wine. (Beverages and More, $8.99, $6.99 with members discount card)

2005 La Playa Valle Colchagua Block Selection Estate Reserve Carménère
Similar in color to the above wine. Very different on the nose, though. Scents of passion fruit, vanilla, and perhaps lime. Meaty scents as well. A bit flat at first on the palate. Not a lot of fruit. Fine, grainy tannins again. Fairly short, but comes back with a certain lingering spiciness at the back of the tongue. The initial impression it left was rather austere. This wine developed a nice chocolatey scent and more apparent acidity on the palate with time, but remained rather unchanged even the following day. (Beverages and More, $8.99, $7.99 with members discount card)

2006 Casillero del Diablo Rapel Valley Carménère
Very deep purplish black, but not quite as deeply colored as the Natura wine. A hint of mint and the scent of wool rugs again. Later meaty scents and something floral that I couldn't pin down. Vanilla scents. Oak. Light-bodied, but balanced on the palate. Pleasant fruit, bright acidity, light tannins. Moderate length. Attractive subtle sweetness on the finish. Not a lot of up-front fruit, but more immediately approachable than either the Cono Sur or La Playa wines. Later strong scent of leather and oak scents more pronounced. Light, but tasty in a delicate, easy sort of way. Still later the oak scents seemed even more pronounced and I began to detect a hint of lime. Overall impression is of light-weightedness. I have also tasted the 2007 version of this which had more character--reminiscent of boysenberries, milk chocolate, and roses. The 2007 had better fruit as well, with a smooth chocolatey finish. (Beverages and More, $7.99, $5.99 with members discount card)

2007 Explorador Central Valley Carménère 
Medium-deep purple. Rather closed nose but with a little mint and citrus. Smelled noticeably alcoholic, which made it seem a trifle out of balance, but, at 13.5%, this wasn't the strongest of the five wines (the Natura is 14%, the Casillero del Diablo 13.8%, although label values have to be taken with a grain of salt. I think the label percentage only has to be within 1.5 points of the actual alcohol level. Wine producers use that latitude for a variety of reasons). Light and grapey on the palate. Not a lot of tannin. Seemed fairly short, but with nice suggestions of raisins on the finish. Also a slight, attractive bitterness that reminded me of Valpolicella. Had what seemed a masked core of fruit likely to come forward with time. This wine had changed more than any of the others on the following day. I kept coming back to this one. With air, it gained a balanced sweet fruitiness on the palate that was very attractive. I liked this about as well as the Cono Sur wine. I would buy it again.  (Beverages and More, $7.99, $6.99 with members discount card)

Having recently tasted these five wines, the 2007 Casillero del Diablo wine, the three wines of the earlier tasting and the Carménère rosé mentioned in my January 4 post, I can say that Carménère is capable of good things at very attractive prices. The wines all seemed to be marked by distinctly meaty, leathery scents. The other characteristic they shared was finely-grained, almost gritty tannins on the finish. Wines to explore further.  

Words I'm writing: Haiku

Scent of wet asphalt
Brings back Ohio summer heat
Raindrops on the drive

Plants I'm growing: Prunus mume (Japanese flowering plum)

The first bud on our Japanese flowering plum opened today, on an overcast morning promising rain. I hope it pours. 

The cherry blossom gets all the attention as a blossom for viewing, but I've always preferred the plum for its wonderfully spicy scent, its compactness, its reserve. The flowering cherry seems a bit vulgar by comparison. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Miscellaneous: President Obama (2)

The word "president" before any new last name always takes time to get used to, but I already like the sound of "President Obama" better than I did the sound of "President Bush."

It's official now. President Obama.

I wonder how long it will take our new president to stop talking about "this campaign." He speaks as if he's still stumping against Hillary. I suspect it hasn't quite sunk in yet--even at the White House. 

Plants I'm Growing: Daphne odorata

The first Daphne odorata blossoms opened in the garden today, as if to greet the new president. Buds on Prunus mume, the wonderfully fragrant Japanese flowering plum behind the house, are swollen and about to burst, probably tomorrow. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Miscellaneous: President Obama

Just back from a weekend of skiing at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe. Ordinarily I'd have something to say about that, but my mind is on the inauguration tomorrow. Seems hard to believe that in less than 10 hours Mr. Bush (I've never been able to call him President Bush) will be gone. And good riddance. I will have to get up early tomorrow to see anything of the events before the actual ceremony--because of the time difference. You people in Washington will see more in real time than we will on the West Coast.

How many millions will attend? I would like to have gone to Washington, but it would have been pointless. I would have been distracted and far away. I would have spent my time searching through unknown faces in vast crowds. What would the chances have been of finding a familiar face among them? One in a million or two, I suppose. Stranger things have happened, though, much stranger.

Anyway, I wish him well. I expect to be disappointed--it's in the nature of things--but it's a pleasure just to think that we will have a thoughtful, articulate, intelligent person in the White House for the first time in years.
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