Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Cast Iron Assault Weapon—Armed to the Teeth

My Cast Iron Assault Weapon—Armed to the Teeth

With all the uproar in the news about individual rights and freedoms, I would be remiss if I didn’t chime in, ring a bell or two. Definitions seem to change with shifting political sands. Today’s “individual rights and freedoms” seem to dictate that it be my patriotic pleasure, my civic duty, indeed, my birth right, to own, cherish and caress an assault weapon.

I’m not adverse to guns. Once I owned a sweet little Winchester .30-30 saddle carbine. Those were good times. My husband and I would saddle up, slide our rifles into the scabbards, and head out back of the coulee in search of a fat dry doe to get us through the winter. Now and then I visit pawn shops in nostalgic search for that rifle.

Later years I lived in Cascade and worked in Great Falls. Hap, my boss, talked me into the necessity of owning “protection”. I found a nice little .38 police special that felt balanced in my hand. Hap taught me to shoot it and advised me to keep the gun with me, loaded, when I traveled. I had no illusions what the gun was intended to do, however, I could not imagine a situation in which I would use it. After a month of worrisome lugging that gun with me everywhere I went, I buried it, unloaded, on the top shelf of the closet. I was scared I’d drop it and shoot my foot. A couple years later I traded that pistol to a young man for a vacuum cleaner, a more suitable weapon in my hands.

The other morning at coffee, Richard told the story about his short romance with an automatic weapon. “There was a big sale on this super-dooper-blast-them-all-to-smithereens “varmint” shooter that unloaded a full clip in five seconds. So I bought one and took it out into the hills, set up a target and shot a clip through it. Hey, it was kinda fun. So I loaded the other clip and ratcheted through that one. Then I was out of ammo. I looked at the pile of brass at my feet. It would take me two days of serious reloading before I could go back to the hills for ten minutes of excitement.” Now he owns a couple ancient rifles that were handed down in the family. He’ll pass them on to his son.

What kind of fantasy world do people live in who think that if our country is invaded by “foreign devils”, civilians will instantly man up a la John Wayne, a well-ordered militia crouched behind sagebrush, picking off the enemy. If we were attacked by a modern military force, we’d be toast as fast as Richard ran through two clips of ammo. Get a grip, honey. It’s a different world out there.

If I were to worry, it would be about those deluded souls who think they can turn their brothers and sisters into Swiss cheese and once the show is over, all the players will get up, brush off the dust and get ready for the next episode, heroes. I don’t care if you own guns. I hope you know what you are doing with them. Life is not a game.

My son-in-law keeps a walking stick by the door. If someone were to break into his house he says he wouldn’t have time to go get a gun. He’d just grab the stick. I tell him he wouldn’t have to worry. The bad guy would have to pick his way through every conceivable plastic toy known to girl-child. He’d be on the floor with three ankle-biter dogs licking his face. Out of self-defense, he’d have no choice but to pick up a Polly Pocket and play dolls with Toni, my granddaughter.

Personally, I’d reach for my cast iron frying pan. My friends know that I’m a wicked hand with a skillet. If I didn’t whop him over the head, I’d feed him.

I like to keep it simple. I’d slice well-aged back-strap into half inch dollops and dredge them thoroughly with flour, salt, and pepper. I’d drop each slice into hot bacon grease sizzling in the skillet. For full flavor, I’m careful to not overcook the meat, a couple minutes on each side should do. It doesn’t matter what you serve with the venison, but for me, mashed potatoes with gravy made from the same bacon grease is hard to beat.

If we’d treat one another with the same care we treat our stomachs, there would be little need to arm ourselves, little need to fear our neighbors, whether they be next door, across town or across the oceans. But I keep the skillet handy, just in case folks drop in unexpectedly. “Howdy, neighbor. Come on in and sit a spell and I’ll whip up a bite to eat.” Make dinner, not war.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

January 24, 2013

Nonsense and Sensibility: Grumbles from a Sleepless Night

Nonsense and Sensibility: Grumbles from a Sleepless Night

Most people are sensible. Most people, when they feel out of sorts, not up to par, not their usual hale and hearty selves, quite sensibly slow down, take their temperature, heat chicken soup, build a tower of books next to the bed, lay in a supply of tissues and aspirin, snuggle under the blankets and wait out the siege of whatever bug is dropping virus bombs with no regard for the safety or welfare of innocent victims.

I went to bed feeling fine, no inkling of the night to come. At 11:30 I awoke with slightly aching joints. I rolled over, tried to get comfortable on my other side. I flip-flopped several times, twisting the bedding into a croissant, my aching torso the sandwich filling. Got up and checked the clock. 12:05. I continued this exercise regime—in bed, flip, flop, twist, turn, out of bed—at approximately twenty minute intervals until 3:17.

By now I felt as if flames seared down my backbone and licked out to my hips. Since my tumble in October I have experienced intermittent back pain but never before did it demand such attention. My mind (which knows everything, ask it) said, you know what this is, don’t you, Sugar Pie. What, I asked. The Big C, Dummy. Remember what happened with your Dad. One day he complained of pain in his hip. Next thing, he was in the hospital. Two months later he was gone. So, Princess, when was the last time you reviewed your last will and wishes?

Don’t be silly, I said. I’m not listening to you. I probably twisted my back when I, well, when I did something or other during the day, or just shifted my body when out of balance, or any number of things which can leave lingering pain. Leave me alone and let me sleep.

My mind shape-shifted into a vulture, perched on the corner of my bed, calmly folded its wings, preened its feathers, and proceeded to review a parade of woes. My failures marched across the foot of my bed in grim formation: the Christmas cards I didn’t send, the friends I haven’t called in months, the flood plain ordinance I haven’t reviewed, shop work I’ve neglected, blunders, mistakes, yadda, yadda, yadda, and yadda. At 6:35 the Vulture tucked its head beneath its wings and I fell asleep.

At 7:40, I woke up, grumbled out of bed, slid into the same clothes I wore the day before, brushed my hair and combed my teeth. I grimaced at the mirror and decided not to clean my glasses.

Believe me, night terrors are nothing compared to daytime recriminations. What is wrong with you? Why are you dragging around? Don’t be such a sluggard. Get a grip.

Friends called with syrupy advice, well-meaning nostrums, which made me feel homicidal. Reading made me sleepy. Coffee didn’t help. Food repelled me. I growled at the cat when she jumped into my lap.

It did not dawn on me that I might be sick. It never does. I’ve been this way all my life. I figure, if I can just figure out what is wrong with me then I can get on with it. Behind my inability to get on with it, lies the unwelcome knowledge that I must be a moral failure. My source of information is the infallible me. I know that what is wrong with me is some weird psychological stuff. If I can just root it out, everything will be okay. So I get out of bed, get dressed, show up, and think my life will automatically fall into place. I quite capably ignore fever, chills, aches, and tears, all the while losing my stomach over the toilet. It never occurs to me to think I might have a touch of flu.

My kids tell me that when they wake up feeling pooky, they get up, clean up and get ready for the day, just like I taught them. Usually it works. But when it doesn’t, when they still feel badly, to my great relief, they understand that they are probably coming down with something. They quite sensibly get undressed, climb back into bed and get well.

After several hours of self-flagellation, when I could do nothing else, I crawled back under the covers. Twenty four hours later, I woke from a restful sleep and bounded out of bed feeling great. Whatever it was that had me in its clutches probably wouldn’t have lasted so long had I just stayed in bed in the first place. Like a sensible person.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

January 17, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Ice Age Creepeth

The Ice Age Creepeth

It’s easy to become downcast in winter, even as mild a winter as this, thus far, knock on wood, salt over shoulder, sign of the cross. I try to keep an upbeat attitude, but sometimes . . .

One seemingly ordinary day last week, I had a fright. The day started as usual: snow fall in the morning filled in my footprints and cat tracks of the day previous, a shout of afternoon sunshine, a bit of breeze. A good day, a good mild winter’s day, a day to bless and fill with murmurings of gratitude if not outright songs of praise. You get the picture.

In my warm and cozy house I had a canvas propped on the easel, paints on my palette and all the tools to paint a still life. At the same time I was immersed in three books, an Icelandic mystery by Indridison, poetry by Mary Oliver, and another book by Richard Hugo. Simultaneously I was tightening a batch of my own poems that I had left to simmer and cook down to their essence. Oh, and I had a pot of soup on the burner. I moved easily from canvas to book to keyboard to book to stir the soup and around again. Yes, a good day, indeed.

When I’m working, I go to my window seventeen times a day to look out over the hills across the valley, a view that refreshes me. But what was that? That creepy mysterious thing? That ominous line of luminescent white stuff which pulsed over the top of the hills? I watched, my feet glued in place. It, whatever it was, got bigger. It was whiter than white. It seemed alive. It seemed to glow from within like an intergalactic menace from a 1950’s sci-fi creature movie. It looked like a tsunami of ice, edging closer, threatening to carve the hills, grind them down and push them into town. I felt sure there was no stopping the on-coming disaster. Surely the next phase of glaciation was upon us, and with no warning. Global warming, indeed!

But, I hoped, if I hurried, I might flee to safety, somewhere far, far south.

The phone rang, a friend from Pender Island in British Columbia. “I’ve got the flu,” Kathy said. “I think I might die.”

“The flu? Is that all.” I said back. “I’m at my window watching the next Ice Age creep over the hills and down toward town. It’s eerie—a wall of ice, roiling with all the boulders in Canada. It’s headed straight for me. I’m going to jump in my van and race south as fast as I can go. In fact, I was headed out to warm up the car when you called. Oh, bother, it’s getting closer. Look, if I hadn’t answered the phone, I know I could have outrun the glacier. Now it’s iffy. But I’m glad you called. We get to say good-by.”

“Ice age, hmmm. Aren’t you afraid of saber toothed tigers?”

“Naaa. Alpha cat that I am, saber toothed tigers hold no fear for me. But I do worry about the wooly mammoths. I’ve always been afraid of wooly mammoths, ever since I was a child and had nightmares about them. To this day I have to cover my hands and feet and ears when I go to bed or I can’t sleep. The wooly mammoths might get me.”

“I see,” she said. “Have you thought about mastodons?”

“I try not to think about mastodons. Aren’t they extinct?”

“Does that make any difference?”

“Kathy, the glacier is grinding closer. I’ll call you from Denver. Give my love to Richard. Stay warm and drink lots.”

What with one thing and another, by the time I shut off the water, turned the furnace down, coaxed the cat from beneath the sofa, grabbed some books, located my passport, snatched my sock of money from beneath the mattress, and threw a change of underwear in my bag, whew, the glacier had gone. I don’t know where it went—just—gone .

I felt astounded. Clear horizon, the hills stolid in place, sky cerulean blue, a top hat of wispy cloud. I went back to my books and painting, but kept a weather eye to the north.

That night, I slept uneasy, what with wooly mammoths and hairy mastodons about. When I woke at my usual hour the next morning, there was no light in the room. None. It was dark as inside a stovepipe. I knew it—I just knew it—my house lay buried beneath that sneaky glacier. I should have gone to Denver.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

January 10, 2012

Friday, January 4, 2013

Beware the Odious Eggplant

Beware the Odious Eggplant

Winter’s plunging temperatures do not make me yearn to frolic in the vast outdoors. In fact, last week I huddled impatiently in wait for the red line to climb. While brilliant sun danced atop the icy-flaked blanket of snow, I ventured to walk the mere five blocks to the post office to pick up a week’s worth of mail. I dragged home a bag of letters, bills, newspapers and six books that I had ordered in a moment of pre-Christmas insanity. I couldn’t help it. Santa made me do it.

With winter’s enforced inactivity, coupled with a slowly healing wounded wing, I spend a lot of time with my nose buried in books. I read everything in print, oatmeal boxes, tomato sauce cans, real estate ads. Lately I have been reading cookbooks as though they are novels. A recipe is a puzzler—part truth and part fiction. I seldom follow one. As I scan the ingredients I instinctively alter the process: a bit more of this, less of that, throw in some other. Every culinary creation becomes an adventure. I’ve learned a lot about foods just by reading between the recipes.

And a good thing too. I have a tendency to form patterns in my behavior. I settle into predictable consistency, fall into a rut, if you will. But now that I get a mystery basket of fruits and veggies every couple weeks, chosen by someone unknown in place unknown, my daily diet has jumped the trench, has become more exciting. I never know what I will find. Last week my basket from the food cooperative included the majestic aubergine, aka, the humble eggplant.

Before now, my eggplant experience was limited to a couple dreadful dishes served in less-than-the-best restaurants and one lame attempt at home. When I went to the store, I never bought eggplants; I didn’t even notice them. As a color, aubergine is beautiful. As a vegetable, it can be watery and bitter. But I looked at my two purple globes and determined that I would fall in love with eggplant. In fact, I added a couple abandoned orphans from the free table to my pile, covered my basket with a blanket, and lugged my little red wagon-load of garden goodness home over the frozen streets.

I consulted my kitchen bible, “The Joy of Cooking”, for chapter and verse. Fortified with new-found knowledge of this ancient vegetable, my first attempt to gussy up its rather mundane flesh was, aw shucks, delicious. With one eggplant, I made a sauce to serve over quinoa, enough for two meals for myself. It tasted so good that I ate the whole thing at one sitting.

Still, two things bother me about the eggplant. It is a member of the nightshade family. In former times, nightshades were considered poisonous and in some hands, I believe they still are. Nightshades include the potato, and we know the potato is lethal, ask my hips, and the tomato, which in the New World colonies was scurrilously shunned as a “love apple”. Only the French ate tomatoes and they were known to eat anything, including snails.

But, more importantly, and more dangerously, the eggplant is a relative of tobacco. It contains nicotine. With that in mind, no matter that one would have to consume some twenty pounds of eggplant to ingest the amount of nicotine in one cigarette, I posit that it be labeled a controlled substance. The eggplant is obviously a gateway drug-food which will ultimately lead its unwary user to doom and degradation. Today the eggplant; tomorrow hard drugs.

If our government does not step up to the plate, so to speak, and put controls in place, it is just a matter of time until hooked innocents will be living under the bridge in cardboard boxes, mainlining eggplant. Our law-makers must deal with this potential hazard. If we move fast, we can nip this craze in the bud. We must slam those evil insidious eggplant pushers behind bars. We must halt the transportation of these seemingly harmless purple pretenders across state lines. We must plug our permeable borders to stop foreign vegetable cartels. We must apprehend those duped addicts trying to cross the border with eggplants concealed in their underwear. We must deal with this vile danger before it is too late. The time for prohibition is now. You have been warned.

In the mean time, while it is still legal, join me in my kitchen, the Wounded Wing Experiment Station, while I prepare my eggplant dinner for tonight. I think I’ll bake it, scoop out the insides and mash the pulp with sautéed onion, garlic and roasted ancho chilies. I’ll serve it warm over tabouli with a yoghurt-cucumber-mint sauce and sliced tomatoes. Then I’m off to an AA meeting—Aubergines Anonymous.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

January 3, 2013