Saturday, December 31, 2011

Days 20 & 21: Cleaning house for the last time (this year).

12/30/11 & 12/31/11

Yesterday and today are indoor days to prepare my house for the coming year. I can’t face 2012 with last year’s mess. Trust me, I’d much rather hang out in the woods or on a dock with bow or rod, than in my kitchen with mop and broom.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 19: An Accidental Meditation


Only two days remain in the limited deer season in Kitsap County. Deer, either sex, may be taken by bow only. The season will close until next fall. I’ve practiced with my bow a few times, but I’m not sure I’m ready. The one experience walking with my son and his friend, Jeremy, helped. But still, it’s a bit daunting to go alone.

My neighbor saw two large bucks in his yard yesterday and gave me permission to hide out in his woods. I practiced hunting today by waking early and bathing with homemade cedar soap. I hoped the natural cedar scent would blend my people scent with the deer environment. I layered up in long­-johns, comfy sweats, and waterproof bottoms. I huffed in the fabric softener clinging to a freshly laundered fleece but opted for a musty camouflaged parka hanging in the garage instead. The parka carried aromatic hints of straw, garden soil, tree sap, field mice, and maybe a little bit of chicken crap – An excellent bouquet to mask human scent.

Masking scent or attracting scent is big business in the world of hunting. Cabella’s reserves a large section for scent-locking garments and gear bags. Shelves are lined with soaps, sprays, and laundry detergents guaranteed to neutralize odors or mask human scent. For as little as $7, I can pick up a lively bottle of skunk spray, or I might select dominate sow or boar urine to spritz behind the ears. Now wouldn’t that make me popular at the New Year’s Eve Block party? Or, if my goal is to attract the gents, I can slather up with a stick of OnQuest VS-1 Whitetail scent, conveniently packaged in what looks exactly like an Old Spice deodorant container. According to the advertisement, the VS-1 stick is the only buck attractant vaginally extracted from does in the peak of estrus. Synthetic hormonal synchronization causes the deer to hyper-ovulate, thus increasing pheromone intensity in urine. No kidding. This is exactly the kind of liquid-trouble a girl like me ought to avoid. Imagine falling asleep in the woods and waking up with a hairy, new boyfriend. It’s tough to explain something like that away.

I tucked in a small stand of Douglas fir and waited for the sun to rise. Actually, the sun doesn’t really rise during the winter in Seabeck, Washington. It just gets a little lighter out. My hearing is poor, or at least that is what the audiologists say. But this morning, my senses were on fire. I heard the slightest rustle of leaves and snaps of twigs. I held my breath as the noise grew louder. I imagined a huffing and snorting twosome of young bucks gobbling their way toward me, stomping down underbrush, and racking trees with majestic antlers. I readied my camera as noise busted over a forested berm and spilled into my neighbor’s front yard. It was a twosome. A twosome of russet-chested chipmunks scampered across the green and up the gnarled trunk of a lichen-flecked peach tree.

The bucks failed to show. I waited in my hiding spot for two hours watching birds and chipmunks, and enjoying the mushroomy fragrance of new morning on the forest floor. I studied patterned whorls in tree bark and argued with myself about how to tell direction by moss growth on trees. Moss grows on the north side of trees, or at least that is what I thought. But does location matter? And how do I explain the circumference of shaggy green fluff carpeting an entire tree trunk?

I left my hiding space and researched moss growth while warming up with Jasper in front of the fire. As it turns out, determining direction according to moss growth is more folklore than fact. Moss flourishes in damp and shady areas, regardless of directional exposure. North facing trees may have limited sunlight and are therefore likely to stay moister than other trees in a stand. But in the dark, damp, forests of the Pacific Northwest, trees are moist on all sides and moss embellishes regardless of direction.

I didn’t see deer today. Except for a limit of clams and a handful of squid, my freezer is almost empty. But I’m tending a garden of knowledge and filling up on sights, smells, sounds, and textures that have always been in my life, but never fully acknowledged or appreciated. I can’t eat knowledge and realizations, but I’m feeding a ravenous soul and recognizing another beneficial facet of my killing spree.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day 18: Jigging - Round 2


Cleaning squid is an intuitive process. It wasn’t difficult to discern parts to toss and parts to eat. Manny & Armando’s 4 charity squid yielded about 8 ounces of rubbery white meat, or 200 calories, 3 grams of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat, 7 carbs, and 36 grams of protein. By the numbers, squid is powerful food. Compare it to 8 ounces of lean beef at 320 calories, 18 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 carbs, and 42 grams of protein. I’m thrilled with the protein to fat ratio, not to mention the fresh change of pace.

For last night’s supper, I julienned the cleaned squid, and sauteed the strips in a few tablespoons of homemade tomatillo-peach salsa.  Served with a side of rice and beans, the squid made a tasty meal. It was so tasty that I needed more.

I hit the dock early this evening. My old Coast Guard parka held the rain out, and a pair of hand-me-down powder pants kept my jeans dry. I need to invest in a decent set of rain gear if I’m going to be chasing squid on a regular basis.

A lone angler leaned against the railing bobbing his fly-rod up and down. I joined him under the light to tie my jig line. His eyes studied the flooding tide. I’m not sure of jig-protocol. Do I say hello? Introduce myself? Make a comment about the weather? I’m not sure. I thought it best to start with a simple salutation.


He jumped a few inches. “Gawd. You scare me.”

“Sorry. I’m so sorry. I figured you heard me walking.”

He pointed to a headphone bud in his right ear. “Music. iPod.”

I nodded and worked on my jig. It was hard not to giggle. I hate being startled, but I kind of enjoy scaring the crap out of someone once in a while. As teenagers, my brother and I took turns waiting for each other to return home from a late night out. I’d slide under the pickup truck and grab his leg as he walked up the patio. Or he’d hide just inside the doorway and boo me. I’d scream and alert my parents of a curfew infraction. Sometimes, the anticipatory fear of being booed is scary enough to receive a good thrill.

Mr. Scaredy-pants reeled in. His pole arched. He pulled a line of four jigs with two squids attached. I followed the squids to his bucket. It was just after 5 pm and his bucket was a quarter full. I hurried and tossed my jig in. I wanted to lay down some bait while the squid where hitting.

Two men walked down the pier to join us. I adjusted my gear and secured a position in the full flood of overhead light. Good real estate is a big deal in a squid line. I scored by showing up early.

“Is that Christine?” said one of the men approaching.

“Yeah. How did you recognize me?” Only my eye-glasses and dark braids were visible beyond the parka hood.

“What other white girl would be out here?”

The men came into the light. “Oh, you must be Armando.”

“No, I’m Manny.”

“Sorry. I only know you by your rod.” Of course there was chuckling. “Wait. I mean – never mind.” What I meant is that I never got a good look at Armando or Manny two nights ago. I spent hours standing shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the water, and watching them jig out of the corner of my eye. I focused on line, jigs, hands, reels, and rods. I listened to instructions and advice, but never stood face-to-face.

I gave up the conversation, reeled in my jig, and tossed it back out. I worked the line up and down falling into an easy rhythm. My pole bent. I jerked and reeled. From high on the pier, I heard the tell-tale squirt of a stuck squid, but my line appeared empty. I reeled in until I was eye to eye with my top jig. Snared on the second jig was the tiniest squid I’d ever seen. My first catch! Scaredy-pants laughed. “Oh you caught the baby with your Barbie doll pole.”

I knew it would happen. My Lady Ugly-Stick, in black and hot pink, was a scab waiting to be picked.  “Go ahead and tease my pole, but at least I’m not wearing my grandma’s rain gear.”

“What you talking about? It’s blue.”

“Yeah, but check out the flower garden.” I pointed at his exposed hood liner flocked in swirling pink and red roses.

Scaredy-pants shushed me, but it was too late. The other men noticed the raincoat, and the conversation switched from English to rapid-fire Tagalog. I settled into the lively banter that floated several inches below my ears.  I was unaware of what was said, but fairly confident it had nothing to do with me or my Barbie pole.

The rain stopped. Usually this is a good thing in Washington State, but not tonight. Squid feed more actively in the rain than in clear conditions. I saw a shadow stir beyond the lighted water. The shape bobbed in the current. I figured it was a drift log. But the log barked and then dove beneath the surface. The water below flecked white with scampering squid, kind of like shaking a snow-globe. A sea lion popped up center-stage. Squid and squid parts leaked from a gnashing snout.

The other anglers pulled their lines. I copied. The sea lion devoured his fill and swooshed away. An hour passed before another squid struck a line. Eventually, I landed my second squid. It was only slightly larger than the first.

I hooked 3 mega-starfish and learned to ease them to the dock below without breaking my 6-lb line. The 4th monster gobbled my jigs and ended my 2-squid streak. Two teensy squid don’t amount to much, but the night wasn’t a skunking. Manny told me to replace my line with 15 to 20 pound strength. He also told me where to buy a new rod and better jigs. “You’re doing it right. You need more practice, but you really need stronger gear.”

I turned to pick up my pitiful catch. Silver glowed in a pool of inky-black. My squid multiplied. Manny pointed to Mr. Scaredy-pants, or Marlo, as I now like to call him. I’m starting to like these fellows. I appreciate the generosity, the lessons and advice, and even the good-hearted teasing. But I really want to catch my own squid.

I met Armando in the parking lot. It was dark, but he greeted me by name. He inquired about my luck before offering advice. “You need a real rod, not that toy one.” I caught a white flash of his smile.

“That’s what I hear.” I packed the Barbie Ugly-Stick in the truck and wished my new friend a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 17: Battling Mycophobia


I love shrooms and grew up eating wild chanterelles picked by Mom & Granny.  Burger-sized portabella caps grace the bar-b-q each summer, and I keep the fridge stocked with grocery store Criminis throughout the year. Mushrooms are good for me. I know this to be true. Sautéed and scrambled up with my hens’ organic eggs, mushrooms nourish my soul.  

In the early fall, Jasper and I walk the shoulder along a winding drive and kick up the duff of coniferous trees. We admire succulent specimens growing along the way. He sniffs white buttons poking though fallen needles, huffing in the dank earthiness, and I pick a few to identify on our return home. But I end up tossing the mushrooms in the compost bin, too chicken to actually sample.

I suffer from wild fungiphobia. I just learned the proper term this evening, mycophobia. But I'm not really a mycophobe. True mycophobes don’t eat mushrooms at all. In fact, a trip down the produce isle can be a disturbing experience, causing paralysis and irrational screaming. I’m not like that. I suppose my fear of wild mushrooms might be classified as an overly cautious respect for potential poisoning. Potential poisoning seems like a good thing to respect.

It seems everyone knows a story about a whole family that died after eating wild mushroom soup. I don’t want to be known as a killer mom. It’s the same reason I’m afraid to can produce that requires anything more than the simple water-bath canning method. I readily process high-acid foods like tomatoes, salsa, pickles, fruits, jams and jellies in glass mason jars. But I’m afraid to delve into the low-acids, like meats, corn, and legumes.  Just like the mushroom soup story, country folklore abounds about the family that died of botulism after eating home-canned green beans. I bought a pressure cooker three years ago. I’ve read the books, but I have yet to conquer the fear. I just don’t want to be that mom.

The New Year brings new challenges. And this New Year, I will hunt and eat wild mushrooms. I’ll face the fear and conquer my wild fungiphobia. I took the first step today by joining the Puget Sound Mycological Society. The annual dues of $30 buy me access to an online community of mushroom enthusiasts in the greater Seattle area. I also have access to Spore Prints newsletters, up-to-date harvesting rules, recipes, a library, and education opportunities on identification and poisoning. Perfect. The shroom social agenda seems jam-packed with a wild mushroom show, meetings, field trips, and something called a Survivors’ banquet. I hope to be a survivor of 2012. If I am, I’ll attend that banquet.

I doubled up and joined the local mycological society of Kitsap County. I meant to join a couple of years ago after picking up a brochure from two guys working a booth at the Kitsap County fair. But the guys looked weird. I’m not trying to be mean or bitchy, but the guys had that Dungeons & Dragons weird thing going on. I pictured clandestine meetings cloaked in deep purple secrecy, with board members tipping goblets of mead, hoarding scrolls of tattered trail maps where “X” marks the sweet spot, and discussing wood-sprites, goblins, and fairies met along the last merry mushroom hunt. I just couldn’t do it, which is kind of ironic, because I really do own a dark purple cape. I have the clothes and jewelry for this sort of gig, not to mention the Rubenesque physique of a common wood nymph. I know I can fit in, but I’ll have to take it slow. I don’t really want to be a total weirdo. I just want to eat some mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 16: Squid Jigging


My boys ate calamari as toddlers and still enjoy it today. If the deep-fried dish finds a way on an appetizer menu, chances are high one of them will place an order. My kids are foodies. This makes dining and cooking together a great pleasure, but also expensive. Kids’ menus were rarely a restaurant hit.

On Garret’s fourth birthday, nearly fifteen years ago, we dined out.  The boys colored the kids’ meal placemats as the waiter approached. My oldest boy and I ordered first. The waiter leaned across the table, and in an octave higher than normal, addressed Garret. “And what will it be for the birthday boy? How about a cheesy pizza or a big meatball?”

Garret never flinched. He held that deadpan expression I’d learn to love in every school picture of his elementary years. “Thank you for the recommendations. But I’ll start with the calamari, followed by mussels in a white wine sauce.” The waiter acted shocked, embarrassed, and impressed all at the same time. Emotions got the best of him, and he stumbled away without taking the Baby-Jade’s order. Desert was on the house, Tiramisu.
I’ve eaten certain foods all of my life without considering the source. Take scallops for instance. I love them, but have no idea how to catch them, or what they actually look like alive. I’m quite sure the succulent discs hold different form before landing on my plate. And while I know calamari is the word for cooked squid, and I can tell a squid from an octopus, I had no idea how or where to catch these critters.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website serves as a primary source of information. In two weeks of scanning pages, I’ve learned more about fish and shellfish than I learned in the forty-some years before starting this project. I’ve dabbled in the wild game sections, but only briefly. Hunting season for most game is closed right now. I am relying on the sea to feed me.

Squid feed primarily at night and are attracted to light. Public piers with good lighting are primo spots to catch squid. The process of catching squid on a pole is called, squid jigging. A jig line is created on fishing line by attaching up to four reflective, brightly colored, or glowing jigs. The glow-in-the-dark jigs I purchased were supposed to resemble shrimp, but I think they look more like evil clowns. My 2-inch jigs have wire loops at each end for attaching line. Two glittering and oversized eyes affix to an oval head topped by a colorful party hat. Tucked beneath the jig’s head is a collar of barbless hooks.

An angler drops a line off a lighted pier and jigs by bobbing the line up and down in a tasty manner. If a squid finds a jig appealing, it grabs ahold. The hooks snare the squid’s ten legs. Actually, squid don’t really have legs. They have ten appendages – eight arms and two tentacles. The angler feels the slight tug and reels in. The squid squirts jets of black ink all the way to the bucket. Sounds easy, right?

I walked the long pier at the Illahee fishing dock and took my space in the shadows bordering a flood of overhead light. By 7 pm, a dozen or more anglers were already at work. An old man in olive-colored rain gear gave me a nod. I watched him drop a line, jig, retrieve, and drop again. I copied his routine.

Language clicked and pinged back and forth. It took a few moments to realize two distinct languages. I felt certain one was Filipino, but I’m unsure if it was Tagalog or Ilocano. I hear these same pings and bongs when I visit my hairdresser, or when I play slots at a local casino. I guessed the other language was Korean. It wasn’t the patterns of sound that led me to the conclusion. It was the appearance of the old man standing next to me. He didn’t speak to me, but motioned where to drop my line. I obeyed and smiled at him. He returned a gapped grin and scooted in tighter with fellow anglers, making room for me under the light. From my new position, I scanned faces and confirmed what I thought to be true. Not only was I the tallest person on the pier, I was the only one not of Asian origin.

An hour passed with only a few pulls of squirting squid from the anglers. I had not caught anything and spent most of the time detangling my jigs from each other. The hook tines from my lower jig snared the tines from my top jig. I wasn’t sure what I was doing to cause this.

An elderly Filipina further down our shoulder-to-shoulder line grew frustrated. She spoke in English. “You know, this is a community pier, not a public pier. I pay big taxes, six-thousand dollar. I own this pier. Read the sign. You go home now.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or not, but I held my position and faced the water. Sideways rain pelted my camouflaged Gortex parka and soaked my Levis. The Korean men spoke amongst themselves before reeling in lines and packing up gear. The old man tugged my coat and signaled me to take his spot. Only six of us remained. I hid beneath my parka hood and kept quiet. She continued on. “Too many Koreans. This is a Filipino dock. Koreans no share. Just hog all space and squid.” A Filipino man next to me gave me a nudge and a smile.

A school of squid passed into the lighted water below like a group of ghosts crossing a moonlit sky. Silver eyes flashed. Anglers jutted rods up and down performing their best squid-tease. I dodged jets of black ink as the guy next to me, and the guy next to him, pulled squid from the water. The old woman pulled her share too. I caught nothing.

Success brightened moods and stimulated small-talk. Armando and Manny, two men to my right, offered pointers and engaged me in conversation. Both men retired from the Navy, and once they learned that I retired from the military too, my jigging lesson officially began. I tied my jigs too close on the line. My jigs were not of a yummy color. Apparently green, blue, and red trumped my yellow, orange, and pink. The hooked collars on my jigs were not wide enough to keep squid entangled. The jigs were all of the same weight. A heavier jig at the end keeps the line vertical in the water. I know opinions and techniques vary in the jigging world, but it’s hard to argue with success.

By 9 pm, Manny and Armando neared limits of five-quarts or ten pounds. I stewed in the juices of a solid skunking. Squids tugged my line a couple of times, but I failed to secure the hooks and pull them up. I was about to quit when Armando’s pole and my pole bent at the same time. We reeled in, and the Filipina woman cackled. She saw what we didn’t, a mega starfish trying to gobble both jig lines. This wasn’t an ordinary starfish. This monster had at least twenty legs and was larger than a turkey-platter. There was no way to bring that thing up to the pier without snapping my 6-lb line. Armando used dark green trolling line, so I let him do the work. I followed him around creosote pilings and down a steep ramp to a floating dock. He pulled the starfish toward the dock, and once the creature felt the floating wood, it released its hold.

I tried to untangle my jigs from Armando’s, but ended up cutting my line to free his. The cold numbed toes and stung fingers. Rain soaked through my jeans and squished in my long underwear. Adrenaline and pride gave way to shivers. It was time to pack it up for the night. I stowed my gear, thanked my new mentors, promised to try again, and turned to pick up an empty bucket. Silver eyes glittered from the bottom of my pail. It seems that Manny and Armando took turns slipping squid into my bucket. Four huge specimens awaited their fate, tomorrow night’s supper.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Days 14 & 15

12/24 & 12/26
No action. Two days indoors with family, eating razor clams, and I’m trying hard NOT to think of killing stuff. But that Geoduck is on my mind, and so is squid jigging. More later - I promise.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 13: The Big Dig - part II


The Sea is an angry woman placated by soft winds, floods of sunshine, and baths drenched in moon glow. These elements were absent from her life today. She churned sand and silt and sent blackened waves to the shore. And she burped blats of olive bubbles in oily heaves along the tideline.

Stubborn to recede, she held high into the afternoon, not hitting her low until dark settled in. Anxious clam diggers descended hours early despite the tidal response. Like a flock of seagulls clad in raingear, diggers moved up and down the beach, pecking at her surface but coming up empty-handed. I watched out the bay window from my position in front of the fireplace.  Tucked high and dry and free from the elements, I held a bird’s eye view of the action from my third-floor room at Quinault Resort.

I whiled away the morning leafing through the recipes of Jennifer Hahn’s, Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine.  I contemplated Razor Clam Risotto. But I know myself too well. There is only one way I’ll ever cook these clams – dredged in seasoned flour and fried in butter, just like Granny C used to do. I can’t imagine them any other way. Last night I was appalled to see razor clam chowder on a pub menu. Why would anyone use the tender razor for chowder? It’s shocking and surely a sin in my family. Washington chowder clams are horse clams, little necks, or those lewd looking Northwest Geoducks with their 3-foot, phallic-looking siphons.

I’ve dug one Geoduck in my life, and it was quite by accident. My oldest son and I were playing in the sand at Carkeek Park in Seattle when he was six. He wanted a whole deep enough to hide in, so we dug with bright plastic shovels until I hit what I thought was an old rope. The rope retracted ,and Nick and I dug like crazy. About an hour and 4-feet later, we pulled up a Nerf football-sized shell sporting the filthiest looking appendage imaginable.  We studied the creature before placing it back into the whole and refilling with sand. I wasn’t licensed to dig, so back it went. But all these years, I’ve wondered how to clean and cook such a beast. The Geoduck is on my hit list.

Watching and waiting got the best of me, and I geared up a couple hours early. Low tide was predicted at 1745 hours. I joined the flock of diggers pecking the shore and following the recess. The temperature was milder than yesterday, around 48 degrees. But soggy skies and wind chill made time hunting for donut shapes in the sand gloomy.  I popped my head up from time to time to check out the action of other diggers. Mesh clam bags fell empty against hip-wader thighs.

After about an hour, I saw my first sand donut. I sank the gun over the impression and pulled out a teeny razor. His shell measured just over an inch. I’m not one for eating babies, but the law is the law, so I slid the critter into my bag. I pecked around for another 30-minute interval. The flock of diggers grew uncommonly sociable in the absence of clams. “Any luck?” asked a grey beard in passing. “Miserable dig,” said the woman toting a pug wrapped in pink neoprene.

I kept out of the waves, digging in my old-lady ways, until a tipster reported clams showing in the surf. I ventured in, keeping an eye on the rolling blackness. I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for and doubted the round berm of sand surrounding a dimple held shape in the push and draw of the surf. A squirt of sea water caught my attention. I scanned the waves looking for show. My equilibrium was off, and I staggered with the movement of the waves. Meniere’s disease has claimed the balance I had as a kid, but I was finding my sea legs. I spaced my legs shoulder width apart, bent my knees, and relaxed my thighs. The trick is to lean with the force instead of fighting.

I waded through shallow water and watched a dark wave move in. It wasn’t a big wave, but it was more powerful than expected. I leaned with the push and stood fast, but the draw pulled my feet out from under me. I felt my red gardening Crocks wash from both feet. I held myself stiff-armed in the push-up position, as water swooshed down the front of my chest-high waders. I thought about my iPhone tucked in the left side of my bra and pushed myself to my knees. Like an idiot, I failed to bring Jasper, my black lab, on the dig this time. He is trained to pull me to my feet when I have these episodes. But he waited in the truck, kept away from his insatiable need to roll in the carcass of rotting sea lion.

It took a while, but I got to my feet. The sea stripped off my mesh bag, reclaiming her baby razor, my lone catch. My phone was wet. I pulled off the cover, stuck it in my hat, and prayed. Another black wave crashed in, and I retreated. The wave receded, leaving a gooey green slime and a pair of polished red Crocks on the shore. The sea kept my catch, but she was too fashionable to hold on to my old gardening clogs.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 12: The Big Dig


Success by the numbers: 3-hour drive, 10-minutes donning gear, 5-minute walk to the surf, 20-minute dig, 15-clam limit, 1-full hour of cleaning, 2-glasses of Riesling at the Quinault Beach Resort. Sweet!

No one taught me to clean razor clams. The skill is more birthright knowledge on my matrilineal side. Hours of watching Mom and Aunt Barb, armed with paring knifes, full of gossip, and standing over heaping sinks of bivalves reinforced the normalcy of such expectation. In my childhood, the razor clam and my Grandma Crawford held the family together. I spent almost every low-tide of my primary years digging razor clams and frolicking fourteen-cousin-deep on the beaches of the Oregon coast.

The razor clam, or Siliqua Patula, is my comfort food. It’s what I crave when I stray too far from my roots. I recall a miserable morning in Army boot camp. I climbed from a shelter after a night of sleeping on frozen ground to join platoon mates around a burn barrel. My heart felt like it might literally split in two from homesickness. I wasn’t alone. Whenever the girls of Alpha-11 felt like that, we talked about boys, gossiped about each other, bitched about drill sergeants or the weather, told dirty jokes, or described the foods we missed from back home. Girls from the south talked about White Castle hamburgers. A Louisiana girl was always going on about jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. East coast girls bragged about crab cakes, and I tried to explain the Pacific Coast Razor clam.

No one understood my passionate dissertation on the razor clam. And while I do love the taste, it’s the memories triggered that are truly delicious. Granny Crawford drove her Winnebago out on the beach and parked just above low-tide. Aunties, Uncles, Grandpa, and my folks delivered sacks of clams for her to process as cousins waited for a turn to cycle-in and take a seat at her table. We sipped hot cocoa, nibbled fried eggs, and gorged on razors dredged in seasoned flour and fried in butter. Heaven.

My little brother and I were too young to dig, but we followed impatient sportsman around the beach, the guys who dig like crazy but never deep enough. We swirled hands in man-made tide pools of abandoned digs and scavenged for the smooth feel of elongated shells working to the surface. Mom was always surprised at what we managed to catch without tools.

I’m not sure how traditions fade away, but my family stopped digging together. Perhaps it was the rush of the 80s. Maybe there was a feud, or maybe Granny grew tired of frying all those clams. But we stopped before I was big enough to run a clam shovel.

I had used Granny’s clam gun once or twice. The clam gun is four-inch section of steel tube (now commonly made with PVC pipe) sealed on one end, with handles, and a suction hole. The idea is to find a donut-shaped dimple in the sand. This is where the clam popped its neck up to feed on plankton and minute plant life. The tube needs to sink about two to four feet without crushing the clam below. Once the tube is in the sand, the suction hole is covered. The gun is lifted, drawing a core of sand from the hole. The clam is often in the core, but sometimes a second lift or a bare hand is needed to search the hole. Clams range from 3 to 6 inches long. I’ve seen longer, and I’ve definitely seen smaller. The law states that a digger must keep the first fifteen found, even if the first fifteen includes a wee little baby or one crushed beyond recognition.

I bought my own clam gun this year. Mom teases me about clamming with a gun instead of a shovel. She says I clam like an old lady. But I pulled up 15 medium to large clams and grazed the shell of just one with my old-lady ways. I thought about my Grandma as I plunged the gun into the sand. I could almost see her hands in my own. I pictured her jewelry encrusted fingers. Each finger boasted a clustered diamond ring, or a 1-inch opal, a 20-carat amethyst surrounded by marquise diamonds, and glitzy diamond solitaires set in platinum. My hands are wide and youthful, like a chubby little boy’s hands. I sport one lone ring and the recent emergence of a few sun spots (I don’t call them age spots). I ponder the idea of adding a few rings, just to be more like my Granny C. But I know I need to save that money for more gear for this killing spree.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 11: Groundhog Day

I talked to my oldest stepson, James, on the phone today. He'd read my blog a couple of days ago and it reminded him of a story that happened early in our step-family relationship. He and his little brother, now 26 & 24, still love to tease me about this event. It might help you understand a little of my history with firearms and animals, so I thought I'd share it with you today. As with all memories, this one is personally-lived. It's my take on the situation, and how I felt and remember that day. I'm sure the boys will tell a different story. That's how it is with memory. We hold on to the parts that we want and bury the rest.

Life with my stepsons was better than most folks could hope for, and yet in the early years, I wanted more. I married Jim in 1999. James was twelve. Chris was eleven. My own sons were twelve, five, and three.  We lived in Washington State and the step boys lived in Florida.

I tried to blend this family of five sons, to make something tangible, something minivan-ish and cohesive out of my new life with expanded brood. But limited to summer vacations and holiday breaks, nothing stuck. No real brotherly love developed, and the increase in maternal instinct I was certain would blossom withered on the vine. I was failing.

 I was desperate during that late summer trip to rural Ohio to visit Papaw, Jim’s grandpa. Papaw waged war against groundhogs chewing holes through his dilapidated red barn. The rodents gnawed at the wood planks of his porch, infested and weakened building foundations, reclaiming the land. Papaw grew too old to fight. A month prior, he injured a hip in a fall while shooting at one digging up his flowerbed.

Chris held tight to Papaw’s old Sears and Roebuck .22 rifle. He wanted to be a man, to take care of his great-grandpa’s problem. Jim showed him how to load the gun. Papaw pointed to a field pocked with burrows. But no one lectured about safety, about the dangers of shooting toward the road, the house, other houses, cars, people, domesticated animals, or his own limbs. None of that. With rifle slung over boney frame and a box of rounds shoved in the back of baggy jeans, he marched over a mowed corn patch to hunt groundhog.

I sat on the porch, pressing mother-bones deep into the seat of a ladder back rocking chair. I bit my lip, trying hard to stay out of man-business. Papaw, Jim, and James sat laughing at Chris. He had gun, bullets, and permission to kill, but lacked the marksmanship to succeed.

A groundhog popped up. Chris fumbled with the rifle, made too much noise, and took too much time. This happened over and over, much to the delight of the porch crowd. On each occasion, the critter spooked, or grew bored and sauntered off before Chris fired a shot.

Frustration built. I saw it in the sag of posture, heard it in the the stomp of Nike hi-tops crushing stubbles of old corn as he walked. I imagine he tried to block the laughter out, but failed. He needed to kill a groundhog to be a man, to shut his big brother up, to please Papaw, to make Dad proud.

He popped off premature shots, all misses. I flinched eight times to the beat of the rifle’s recoil.

 I taught basic rifle marksmanship in Army boot camp while serving as a drill sergeant several years before marrying Jim. I helped train hundreds of young soldiers to shoot. I knew better than to give a kid a rifle and ammo without instruction and safety briefings. But I don’t think that was what really nagged me that day. The rocking chair could no longer hold me.

Dry stalks scrapped my bare legs and sandaled feet as I tip-toed my way to his position behind a large oak. Chris tried to use the tree trunk to support a standing fire posture after giving up failed attempts in the prone. His neck, forearms, and face were chaffed from lying face down in the field. He looked mad enough to cry and adjusted a Green Bay Packers cap low on his brow. I studied the tree bark until he regained composure.

“Tough time?”

“Yeah, stupid gun.”

“Rifle looks good for an antique. Want me to show you a couple tricks?”

“I can shoot. Don’t need help from a woman.”

“Ah, right. How bout I sit here with you? Maybe help you spot?”


I am an excellent shot. I earned marksmanship badges for the rifle and pistol in both my Army and Coast Guard careers. But I never shot for sport, never hunted, never helped shoot an animal, never wanted to.

Chris popped off another eight rounds, all misses. I said nothing, but maybe I breathed a little too hard when that ninth groundhog stood up, stared in our direction, and bent over to munch a patch of clover.

“You think you can do better?”

“No, I didn’t mean…”

“Do it then. Go ahead. ”

Before I had time to think, Chris stuffed the rifle in my arms and shoved me from my kneeling position behind the oak. I stood and pulled the rifle hard into my right shoulder, finding that sweet spot – the natural pocket that forms when my arm cocks back and my index finger gropes the trigger.

Tacit knowledge takes over. This is how it is when you do something over and over again. You hear a cadence, a beat by the numbers, singing out the steps in your head. Subconscious. A flip of a switch to autopilot, you act. Breathing stills, a shallow trickle low in flared nostrils. Left eye shuts. Right eye tunnels through peep sites. Cheek meets worn wood of the butt stock. Muscles contract and relax as soles grip the earth. Sensations dull, except that gentle pressure on the tip of your trigger finger. The round bursts without expectation. You never expect the burst, a true sign of a great marksman. Anticipation leads to involuntary flinch. Flinch sends the trajectory off course. You never flinch. Flinch, even a little, and you fail.

I heard a high pitched squeal, a rustle of cornstalk, and nothing. Even the porch fell quiet. Dust and sulfur filled my mouth. I smacked my lips at the dry, shook the ringing blast from my ears, and wiped carbon sting and grit from nose and eyes.

“Holy shit,” yelled Chris. “You got him.” Chris ran up to groundhog and came back toward me, jumping and skipping. When he reached me, he wrapped his arms around my waist. “That was awesome. You killed him. Blew him a new asshole.”

I didn’t feel awesome. I walked over to inspect my prize with the kid dangling from my waist. He hugged me with abandonment, exactly how I thought I wanted him to. I craved his affection, but buckled under the weight. He felt too heavy now. I knew he’d only grow harder to please in the future.

I looked down at the fury little thing. It was cute. I thought of Bill Murray and a goofy movie I watched at least ten times with my own kids. I thought of Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog of Pennsylvania, how each year of my childhood, Grandma reported if the groundhog saw his shadow, and if we would have an early spring. I thought how Grandma never killed anything to bond with me, how I never killed to bond with my own three boys.

I handed the rifle back to Chris and started to cry. By the time I reached the house I was bawling. Chris joined the porch of laughing men. But now they laughed at me, a silly woman crying over dead groundhog. I felt like a failure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day 10: The Hunter’s Apprentice

December 20, 2011

Nick and I woke at 6 am to prepare for our hunt. I’m not an early riser. I’m more of a 9ish, have-a-cup-of-coffee, scan-the-news, and futz-around-the-house-until-noon kind of riser. I suppose this must change if I’m to be a successful hunter. Jeremy, Nick’s buddy, showed up close to 7 am, and we enjoyed a little coffee as we waited for dark to lift.

We plodded through neat rows of conical-shaped Noble Fir Christmas trees. Gray sky and misty fog limited visibility. Nick slid into teacher mode, and despite his whispered delivery, he came across as the subject matter expert on all things Deer.  “Good morning for hunting. No moon last night. They’re just starting to feed about now.”

Jeremy nodded in affirmation and began his own whispered lecture. “Deer don’t have night-vision like people think. They got to wait for light to feed. Pointless to get up at the crack of dawn after a clear night with a moon. May as well drink beer all day and hunt closer to dusk.” I liked the idea of near-dusk hunts over crack-of-dawn hunts, but I doubt drinking beer all day serves as a wise technique before picking up bow or firearm. But what do I know, I am just the apprentice.

We crested a hill and stood in a clearing muddied and scared by tractor tires and littered with tree harvesting equipment. The harvest season was nearly over now, but rows of tiny green triangles striped rolling fields of grass in the promise of Christmas future. I scanned the tree fields, an orchard, the meadow, and a sea of mature timber behind Grandpa’s old red barn. My eyes inventoried distinct shades of green, reminding me why I love the Northwest and all that the rain promises.

Grandma’s tidy farmhouse stands beyond the last row of organized green triangles. The house is picture-perfect white, complemented by babbling brook and weeping willows. The view reminds me of Sunday mornings and sour-dough waffles. If I try, I can almost smell the sticky-sweet of maple syrup wiped on my sleeve. Behind Grandma’s house, an old orchard of late apples and fall pears serve as the perfect feeding ground for deer.
The ten-minute walk from hilltop to orchard was extended while moving in hunter mode. I mimicked Nick and Jeremy’s exaggerated gait, and suppressed giggles. My mind wandered, and I pictured an episode of Scooby with a cameo appearance of Elmer Fudd.

Nick signaled a rally, and Jeremy and I moved in. Charades replaced spoken word as Nick played out the story of a cougar tracking one larger deer and a smaller deer through the trees. Jeremy popped thumbs up and communicated proper licensure and hunting tag to kill cougar as well as deer. My heart sunk. The deer hunting was impromptu, and I didn’t feel fully prepared, even in my apprentice, A.K.A. gutter roll. I definitely was not ready for cougar hunting.

The boys abandoned the orchard quest, and we made our way into the forest. I followed close behind, careful not to stray too far. My eyes remained fixed on the forest floor scanning for soft moss to quiet my steps. I didn’t want to be the one blamed for sounding like a rhino and chasing away the game. I didn’t have to worry. Jeremy’s boots squeaked and he sneezed twice. I was glad not to be “that guy” for once.

We heard a crack in the woods, and we all froze. We stood motionless on an old logging road and listened to twigs break and the crunch of brush under foot. It sounded like a small herd was moving toward us. I worried my heart might be heard beating out of my chest. I wanted to see deer, but wasn’t certain I was ready to see one die. And I knew I wasn’t ready to gut one even though I promised in a moment of displaced machismo. Worse, I dreaded a sighting of cougar stealth on an unaware herd.
The crunching and snapping grew louder. Jeremy and Nick dropped to one knee and readied their bows. I dropped to a knee and fidgeted with my mittens. Nick saw him first. I knew by his smile and sigh that it wasn’t deer or cougar. With thumb and pinky extended, Nick pantomimed horns alongside of his head. Horns not antlers. A brick-red heifer poked her head from the brush. A woolly black steer pushed past to investigate. The pair of spring calves separated from the greater herd to track and investigate us. Curiosity got the best of them, and they edged dangerously close. I snapped a couple of photos before Nick rallied the hunting party back together.

We transitioned back into Scooby-doo mode and made our way through the forest. Brush under foot and snapping of twigs followed the party. We had picked up a tail, two of them. The calves followed us through the woods.

The hunt ended without a single sighting of live deer or cougar. Nick broke the silence first. “Well, we had a nice walk.”

“Isn’t that what losers say?” I pretended to be disappointed.                   

“Yeah, that’s exactly what losers say. But did you have fun?”

“You bet.”

And then the part I’d been waiting for started. Jeremy broke into the first hunting story. He told about the time he was in a wood draw surrounded by elk. How he could hear them mooing all around but couldn’t get a clear shot. How he climbed over a log and what he believes to have been a cougar leapt over his head. “The thing moved so fast, I never got a good look. I all but shit my pants hightailing it out of that canyon.” Hunting stories and jokes about honey badgers continued all through breakfast. It was a good first day in the woods.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 9: Wild Pie & Grass Fed Beef

Grandma is 91. Her longevity and good health serve as testaments to local eating and simple living. Her diet consists of grass fed beef, free-range pork, trout from her creek, and wild game supplied by my mom and dad. Until her eighties, she kept a garden and canned much of her own food.

She's grown frail this year, prone to dizzy spells and falls, but her posture is perfect, her appetite and digestion is healthy, and her mind is sharp. She drives three times a week to have her hair done, pick up groceries, or attend church.

After a hard fall two weeks ago, she contemplates assisted living. Rural living requires a twenty-minute drive to the nearest town with amenities like a senior center, shopping, and her hairdresser. She no longer wants to cook anymore, and often skips meals unless my mother delivers food. She refuses to eat microwavable meals or frozen entrees. To her, convenience foods are the true junk foods that make Americans fat and unhealthy. She has no problem slathering real butter on her bread, polishing off a huge steak, and following her meal with a warm slice of pie topped with a scoop of ice-cream. But she won't eat chemical-laden fake foods. And who am I to argue with her philosophy? We can all learn from the eating habits of near-centenarians. She knows what to feed her body.

I live five hours from my childhood home and Grandmother's house. The distance makes me feel helpless as her vigor declines. Its hard to show the level of care that a once doting granddaughter ought to show. I planned on spending the day in Grandpa's barn target practicing again, but I decided on a task less selfish. Today I created a month's worth of home cooked convenience foods to stock my Grandma's freezer. I used mostly wild game and some grass fed beef. Filling her freezer with healthy and easy dinners is the least I can do for the loving woman who helped raise me.

I'm impressed every time I open Mom and Dad's upright locker chocked full of deer, antelope, elk, and homegrown beef and pork. I'd love to feed my sons such clean and environmentally responsible sources of protein. I'm stunned with the versatility and flavors stacked on the shelves, and comforted with the knowledge of source sustainability.

I spent the summer in Scotland in a flat positioned just above the Pie Maker. I enjoyed savory meat pies a little more than I should have. The pies and probably the Guinness share the blame in the extra 11 lbs I still carry. Ah, but those pies - pure comfort food. I hope Grandma feels the comfort too, as she digs into one of my wild little pies. If she enjoys these meals, I'll continue to cook and deliver a new selection every month. I'm excited to offer her single servings of my future wild catches. She loves razor clams, so hopefully I'll have some to share by next week.

Tomorrow morning I'll hunt black tail deer with my son and his buddy. I won't carrying my bow. I'm no longer an Oregon resident and do not hold proper license. My son plans to teach me to stalk deer and to sit and wait without making noise. That boy of mine was the most talkative child ever. I can't imagine sitting beside him in peace, just listening to the sounds of the forest. He's almost 25 now, but I still see the chatter-box toddler I once knew. Tomorrow will be a new experience in our relationship. He's excited to show me what he knows, to switch roles of student and teacher. But he's probablyl more excited that I agreed to handle the gutting and butchering under his watchful eye. Great...

Day 8: Target Practice

Christmas came early for me. I spent today, the day after Early-Christmas, much like I spend December 26th of every year - playing with my toys! By far, the best toy this year was my new Diamond bow in woodland camouflage with none of the pink stuff. I also received arrows, a handy carrying case, and a stocking full of rubber worms, stinky little fish, glowing frogs, neon yellow marshmallow bait, and a fillet knife. It was a great haul considering that I wasn't even all that good this year.

Today was all about the bow. I have a decent amount of experience shooting military weapons, and while it may sound like a stretch, this experience helped. I understand how the slightest change in site picture, posture, and release effects trajectory. For me, shooting my bow was not unlike learning any new weapon of my past career.

I use a release device equipped with a lever that works much like a trigger. Velcro secures the release around my wrist. The business part of the release is a metal arm with claw and trigger. The claw hooks to the string and allows me to pull the bow's tension weight without killing my fingers. Opening the claw and releasing the string requires the same gentle trigger squeeze needed in the marksmanship of an M16 automatic rifle. A jerk on the trigger or a flinch in anticipation sends the arrow off target to the right or the left, just as it does when firing an M16.

I enjoyed my military days on the range, but I must say that my Diamond is WAY more fun. My favorite part of the whole shooting process is noise, or lack of noise. The swift pull of the bow is more vibration than sound, but its audible, like tugging at the tension of a giant rubber band.The metallic click of my finger working the release sends me back to foxholes of decades past. Then there is an almost imagined whoosh before the thwack of the arrow punches deep in a composite of stiff foam supported by Timothy Alfalfa.

I love the stealthy quiet of the bow, and didn't miss the pop and recoil of a firearm. But I missed the smell. I do like gunpowder. When my oldest son was young, he called it, "Man's potpourri." I had come to think of it as women's potpourri, or at least this woman's potpourri. Gunpowder is nostalgic. Smell it once and you'll never forget. But you can trust my shooting experience was not absent of aroma. I positioned the target against a wall of hay bales stored on the second story of Grandpa's old red barn. Steamy wet cows licked at pillow-size flakes of Alfalfa in an open bay on the first floor. Cow flops, barn dust, and barrels of spent motor oil replaced the nostril-tickling heat of gunpowder.

With help from the bow release, I pulled the bow with my right hand and seated a knuckle just below my right ear. As I set up my sight picture, my nose literally touched the string. At first the whole nose-on-string posture scared me, just like the first time I worried about snugging the butt of a rifle tight in the pocket of my shoulder and welding my cheek to stock. I feared the string or the fletchings on the arrow would cut my face. It didn't, not even a little bit.

Jim served as my coach today. I humbly admit a distaste for taking directions from men, and this is a double truth for poor Jim. I can't stand it when he tells me what to do, but I asked for his help. I'm a bull-headed, can-do-it-myself kind of woman. No one will deny this fact, especially not Jim. But, one of my greatest success secrets in life is knowing when its time to shut-up and learn. Today was my time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 7: A holiday seafood feast.

I celebrated Christmas dinner at Mom's house today. I like the years when my family opts-out of the competing pressures of  holiday schedules by holding our celebration a week or so early. It's difficult to find a day when we can all eat a meal together and not worry about jumping in the car to make it to the in-law's house in time for pie.

It's only December 17th, and I've wrapped up my extended familial commitments. I'm looking forward to personal time, just me and Jasper the black lab. I'm also excited about a big razor clam dig coming up on the 22nd and 23rd of this month. I bought a shiny clam-gun to celebrate the season. I ought to call it my glam-gun. Its really that spectacular.

Unfortunately, I was the one in the kitchen today preparing the holiday feast. I do love to cook, but I'm itching to get out and target practice with my new bow. I promised myself a day of shooting tomorrow, and I intend to make good on that promise.

Seafood for Christmas is a family tradition started at least 30 years ago by my late Grandpa Wettlaufer. He was sick to death of turkey and ham. He decided ham was for Easter and Turkey ought to be served just once a year on Thanksgiving. We were happy to oblige.

Grandpa's tradition worked well for me and my wild ideas. For the main course, we ate fresh caught Dungeness crab, Pacific Coast mussels, Olympic oysters, but I did cook a ham for my landlubbing daughter-in-law. I regret that I didn't catch the seafood we ate, but I know that by this time next year, I'll bring home the wild instead of shelling out $120 at the market.

Something cool happened this evening. But first a little backstory. I emailed a guy a few days ago advertising guided steelhead fishing near Kalama, Washington. I told him a little about my project and gave him my blog site. At first he wrote back and quoted $59 for 5 hours of steelhead lessons. I thought this was a great price. But earlier this evening, he wrote back and said that he was thinking about my project and really wanted to be a part of it. He offered the guided lessons for free if we could align schedules. I need to check everything out, figure out what gear I need, and take steps to ensure safety (safety is paramount in this whole adventure). And while its too early to tell if I'll be able to take him up on his offer, I'm touched by his interest, encouragement, and generosity.

Its a funny thing, I started this adventure with the hopes of reconnecting with nature, but one of the biggest perks so far is the connecting and reconnecting with such supportive people. Pretty cool project, so far.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 6: Why not just go organic?


"Why not just go organic?" I've been hearing this line for nearly a week now. I also hear, "Wouldn't it be easier to just be a vegetarian for a year?"

The simpler question to answer is the later. I don't want to be vegetarian. Its not that I find it all that tough. I went through a veggie-phase for a couple of years back in the early 90s. But for me, it was just a phase and not a sustainable lifestyle. I like meat, and I think that I'm supposed to eat a little bit every now and again. But like most folks, I've taken meat eating too far, sometimes eating three meals based around meat every day. In my opinion (and not a judgement on my carnivore friends), that's excessive consumption. I could forgo a year of meat eating, but what would be gained? What knowledge would I walk away with after a year experimenting with 100 ways to eat tofu, or beans, or nuts.

My vegetarianism might result in a temporary reduction of dead chickens, maybe a quarter of a cow, and just that part of the pig that is made out of bacon. My family would still eat meat. Meat would still be cooked in my home. I'd set myself up for more work by preparing two meals a night - one veggie and one not. No thanks. For me, this is about connecting to my food source on an intimate level and helping my sons do the same. Yes, I'll still need to know those 100 ways to eat tofu, beans, and nuts because I doubt I'll enjoy immediate success in filling the fridge. I'm temporarily limited by my skill and lack of gear, but I'm always regulated by the laws and seasons. Its not legal or realistic to hunt or fish on personal demand, and its not sustainable.

Now, the organic question. That one was tougher to answer, but is becoming clear the more I read about organic farming as an industry. I'm not talking about the quaint folks we meet at the our local farmers markets. I'm referring to industrialized organic farms that cater to supermarkets and big box stores like Costco.

At first blush, I might argue that I can't afford to purchase organic foods, especially meats. Organic chicken cost 2 to 3 times the amount of a typical store bought bird. It takes two chickens to feed my family per meal. That is $25 to $30 just in meat costs for a single meal. Add the organic potatoes, organic broccoli, organic mixed baby greens, and an organic salad dressing, and I'm shelling out $40 or more every time we sit down at the table.

So, I did say at first blush I thought organic foods were too expensive. But I'm rapidly learning that hunting and fishing are also very expensive. Mostly, its the acquisition of gear, reading materials, proper clothing, ammo, and licenses. I imagine if I enjoy this year and continue on as a hunter and fisher, the start-up cost will eventually pay for itself. But right now, that is a big IF.

The real reason I'm not ready to jump on the organic train is that I think the concept of organic is misleading. Actually, I think its a crock-of-poo, but misleading sounds nicer. A store bought, organically raised chicken lives every bit as miserable and filthy a life as the typical factory-farmed bird. The big difference is that the organic bird eats a diet of organic corn and soybeans and no antibiotics. But both birds live an overcrowded existence marred by diseases, unsanitary conditions, and a rather cruel ending.

The "free-range" label is bullshit too. For the most part, free range means that there is a narrow strip of turf available through a small exit. The exit remains shut until the chickens are five-weeks old. Slaughtering occurs at seven weeks. Most chickens fail to learn how to use the door and go outside during the two-week window of opportunity. Free-range birds may enjoy two-weeks of fresh air and pasture, so long as they are brave and bright enough to follow the light. Its important to know that chickens are not the smartest of birds. The free-range chicken's brightest moment may be when you open the oven door to check its temperature.

I used to read the egg cartons and make sure I purchased organic eggs or eggs from free-range birds. Now, I keep a small flock of six girls and opt out of the organic chicken lie. I know there are a few small farms in my area that produce the idyllic concepts of free-range and organic birds. You know, where the birds are actually scratching up a pasture, picking at seeds, insects, and grubs, and cooped only at night for safety from predators. If chicken cravings overtake and cannot be satisfied through grouse, quail, or duck, I'll seek out these farmers and their quintessential birds. Or maybe I'll raise a few birds for eating.

Tomorrow is a big day, target practice. It seems that Santa could not wait until Christmas to give me my new bow. More on that later.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 5: Explaining to the Ladies


I enjoyed lunch with the ladies today at Anthony’s seafood restaurant in Bremerton. My girlfriend, Angela, arranged a Christmas luncheon amongst some women artists in our area. It was great fun.

Angela had me explain my project to the ladies, and it was really the first time I tried to explain out-loud just what it was I hoped to accomplish this year. Ladies ranged from 70 to 40, so it was an interesting group to pitch the idea of a One Woman Killing Spree. To my surprise, the group was rather supportive. Several ladies seemed familiar with the perils of industrial food.

I didn’t get up on my soap box too much, because nobody wants a lecture on the sickly conditions of our poultry houses while choking down chicken strips. And I didn’t want to point out the issues behind farm-raised salmon while our hostess dug into her $20 salmon lunch salad. Sometimes the soapbox and oversharing makes you unpopular. It’s all about balance, I guess.

The women asked many intelligent questions, one was about whether I could actually shoot and eat deer. It surprises me that folks see deer as magical creatures yet have no problem with the idea of slaughtering pigs, sheep, cows, goats, chickens, and the like. I love all animals, especially the domestics that I grew up with as a kid. And while deer are graceful and fun to watch, I’ve never seen them as magical. Unicorns are magical. Deer are a part of nature. Nature is nature, not magic.

I tried to defend the equality of animals in relations to the BBQ to the plate, and how no one animal was more “magical” than the next when it came to dinner time. Deer eat my roses and my hydrangeas, not to mention the carnage they committed on 15 fruit trees I planted 3 years ago. I see nothing magical about that.

Talking about the deer reminded me of something I did as a teenager,  that I’m pretty ashamed of. While I was an exchange student in Australia, my mom sent me a picture of her holding up the antlers of a four-point buck. In the photo, Mom wore a red bandana around her head that covered her waist-length dark hair. She was covered in blood up to her elbows. Blood stained her left cheek down to her jaw. At sixteen years old, I was appalled at the photo. I was so concerned my nosy host-mother would see the picture of my real mom and pass judgment on me and my family in America.

I tore the photo in little tiny shreds and burnt it in an ashtray in my bedroom. Now I wish I had that picture. Mom sent the picture some 30 years ago. She would have been a several years younger than I am now. I’d love to see that victorious look and outdoorsy vigor she must have sported after shooting and gutting that buck. But at sixteen, I was too stupid and vain to realize just how cool my mother really was.

 I never wanted to learn how to hunt from my folks. My hunting career ended when I was about eight years old. Mom drew her rifle up on a deer and I screamed, “Run Bambi, run.” My outburst earned me week-long stays with Granny while my parents and siblings hunted without me.

So, it is an odd thing to revisit this old memory. I wonder if it is too late. Is it too late to ask Mom to take me hunting? Is it too late to celebrate her wild side? I hope not. I’m going to have a long talk over a nice bottle of Riesling with her this weekend.  I think my mom would make a fine mentor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 4: Gear – What’s with the Pink Stuff?

Going wild requires a lot of gear, especially if you haven’t done this sort of thing before. A couple of days ago, I visited a sports store in Silverdale to check out how much I could pull on a compound bow. I’m interested in bow hunting, partly because I think it is stealthy, and partly because I have a hard time with noise. Menieres disease (an inner ear disorder) claimed much of the hearing in my left ear. I’m concerned about hearing preservation. What little I have is dear to me. Bows are quiet. I like quiet.
I fumbled the conversation with this grumpy old dude at the archery counter. “What you after?” he asked.

“Not sure, something easy to handle, mid-range price. I’m a beginner.”
“No, young lady. What you wanna kill?” He crossed arms over a barrel chest and rolled his eyes. His body language spoke volumes, saying something to the effect about me being a dumb broad with no business buying a bow and traipsing off hunting like it’s a trip to the mall. The salesman’s scorn felt oddly familiar, comfortable, and even charming. I couldn’t help but smile. I thought about my father's crabby ways. I could almost hear the salesman say, “Goddammit, Chris. You’ve got to know these things, got to do your damn homework. You're not buying a goddam handbag…” I wanted to hug the man.
I leaned over the counter, like girls do when they really need something. “Well, that’s just it. I need your expert advice?” I watched him melt like sugar cubes in my tea cup. He went all sticky and gooey on me, reaching across the counter to feel my bicep before selecting a bow for me to pull. I could have bet a hundred bucks on what bow he would hand me to demo.

“Try this one, doll.” He handed me a youth/ladies bow by Bear, camoflauged in a horrific woodland pink. The little pink wonder was dialed back to a 30 lb. pull. I didn’t expect it to be so easy. The old man cooed, “Say, you’re a strong one.”

I pulled a few more bows and found 50 pounds was about the comfortable max. I shot a few arrows in a practice alley behind the counter. I wasn’t very good, but it was fun. Jim bow hunts, so I’m hoping he’ll teach me a few things. I also hope he tells Santa to slide one under the tree for me. Santa knows that pink would not be my first choice or second or third.
Today was all about fishing. I went back to the sports store and this time talked to a different grumpy old man. He asked the standard question, “what you after?”

And this time I knew how to answer. “I’m hoping to take a few trout out of Kitsap Lake.”

“Oh, fine, fine. You might try Island Lake and Spencer too. Nice trout in those two lakes. You fish much?”

“Couple times, but I don’t really know how.”
“Well, how bout we pick out a rod.” He led me to a long line of Ugly Sticks, cheaper rod and reel combos meant for the beginner. And of course the first pole he grabbed was breast-cancer-ribbon pink. “Now, this here is a fine lady rod.”

“Ah, do you have it in red, or blue, or maybe green?”

“Pink ones catch bigger fish, you know.”

“Is that right?”

“Oh yes. True, true.” He grabbed another less-pinkish pole. “You gonna like this beauty a whole lot.” He handed me a black rod with hot pink accents and stepped back to await approval.

Screw it. I didn’t want pink gear, but he looked mighty pleased with himself, and I was hoping to get out on the lake soon. “Love it. I’ll take it.”

“Great, now how about pink PowerBait to match. The stuff sparkles.”


I hit Kitsap Lake with coordinated rod and glittery bait. It took me about an hour to figure out the whole hook, leader, and weight set-up. I spent another frustrated hour fighting a reel that refused to reel in, only to figure out I failed to string the line properly.

Dusk settled in. Ducks skidded across the glassy lake in great swooshes. Quacks rang like laughter as I cast the first glittery puff of pink bait.

No fish for supper tonight, just more vegan borscht. Bummer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 3: Mentor Up.


Day 3: Mentor Up
I know some talented folks. That is for sure. And I’m tapping into that collective talent for this project. There is only so much a girl can learn from books and online info-fishing. Sometimes we need to rely on the experts living amongst us. We must ask for help. I have amazing experts to help mentor me into the killing and eating machine I plan to become.

First on my lineup of mentors is Coast Guard Chief Judy Pallagi. I’m hoping she can help tighten up my boating skills and finally get me in a kayak. Those Dungeness aren’t coming to shore to climb into my pot, you know. Right now, I’m hardly comfortable taking my little boat out in Seabeck Bay. And the bay is nice, but Dungeness are found further out – out where I’m not ready to go. The Hood Canal is going to play a big role in feeding me and my family this next year. I love seafood and think I’ll have an easier time knocking a salmon on the head over gutting a deer (but I do plan on trying to hunt deer). Chief Pallagi is a wise woman that I served with a few years ago while we were both stationed at Bangor with the Maritime Force Protection Unit. She is the one that originated my education as a Patrol Commander, but she left the unit before I learned all that she could teach me. So, I’m excited for the chance to reunite our friendship while working on this project. She’s one of the toughest and brightest ladies I know.
My baby cousin, Donny McGlasson (now fully grown with wife and kids) has volunteered to dish advice whenever needed. He’s lived in Alaska for the past several years, so I’m sure he has a wealth of outdoorsy type advice. Plus, it has been a good 20 years since I’ve seen my cousin and this will be a fun way to reconnect and bridge the years that have separated he and me from our childhoods together.
And then there is the boy-next-door and girlhood crush, Christopher Wright. Chris has volunteered to give advice and laugh at (with me) when I do stupid stuff- which will be often. Chris claims to be an expert fisherman and avid hunter, so it sounds like I’ve hit the jackpot with this mentor. He’s already shared a lesson for my vicarious learning. Supposedly, there are “baitless” lakes in Washington. Who knew? How do you catch a fish without bait? Well, Chris didn’t know about baitless lakes and was going about it old-school, when he was slapped with a $250 ticket. Ouch! And here is a weird coincidence, in an earlier message Chris explained a bit about hunting quail and grouse with a 20-gauge shotgun (which by the way, I have access to one in the family gun safe) and on my way home from the post office, 6 grouse or maybe they were quail, (I can’t tell the difference), ran out in front of my car on our driveway. Odd. I haven’t seen any for a while. So now I’m wondering how to cook them and what the little birds might taste like. I fear I’ll look at all wildlife and wonder if rosemary or sage will season better. Sicko, sicko, me…
My last “consultant” confirmed today is Ms. Clobbie, an Alpha-11 girl from my basic training days in the Army. She’ll provide the expert lens to help capture the adventure. She snapped my son’s senior photos this year, as well as my blog picture. She has an eye for nature. I look forward to hanging out with one of my best girlfriends. We’ve known each other since 1985! And we still like each other.
I think today was a big success. I gathered four people to assist me along my adventure. I love the idea of engaging with nature and reconnecting with friends and relatives that for some reason or another, life has left me little focus and time. But that’s all going to change now.
Tonight’s dinner was vegan hearty borscht with toasted buckwheat and lentils. It was great, but I’m missing my meat a little bit. My spring pullets finally got off their asses and started laying eggs. I’ve collected 8 eggs in two days, so maybe I’ll enjoy an omelet tomorrow night. I’m already feeling kind of legumed-out.  Eggs are hard to fathom without bacon, but I’ll manage. The documentary, Food Inc, ruined factory pork for me. I grew up raising pigs and know firsthand of their intelligence and charming personalities. I’m not against eating pork, but I am so against the mistreatment of pigs during their feedlot lives and horrific last moments on the kill-floor of a commercial meatpacking plant. And for me, raising a pig for slaughter is kind of out of the question (at least for now). I can’t love and feed and scratch the belly of a piglet until it is old enough to feed my family and then kill the damn thing. I know I ought to work through this. Maybe I could kill chickens or turkeys, but not pigs, sheep, goats, or sweet but dull cows. Wild feels more intuitive to me. Going wild excites and scares me.
 I must work my way up the killing chain. Crabs, clams, oysters, and muscles don’t really count. I’ve managed all of those things. I did scream (a lot) the first time I tossed a rock crab into a pot of boiling water. But I got over it pretty quick (drawn butter and a glass of Riesling helps one forget). I think knocking a salmon on the head will be a pretty big challenge, but tonight's vegan dinner has me so ready.  I’m hungry!