Retired American woman from the Pacific Northwest living between Seattle and Brazil: Traveling the world and learning how to live and age gracefully...share my thoughts and stories from a lifetime of exercising and preparing fresh food while I become a full time writer and fluent in Portuguese. Plus together we can experience the incredible culture and landscape, the rivers and beaches in beautiful Brazil, Puget Sound and wherever else I go.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Lopez Island Blog
The Evening Ferry
There are some places in my life that bring me happiness.Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands in
Washington State, is one such place.Last
week I visited Lopez for five days.My
agenda was simple: walk on the beach each day; eat good, healthy and ideally
local food; write; visit with my neighbors and be present while a skilled
arborist, who lives on the island, cut and limbed some trees on our property that had
overgrown their welcome or were unhealthy.
I was excited to have this opportunity.While I was waiting in line for the ferry,
just the thought of my visit and the beauty of north Puget Sound inspired me to write a poem I would like to share
with you.It is called, given where it
times the world escapes my grasp.
disappears around the bend
runs away with me
least expect it.
to the rain.
to the sun.
moon is a sliver
it catches my eye.
full moon rises across the valley.
glows red then silver.
fills the horizon
huge beach ball.
I feel so full
other times, so empty
is no solace.
wind whistles in the trees
flags fly high.
over the horizon
Led by an expert arborist, three young men spent two days
cutting overgrown and dead trees around our house.Our property isn’t large but it is heavily wooded.Over the 35 years our family has owned it,
many cedar, fir and other less desirable trees have grown too close together, grown
too near the house or have sprouted up in places that would benefit from having
less or more diverse forest growth.Several volunteer deciduous trees, including some undesirable non-fruiting
cherries, became much larger than we ever anticipated.Many lower branches on otherwise healthy
trees were dead from lack of light and crowding.The trees needed more air, more light and
more space to breath.The forest needed
help to re-gain its health and the house needed to be free of trees that leaned
Up in the tree!
The work of an arborist or a lumberjack is intrinsically
dangerous. Anyone who has ever wielded a
chain saw or even cut thick branches with a hand saw knows that it is all too
easy to damage oneself and the tree unless conscious care is taken. The young men who worked on my trees were
uniformly knowledgeable and safety conscious.
They didn’t allow me to be too close to the work since I didn’t have a
hard hat and even a small falling branch can be dangerous. One of the larger trees was so close to the
house, it had to be felled by taking it down piece by piece. The chief arborist Zack coached one of the
younger men through the entire complex process.
First, he climbed an adjacent tree using climbing gear so as not to damage the tree. His harness had multiple redundant fastenings
and all his tools, including a full size chain saw were fastened to his body by
strong carabiners. Any mountaineer would
have been impressed with his equipment and skill.
When he was more than fifty feet off the ground, he threw a
rope over the upper trunk of the tree that was going to be cut.He startled a raccoon that was sleeping in an
abandoned nest high up in a third tree.After saying “good morning” to the surprised coon, he used rope-climbing
techniques to swing over to the designated tree.Once there he chose a sturdy branch and began
limbing the leafy cedar branches above his head.Soon, he was ready to cut to treetop.Zack, his mentor stood below on the ground
with the anchor rope attached to a winch on the trunk of the original
tree.After making an initial cut into
about a quarter of the tree’s radius, with the anchor rope winched down
tightly, the aerial artist cut the trunk.There was a loud crack and fine wood dust filled the air as the heavy
wood broke free and dangled high in the air.Zack lowered the trunk while the fellow up in the tree continued to limb
and cut the next section down.The
entire operation was intrinsically elegant.The three young men completed all the work efficiently and safely – and
my husband, Jeff and I have a healthier forest, more light, better views and enough
wood chips and firewood to last quite a long time.
Jeff joined me for the weekend.On Saturday morning we visited a local baker
to buy some of his artisanal bread and learn about his wood-fired oven.Twenty years ago, Jeff built a wood-fired brick
oven in our garden in Seattle.We
modeled the design roughly on the brick ovens that grace many Brazilian gardens
– big enough to roast something quite large and small enough to fit into our urban
yard.In the years since, we have
enjoyed many wonderful roasted meals – salmon; pork; leg of lamb; holiday
standing rib roasts; roasted vegetables and many other delicious foods.The oven is built of firebricks and sits
below a steep rockery outside our kitchen door.
Over the years, we have used many kinds of fruitwood and
other hard woods to impart delicious smoky flavors to whatever we roast.Jeff has become an expert at roasting in this
outdoor oven.He understands the quality
of the different woods; the nature of the fire and the relative heat and smoke
needed for the perfect product depending on the specific item being roasted.He has also developed a seventh sense about
how to use different types of salt, fresh cut herbs, garlic and various marinades
to enhance flavors.Often we use
rosemary branches cut from large bushes in our garden to give the barbeque an
extra twist.And we never hesitate to
raid the liquor cupboard for a bit of leftover Aquavit or Cointreau or whatever
else might add a new flavor to the roast.
Our friends and family love coming over to share food from
the brick oven.When everyone digs into
the pork roast or cuts into the crispy salmon skin, there is silence and
satisfaction in the dining room, as everyone tastes the smoky flesh.We are thinking about building a similar but
perhaps larger oven here on Lopez.Farmers
on Lopez produce some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten; we can
catch salmon and crabs and buy oysters, mussels and clams from the local
shellfish farm.What better reason to
have a wood fired oven in the garden?And what better reason to visit a local baker who is a wood oven expert?
The baker we visited bakes all his bread in an oven he built
using very interesting technology.His commercial-sized
oven is much larger than we would need for one family but its basic structure,
from the firebrick lining to the thick insulation that stores the heat to the
built-in temperature probes, make it a perfect model to guide our
thoughts.Nathan is a very capable and
creative person.He built the oven in
its own roomy bake house.He explained that
to develop enough stored heat to bake his bread and the delicious cinnamon
rolls we sampled, he must fire the oven up almost 24 hours in advance.By building and tending the fire over the
previous day, he is able to store enough heat to bake commercial quantities of
artisanal bread.He only uses natural
leavens and to the extent possible, locally grown wheat.His bread is quite extraordinary – moist and
flavorful with a fine soft interior and a rich crusty exterior.
Jeff has been making bread from a wild more than one hundred
year old sour dough starter for thirty years.It was inspirational to meet this young knowledgeable baker and listen
to the two men discuss the attributes of wild yeasts.Of course, from my perspective, there is
nothing quite as delicious as sinking your teeth into a fresh loaf directly
from the oven.We are excited to eat
more local Lopez bread and to plan our own wood-fired oven.
We rounded out our weekend with a marathon session of
chopping and stacking a monster juniper bush that has taken over the lower edge
of one part of our property.Jeff’s job
was to beat the bush into submission.Mine was to clear the gnarly branches away from the road and driveway –
and attempt to stack them for future chipping, as well as spread chips from the
previously cut trees on the forest floor.We were both pleased that our hours in the gym translated into the
ability to do hard physical work outside for the better part of Sunday –
without having back, shoulder or arm pain.I was impressed with my ability to move big logs and endless juniper
branches and fill and dump many wheelbarrows full of wood chips.Maybe all those core exercises not to mention
lat pulls and curls are beneficial.
All in all we had a productive and peaceful visit.I look forward to returning to enjoy the
rejuvenated woods and finish our plans for an outdoor oven.