Friday, February 19, 2010

The Golden Chanterelle

The country's only Chanterelle Festival! A week from today it begins: those who love the moist, golden fruit of the forest will gather at the Big Sur Lodge, to prepare their wild mushroom mixtures for the rest of us fungi-loving folk.

From soup, to beer to ice cream, (and everything in between) you can savor tasty dishes with delicious matching wines, from six different local vineyards, on both Friday night and and Saturday afternoon and evening. There's a contest among local chefs to see who can create the most magical mushroom meal.

Personally, I like them deep fried (comfort food, of sorts) and have fond memories of a feast of chanterelles prepared this way, along with mussels from the cove and lots of yummy red wine. Finding the little beasties is great fun, too. We scuffle around the oak leaves, baskets in hand, gently slicing the saffron colored marvels off the forest floor. Even I can impress my gourmand spouse by cooking them in butter, and plopping them onto rice, or eggs.

If you're in the area, don't miss it! You can buy very reasonably priced tickets for different 'shroom events: a FUNgus hunt, the Cook-Off!, the Awards Dinner, Sunday Brunch and more. Plus your contribution to the Big Sur community will help fund an ongoing project to create sustainable, organic gardens throughout the area.

Mushroom found and photographed by Toby Rowland-Jones

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joy of Friendship

"A friend is someone who, while leaving you with all your dignity intact, obliges you to be fully who you are."

I can't cite the source of that quote, but remember reading it on a bookmark about twenty years ago. At the time I was a recently returned ex-pat (from my college year abroad) dealing with culture shock: No, there is no café-style night life in my home state, nothing like the expansive boulevards, ancient hidden plazas and sparkling evenings of tapas and copas* with sophisticated bohemians that I'd found in Madrid.

Suddenly, I was just another college senior in a big university, one who hadn’t a clue as to what she would do next. But Uncle Bill invited me in to his home, essentially rent-free, in exchange for cleaning up after his cat and accompanying him to cheap Chinese restaurants in downtown Oakland.

Plus, we talked. “You should always eat right,” he admonished me, after witnessing my dysfunctional college diet of donuts, coffee and whiskey. Exam time usually put me into a panic, and Bill provided me with an anchor, discussing my studies with me. I took the bus to the campus from his tiny Montclair bungalow, which had been his family home since the 30’s. He had a girlfriend, and occasionally he’d be out all night, a mischievous sparkle in his good eye the following day.

He is the one who gave me that bookmark, and who asked me if I was on track to live up to my potential, the first adult to do so, endorsing what has become a life-long process of questioning myself on this point.

Who can live without friends? Who can grow without love? Friendship can have a sweet, short arc, or be spiritual ballast for decades.

My friends have taught me how to cook, how to dance, how to love. By example, they've taught me self-love. They’ve shown me how to laugh when the chips are down, how to work smart, how to play like nothing else matters. I have risen to many challenges in my life because I have received the love and grace of my friends, and I want to be in a position to give that back. Shared laughter in friendship is pure joy.

Which brings us to Kipling and Vinnie, pictured above. Two funny guys who have found each other, and who have many daily loving rituals. Animal friendship is not to be discounted, as it inspires us to join their world: the eternal present.

Every morning petite and pugnacious Vinnie trots over from his house to my bedroom door, looking for Kipling. “Time to come out and play!” he says, or, “It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk,” and sometimes, simply, “What’s for breakfast, dude?”

They’ll roll in the grass, wrestle with each other, mark territory everywhere (first one, then the other) and generally have a good time. They’re constantly together, and never seem to be bored. Mostly they’re quiet, other times Kip will patrol the perimeter of the property and Vinnie will bark his little-dog head off. Acceptance, companionship and play, essential requirements for any good friendship.

Uncle Bill understood animal friendship, too. He's the only person I've ever known to train a cat: his would sit up on command and beg for bits of food. He gave a puppy to his nephew (my step-Dad) and this story causes everyone's eyes to well with tears, because Uncle Bill left us too soon. He reminded us that life can end suddenly, in an unexpected way, making those guiding words we say to each other, and our loving gestures, more poignant.

There is a beautiful urgency in what one soul gives to another through friendship, this loving permission to be ourselves. We find a powerful treasure when we are fully who we are.

*copas = cocktails, of course!

Photos by Linda Sonrisa

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Robins are coming!

I step outside onto the soaking green grass this morning, the slate colored ocean and rain-bearing sky looming beyond me. It is the always changing backdrop here, subdued now in gray tones.

It’s late Winter, and a refreshingly wet one. This time around, we’re experiencing an unusual avian phenomenon: Robins — Thousands and thousands of them, massive flocks swooping down to the forest behind the house every evening.

Normally we see just a few of these plump red-breasted birds as our seasonal indicators, placidly plucking fat worms from the grass. But this year, we’re absolutely flooded with them. Robins anticipate wet weather (the "early bird" element) because saturated soil makes it easier to hunt for earthworms, who burrow up to the surface to avoid drowning.

Last week I hiked up above the house at dusk, and literally had to dodge hundreds of Robins as they careened down the hill to the forest. As night falls we hear them chirping and twittering up a storm as they settle down to sleep on the branches of the oak and bay trees. They’re not breeding yet, or nesting; they’ll nest when they migrate back home. This is their hunting party.

Mornings are best, as we listen to a luxuriant dawn symphony of bird song, alternating with the drumbeat of hundreds of wings as they fly off in groups, beginning their day with a clear sense of purpose. The moment that they take off, feathers rustling in unison, calms the soul.

What do they do each day? It seems they forage for berries, eat worms, sing flirtatious songs, fly around, then come home. Sounds familiar.

The Robin visitation is unique to this property (known as Lone Palm): we’ve checked with our neighbors on other ridges and up and down this mountain and it’s only happening here. I’m considering it a good sign.

Birds represent the healing cycle of life, our connection with the Divine. The multitudes of Robins visiting Partington during these weeks are part of our habitat’s regeneration after the ’08 fire. As my clever spouse points out, they poop out seeds, (hmmm, is this why their scientific name is turdus migratorius?) This process enriches the land, which means more plants, more insects, more small animals, and so on. Exponential growth.

So, may the blessings of the Lone Palm Robins be upon you. May they bring fruitful abundance and effusive joy to your current flight path!
Robin photo by Linda Sonrisa
Flight picture by Toby Rowland-Jones