Archive for February, 2020

A Visitor

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

When you are thinking about committing to a lifetime with another person, and working out which qualities will be harmonious with a long relationship, you could do a lot worse than looking for a good pie maker. Many, if not most of life’s travails can be buffered or eliminated by that first forkful of warm flaky crust sandwiched around some recently molten sugared fruit. If the blues are so bad that pie fresh from the oven doesn’t perk you up, then I’m afraid I’ve run out of advice for you.

If you’ve been convinced, and nothing but the best pie-maker in the world is good enough for you, then I have some bad news. She’s already taken and lives in the same country house that I do. If there is an art to good pie, then Alice is Michelangelo.

I can prove it to you by telling you a story about a recent visitor. The other day, Alice told me she heard something unusual in the wall. I do pride myself in listening to the house and understanding the meaning of its creaks and groans. I listened with her, and hearing nothing, told her it was likely the pipes running from the water jacket in the woodstove up to the storage tank in the bathroom. I sort of forgot about it until the next morning.

Alice had made a crumb cake and left it on the kitchen counter covered in tin foil. I’m usually the first downstairs each morning, and when I came down, I noticed the foil was askew, and that a tiny bit of the topping was missing. I chalked this up to someone forgetting to close the foil before bed the night before, and moved on with my day. This must have been on a Friday, because that is the day Alice sets aside to make our weekend pie.

We’re both trying to cut down on sweets, and have found that cold turkey works poorly for us. So we allow ourselves desserts only on the weekends, hence the Friday pie.

We both had a delicious slice warm from the oven before bed that night, and as is our habit, we left the pie on the kitchen counter with a dinner plate inverted over the top. When I came down Saturday morning, this is what I found:

The plate was pushed off, and the crust was tasted lustily. The picture does not show it, but there were small footprints on the counter where a creature that had had its feet in the filling was scampering away. My first thought was a red squirrel, a consistent and destructive nemesis. I went out to the shop and dusted off my live traps, and set them Saturday night. Sunday morning brought no results. But during the day on Sunday, while both of us were in the dining room, I noticed some movement in the corner of the kitchen floor by the dishwasher:

We both stood very still and observed as our visitor walked out into the kitchen brimming with curiosity about the pie givers across the room from him. Here is a closeup of the same picture:

I’m afraid I didn’t get very good pictures because although we were very interested in this little weasel, he got bored with us very quickly. He was kind enough to show off the black tip on his tail, and then he vanished back into the corner of the kitchen. This quick view was the last we saw of him. We have changed our habits about leaving covered food on the kitchen counter, and also disabled our mouse trap just in case the little guy might accidentally get himself caught.

We both felt honored by this visit, and hopeful he’ll come back again to say hello. Not only is he a beautiful creature, but I admire his taste in pie.

Reef Lessons

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

Alice and I were lucky enough to get away for a while this past Christmas. We took a cruise ship in the Western Caribbean, where we were able to spend some quality time on the beautiful tropical beaches there. One seldom hears complaints about the sandy beaches in the tropics. Until recently, I did not know that the sand on those beaches is comprised mostly of parrotfish poop.

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According to my snorkeling guide in Belize, there are about 80 species of parrotfish world wide, and in the reefs of Belize are found around 20 of them. Parrotfish are identified by their parrot-like mouths. They make their living by cleaning algae off the coral. As coral declines, algae can invade them, causing the coral to get sicker. Parrot Fish have strong beaks that can pry up these sick sections of coral, which they chew and swallow in order to extract the nutritious algae. They then excrete the inedible parts. One large parrotfish can excrete 200# of sand per year. Multiply that by all the parrotfish in the world, and give them the millions of years they’ve been munching and pooping, and voila, you have sandy beaches.

Although I tried several times, I was unable to get a positive view of a parrotfish. My guide explained my trouble was due to my shark-like behavior. He told me that during high tide some sharks come a long way up into the coral, and looking for a meal, they can get into the shallows by turning on their sides and churning their tail fin. When my guide pointed out a parrotfish for me to look at, I looked where he was pointing and dove under water churning my fins. This behavior reminded the parrotfish of a shark attack, and they quickly scattered before I could spot them. I was not too disappointed though, because there are lots of youtubes of parrotfish available.

I tried to imagine an old parrotfish swimming around the reef looking down at the sand. It seems possible to me that one determined fish could create many hundreds of pounds of sand. Sand is his legacy. I wonder what the legacy of humans will be once we’ve been around for a while. What is our collective legacy and what will be our individual legacy? As I swim around and observe the flotsam in my wake, will any of it settle to the bottom and merge with the other flotsam? Will I manage to get out of the way when sharks swim sideways during high tide? Will I wear my teeth down chewing up the coral while sucking out the algae?