A Skink in a Log

When your alarm goes off at 435am so you can leave for the airport by 515, it’s very dark outside. It’s hard to get up. Your eyes resist opening. They slit open only enough to deactivate the alarm. You roll over and tuck in again. Just a few more minutes, you think, just a few.

No. Today is Travel Day. Time to get up. Now.

That’s just how the skink must have felt, the one we found inside a cut log this weekend. The one we woke up.

If you have ever wondered what the inside of a tree looks like, look on the outside for clues. If you see a lot of holes, especially large ones – fist-size or bigger – worry. If you see squirrels and birds disappearing inside those holes – worry more. You might have a tower filled with condominiums for your local wildlife. If that tree is anywhere near your house, call someone to come take it down.

The 80-foot (or so) tree that stood about an arm-spread from the back corner of my house, right next to my bedroom, was one such tower. Last winter a professional climber lopped off numerous branches while hanging from a rope tied to the jib of a 40-ton crane. Do you see him up there? He’s just under that heavy ball attached to the rope that’s attached to the jib.

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Then they felled the tree. Afterwards he said to me no fewer than four times, “You are so lucky that tree didn’t fall on your house. You are so lucky.”

The cut branches revealed all stages of disintegration: some entirely without a core, some with wood fluff that fell out like finely shredded Styrofoam, some with spongy innards, not yet dry enough to slough off and out. I was so lucky.

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Some of this wood we cut up right away for firewood. Some of it sat in a jumble near the garden, waiting, aging, drying some more. Fourteen months later it was time to split and stack the rest. I’m good for rolling cut sections toward the cutting area and for picking up and stacking the cut pieces. Samuel swings the ax.

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“Hey, look. Is it dead?” He brought over a split piece to where I was wrestling with nasty, thorny Virginia creeper. Do you see the little fella with the unmistakable blue tail ?

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The aptly named blue-tailed skink seemed to be sleeping. Do skinks hibernate? The impact of the ax, the sound and disturbance of the cracking, the force of the split log falling to the ground – none of this disturbed him. He snoozed soundly in his little crack, hoping perhaps that it isn’t spring just yet.

Awwwww – just a few more minutes??

No. Sorry. Today is Wood Splitting Day. Time to get up. Now.

The fresh air must have roused him. Off he scampered, easily disappearing among some dead leaves. Within minutes Samuel spotted his compatriot, a little brown lizard way better camouflaged and surely able to claim a better name than “little brown lizard” but sadly I don’t know my woodland wildlife well enough. See him just below the toe of Samuel’s left boot?

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Two lizardy creatures awakened to Spring 2019 before our eyes! That’s not a thing you can say every day.

Maple-Rosemary Pairing

Every now and then I get a hankering for French toast. Visions of warm maple syrup tempt me more than usual right now because I know the sap of maple trees is running well (nights cold enough, days warm enough, correct differential). Plus, I had some bread that was two days old.

In the bakery section of my grocery store (and I don’t mean the bread-in-plastic-bags aisle) they sell a variety of in-store baked bread. I’m not naïve enough to believe that they mix up the dough there, but at least they bake it there, so it’s fresher, sometimes even still warm. You find a decent rye with caraway seeds, a crusty multigrain loaf and a lovely “country” white made with rosemary and olive oil.

Lightly toast a slice or two of that rosemary bread and top it with butter and honey – that’s some good eating! So on Saturday I said to myself: Why not French toast? Fairly thick (just under one inch) slices soaked in the egg-milk mixture, browned in butter and topped with maple syrup – hmmm, using the rosemary bread for this just might work. So I tried it.

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I love how the pieces puff up as the egg inside them cooks. I love the crispiness formed (especially on the edges) by the hot butter coming in contact with the soaked bread. I love warm, pure syrup dripped over top and then soaking into the soft inners.

Any meal, any occasion, any success, any failure happens because of the confluence of numerous factors, a specific alignment of the figurative stars. This specific breakfast is no different. For it to happen included 1. having this kind of bread on hand, 2. knowing how to turn bread into French toast and 3. being willing to experiment.

Let’s start with the bread. Somewhere along the line it occurred to someone to put jalapenos in pickles, sugar on corn flakes, barbeque flavoring on potato chips. Why not rosemary in bread? Who can doubt that Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme helped bring all these wonderful herbs into kitchens they had previously not entered, introducing a generation to flavors and aromas that enhance many foods? I’m not sure which is better in bread – kalamata olives or fresh rosemary – but I’ll take either on any day. If there is honey in the cabinet for drizzling on top, I am in heaven.

French toast is such a simple meal to prepare – I should make it more often. For the five pieces you see in the pan above, plus the two in a second pan (no point squishing French toast), I used four large eggs (my good eggs, which undoubtedly contributed to the amazing result) whisked up with half a cup of milk. This was a bit much – three would have done – but I took the extra egg mixture and carefully poured it onto each slice after I put them into the pan but before I flipped them, which maybe added to the puffiness. Oh, and I used about two tablespoons of butter in the large pan and one in the smaller and cooked them over a medium flame. Get the butter hot before you put the soaked bread in the pan.

The being willing to experiment part is, for me, both limited and expanding: Limited because I know what I like and what I don’t like (so I outright refuse to consider certain things like jalapenos, sorry to say), but expanding because 1. My experience over time has accumulated in a mysterious and wonderful way. New combinations occur to me that never would have. A new method I never used pops in my head for something I’ve made many times. It’s super cool! And 2. Let us always, at least in some benign thing, remain unpredictable. Life is just more fun 😊

Some of the world’s best things came about by similar alignment of stars, i.e. having/doing a thing routinely over time and then a need or a change or an idea turns it into a version of the original by way of experimentation. Ice cream cones come to mind. New Yorker Italo Marchiony sold ice cream off a pushcart to Wall Street customers looking for a quick snack. He served it in little (let’s assume fairly inexpensive) glass cups, but too often these either broke from being dropped or were not returned to him. He came up with an edible cup and was awarded the patent in 1903 for his ten-at-a-time cone-making mold. At the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition his cones were so popular he still couldn’t keep up with demand, so he reached out to fellow exhibitor Ernest Hamwi, who was selling a thin, waffle-like Syrian cookie. The cookies, molded while still warm, made great impromptu cones.

Oh, yum! Never mind French toast – who wants an ice cream cone??!!