Lost in Grace

5demayoImagine yourself far away from home, across the ocean far, lost in an unexplored land, surrounded by animals you’ve never seen or could imagine (and they’re big, like bison big), and following a guide your gut tells you not to trust.

This is exactly what happened in 1541 to the company on Vasquez de Coronado’s exploration of the New World. What we call the Texas Panhandle, they called uncharted. Even so, they followed their guide, a Proto Pawnee Indian the Spaniards dubbed ‘The Turk.’

What else could they do?

With supplies running low, some soldiers withdrew from the camp in search of food, and at least one man was never seen again. It wasn’t until the group met Teya Indians who said the expedition was going in the wrong direction that Vasquez de Coronado discharged The Turk for another guide, the Proto Wichita Indian named Ysopete. After this, the expedition divided, some going to what is now Kansas, and the rest returning to what is now New Mexico. As for The Turk, well, his direction went decidedly south… if you get my meaning.

While I haven’t been in quite as desperate a situation, I have been lost—once when I was very young. Sears and Roebuck. Following pants I thought were on my mother’s legs. Turns out the pants belonged to someone I did not know. My heart stopped. I called my mother’s name. “Mom!” Several women looked down, but none was my mom. Next thing I knew I was corralled behind a counter, given a choice of one chocolate, and heard my name announced in the store’s sound system, “Would Amy’s mother please come to the candy counter?”

Someone was looking out for me.

The other moms in the store, the store clerks, and my guardian angel Lydia—so named just for convenience you understand—looked out for me then. And since I have this ministering angel, I still am “looked out for” today.

When the icy road makes my car swerve before traffic and I am unscathed, “Thanks Lydia.”

When in a hurry I slip down the stairs and do NOT twist an ankle, “Thanks Lydia.”

But really, even Lydia is only following marching orders. 

Just as no one in Coronado’s muster could leave the trail unless given permission, my route is watched over and bordered by love. This love protects me from succumbing to despair or wishing I was on another path. Life is so much easier when I don’t pressure myself to follow somebody else’s way. Nope. That’s their street. That’s their direction. Not better than mine. Not worse. Simply theirs.

My path is sometimes a wide swath of comfortable pace, and other times it’s tangled and steep and scary. Yet if my determination to stay on my own path is thwarted by jealousy or comparison, you know, that someone else’s street is nicer than mine, I have to remind myself that the borders are there for my freedom to make it safe to explore without fear of getting lost. But let me tell you, the fences are so far apart that there is more than enough room to grow.

My friend Debbie W. Wilson has written a book which explains what I mean much better than I ever could. and if ever you’re feeling a little lost or fearful, I encourage you to pick up a copy of her book and apply its many truths. It’s called Little Women Big God, and her website is www.DebbieWWilson.com

Was there ever a time when you were lost?

Are you feeling lost now?

Maybe you’ve landed on this page for a reason. Maybe Debbie’s book will help you.

For more information about how Debbie can help, check out Light House Ministries. You’ll be glad you did.

The Deer Who Suffered

Blue DeerLooking through my car window, the doe looked okay. But something wasn’t right.

I approached slowly, wondering, “Why is she resting in the middle of the intersection?” My car rolled to a stop a few feet away.

Still, she did not move.

Then I saw it. Her sides heaved and her nose bled. Not knowing what to do, I stepped out of my car even though I was dressed for a party–a celebration of missionaries for which I would serve them. All that week I had been helping to set the hall and prep the food for people who care for the sick, the poor, the suffering. But as I stood in the street, in the cold, in December, my heart broke for another of God’s creation.

The deer tried to stand but it’s leg was pitifully broken.

What would you do?

Just then, a truck pulled up, and before the man who stepped out could say a word, I said, “Oh! I am so glad you came!” He looked at me as if trying to recollect my name, but we had never met before. Still, I was glad. Help was needed. Help arrived. How?

An orchestrated intervention—at least that is what I believe.

I explained to the man what I knew about the situation, which wasn’t much. He called the state patrol who connected him with the Division of Wildlife. Meanwhile, the deer continued to suffer.

How does one console a life who does not know human touch? Who looks, and looks, and looks away?

After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, the man received permission to take the deer’s life. It was for the best. The poor thing.

Being a hunter, he had a knife in his truck. I watched this man gently put the knife to the doe’s throat. His hand rested on her head for a time. Then I watched her die.

It was… for the best.

Handmade hunting knife made of deer horn and buffalo, on white background isolated.

Handmade hunting knife made of deer horn.

He asked if I would help lift the animal to his truck bed. What else could I do? I buttoned my coat to cover my white serving blouse and lifted. Then I went on to live another day. Another day. I am grateful.

Two days later, having made a sort of friendship with this kind hunter, my dog and I drove to his house, met his wife and son, and received a few bundles of venison. His wife was curing the skin for some future craft use.

I asked about the process of preparing the meat. Without telling me most of the details, he did say that he and his young son took the deer into the wild, gutted it, and left the innards for other animals to consume. That seemed right to me. Nothing gone to waste. Then a friend came and helped him carve the meat. I received a portion.

I told my new friends that I would thank the Great Spirit for the life of this deer, for the man, the hunter who came at just the right time, and for the nourishment of the meat. The man said he always gives thanks when he hunts. Always.

Now, I have to tell you, I grew up in the city. Meat came from a store, not an animal who gave up its life for mine. This is a solemn post for me. A holy remembrance of sacrifice. A deeper appreciation for the things I often take for granted.

That said, this past Sunday I prepared the venison in a marinade of olive oil, mustard, parsley, pepper, and salt. I grilled it. I prayed. I ate. Not much though. Maybe two bites. As I said, this was an awakening of the process of consumption. I told some friends, country girls who grew up on ranches, and they smiled at my naivety. They are good friends!

My Venison

North American Indians had a special way of preparing deer meat to make it last in times of want. It is called pemmican. To make pemmican, the meat is first dried then pounded until powdered to a cornmeal like consistency. This is blended with various dried fruits, such as chokecherries, blackberries, apples…. Fat from the meat might be added to bind the mixture, and the paste, pressed into cakes or rolled into sticks, could last a long time—at least until another profitable hunt.

The prayer I share with you today is Chinook, one that I found on a Jesuit website that includes many prayers from all around the world: http://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/Mealtime-Prayers.cfm

“May all I say and all I think

Be in harmony with Thee

God within me, God beyond me,

Maker of the trees.”

And now I add my own prayer: “Thank you God for the deer who fed my family and led me to make a new friend. As for the one who hit the deer, well, I don’t know what happened. Were they driving too fast? Did the deer jump into harms way undetected? Whatever happened, I ask that the next time the driver sees a deer they see the beauty of creation, and, with peace in their heart, know the Great Spirit is with all gentle beasts of the forest. And that they would know. The Great Spirit lives.”

Today I Ate Kañiwa

KaniwaI grew up in the era of TV dinners and rice that cooked in a minute. Literally.

This fare deadened my taste buds for years, so when I discovered how inexpensive and easy it is to prepare food in its natural form, I went gung-ho. Today, my pantry is stocked with dried pinto beans, garbanzos, real rice (in many colors and varieties), dried pepper pods, oatmeal … a genuine cacophony of grains, nuts, and fruits to awaken every flavor from salty to sweet. So when I recently walked into the bulk food section of my grocery store and saw something new, I wondered what in the world the bin contained?

Dots of grains.

I read the sign and had no idea what language I was reading: kañiwa.

I had to get some.

But when I got home with my sample, I was baffled. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had purchased, let alone how to prepare it. Nothing like saying yes before you know what you’re getting into. However foolhardy my ingrained instincts may be, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this tiny seed is high in protein, iron, antioxidants—and it’s gluten free.

Fine. Now, how is it cooked and what does it taste like? In my opinion, it’s akin to barley–not as strong–and it acts as a base to support whatever flavor additions you care to add. Dried cranberries and pecans? Turkey and corn? How can you know unless you try?

An Experiment

Healthy salad with spinach,quinoa and roasted vegetablesI made it the same way I make rice: a ratio of one part grain to two parts water. It worked! I seasoned it with salt, pepper and butter. Then I read that the flavor is enhanced if the grain is first dry roasted in a hot skillet. I liked it even more. But I made too much and had leftovers. Some I used as a pilaf with pine nuts and mushrooms. Some I mixed cold with corn and tomatoes, tossed it with seasoned oil and vinegar, and scooped it over my lunch salad. I also used some in a pot pie. Then I wondered…

What about breakfast?

For this batch, made without dry roasting but steamed (like rice), I added a few raisins and cinnamon and poured a little hot applesauce on top. Delicious!

The simplest way to maneuver new grains is to think of the ones you are familiar with and substitute the unfamiliar for the tried and true. Or mix them together. To encourage my family to try something new, I added kañiwa to a pot of stewed tomatoes. But if your finicky eaters fuss, you may ask yourself,

“Why Bother?”

“Because,” she said, with a mouthful of quinoa and cheese stuffed peppers,”it’s like being an explorer in the comfort of your own home.”

Kañiwa is indigenous to South America. Peru. Bolivia. Resistant to frost and drought. It has been said that Inca royalty favored this seed so much that they forbade commoners to eat it. (For more information, you may want to read The Lost Crops of the Incas by The National Research Counsel. A downloadable, free PDF is available at the National Academies Press:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/1398/lost-crops-of-the-incas-little-known-plants-of-the)

If not kañiwa, eat something you have never eaten before. Let me know what you have discovered. I may have to try it too!

The Essential Milkweed

Monarch butterflies (not to be confused with Catholic Monarchs, such as Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the exploration of the New World by Christopher Columbus) require milkweed plants to survive. In fact, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed. But the breakfast table can easily become the lunch and dinner counter too. Each individual flower in a milkweed blossom has a rich nectar to attract, sustain, and sometimes detain, as the petal structure can ensnare insect legs. During the autumn months, many adult butterflies migrate and overwinter in the forests of Mexico.

Herbicides and Deforestation Threaten Milkweed

…and as the milkweed goes, so goes the Monarch butterfly!

Often taken for granted, nature’s beauty can enrich our lives, teaching us to appreciate quiet moments and encouraging us to be still even while the world tells us to stay busy.

To sustain nature’s abundance—it is not a guaranteed commodity, after all—may require a bit of appreciation and a bit more of thoughtful cultivation. A few garden plantings would be a good start. The wide waxy leaves and lavender flowers as seen here, or other varieties of greenish white or deep orange color, will attract bees too, maybe even honeybees, which are also on the decline.

Milkweed Crafts

After the flowers have wilted and the harvest past, I have used milkweed pods for crafts: a little artistry make a cute santa claus or elf, or, adorned with a few wiry whiskers and felt ears, the pods can look like field mice that are hungry enough to eat a piece of cheese.

My simple crafts are cute, but indigenous peoples of American repurposed milkweed into indispensable household items, like thread, twine, rope, nets, baskets, belts, shoes….

Milkweed plants would have been gathered in late summer or early autumn, long before the first frost. The fibers could then be twisted to make lengths of thread. Two lengths crossed and spliced with more thread and then crossed again would eventually become strong cord that could be woven into something durable, artful, and practical! The pantry was also enhanced when certain milkweed blossoms were shaken and released of their honeydew. This was then dried and used as a sweetener. Additionally, the stalk’s milky substance is said to help remove warts!

The Practical and the Beautiful

If you want to incorporate milkweed into your landscape, or if you are interested in learning more about Native American weaving techniques, below are a few websites I found helpful.

Pueblo Indian Weaving

http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1270

Native American Cordage

http://www.nativetech.org/cordage/

Milkweed Seed Finder

http://www.xerces.org/milkweed-seed-finder/

Creating Monarch Butterfly Habitats

http://monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/create-habitat-for-monarchs/

Instructional (and really fun) Monarch Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_1xC_nTDCY

And everything else you ever wanted to know about milkweed…

http://wildblessings.com/plants/milkweed/

Lake Mead Shows Its Spirit

St. Thomas, Nevada

The little drowned town is showing its bones. Sunbleached stairwells leading to nothing, a school foundation without the school… What happened here?

Early Mormon settlers, thinking they were in Utah, farmed the St. Thomas area, a rich land watered by the Muddy River, which flowed into the Virgin River near its confluence to the Colorado River. But when the State of Nevada came asking for back taxes, the settlers burned their homes and went back to Salt Lake City.

Then, sometime around 1880, new settlers discovered the fertile land, and payed their taxes. They built a school, a post office, a church, and a lovely place called The Gentry Hotel where folks who drove some of the first automobiles could take a load off. Of course, there was no electricity or indoor plumbing anywhere in the town, but for the humble population, it was home. Until…

President Calvin Coolidge and the Hoover Dam

Around 1900, the farmers built canals to divert the Colorado River, but the mighty Colorado broke through the canals to form the Salton Sea. The US Bureau of Reclamation stepped in to control the river, and in 1928, the Boulder Canyon Project was signed by President Coolidge. Behind the newly built Dam, the river swelled its banks and eventually became Lake Mead. Sadly, in the basin was the little town of St. Thomas. Drowned, but not forgotten. Neither are the first inhabitants, and I am not talking about Mormons.

Lost City

Basketmaker people settled the land sometime around the year 300. The Anasazi continued to live there until the 12th Century. But archaeologists believe the site was first inhabited as early as 8,000 BC!

After the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam, a portion of the Pueblo Grande de Nevada was submerged. However, long before that occurred, Jedediah Strong Smith, who along with Robert Stuart discovered the South Pass—the main route pioneers used to travel to Oregon—Jedediah found prehistoric artifacts in what is now Lake Mead. And just as the canals broke to form a sea, I feel an urge to overflow: Mr. Smith’s story is a thread that leads to an exciting history, replete with a resplendent dinner given in his honor at Mission San Gabriel, the setting planned by Father Sánchez in 1826, and an unsavory welcome by the priests of Mission San José later that same year. But I digress…

Of course there were archeologists, especially Mark Raymond Harrington. His story is easily as interesting as the above mentioned Mr. Smith. For example, it has been said that Mr. Harrington searched the ancient Pueblo ruins until water began lapping at his boots. (He was a prolific author—look him up!) In 1935, the National Park Service built The Lost City Museum in Overton, NV to house the many artifacts he and other have found and to recreate an indigenous peoples town.

Modern Tragedy

August 5, 2015. A toxic spill dumped into the Animas River is devastating for wildlife and people. The Gold King Mine, once a rich gold mine, has been closed since the 1920’s. The Environmental Protection Agency went to find the source of a leak there, but instead sent the vile sludge into the river. Navajo Nation President has issued a statement (click HERE to hear him speak in his native tongue, or HERE to read some of his comments in English). My heart goes out to them and all those affected.

It is presumed that the toxic waste will dilute before reaching Lake Mead. While that alone is good news, the fish, white tail deer, trout, and many others, are not so lucky. Water is precious—a pool from which resurrection will occur. And in the case of toxic waste, let’s hope the river is quickly healed.

∇ = Alchemical Symbol for Water

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”   ~W.H. Auden

Eating Quail

Lots of critters lived in and around the backyard of our Arizona home. The arroyos (dry riverbed that holds water for brief periods) behind our lot invited snakes, javalinas (a sort of peccary, or wild hog), lizards, and an assortment of insects, some almost as large as my cat. Well, almost! And did I mention birds? Owls, roadrunners, and other desert specimens, but the cutest by far was… oh my. And here I am writing about their consumption.

Each spring, near the corner of the yard, tucked away where I could hear chirping but not locate the nest, a little family of quail lived in the contentment of a ready water supply: our sprinkler system.

When the chicks were old enough to walk, the mama would lead her family through a patch of grass, hopefully in a quest to rid me of some of the bugs! First came the queen mother, and hopping behind, a long row of children—the picture of harmonious sibling relations.

Then, a revelation: Have you seen Babette’s Feast? One of the menu items in this film is “Cailles en Sarcophage” (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce). It reminded me of the “sing a song of sixpence” nursery rhyme. You know, the one with four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? Except for the part where the queen gets her nose snipped off (an historic political message, I’m sure), my interest was piqued.

Interestingly…

A few weeks ago, I was taken out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, The Fort. And what should be on the menu but… as said, I was curious.

The drumstick was as big as my thumb.

Naturally, I wondered how to eat the thing. And by the time the little bird was in my digestive track, I was home and did some research. Not that it’s going to do me any future good. One quail dinner is enough (that night I felt like the wicked witch who turned children into gingerbread).

Since quail (New World Quail, to be specific) are prolific in the American southwest, they were certainly consumed by the people in that region for thousands of years. (Click HERE to read an Aztec myth that involves quail.)

My quail was served with huckleberry jam. I wondered if a similar component would compliment other poultry? After all, a traditional turkey dinner includes cranberry relish, sometimes spiked with oranges. Since I love to cook, I decided to create my own version with chicken. If you’re interested, here’s my recipe, created in memory of the quails I once knew but using a slightly less attractive bird (subjective, I know!), the chicken.

Cheery Chicken Salsa

1 Pineapple chopped

1 Mango chopped

3 Limes juiced

3 Jalapenos chopped

1 lb Chicken thighs, boneless

A little oil for the pan

Salt to taste

Mash ½ the fruit in a bowl

(Best to do this while singing “Freebird” with Lynyrd Skynyrd–a love song. Look it up!)

Spoon fruit mash over chicken and marinate for two hours (lots of time to dance).

Heat oil in pan.

Take the chicken out of its marinade bath and grill until it’s no longer pink.

Sprinkle with chopped jalapenos and salt.

Serve chicken in a warm tortilla adorned with the remaining fruit.

If you have a recipe for fruited poultry, let me know. I’ll make it, and if my picky husband likes it, I’ll post a picture on my blog.

Happy eating!

The Pilgrim, A Book Review

The-Pilgrim-By-Davis-BunnEvery once in awhile a book I’ve read makes an impact on me, and I’d like to share what it is and why. Some books will be old and some newly published. I may also review the book on other sites. If so, I’ll include the hyperlink. Here’s the first—I chose historical fiction, of course!

Title: The Pilgrim

Author: Davis Bunn

Place: 4th Century, Roman Empire

Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN-10: 1632530341

ISBN-13: 978-1632530349

Hardcover and Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: Franciscan Media

Publication Date: July 17, 2015

Official Overview of The Pilgrim

Travel with Empress Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine the Great, on a perilous journey through ancient Judea to Jerusalem.

Abandoned by her husband, in danger because of her faith, but with an implacable will to do what God calls her to, Helena meets those who would help and harm her along the way. Miracles seem to follow this humble but determined woman as she wins many over to the faith, and changes lives forever—including her own. This unforgettable story is a vivid portrait of one of Christian history’s most important women.

My Review

Fourth Century Christians, often imprisoned as slaves and brutally murdered for their belief, find solidarity with a Roman empress who has undergone her own kind of persecution. Why this happened is a faith building highpoint of The Pilgrim.

Author Davis Bunn had me walking through the desert heat and tasting its salty air. I joined St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, as she delivered the Edict of Milan throughout the Roman Empire. When I entered this ancient story world, I understood her humanity, fears and courage, sorrow, and ultimate joy of seeing the fulfillment of God’s will for her life—but not of her life alone.

Through his engaging storytelling, Bunn drew me into the emotional ups and downs of soldiers, prisoners, lepers, and priests. I felt the wonder of discovery as I learned about the early Church, its key players, the Holy Land, and power of God to heal disease and give hope to the broken hearted. I sensed their dread of being hounded by enemies. I was hungry as Helena fasted for clarity and trust in her mission: to reestablish decimated churches and propagate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. And while the spiritual aspect kept me glued to the page, my interest peaked at her greatest discovery, something which continues to inspire Christians around the world.

This story captured my heart, and because of its clear language and age appropriate content, I believe it will do the same for anyone interested in historical fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Franciscan Media in exchange for my honest review.

Read my other reviews of The Pilgrim at:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pilgrim-davis-bunn/1121208709?ean=9781616368654

https://www.facebook.com/amynowakauthor/posts/371544173039693

For a free PDF sampler of The Pilgrim, Chapters 1-3, click here: Sample of The Pilgrim by Davis Bunn

The AuthorDavis-Bunn-2015

Davis Bunn is an award-winning novelist with total worldwide sales of seven million copies.

His work has been published in twenty languages, and critical acclaim includes four Christy Awards for excellence in fiction and his 2014 induction into the Christy Hall of Fame.

Davis divides his time between Florida and England, where he serves as Writer In Residence at Regent’s Park College at The University of Oxford. Visit Davis at http://www.davisbunn.com.

Q-and-A-with-Davis-Bunn-Author-of-The-PilgrimQ&A With Davis Bunn, author of The Pilgrim

Q: There are many legends about Constantine and his mother, Helena. How did you decide which legend to incorporate into the story?

Davis Bunn: The period when Constantine became the first Christian emperor is one about which so much has been written, and yet so little detail is known. No one knows for certain where his mother, Helena – the main character in The Pilgrim – was born. There are three main legends, and I used the one that has the greatest sense of historical resonance, that she was British, and her father ruled one of the provinces taken over by the Romans. Her husband was a general who met Helena in the local market and fell in love at first sight.

Q: What is the appeal of writing about a historical figure? What was one special challenge you faced in doing so?

First and foremost, Helena is a saint in the eyes of the Catholic church. Her son, Emperor Constantine, was the first Roman leader to convert to Christianity. His death marked the moment when Christians were freed from persecution. Constantine was led to faith by his mother. The Pilgrim is her story.

While I am a fervent evangelical Protestant, my wife is Catholic. My mother is a Catholic convert. As is my sister, who has raised her two daughters as Catholic. So part of what I wanted to do here was to grow closer to the heritage that these dear people treasure. Their faith has had such an impact on my own life.  It was important that I use this story and this opportunity to create something that would honor their perspective on faith. I also wanted to share with readers the enormous life lessons we can learn from the lives of the saints.

So many, many different issues came up as a result of this quest. It proved to be a beautiful and intense growing experience. Although this book is not particularly long, the actual writing took as long as some of my much bigger books. Part of this was honing the story so their faith, and their history, was honored, but done from a foundation that reflected my own personal walk in faith.

My hope, my fervent prayer, is that the story will resonate with readers from both faith communities.

Q: The end of The Pilgrim leaves the reader wanting more. Will you revisit this story down the road?

I am working on a second book, The Fragment, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2016. The Fragment carries some of the concepts from The Pilgrim into the early twentieth century, when the U.S. came to possess a reliquary with a supposed component of Jesus’s cross. It ends in a vignette that happens today, when a couple travels to Rome.

Q: How can readers find you on the Internet?

Website: http://www.davisbunn.com/

Subscribe to Davis’s e-newsletter: Send a blank email to davisbunn@aweber.com

Receive Davis’s latest blog posts via your feed reader: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/davisbunnauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/davisbunn

Twitter: https://twitter.com/davisbunn

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/davisbunn/

Garter Snakes in My Garden

Every Time

I pull weeds, a little snake slithers by, but I don’t think it’s the same snake! So I called Animal Movers to help with a possible infestation. The person who came to my rescue, hereafter dubbed “Hunter,” arrived with loads of information.

First thing I learned is that garter snakes are so named because they are striped, slightly resembling a ladies garter.

Second thing is that garter snakes are creatures of habit. Each one has a favorite spot, and if they are startled and leave, it’s a pretty sure bet they’ll return to their chosen hang-out. Just give them fifteen minutes or so.

Third, when picking up a snake, wear gloves. Self preservation tactics work well for these guys because they emit a foul smell to tell their captors something like, “Hey, I’m dead. Wouldn’t you rather eat something fresh?”

Snake caughtHunter Caught Four Snakes

He put them into old water bottles with spouts for drinking. He left the spouts up to give them air and placed these inside his air-conditioned car. He lives on a ranch with a pond, so my slimy friends with have a great new habitat. In this regard, I also learned that snakes tossed into the neighbor’s yard is never a good idea for many reasons (I’ll let you think of a few possibilities on your own), but especially because snakes moved close to their den will usually return.

I said I’d try to be brave and catch one but couldn’t find a single snake. Hunter offered to free one that he’d caught. I declined. Then said if I got good at catching snakes, he’d offer me a job. Declined again.

“But why?” he asked. He then explained that there are plenty of gardens whose owners are not fond of garter snakes (he looked kind of sad). Even so, he gave me a tip: pillow cases make good containers when catching harmless snakes—just don’t forget to hold the top closed until they are taken to their new home. That said, garter snakes are beneficial since they eat things you definitely don’t want nibbling on your veggies. And they’re really (okay, I’ll say it) sort of cute.

As I sat on my porch stoop, I watched one dip its head into a puddle of water. Snakes get thirsty too! And when it noticed it had an audience, it flicked its tiny red tongue out at me. Garter snakes have round eyes and this one watched me with interest almost as long as I watched him.

Snake on Wall

Snake Lore

In Judeo-Christian history, the serpent deceives the first woman and is later crushed for his crime.

In fact, in most cultures the snake is typically a sign of some sort of trouble. But there are exceptions.

The Arapaho have a beautiful a creation story: At a time when the earth was covered with water, a certain man understood that things would be better if there was land, so he asked many animals to help him, including a garter snake. To read the full story, click HERE.

Conversely, the Hopi perform a ceremony to call water down from the skies. To see photos of snake priests and of the Hopi Snake Dance, click HERE.

A Wise Reply

Finally, while researching American history specific to Indians, I found an interesting quote. In the year 1711, in North Carolina, Christopher von Graffenried had been captured by the Tuscarora. After his release he was questioned about any cruel treatment he received. In response, von Graffenried quoted an Indian “king” who used the example of a snake.

“If one leaves it in its coil untouched, quiet, and uninjured, it will do no creature harm; but if one disturbs and wounds it, it will bite and wound.” To read more of his story and others from the National Humanities Center, click HERE.

If you found a snake in your garden, what would you do?

St. Andrews Logo

I am a terrible golfer. I’ve taken lessons and been given lots of friendly advice, but the thing I need the most is practice. Lots and lots of practice. Yet, when the rarity of free time becomes available, I find plenty of other things to do.

The truth is, I find golf more fun when I don’t keep score and can enjoy the company of friends who do. Still, it is an interesting sport with an equally interesting  history. A long history. Even an ancient history.

If you think golf started in Scotland, I propose another beginning: China.

Chuiwan

As I was researching information for my first novel (a story almost as terrible as my golf game), I came across a painting of Chinese ladies hitting balls. The source of their leisure activity was a game of chuiwan, which loosely translates, strike pellet, ball hitting, or to hit a ball. This took place during the Song Dynasty, which ushered in an era of experimentation (gun powder, woodblock printing, and improvement of the compass, to name a few). This ruling dynasty began in the 10th century, and their penchant for ball games includes something that resembles modern golf. Here’s a Youtube video link to learn more: Click Here.

St. Andrews

More recently, perhaps 400 years or so after chuiwan, Scotland introduced its own form of leisure. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have students, or cadets, carry her golf equipment. And while the information about the formation of clubs and balls is quite interesting, and readily available, my interest piqued at the emblem of the famous golf course, St. Andrews, “The Home of Golf.”

The logo includes two intersecting golf clubs with another X in the center. Consider: the namesake St. Andrew, was martyred for his faith. Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) were fishermen. When Andrew saw John the Baptist point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” Andrew rushed home to tell his brother.  And while Peter’s story is widely known, Andrew made an impact in his time by proclaiming the Gospel to Greece and Asia Minor. He was captured by Roman soldiers, tied to a cross, and killed. But Andrew’s cross was not upright, rather it was made in the form of an X. This diagonal cross is also known as a saltire.

The flag of Scotland is a blue background with a white saltire. Legend claims that it was during a 9th Century battle that a saltire lay across the blue sky. This encouraged the troops greatly, and  theirs was the victory.

Blue Skies

So, the next time you go golfing, watch a golf game, or drive past a golf course, think of the history of the game. Think about those first caddies who carried the Queen’s clubs. And should you see a pattern of clouds that resemble a saltire, think of Saint Andrew. And if you golf, trust your swing, but trust more than that my friend. There’s more to golf than meets the eye.

The Versatile Century Plant

Not long ago, all I knew of the agave plant was the printed picture on bottles of tequila. We’ve had a few of those in my kitchen, and the subtleties of varieties is akin to appreciating the nuanced differences in a bottle of wine.

I also believed the tale that the Century Plant was so named because it bloomed only once every one hundred years. At least one part is true: it blooms only once before it dies, but for this versatile plant, a single bloom has multi-use potential.

Aztec Fruit

The Aztecs harvested agave and enjoyed a beverage called pulque. This was alcoholically weak, possibly like beer, and was used for religious and/or medicinal purposes. Colonial Spaniards concocted a much stronger brew. Which brings me to…

When making margaritas, my husband is a purist. Three ingredients of equal measure: tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. Shake with ice and enjoy on hot summer evenings (or any time of year!).

Versatile Plant

Also called maguey, the century plant, or agave, has been used extensively for centuries.

The stalk, which when it arrives can grow as much as twelve inches a day and soar as high as forty feet, was often used to make fence posts.
The plants tough fibers were used to make thread or twine.

Agave syrup is sweeter than honey. I like it poured over my homemade plain yogurt sprinkled with black walnuts. Yum! Or, for a healthy sweet treat, try boiling carrot slices and dressing them with agave syrup and cinnamon.

Steamed agave flowers, young, tender, and mixed with herbs, are nutritious. So are agave seeds!

And the hearts of the plant, usually roasted for at least two days, can be a tender addition to dinner.

What Else?

Bows, baskets, fiber for clothes… including using the thorns to makes needles! 

A Few More…

The dried leaves can be smoked like tobacco.

Fermented, the sap can be made into vinegar.

Or, leaf extract lathered and used like soap.

And if you can find them, maguey leaves can be parboiled, wrapped around meat, and placed into a slow cooker for at least eight hours. Drop some roasted green chiles and pulled beef into a warm tortilla—the result is melt in your mouth magic!

Mission Connection

Finally, Miguel del Barco, a Jesuit priest who served at Mission San Javier in the Sierra de la Giganta (mountain range in Baja California Sur) between 1738 and 1768 documented, among other things, the native peoples’ use of agave. His book is still available: The Natural History of Baja California

There is a lot to say about the versatile agave, but why listen to me when you can watch the movie?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my husband is mixing something up in the kitchen. I think he needs my help!