A Song for and by Depressed Men

If you have ever lived with a depressed man, you know this is what they can sound like:

“I’m scared if I open myself to be known

“I’ll be seen and despised and be left all alone

“So I’m stuck in this tomb and You won’t move the stone

“And the rain keeps fallin’ down …”

The minor, monotonous melody perfectly matches the content.

But then …

“My daughter and I put the seeds in the dirt

“And every day now we’ve been watching the earth

“For a sign that this death will give way to a birth

“And the rain keeps fallin’ …

“Down on the soil where the sorrow is laid,

“And the secret of life is igniting the grave,

“And I’m dyin’ to live but I’m learning to wait,

“And the rain is fallin’ down.”

And the rain, which at the beginning of the song was just relentless and chilling, is now something that might be giving life.

This song is a work of art.

Misanthropic Quote of the Week: Anne Lamott on Jealousy

I went through a very bad bout of jealousy last year, when someone with whom I am (or rather was) friendly did extremely well. It felt like every few days she’d have more good news about how well her book was doing. It threw me for a loop. I am a better writer than she is. Sometimes I would get off the phone and cry. I felt like the wicked stepsister in a fairy tale. I told another friend, and she read me some lines by a Lakota Sioux: ‘Sometimes I go about pitying myself. And all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.’ That is so beautiful, I said; and I am so mentally ill.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, which was referenced by Andrew Peterson in his interview yesterday

That One Song

You know the one. The one that really does something for you.

When I was about twelve, I heard that one song on the radio. While it was playing, I felt as if I was living inside a myth. All the ordinary, banal things in the world around me were transformed into things of beauty and significance. Everything about the song helped this effect – the content, the poetry, the melody, the harmony, the way all these elements worked perfectly together.

Several minutes later, the radio station played their phone number. I immediately called them.

“What was that song you played a few minutes ago?”

“What did it sound like?” they said.

But the song had completely gone out of my head. I could not remember one single musical phrase or even one single word of it.

I laughed at myself, apologized, and hung up.

The song was this:

Poem: Settling

Sometimes a picture’s

the difference it makes.

Beauty you look at

gets you through the day.

Chamber of stillness

in prosaic life:

Beauty you look at

can help you survive.

Then comes vacation.

You can get away:

enter the beauty,

if just for a day.

Surrounded by aspens

on a mountain hike:

Beauty you live in

brings you back to life.

Back from vacation,

re-enter the grey.

Beauty you live in

seems so far away.

Back to the picture

but make no mistake:

Beauty you look at

just isn’t the same.

Kitchen Bulletin Board Poetry

My poetry board at the old place

What kind of thing goes on your kitchen bulletin board?

Well, recipes, obviously. Maybe a calendar. I have another, larger bulletin board that houses library and trash collection schedules, photos of friends and family, Christmas letters, things like that. But something else that I need around me is poetry.

A poem is the sort of thing you feed on. You take a moment to stand still and read it to yourself, slowly, like a deep breath for your mind in the middle of the day.

As you can see, on this bulletin board, I have:

  • Two recipes (pancakes, pie crust. The essentials)
  • A hand-drawn portrait of buttered toast, done by a toast-loving kid,
  • “Dill with it,” which was a gift from a loved one who knows my love for dill and script,
  • And four poems. One is Tableau by Countee Cullen, which I think of whenever my blond son plays with his friend …
  • One is one of my own, Theophany, which I wrote for a friend who was going through a hard time and then never sent to her …
  • One is a scrap of poetry posted by a fellow blogger from his collection Bone Antler Stone, which I had to print out because it grabbed me by the throat with its beauty …
  • And one is actually the lyrics to a hymn, Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, in case I need to refocus during the day.

It’s actually kind of rare that I have four poems up at once, but these four give you a good sense of the range of things that might, at any time, appear upon my bulletin board.

What poems, (say, within the last month), would you have liked to post in your kitchen?

After Twenty-Five Years

Today is a special day for me and my husband. (Happy Anniversary, Honey!)

It’s not 25 years, but it is an anniversary that I would have thought would make us old, back when I was nineteen.

We don’t look old. Our kids are still school-aged, for crying out loud.

In honor of this day, I am posting what I believe is the sweetest love song in theater.

Tevye and Golde, in this song, are about the same age as my husband and me. Possibly a little younger. But they seem older because they married and began having children very young, and their hard life has aged them. Neither of them is a prince or princess. Instead, they are a peasant couple. After having made a life together, prompted by the newfangled habit of marrying for love they are just now raising the question of whether they love each other.

Making “Coffee” from Chicory

My own sketch of the wildflower chicory, done in pen and crayon

When I think about The End of the World as We Know It, one thing I worry about is the availability of coffee.

I am sure this is a concern of yours as well.  Assuming that you get through the Zombie Apocalypse, the EMP, the Rising Sea Levels, or whatever your personal big fear is, and find yourself among a group of scrappy survivors, I guarantee you some of them are going to want coffee.  It might even become a hot commodity.  Worth its weight in gold.

The Inspiration for this Project

The Change series is also known as the Emberverse series.

The project documented in this post was inspired by S.M. Stirling’s The Change series.  In the first book, Dies the Fire, the world of the 1990s is interrupted when all electronics, engines, and gunpowder suddenly cease to function.  At that point the series becomes alternate history.  The series migrates toward Game of Thrones style fantasy the longer it goes on, but the first few books especially are more in the post-apocalyptic genre, about people surviving and starting to rebuild society in the Northwest and in Northern California.  And once they get a steady food supply going, their coffee substitute is “roasted, ground chicory roots.”

I could probably find chicory coffee at a co-op type food store, but I want to try to make it myself.  That’s the only way I can learn about the process and find out if such a thing would be feasible.

Let’s go!

Lessons from the Chicory Experiment

Chicory is a wildflower that grows all along the highways in our region at certain times of year.  Though there is an abundant supply of it on the medians, that’s not the safest place to gather it in this pre-apocalyptic world where vehicles of all kinds are still whizzing by.  So I had to seek chicory on a back road.  In this picture, the plants with lavender colored flowers are chicory and the ones with white flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace.

Today’s weather is very humid, and it’s so hot that there is a heat advisory.  Also, it turns out that chicory grows surrounded by thistles and extremely sharp-bladed grass. 

Lesson 1: Gather chicory in the early morning, before the day gets hot.  Wear cowboy boots, not flip flops.

I assumed that chicory would have a taproot similar to a dandelion’s, so I brought a small trowel.  I couldn’t find my dandelion picking tool, so I brought a large screwdriver, which is almost as good for digging down beside the taproot to loosen the soil.

It turns out that chicory roots are similar to dandelion’s, but much larger, deeper, and woodier. 

Lesson 2: I probably could have brought a regular garden shovel instead.

Here is the chicory I gathered.  I have no idea how much “coffee” this quantity will make, but I’m hoping it will be enough for one cup.  Finding out is part of the purpose of this experiment.  I don’t have the time or energy to dig more due to having come at the wrong time of day.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn as a hunter/gatherer.

Next step. Google the process just to make sure I don’t accidentally poison myself by skipping a step. (We won’t be able to Google stuff after the apocalypse, which is all the more reason to do it now.)  The search takes me here.  Hank Shaw is a “hunter, angler, gardener, forager, and cook” and he seems to know what he’s talking about.  Uh-oh, he says you need to harvest chicory in the fall.  But he seems to have harvested some in the summer with no ill effects.  Onward.

Here are the roots after being washed.  I need to cut them into thin slices, dry them for two or three days in the sunshine, and then roast them as directed.  Cutting them yields mixed results.  Some have a woody core so tough that I have to saw it, with dirt trapped between this core and the outer, soft layer.  Others are softer, solid and cuttable all the way through, more like cutting a carrot.  My guess is that Hank’s nice, plump “root chicory” is more like this.

Lesson 3: Wild chicory might not be the way to go. It might be smarter to cultivate it.

My roots have yielded this measly tray of chicory slices. Following the expert, I sun them on the back of my vehicle.  They dry out for a few hours, and then promptly get rained on.  I sop them up with a paper towel and move the tray to our sun porch.

Lesson 4: Obvious.

After two days of drying on our sun porch, the chicory slices had visibly shrunk and felt dry. I put them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and a half.  During this time, the house filled with a curious warm malty smell, as predicted on Hank Shaw’s web site.  This was reassuring, because it meant that I was in fact roasting the right kind of root.  On the other hand, my family complained about the smell.

Lesson 5: There is going to be a lot of complaining around our house after the apocalypse.  But I kind of knew that already.

This is what the chicory roots looked like after about 90 minutes.  They look done.

Next, I ground the chicory in a food processor …

… And put it in a one-cup coffee filter.  As I had hoped, it was just the right amount for one mug.

As you can see, the roots don’t grind up nice and even like coffee grounds.  There are some bigger chunks, and then there’s some powder that’s as fine as French Press coffee or even baking powder or something.  Perhaps I could have gotten the chunks chopped up further if I’d been willing to grind them for longer, but as I was grinding, fine dust kept escaping from the food processor and coating the surrounding counter.  I stopped when I figured the grounds would be sufficient.  If you were grinding roast chicory in large quantities, there’d be certain to be a lot of dust.

If there were no electricity, I guess I’d be forced to crush it in my marble mortar:

I poured hot water over the grounds, and it worked great!  A very creditable cup of something that looks exactly like coffee.

The wet grounds, and the liquid itself, smell very smoky.   I’m going to try it black first, because after the apocalypse there is unlikely to be spare milk, let alone hazelnut creamer.

It tastes exactly as Hank Shaw describes it: “a brighter acidity than coffee and … ‘earthy.'”

I give a sip of it to my trucker husband, who ought to know about mediocre coffee.

Me: Does it taste like truck stop coffee?

Him: Truck stops couldn’t sell coffee if it tasted like this.

Well, it tastes OK to me.  But I might be slightly invested, seeing as how I made it.

I add milk and continue to drink.  It tastes most coffee-like when hot.  As it cools, it begins to taste more and more like … smoke. Now I realize I’ve had this before.  I think it was called “smoke tea.” It must have been chicory.  I like the flavor, but I realize it wouldn’t be for everybody.

But the bottom line is: I did it!  I did it!  I dug up a common wildflower and forced it to yield a coffeelike substance.  It was a bit of a project, but not hugely inconvenient and actually took less processing than I’ve heard real coffee takes. 

Lesson 6: It is possible to make a coffee substitute from chicory, even if you have little previous knowledge or skills.