Saturday, August 31, 2013

Born and bred

The creature stared at me, wide-eyed through the florescent glare, Saran Wrap stretched tight across its broad back. Alone in the seafood cooler, he was the only one of his kind, there among the farmed, color-added Atlantic salmon and mud-flavored tilapia, perched on a blue foam tray, legs tucked 'round him like a comfy kitten. He didn't blink. He was dead, red, cooked and chilled, ready to eat. Such a find is rare in the City Market fish department in Gunnison, Colorado.

What if nobody takes him home? I thought. This beautiful animal will have died needlessly, ripped from his home, family and friends (Dory, Nemo, Crush and Gill?) only to be tossed in the trash when his expiration date came and went. I lifted him for closer inspection, checked that date, felt the heft of him, scanned his surface for cracks and blemishes. The creature was perfect. I lowered him back into the cooler, nodded farewell, turned to walk away, took one step, and stopped. Shoppers strolled past, studied lists, analyzed packages and placed them into carts. A man approached the seafood area, glanced into the cooler and rolled on. What if a local buys him? This was no trout. What if he's snapped up by a transplant from Indiana or Michigan? Good luck finding that walleye, pilgrim. I looked at my cool friend. Let's call him Shelly. What if the person who buys him is a Texan? From Dallas. Or Plano. What kind of a name for a town is Plano, anyway? Welcome to Plano, a no-frills, plain-o town. There was a town, a Texas town, and Plano was it's name-o. What would these people know of bottom-dwelling, sidestepping, urchin-gobbling brachyura?  Like Shelly, I am Pacific Northwest born and bred.  He and I are cut from the same, salty cloth, never mind that the Willamette Valley has no ocean view.  I panicked, imagining my dead-eyed compatriot on the platter of a Plano Texan, the man's napkin tucked into the snap collar of his western shirt, steak knife gripped tight in a beefy Texas fist. S.O.S!  KELP! I've hauled relatives of Shelly's from the depths to the docs, claw-snapping clusters of crustaceans in netted frenzy around a mangled fish head wired tight into the floor of a mesh trap. I couldn't let this happen. Better that poor, dead Shelly land in the belly of a native daughter.  His bar code scanned without a glitch.

Maine's got lobsters, Alaska, its deadliest catches. They're all delicious. There is, however, nothing finer from the murky depths, or from terra firma, than the sweet, cold flesh of a fresh, dungeness crab.

Dipping morsels into drawn, organic, grass-fed butter, I lifted the first bite as a toast to the two of us. "You are what you eat, Shelly, and you eat what you are."

Monday, August 05, 2013

This essay may blow, but there are no colons and the goose is far from cooked

I have not traveled recently to Mexico. Nonetheless, I'm stuck home today, mere steps from the water closet for a mild case of food poisoning. Montezuma's Revenge. Like Kings Kamehameha and Luis, there were several Montezuma's, but it's Monty II who is the namesake of this expression, so soundly trounced by Spanish Conquistador Herman Cort├ęz in 1519. Herman, it would seem, was not a nice man. It's like the Indigo Girls' re-incarnation song, "Galileo." Montezuma got the shit kicked out of him, and today, I am literally living that legacy.

Hard to believe the guy who looks like a pansy, beatnik poet (not that there's anything wrong with that) prevailed over the loin-clothed stud. This is the lesson of history through the ages. Greed and firepower always trump righteousness. Strike a manly pose with spear and shield. Stand fast to defend your people. You look good, but you're no match for a pouty, well-groomed, beret-capped Spaniard backed by a gold-hungry king and battalions of well-armed, well-fed soldiers, a slew of traitor-natives and a healthy roll of canons thrown in for affect. Sure. Invite the beatnik into your village. Look at him. He's harmless. Present him with gifts. He'll smile, shake your hand, be gracious, then kick your Aztec ass. It was the ultimate checkmate of the 16th century. No wonder poor, beefy Montezuma II has to get his revenge this way, through the likes of me and my non-Aztec ass.

Red sky at morning, geese take warning.

Today, the rain falls with a Montezuma-like vengeance. Canada geese in the pasture behind the cabin ride out the deluge like champs. That parcel is a kind of goose hotel. They stop in twice a year for an extended stay, en-route north, en-route south. The geese landed a few days ago, announcing their arrival in a riot of squawks and honks, letting the marmot and rabbit bell-hops know to be ready for their baggage, and the chef (a man-made wetlands meadow) to prep the worms and bugs and seeds for their semi-annual, welcome-to-the-Rockies feast. The geese are early, an omen, natures way of telling us to split and stack the firewood, now. Change is in the air and on the wing. It's early August, and summer lingers. But here in the mountains, winter is always coming.