Poke Sallet

Here’s another ear worm for you (sorry Lyn): Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White. (You might prefer the Elvis version, but I rarely prefer the Elvis version of anything.) I loved this song before I even understood what it was about.

But living in the South all those years ago, I finally stumbled across someone who knew about Poke Sallet. It’s also called Poke Salad by some, but I think Poke Sallet is the more common name, given that there are Poke Sallet festivals in various Southern towns even to this day. (I have no idea why they changed it to Polk Salad in the song, but there you go.)

It comes from Pokeweed, which grows throughout the South, and apparently in some parts of the North, too. If it’s prepared correctly, I’m told it tastes pretty good, like asparagus. But you’re not going to find it in the produce section at your grocery store, because if it’s prepared incorrectly, it can kill you.

That’s why I’m so shocked that there are still festivals out there in this litigious country. You can also find recipes on line, with no warnings. If the stuff doesn’t kill you when improperly harvested and/or cooked, it will make you vomit or get diarrhea or convulse for days, to the extent that you’ll wish you were dead. The berries can make your hands burn, too. One berry can kill a child, despite the fact that many types of birds can eat it with no problem. And the older the plant is, the more toxic it becomes.

But back in the day, for example, during the depression, many people survived on the stuff and knew how to make it (using only very young leaves way before the stem turns red, and boiling it three times, to name a few careful steps). People will eat anything when they’re hungry enough, and pokeweed was very easy to find. It still is, if you know where to look.

According to Wikipedia, it was once used to cure skin diseases and rheumatism, and was recommended for weight loss. (I’ll just bet it does make you lose weight, but at what cost?) And this article would have you believe it’s good for anything from mumps to AIDS to leukemia, but there’s really no medical evidence to support any of this.

Anyway, there you have it, for your next trivia contest.

Pokeweed

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Later Love

I’m a 54-year-old woman, so I come with accessories.

I wear glasses and compression socks and I suspect that orthopedic shoes are not too far over my blurry horizon. I sleep with a night guard so I don’t grind my teeth, a CPAP mask so I actually breathe, and wrist braces so I don’t hyperflex my wrists during the night and inflame my tendons. I also require a pile of pillows of various shapes to be comfortable in bed as I’m not as limber as in days of yore.

My medicine cabinet is full to overflowing with both prescriptions and over the counter remedies. There are certain foods that I absolutely love but will no longer eat because I’m not willing to bear the consequences, but I keep cures for those consequences on hand in case I forget. And, oh yeah, I keep a variety of lists because I can’t always count on my memory.

It has been a life well lived, and I have no regrets. I’m about as healthy as the average American my age.  You, too, will accumulate baggage as the years go by. Trust me. It’s all part of the process.

I often look over at my husband with a certain level of awe, because we hooked up later in life, and that isn’t for the faint of heart. I cannot believe he managed to look beyond this massive pile of accessories and was actually able to see me as the catch that he believes that I am. That is a unique gift indeed, and I treasure it. I will never take that for granted.

I can’t imagine how May/December romances actually work. At least when you are with someone of a similar age, the nightstands on both sides of the bed are equally overwhelmed with flotsam. We each have our accoutrements, so neither of us feels unduly burdened. The scale of life is relatively balanced, and that’s such a comfort. When you start off together in the land of accessories, you don’t have to anticipate quite as many future surprises, and on the rare occasion when a surprise comes along, it isn’t quite as big of a shock. What you see is what you get.

Those of you still in your prime won’t yet understand this, but there’s nothing quite as romantic as the sound of two CPAP masks clinking together when you kiss good night. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clink.

aging hands

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Birds of an Entirely Different Feather

When my niece and nephew were teenagers, their public high school did not allow kids to dye their hair different colors. This always struck me as absurd. How was it hurting anybody? That, and kids that age are seeking self-expression, so they can learn who they are. Take away healthy outlets for that instinct, and it may just come out in other, less desirable ways.

I have always been drawn to the unique. I am fascinated by people who march to the beat of a different drummer. And I have nothing but admiration for those who are different through no choice of their own, and yet still manage to cope, and even thrive, in a world where so many of us try so hard not to stand out. (I even blogged about a solid black penguin at one point.)

Recently, I heard a few other stories from the natural world that fascinated me.

The first was about a snake with three perfectly functional eyes discovered in Australia. The third eye was at the top of its head. I wonder what sight must have been like for this creature. I mean, we have depth perception because we have two eyes. What did it have?

And then, I was listening to Bird Note on NPR on my Friday morning commute, as I do every week, and I learned about leucism (Pronounced LUKE-ism.) Unlike Albinism, which results in a problem producing melanin, which causes white hair, fur, or feathers, and quite often pink skin and eyes, Leucism is a condition that prevents pigments from reaching some parts of the fur or feathers, but the eyes, lips, and beaks remain standard. Some animals with leucism have only patchy white spots. In others it is more evenly distributed, but quite often a washed out version of their coloring pattern will remain.

Bird Note, naturally, only discussed leucism in birds, but upon further reading, I’ve come to learn that it occurs in all sorts of other animals as well. Giraffes. Snakes, Squirrels. Buffalo. Fish. Lions and tigers and bears. (Oh, my!)

I think the reason I’m drawn to these special traits is that, while I look like your average person, I’ve spent my whole life feeling as though I was the odd person out. The fact that you can be odd and still live your life is encouraging to me.

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Hope for the Planet

I just watched an amazing TED Talk thanks to this Wired article. It has given me more hope that we can turn climate change around than anything I’ve read up to this point. Seriously. I feel like I can finally exhale.

Thanks to plant biologist Joanne Chory and her team, there is a possibility that we can dig ourselves out of this very dark and suffocating hole that we have placed ourselves in. And while the solution takes a great deal of expertise, it’s actually rather easy to understand. Here’s my condensed version.

  • Humans have put too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which is causing global climate change. (If you haven’t come to accept that fact, there’s really no point in reading the rest of this.)

  • Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen, but they’re currently unable to keep up with our pace.

  • But this team has come up with a way to modify plants so they’ll take in more CO2.

  • Suberin is a waxy substance that some roots have that allows them to take in more CO2.

  • This team has figured out a way to genetically modify plants so that they’ll produce more suberin, and also produce more roots and deeper roots, without having a negative impact on crop yields.

  • At the end of a plant cycle, unfortunately, a lot of plants rot, which causes them to release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. That’s why the root depth is so important. If we can get roots to go deeper, they’ll hold the CO2 longer, and rather than release into the air, the carbon will go into the soil, making it much more fertile for the next crop. (Soil depletion has been causing reduced crop yields for years, even as our population increases, so this is an amazing side benefit.)

  • This enriched soil also has the ability to retain moisture.

  • This team believes they are within 10 years of creating wheat, corn and rice crops that will have all these enhanced traits. How exciting. How amazing.

I see only two downsides to this endeavor:

  1. People are terrified of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.) That has a lot to do with this trend toward a fear of science in general, and it’s a pity. I genuinely do not think that all GMOs are bad. In fact, genetic modification occurs in nature all the time. Nothing that you eat now is genetically identical to what was going on in nature a thousand years or more ago. So calling this stuff “Frankenfood” is inaccurate at best. (This article from WebMD backs me up on this.) But if people refuse to buy these products, then farmers will refuse to plant them, and all this amazing research will be for naught. There’s a solution in our future, folks. Let’s not torpedo it with our ignorance.

  2. Dr. Chory, the team leader, is experiencing increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. So she is in a race against time to get this research completed. I hope that her team could carry on without her, but I think her knowledge and experience and leadership is greatly needed, so I hope she’s able to beat the clock, for the sake of the planet.

Despite the hurdles, I finally feel like I can take a breath, because I know there are thousands of other scientists out there who are also running this race and coming up with answers. If we are going to be saved, it’s the scientists who will do the saving. There are also plenty of us who care about the environment enough to make sacrifices and also push for green energy solutions.

So take heart, dear reader. Take heart. All is not yet lost.

Hope for the Planet

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If My Cold Were an Old Man

I wrote this recently while in the throes of a cold. In retrospect, I find it funny that I chose to place myself back in Florida to describe my misery. I guess the unrelenting heat helped the fever imagery. But it also speaks to my state of mind when I lived there. Anyway, rest assured, I’m feeling much better now.

I was sitting on my front porch, baking in the heat, desperately clutching a glass of lemonade as if it were a life raft. The sweat from the glass did nothing to assuage the perspiration on my forehead. My light cotton shirt was determined to cling to the small of my back. I felt lifeless and hopeless.

I closed my eyes, trying to resist the urge to start screaming in frustration, knowing that if I did it would be a feeble effort that would come out as a weak moan. And afterwards I’d still feel unheard. I felt like ten kinds of crap, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The occasional gust of wind provided no comfort either. It merely kicked up the dust from the dirt road out front. I felt coated with a layer of grime. I felt heavier, somehow, as if I could easily be buried alive if I didn’t move.

If I could only muster the strength to turn on the garden hose and rinse the clay off my bare feet, I’d feel so much better. Such a nice idea. Just out of reach.

When I opened my eyes, I realized he was there. An old man, standing on the crumbling sidewalk, looking at me, smiling. It made me jump. I felt a little chill. But only for a second. Then the bone-frying heat set in again, seeming to pour out of my eye sockets.

We’d met before. He was a tall man, and so thin you could see his tendons. Weathered is how I would describe him, as if he had been left lying in a ditch like a cast-off doll, in the wind and rain, for his entire life. He looked like he might just blow away like a tumbleweed. This man was made of cracked clay.

He wore a white t-shirt, and dark grey pants held up by suspenders. His leather shoes looked like they were on the verge of disintegration. And he had a fedora. Who wears fedoras anymore? Somehow that fedora irritated me.

He asked if he could come out of the sun for a time. I indicated the rocking chair. I didn’t really feel like I had to say much of anything. He was there. Where else would he have gone?

He settled in and I offered him a glass of lemonade, as you do. He nodded his thanks, and poured it himself. He rocked for a time, as the heat shimmered on the kudzu on the other side of the road. Even the rattlesnakes had taken cover, but the cicadas seemed to be buzzing inside my head. I felt dizzy.

He, on the other hand, seemed just fine. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him slowly rock. It was almost as if he were intent on some goal. The chair creaked, making my nerves jangle. That’s why I had chosen to sit on the steps. Creak. Creak. I wished he would just go away and leave me alone.

I began to realize that he wasn’t as fragile as I first thought. He wouldn’t blow away. No. He was more like tanned leather, or beef jerky. He would endure, quietly, yet stubbornly, for all eternity. He could easily be a thousand years old. He wasn’t going anywhere.

I began to feel desiccated, like a lizard that had been trapped in place until death came to shrivel it up. No amount of lemonade could quench my thirst. My tongue felt as if it were swelling and cracking, and I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.

The buzzing inside my head got louder as the pressure began to build. I felt a dull ache, and a suffocating sensation. I felt like I was drowning in hot, bubbling mud, and would soon sink below the surface, with no one there to rescue me, as the old man quietly watched.

He tried to hand me a dirty handkerchief, a grudging gesture at best, but I couldn’t have raised a hand to take it if I had wanted to. He thanked me for the lemonade, and said it was time for him to move on. But he’d see me again sometime.

I slumped on the porch, feeling like Appomattox the day after the battle, long before all the bloody, bloated corpses had been removed. I wondered what would be visited upon me next, as the cicadas continued to buzz and the unrelenting sun shimmered all around me, depriving me of focus and making recovery seem all but impossible.

Cracked clay

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Another Design Flaw

Three years ago, I wrote about an annoying design flaw in the human body—that inability to scratch a frustratingly large portion of one’s own back. Recently, a friend (Hi, Mor!) pointed out yet another. Why don’t we have ear lids?

I’d certainly love to have a pair. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to employ them when you’re trying to take a nap and your next door neighbor cranks up his lawnmower? They would sure have come in handy the many times people have attempted to force their religious beliefs on me. I’d probably have much better hearing if I had ear lids when I attended the rock concerts of my youth.

There are many things in life I’d really rather not hear.

  • Anti-vaxxers trying to explain why they want to ignore every scientific inquiry to the contrary and put the rest of our lives at risk so that they can bask in their own selfish ignorance.

  • People saying cruel things to their children that I know will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

  • People crying out for help when I know I am completely incapable of doing anything for them.

  • Politicians attempting to justify their evil actions.

  • Details about Season 8 of Game of Thrones when I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

  • Used car salesmen, and anyone else trying to hoodwink me out of my money.

  • Chinese robocalls.

  • Excuses. Lies. Hate speech.

  • Anything coming out of Trump’s greedy, corrupt pie hole, especially if it’s wall-related.

The funny thing is, nature is perfectly capable of creating ear lids. Most creatures have eye lids to protect their eyes. Heck, cats even have double ones. Marine mammals often have the ability to close off their nostrils. We are able to close our mouths when necessary, although many of us, including me, don’t do this nearly as often as we should. The ability to shut orifices is not a new concept. So why is there no means to protect our ear drums and our sanity?

La la la! I can’t hear you!

Perhaps this is nature’s way of telling us that we already spend too much time not listening to one another. Even so, I’d give just about anything to be able to have peace and quiet whenever I want it. I’m telling you, people, it’s time for an upgrade.

tenor

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Why It’s Bad to Beat the Bridge

There’s a really fantastic fundraiser that has happened every spring for 37 years here in Seattle. It’s called Beat the Bridge to Beat Diabetes. It’s sponsored by Nordstrom to benefit JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It’s a run/walk/fun run that starts at University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and ends at University Bridge, the drawbridge I just happen to operate. This year it will be held tomorrow, May 19th.

I am thrilled that so many people get behind this very worthy cause. I’m also gratified when we can come together in a large group and be a force for good. What I’m not thrilled about, however, is the tradition of beating this bridge.

At the end of this race, at exactly 8:50, I will be raising the bridge. If you haven’t crossed it by then, you haven’t beaten it. But it’s actually fun not to beat it, because there’s a live band and entertainment while you wait.

Here’s the thing, though. I have operated 9 different bridges in 3 different states, and I’ve never, ever seen such a tradition of drawbridge risk taking as I’ve seen on the drawbridges that span the ship canal here in Seattle.

Every single day, I see pedestrians ignoring the warning bells and the flashing lights in order to cross my bridge as I’m preparing to open it for a vessel that can’t slam on its brakes and has no option for a detour. I’ve seen people standing center span, taking selfies, while a 2000 ton gravel barge is bearing down on them. I’ve even had people attempt to cross this bridge when it has already started to rise. I’ve had people climb under the gates and approach the million pounds of moving concrete and steel that could crush them like a bug with no concern at all for their life or limbs, simply because they’re impatient for it to close. Someone actually climbed up the fully opened Ballard Bridge, and the local paper, The Stranger, reported on it as if it were a big joke.

If you were to Google Death and Drawbridges, you’d quickly see that playing around on drawbridges is no laughing matter. People get killed on drawbridges every year, and it’s usually due to their own foolish behavior. Fortunately it hasn’t happened in Seattle yet, but I have no idea why, other than the extreme professionalism of the bridgetenders here. Still, I suspect that it’s only a matter of time.

I’m not trying to say that the Beat the Bridge fundraiser is solely responsible for the behavior of Seattleites, but I’m sure it doesn’t help. Additional factors are the use of ear buds and cell phones, which greatly reduce attentiveness; the fact that we have so many institutions of higher education in the area, full of young adults who think they’re immortal; and the cultural standard of this city that encourages people to break rules and live unique, sometimes reckless lives.

It would be wonderful to see Nordstrom partner up with Seattle Department of Transportation for future Beat the Bridge events, and allow them to have a table that promotes bridge safety. It could be manned by bridge operators that could answer questions about the bridges, because the public is naturally curious about them. The general message could be, “It’s okay to beat the bridge this morning, for this worthy cause. But please don’t beat it the rest of the year!” I think this is a public relations opportunity that SDOT should not ignore.

So yes, that will be me, tomorrow, raising the University Bridge promptly at 8:50 am, as hundreds of joggers run toward it. I’ll be doing it for a good cause. And while I’m not speaking for all of SDOT, please know that even as I do this, I’ll also be gritting my teeth.

Stay safe everybody. That’s what matters most.

Beat the Bridge

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