Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wearing the Cape

Tomorrow I end my month in Eastham, on Cape Cod, so I'm in a summing-up mode.

Favorite Walks
1.  Bayside beaches at low tide

2.  Truro's Pamet Trail, through coastal heath and then through dunes to the breakers

Songs that ran through my head for the whole month
1.  Over The Mountain, Across the Sea, 1957 doo-wop hit by Johnnie and Joe
2.  Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones

Things I learned

1.  Not to spend a couple of hours in a structure this height and then stand up quickly when it's time to leave.

2.  That each day at low tide, dozens of seals congregate on a sandbar off High Head Road in Truro.

3.  All about oak apples.  Who knew?  Here's a row of them, in various stages of dessication.

My theory: that the larva of the wasp that lives inside it will feast on its oaky substance until it's time to hatch next spring.  Is that what happens?  What we do know for sure is that when that larva develops into a wasp, it too will  lay an egg on the axil of an oak leaf , thus compelling the tree to produce this apple-like growth.

4.  About the existence of this plant, artemisia campestris, a silvery sand dune beauty:

Things I Cooked
1.  Shrimp Piccata

2.  Turkey-Vegetable Chili.  The recipe is pasted at the end of this blog post.

3.  Spaghetti with Swordfish in Tomato sauce with Fennel

4.  French Potato and Green Bean Salad

5.  Sarah P's Vegetarian Chili
If you want the recipe, let me know

Audiobooks I Heard
  1. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
  2. I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson
  3. Tinkers by Paul Harding
  4. This Boy's Life by Tobias Woolf
  5. Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund DeWaal
  6. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Things I Made

1. This felted image of Penwood State Park in fall

2. This painted and embroidered image of a path atop the dune high over the beaches of Eastham and Wellfleet

3.  This knitted blanket.  It will be complete when it reaches 30 inches.  Until then, well, it will just inch along:

Times I Left the Cape for Home and Beyond
  1. Once to West Hartford for the birthday party of my dear friend Margie
  2. Once to New York City to watch my daughter, Julia, installed as assistant cantor at Central Synagogue in Manhattan

Tomorrow I leave the Cape for what may be months.  But I collected sand, shells, and dried seaweed yesterday, and I hope to make them into a sandy Cape collage.  And I'm going to be processing the experiences of this September visit all through the coming winter months, drawing them through me and around me like, well, a cape.

I pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, chopped (about
4 cups)
1green bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
a 16-ounce can kidney beans,
drained and rinsed
a 16-ounce can black beans,
drained and rinsed
an 8-ounce can prepared tomato
2 cups chicken broth
71teaspoon cayenne
171teaspoons chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
fresh lime juice to taste '
~ cup chopped fresh coriander,
or to taste
Accompaniment: cooked brown
In a large skillet cook turkey in oil over moderately high heat, stirring to break up lumps, until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in vegetables, beans, tomato sauce, broth, spices, and garlic and
simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Stir in lime juice and coriander and season chili with salt and pepper. Cool chili, uncovered, and keep covered and chilled 2 days or frozen 1 month.
Serve chili with brown rice. Serves 6.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Extreme Embroidery...and Transfiguration

I came to the Cape this year for the month of September to immerse myself in its natural beauty...and to do a few fiber art projects.

So it was that yesterday I took myself and my two poodles to First Encounter Beach to do some needlework.

My destination:  this structure, made by hands unknown, the perfect place for me to set up my little beach chair, pour a dish of water for the dogs, and pull out my embroidery.

The person who erected this structure also decorated it with carvings and the name "First Encounter."

But before I started my needlework,  I had to walk the tidal flats at low tide.  My favorite time.  Look at the ripples in the sand, so perfectly formed yet so changeable:

The sea water sparkles golden in each tiny trough.  And the bay itself is transfigured by the sunlight on the shallow water.

Within sight of my little shack, I can see the Church of the Transfiguration across the bay.  This structure, the basilica of the Community of Jesus, is covered with art in glass, stone, and mosaic. Its most striking feature is the apse, where one wall is covered with a bas-relief glass sculpture, painted with gold leaf, depicting the water in this golden, transformed state.

To the minds of its creators, this golden, glowing water not only symbolizes, but imagines, Jesus in his transfigured state.  In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus and three of his apostles went up to a mountain, where Jesus began to shine with rays of light, radiating the glory and splendor of his divine nature.  In Christian teaching, in the transfiguration, human nature meets God and the temporal and the eternal come together in a bridge between heaven and earth.

In the words of the Community of Jesus, the Transfiguration "not only reveals the unique glory of the Son of God, but it also proclaims that the divine life can be borne by human flesh, and that the resplendent light of God can shine in and through the darkest regions of every human heart."

When my heart was filled with glory, I went back to my shack and took out my embroidery.

You can't tell from this photo, but the piece I'm working on shows a tunnel-like path traversing the wooded top of the dunes high above the beach in Eastham and Wellfleet, within the National Seashore:

This spot is so magical to me that I'm willing to spend hours rendering it in pearl cotton and embroidery floss.

Want to know how windy it was out there while I was working on this?  Very.  That's why I'm calling it extreme embroidery.

I had to go to the Eastham Library to compose this blog entry, and as I sit here, I'm viewing and hearing my daughter Julia, streamed on the Internet as she stands at the bima at Central Synagogue in mid-town Manhattan, where she is a cantor, singing the Yom Kippur service.  Yom Kippur invites transformation also, encouraging us to become our best selves.

Here's a link to that service.

Truth is one, and the wise enter it in different ways.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Centaurea, saponaria, and beauty underfoot

Here where I'm staying at a bayside cottage in Eastham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, it's a short sandy walk, under pitch pines and oaks, past bearberry, bayberry, and blueberry, to the water.

And on the way there, so much life, blooming by the sandy path.

Centaurea maculosa, or spotted knapweed, is one of my favorites, for the delicacy of both its form and its color.

Bouncing Bet, or saponaria officinalis, is exuberantly all over the place.  My Reader's Digest Guide to North American Wildlife tells me that it has the name saponaria because "when mixed with water, the bruised leaves of these European weeds produce a soapy lather that has been used since ancient times for laundry and bathing....[i]ts cleansing action makes it a useful home remedy for poison ivy."  Saponaria.  The Latin word for soap is saponem, so I suppose that's where the name came from.  I'm not tempted to use it for soap, though.

Rosa rugosa is all over the place, too.  I admire this plant for its ability to thrive in sand, send up rosy fragrance that mixes with the smell of the sea, and produce rose hips so round and orange they look like cherry tomatoes. 

Aster is my birth flower, and in September, they're abundant.  I'm not sure which aster this one is, but I'm going to guess it's New England Aster, Aster Novae-Angliae. 

Beach pea (lathyrus japonicus) sprawls all over the dunes from June through September.  Its two-tone flowers never fail to stop me in my tracks.  The leaves remind me of those of its close relative, baptisia, which I grow in my home garden in West Hartford, CT. They're all members of the pea family, right?  Can one of you master gardeners out there help me out?

This last one isn't flowering now, but I love the deep evergreen color of its fleshy leaves, which are striped with white.  This is spotted wintergreen, chimaphila maculata.  Can you see why I think it's so lovely?  Wikipedia tells me it's endangered in Canada, Illinois, Maine and New York. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


My sister Linda and her husband Deepak on Cape Cod in 2009.  She died of a vascular dementia on September 7, 2011.

 Today's the anniversary of 9/11/2001, and who among us doesn't remember that day with horror?  The planes used as weapons, the soaring buildings collapsing in piles of flying concrete dust, the bodies thudding on the pavement?

9/11 has special significance for me, not only because of the national tragedy, but because it shares the same early September calendar with the death dates of two of my three sisters. 

At the same time, 9/11/2001 was my daughter Lucia's 10th birthday.  That sunny afternoon, she came home from school filled with happy anticipation for the birthday dinner planned for her that evening.  The birthday tradition in our family is for the birthday person to order a menu of their favorite foods and for Mom to create the meal, which always ends with a rich sour cream chocolate mocha cake.  There are always candles and flowers on the table and friends and family around it.  And presents.

So why shouldn't Lucia be excited when she arrived home from her 5th grade classroom that day?  She handed me a letter which the principal of her school had written to the parents, explaining that the administration had decided to let each of us break the bad news to our children in our own way.  When Lucia walked in the door that day, her older sister Leah and I explained what had happened.  Lucia was stung, but still happy and still looking forward to her family birthday meal.

As we gathered around the table, none of the rest of us were as enthusiastic as Lucia.  But for her sake we pulled ourselves together and enjoyed the meal and each other and did what we had to do.

Today, Lucia is 21 years old.  In this photo, she's on the campus of the University of the Balearic Islands, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where she spent the second semester of her junior year, from January to July 2012, and where Joe and I were lucky enough to visit her.

 Before I came here to Cape Cod, where I'm spending the month of September, I sent a big birthday package to Burlington, VT, where Lucia has just begun her senior year at the University of Vermont, majoring in Spanish.  And I ordered her a triple chocolate mocha mousse cake from a Burlington bakery called Mirabelle's.

But 9/11 still casts a long shadow over this day because it's close to the death dates of two of my three sisters. In early September 2002, Jeanne, at age 57, died from complications of a heart transplant.  In September 2011, just last year, Linda died at age 72 from vascular dementia.

L-R Larry Morosoff, Diane Cadrain, Joe Rubin, Deepak Mazumdar, Linda Cadrain Mazumdar, Jerol Cadrain Morosoff.
Here's a family photo from 2009, when my two surviving sisters and their spouses were among the many guests who came here to the Cape that year to help me and Joe celebrate our 35th anniversary.  Linda was 70 at the time, not very mobile, and not very articulate.  She was so frail and needy, it was heroic of Deepak to get her all the way to Eastham from their home in Columbia, Missouri.  That was the last trip she took.  Two years later, on September 7, 2011, she died at home.

She taught me to say my prayers in Latin when I was four years old, and at the interment of her cremains in August 2012, I recited those prayers by heart and from my heart.

Beach: Deserted. Except for a seal or two, a couple of dogs, and a clump of artemisia.

On this sunny, breezy Monday, as a storm from the west rode the wind out over the Atlantic Ocean, almost nobody visited Nauset Light Beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore in Eastham, Massachusetts.

There were two dogs there, however. They were with me.  One of them found a dead crab and did not want to let it go.

The occasional seal surfaced in the waves.

And clumps of beach artemisia grew on the sandy dune.

This is one of my favorite plants, the icy color of its deeply-cut leaves imparting a frosty feel on the hottest day.  It's been domesticated and is sold commercially as artemisia silver brocade (artemisia stelleriana) and is also known as beach wormwood.  I have several of them at home in my garden in West Hartford, Connecticut, where the soil is somewhat too rich for its abstemious taste.  It tickles me to see them growing wild on the dunes here on the Cape.

Snail Cafeteria

When the tide is low here on Cape Cod Bay, you can walk out forever on the mud flats, watching the seagulls, feeling the sand ripples massaging your soles, and noticing all sorts of sea life that isn't visible when the tide is high and the eelgrass is all but hidden by the water and the waves are fringed with white.

The absence of waves when the tide is low reveals so much.
Sand ripples.  Wanna know how good these feel under your bare feet?

Of all the forms and fauna revealed by the low tide, my favorite is  the snail cafeteria.  That's what I call a collection of snails feeding on a dead crab or clam.

This is a video of a snail cafeteria, showing the alacrity with which these gastropods come sliming across the mud, but I'm not sure whether I've downloaded it correctly so it's viewable.

The snails are mud snails, Nassariidae, and this particular kind, I think, are the Eastern Mud Nassa, Ilynassa obsoleta.  They're marine gastropod mollusks, and, according to my nature guide, "when they find a dead fish or other creature (they sense its presence through chemicals in the water), they may emerge in great numbers to feed."

They come sliming along as fast as their feet can take them.  They each have one foot and project it from their shells to slide along on it.  Not very quickly.

What do they see in a dead crab?

Maybe the same thing I see.  I love crabcakes.  But I prefer my crabs cooked.

The sky over the snail cafeteria

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rapscallion and Reindeer Moss

Somebody her along Cape Cod Bay in Eastham owns a little putt-putt of a boat called the Rapscallion.  It's moored a short sandy walk from the cottage I'm renting for the month of September.  At low tide--my favorite time, because I can walk out forever on the tidal flats, watching the birds and being squirted by clams--Rapscallion lolls on the flats like this:

Today, though, when I took my morning walk with the dogs, the tide was just past high, and for the first time I saw Rapscallion riding the water, bobbing and turning on its mooring:

Having thus illustrated the power of the tide, I feel obligated to say something profound about it.  Unfortunately, I can't think of anything that isn't a cliche. Maybe my imagination is on vacation.  So I'll let this little house, perched over the beach where Rapscallion floats at high tide, make that statement for me:

Along the way to the beach, as the dogs snuffled along under the pitch pines and oaks, I saw lots of this kind of moss:

This is reindeer moss, and I understand from a website called Cape Cod Coastal Ecology that it "prefers open areas near pine woodlands. It often grows in large colonies, though single clumps can also be found. This lichen is a major part of open, sandy areas surrounded by pitch pines. It is often one of the first colonizers in forest succession and can absorb the needed water and nutrients from the air. It is known for its longevity and can survive for many decades...." and that it "is an environmental indicator for air quality. Their presence suggests low concentrations of atmospheric pollutants such as sulfur dioxide."

I'm glad that the dogs and I are breathing good air here.  As if there could be any doubt. 

While heading back to the house after my beach walk, I picked up this egg shell from the grass and moss beside the road:
It's about an inch long--on the big side, for a bird's egg.  What kind is it?  The birds whose calls I hear most often around here are chickadees and crows.  This egg is far too big to have been laid by a tiny chickadee, so I would guess it's a crow's egg...  except that Wikipedia tells me that the egg of the common crow, corvus brachyrhynchos, is about an inch and a half long, and looks like this:

So, wrong color and wrong size for a crow...but what is it?  Another mystery to solve.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Indian Pipes

I saw these under a couple of dried oak leaves this morning:

These are Indian Pipes, monotropa uniflora, white plants which don't contain chlorophyll.  They're parasitic, hosted by certain fungi that grow on tree roots.  They're considered scarce or rare.  Yet, there they were, growing on the ground, amid the dried oak leaves, a few feet from the sandy driveway of my  cottage.

Meanwhile, inside the cottage, I put my newly-acquired magnets on the refrigerator.  I got them in P'town yesterday. 

Truro, Provincetown, and a Mystery Solved

It's not every day I get to solve a mystery.  The mystery:  what are these two spherical objects I found a few days ago on the ground outside our cottage?  I  finally figured it out with the help of my arborist friend. 

But not before going to the beach.  Twice. 

First, at about 8:30 this morning, Leah and I went out with the dogs and walked the tidal flats on the beach near our cottage at low tide.

After that, we drove to Truro, where our favorite walk leads past pitch pines, bearberry, and bayberry to a deserted beach, with high dunes and lots of sky.

Along the way, I felt the need to heed the call of nature.  So I did.

As I  was doing so, I said to Leah, "Don't you dare tweet this!"

But she did.

We like this walk because, when we reach the secluded beach at its end, we usually see seals bobbing along in the water.  Today we saw, not the dozens we saw last year, but a few.  Leah got a couple of decent shots.  The images are a little blurry, but at least you can tell they're seals.

When we returned to our cottage after that walk, I picked up my nature guide to see whether I could  identify some of the short, silvery-leaved oaks we'd seen along the path.  That's when I saw a picture of a spherical object like the one I picked up outside the cottage.

My arborist friend said she thought it might be a gall, and suggested that I cut into one of them.  So I did.  It was dense and crisp inside, like a hard green apple, with a tiny hollow at its center, as in this photo I took, with the objects lined up against my knitting ruler.

My friend suggested it might be a pitless plum.  I thought it was plausible that there could be a plum sapling out there, growing from someone's cast-off piece of fruit.  So today I went out looking for a little plum tree among the oaks and pitch pines.  But there were only oaks and pitch pines. 

Later, after our second beach walk,  I found images of similar spherical objects in my nature book, the Reader's Digest Guide to North American Wildlife.  They're oak apples: a gall built by a wasp as an enclosure for a wasp larva.  My arborist friend called it.

Here's Wikipedia on the subject:

Oak apples are caused by chemicals injected by the larva of certain kinds of gall wasp in the family Cynipidae.[1] The adult female wasp lays single eggs in developing leaf buds. The larvae feed on the gall tissue resulting from their secretions.

These images from Google Images look almost exactly like the ones I found here:

Those of you who are not scientifically inclined may want to skip the following Wikipedia description of the gall wasps' building those spheres:

The plant galls mostly develop directly after the female insect lays the eggs. The inducement for the gall formation is largely unknown; discussion speculates as to both chemical, mechanical and viral triggers. The hatching larvae nourish themselves with the nutritive tissue of the galls, in which they are otherwise well-protected from external environmental effects. The host plants and the size and shape of the galls are specific to the majority of gall wasps, whereas about 70% of the known species live in various types of oak tree. One can find galls on nearly all parts of such trees, some on the leaves, the buds, the branches, and the roots.

After solving that mystery, Leah and I spent an afternoon in free-spirited Provincetown, where a thriving LGBT presence co-exists with a strong Portuguese community and an ongoing arts colony among buildings erected in the early 1800s. 

Today on the street, a couple of drag queens were out there advertising their shows. I asked one of them whether I could take a photo,to which s/he replied, sorry, no, not unless you buy a ticket.

Oh, well.

Still, there's lots to see here in P-Town.

Maybe you can't read all the clever sayings on those magnets.  My favorite is on the left hand side, second from the top:  "May I recommend a cheap wine to go with your utter despair?  Or how about third row, middle:  "You just made my shit list" ?

Provincetown Town Hall, a lovely and graceful old building

By 5 pm, Leah and I were both feeling peckish, so we ate a light and early dinner at the Lobster Pot.  Strangely, when I first visited Provincetown, I refused to patronize the Lobster Pot, because, centrally located as it was, I thought it had to be a tourist trap.  Then one day our friends Margie and Rae suggested that we eat lunch there.  Such a surprise.  Delicious seafood, spicy Portuguese dishes, smashing view.  Today, this is what Leah and I saw from our table:

Here's Leah and a glass of chenin blanc.

Here's the banner above the door of the Universalist Church: