Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Vegetable Gardening

On the face of it, one would think that gardening in Florida would be a breeze. It is, in a way. The long growing season and abundant moisture provide an excellent environment for many kinds of plants. However, these conditions are also highly favorable for weeds and pest insects, and one must be prepared for the things that want to choke your plants or eat the things you want to eat.

Here in north Florida, one can garden all year. However, one cannot grow all kinds of plants year round. Plants that will grow in the winter garden (e.g. cabbages; lettuce) will wilt and die in the summer, and plants sensitive to frosts obviously will prosper only in the warmer months.

After living here 10 years, I decided to get a bit more serious about gardening. I can't be as serious about it as we were in Pennsylvania and Maryland, because we do not have suitable land. Our 1.2 acres is about 90% wooded, and much of the remainder is shaded. I did find a spot adjacent to the back porch, however, that receives abundant sunlight and is suitable for a small raised garden patch. I will be able to build up the soil by adding organic material each year. Moreover, it is within the fenced portion of the yard, and this should deter deer to some extent. A short chicken wire fence around the garden proper should keep out rabbits when installed.

The accompanying photo shows the layout. At the far end are 5 tomato plants of different varieties, and 4 pepper plants. Between the stepping stones are 6 eggplants, and dimly seen along the landing on the left is a row of 6 okra plants. Close to the wooden deck are 3 basil plants. The unplanted area in the center is the site of my just-recycled winter/spring garden, which included beets and swiss chard. This space will soon be planted with bush beans and pickling cucumbers. On the right of the image are three containers; the farthest contains Italian parsley, the middle oregano, and the closest rosemary.

Anyone looking closely may wonder about the objects at the top of the above photo. These are parts of my home weather station. At the upper left is the solar cell that powers the rain gauge. The collector for the rain gauge is on top of the fence near the center of the image, and the anemometer and wind direction sensor is on the mast at the upper right.

The tomato plants have been in 2 or 3 weeks, and some are already 5-6 feet tall. They will probably have to be replaced before the end of summer, but in the meantime should provide early harvests. The image to the right shows a pear tomato--not yet ready to eat, but not bad for the end of April!

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Our sister and brother-in-law walked parts of the Camino in 2007, and will be traversing a long section of the Chemin de St, Jacques (one part of the Camino in France) this year. It was their enthusiasm that led us to begin considering our own adventure. Among the pleasures they extolled was the training—hiking near home as they built up their ability to walk long distances carrying packs. The training was not easy on their out-of-shape and past-prime bodies, but the experience permitted them to rediscover the pleasures of their own home region.

Our training has taken us through nearby neighborhoods that were scarcely known before, and into places whose charms had been all but forgotten over the years. A favorite is the San Felasco Hammock State Preserve, one of many jewels in the Florida State Park System.

Last Thursday’s walk took us through 6.5 miles of neighborhood streets and 5.8 miles on one of the several long trails in the Hammock.

In the Hammock we saw deer, as we do on almost every trip, but also caught glimpses of red-headed woodpeckers, not yet seen this year. Lizards, including fence lizards (Sceloporus) and skinks (Eumeces) were often seen, and we were able to photograph the two skinks seen here, both apparently males in some kind of a territorial ritual. And twice we came upon gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus), a once-common species that is becoming ever less abundant as patches of undisturbed habitat are shrinking and disappearing before the relentless onslaught of development. The tortoise seen in the accompanying photo ran to his burrow as we approached, but apparently felt secure enough that he did not bother to scramble to its bottom.

We will surely encounter wildlife on the Camino, but we will be unable to carry the guidebooks needed to tell us all we would like to know about what we are seeing. That will be too bad, but we will be able to console ourselves with the thought that we will have much time and there is much more to be learned and enjoyed close to home.

Peg's 1st audio post

This is a first audio posting. We hope that posting using recordings instead of typed text will facilitate entries we make along the way at internet cafes and other public-use computers. I need some practice, but here is a first attempt. Peg's April 26 Audio Post

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Adirondack Crescent?

What is the Adirondack Crescent? It is not a widely recognized geographic feature, and is in fact a formulation we only recently coined to use with our cheese project.

Planning for the project, we wanted to contrast what is happening in the world of cheese now with the similarly momentous and not altogether congruent changes that occurred in the past. In both past and present, the scale of change was large, and we were seeking some way to narrow our focus. How were we to identify a bite-sized morsel that could serve to exemplify the whole?

One way to keep its size manageable would be to restrict it to New York State. We had some historical information that made this strategy seem promising, but it still seemed to need something more.

We were helped fortuitously and indirectly by New York Times reporter Danny Hakim. In a 2006 article describing his visit to the New York State Cheese Museum, he referred to a map from one hundred years earlier showing a “C-shape” cluster of cheese factories surrounding the Adirondack Mountains. Maybe, we thought, this C-shaped area could be our morsel. The idea was appealing; it would provide the narrowing of scope we desired, and offer other advantages as well. We were long-ago natives of Northern New York, we still had a few connections there, and one of us even had a family connection—a grandmother who once worked in one of the factories shown on the map. Searching for information from local sources would dovetail with annual visits to friends and family, and should the final product be a book, publicizing it might fit nicely with marketing our other books that celebrate aspects of the region.

Of course “C-shaped” does not convey much of a mental image, and after much thought, we finally came up with “Crescent.” Looking at the original map, the shape of the clustered factories does indeed resemble a crescent moon. (We put together the map accompanying this post to illustrate the idea of the Crescent, and it does not attempt to show the locations of all 618 cheese factories there in 2002. Nor does it show the other 522 cheese factories in the State, the majority of which were clustered in the southwestern quadrant.)

Specifically, what we have described as the Adirondack Crescent includes portions of the upper Hudson Valley on the southeast, the Mohawk River Valley on the south, the broad plain at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, its northward extension that narrows as it runs eastward along the valley of the St. Lawrence, and a tip that extends into the valley at the northwest end of Lake Champlain. Its 618 factories in 1902 produced a total of 67,275,922 pounds of cheese. The same region in 2002 included a handful of large factories—some owned by multinational corporations or conglomerates best known for their tobacco products—turning out millions of pounds of commodity cheeses, mid-sized factories producing quality cheeses by methods not unlike those employed in 1902, and a steadily growing number of independent cheese-makers who are determined to recapture much of what had been lost in the trends toward mechanization, industrialization, and supplying global markets.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finally, A Place for Every Night

We have a place to stay every night! The final two confirmations came through.

It was a pretty cool morning and we walked in the neighborhood, with packs. Only one person, whom I know from yoga class, stopped and asked what we were doing with the packs. But more than a few gave us puzzled smiles as they drove by. And the mailman figured it out…training for a long walk, eh?

We walked the first loop with Jake, and dropped him off before setting out for the second loop. At the end of the 6.5 miles, we were both more tired than we felt we ought to be. And my backpack was squeaking again.

I took it back to Brasington’s. Another clerk, Ruth, was really helpful. She installed the women’s style hip belt that I thought had been ordered when I was there last time. It is much better for me. It rides higher on the small of my back and tilts as it comes around to the front so that it is lower on my hipbones. The men’s style that I had does not tilt. I had to let it ride high on my stomach to get the back where it felt good…or below the comfortable place on my back to get it below the soft part of my belly. I think the women’s style is going to be a big improvement. Thank you Ruth! She also suggested that the only way to get rid of the squeak will be to take the pack apart and insert a piece of cloth between the frame and the back padding. I can do that and will give it a try.

We leave three weeks from today!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Backing up a bit, I want to say a few words about this trail we will hike. In France it is Le Chemin de Saint-Jacques. In Spain, where it ends, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Here are a couple of sites that show the routes. On the second one, you must click “cartographie” at the top of the menu-list on the left side of the page.
According to the legend, St James was a disciple who tried with little success to spread the faith in Spain after the death of Christ. When he went back to Jerusalem, he was martyred and his followers spirited his body away. Miraculously a stone boat appeared and carried them back to Spain where they buried him.
Fast forward to the 9th century. The remains were “found” and Christians were encouraged by the local Spanish archbishop to make pilgrimages to the site to earn heavenly rewards. Some medieval courts also sentenced evil-doers to make the pilgrimage. Or, there were professional pilgrims who would make the trip for you for a fee, and you’d get the heavenly rewards.
A network of refuges became established to care for the pilgrims’ needs. Your bishop would issue you a pilgrim passport, which gave access to the refuges and assured your rewards at the end. It needed to be stamped at many points along the way, a tradition that continues. We have our passports stowed with our other important papers for the trip. The scallop shell, a symbol of St. James’ miraculous trip, became, and still is, a symbol of the pilgrim. There are journals and “travel guides” written by pilgrims as early as the 12th century.
Many routes became well established. Four are prominent in France and three in Spain. We will walk parts of the most often traveled ones in each country. On this trip, at least, we will not arrive at the end-goal, the cathedral at Santiago. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, in the first half of the 10th century Santiago rivaled Rome and Jerusalem as pilgrim destinations. Now about 100,000 “pilgrims” trek the route annually and about 2.5 million people visit Santiago’s holy sites.
Pilgrim accommodations come in several varieties, including modest B&B/boarding house style places in the very small towns along the route, monasteries that take in pilgrims, and hostels that provide dorm style accommodations at much lower than average rates. Most of these lower-than-market-cost places require pilgrim passports, with requisite stamps showing you are not zipping along by rental car at a pace no pilgrim on foot could maintain.
It would be nice if we could plan to walk about 10 miles a day, then stop and enjoy the rural peace, the wine and cheese, and the local food. However, the towns are not necessarily spaced that way. So our daily endeavors will range from about 8 to about 16 miles. Sixteen sounds impossible, but there is a huge network of people on the web who have done this and they say it is doable by people like us. We’ll see! It sounds too nifty to pass up the chance to try it. And the preparations are surely a major part of the experience.

The Beginnings of a Cheese Project?

Our April 13 posts mentioned our cheese project. We are not entirely sure where it will lead and what will be its outcomes, nor can we precisely say where it began. Multiple connections led us to where we are now, and any one of them could conceivably be identified as the beginning. One event does stand out, however.

On a 2006 iteration of our annual visits to friends and family in northern New York State, we were denied one of the normal pleasures we had come to expect there. We were unable to obtain a favored local specialty—fresh cheese curds. When we asked what had happened, we heard a tale of woe.

The source of our cheese curds, a factory in Heuvelton, NY, was shut down. Newspapers cited competition, oversupply, and general volatility in the commodity market for cheese. Whatever the reason, the situation was dire for the 95 local Amish dairy farmers, who no longer had a place to sell their milk and were forced to dump it. Forbidden by their customs from using refrigeration or mechanized transport, they had depended on the nearby factory where they would deliver their milk in horse drawn wagons,

We found the story fascinating because of its contrasts—how it highlighted changes in the way society is organized. The situation in Heuvelton was not only a clash between the ways of the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, but it also reflected the huge gap that has opened between the local markets of the past and today’s global markets.

Later research revealed that as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, nearly 1,200 cheese factories operated at crossroads in rural New York State. Their number and distribution were determined by the same factors that 100 years later affected the Amish farmers in the Heuvelton area. Without refrigeration and rapid transport, and with too few local consumers of liquid milk, the only economically viable outlet for dairy products was in cheese production. And factories could be no farther apart than a horse could walk in a few hours.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the number of cheese factories in the state had dwindled to fewer than 50, and most were huge, spewing out tons of mozzarella for pizzas and cheddar as feedstock for processed products.

The industrialization and commoditization of cheese-making was perhaps inevitable. Even in the nineteenth century, cheese was not made just for local markets; dairymen began making it precisely because the local population could not consume all the milk they were producing. Turning milk into cheese solved the problems of preservation and transport, and made their farms economically sustainable. And in serving ever wider markets, the need for standardization of products and quality control increased apace. Results were plain; cheese-making was no longer a craft, and the rush to industrialization seemed unstoppable.

Yet in the past decade we have seen the beginning of a small but growing countercurrent. Local sources for all kinds of foods are becoming available, and consumers are rediscovering them, valuing the quality and diversity offered. As in other states, a group of pioneer cheese makers in New York State established a guild. Today its nearly 40 member organizations are mostly family-operated, farm-based enterprises. They produce unique cheeses of known provenance, and they serve high-end, discerning, and appreciative clienteles.

Taken by the contrasting trends, and energized by the enthusiasm of the people propelling them, we are confident that there are stories to be enjoyed and insights to be gained by looking deeper. Our project, however it may turn out, seeks to understand and reveal the many dimensions of one small slice of an ongoing revolution in the way people view quality, and how producers and consumers can interact in ways that improve the lives of both.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cheese, Slow Food, and Proliferating Projects

Peg has already referred to our cheese project. It has been underway in one form or another for nearly two years. A future post will describe how we became interested and how the project has been evolving.

Somewhat related to the cheese project has been our involvement with the Slow Food movement. A daughter bought me a gift membership in the national organization over a year ago. Cheese, now undergoing a renaissance in the U.S. by recapturing rich old traditions and craftsmanship, is in some sense emblematic of slow food, so the connection was a natural one.

Learning of the activities of the national and international slow food organizations was interesting and informative, but the activity became much enriched just a couple of months ago when a local chapter or "convivium" became active. The leaders of our local group in north-central Florida are young, intelligent, and energetic, and the membership seems to span a wide range of ages and life stages. As members, we have been able to visit two farms where local farmers (entrepreneurs?) are celebrating and practicing sustainable agriculture focused on the needs of the local community, and committed to producing food that is safe, fair, and wholesome.

A photo from one of the farms is attached. Possum Hollow Farm in north Florida consists of 30-odd acres, with as few as three or four acres under intense cultivation. Labor is provided by two people--the couple who manage the place--and the small tractor seen in the image. Produce is sold to local restaurants and at local farmers' markets. To make it all work, the farm couple has to invest a considerable amount of hard labor. Planting seeds and pulling weeds is not enough, however, and the greatest value the couple adds to the enterprise is in being smart--doing things right, anticipating problems, and always watching both the top and the bottom lines. They are interesting people, and could easily lead us to supplement our cheese project with a slow food project.

Welcome Back, From the Prague Blog to the Camino, the Cheese Project, and Who Knows Where Next

It is good to be starting a new blog. Over a year ago I closed pegspragueblog,about my experiences living in the Czech Republic on a Fulbright award and how living there changed my worldview.

Now Russ and I are starting this new blog together. We will share experiences, ideas, tales from the various projects that we are pursuing individually and jointly for the sheer challenge or fun of them.

Two primary ones, at the moment, are the Camino project and the Artisanal Cheese project. I want to start with some words about trekking.

The Camino (Written March 10 and posted April 13)

It started last spring. Russ’ sister and her husband announced they were going to hike 250 miles on the 1000-year old pilgrimage trail, Camino de Santiago de Compostela. My reactions were shock, awe, envy.

They survived it. They loved it. This year we’re going to try it too. It is no small matter.

The trail has several alternate routes starting in various European countries and ending at Santiago. We want to try part of the most popular French route and part of the most popular Spanish route. We plan to start in Figeac and walk about 100 miles to Moissac. Then we will take a train to St Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenees to start the next section.

Starting last September, we began to train and lose weight. Thirty pounds later, with two and a half months to go, we do two training walks a week of about 5 or 6 miles, and one 10- to 12-miler, the latter with a loaded backpack. Neither of us has collapsed yet, although collapse has felt close on my heels a few times.

I bought an overly good (pricey) backpack. It is a Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian. I got it at Brasington’s, Gainesville’s Outdoor Adventure Outfitter. First I ordered an Osprey…special for women. But the hip belt didn’t really fit comfortably. So I went for the Granite Gear. I have hiked with it four times now. From the start, it had a bit of a squeak in the back. But last week it squawked for 11 miles. I walked into Brasington’s with it. The clerk asked how he could help. I said: I got this pack a couple of weeks ago and…”It squeaks,” said he. “I heard it when you walked in the door.” He fixed it. Sometimes it is nice to not have bought online.

Other preparations:

We now own waterproof jackets and pants, Atmospheric Rain Capes that we ordered from Spain to cover our packs and us, boots for training and boots for hiking, hiking socks and sock liners, high-tech pants and shirts, sweaters, pjs, and underwear…all of which dry in the blink of an eye. We have 1.5 pound sleeping bags that will keep us warm in 45 degrees. At least that is the claim. Tonight we are going to stay in the Cedar Key house. We bought a sleeper sofa and want to try it out for the comfort of future guests. But also, it is supposed to go down to 31 degrees. We plan to turn off the heat when we go to bed and sleep in our new sleeping bags. We’ll see!

We have books and gazillions of bookmarked websites telling us where to stay and how to get the most from the experience of pilgrims-past, including the secular ones like us.

Our mentors are off to the American Pilgrims of the Camino Gathering this week in Santa Barbara. There actually is such an organization. We thought about going too, but I got summoned to jury duty Monday and we would not have been back in time…besides the flights cost too much.

Our current plan is to fly to Toulouse…we already bought those tickets…leaving the dog and house in the care of a friend. We will train to Figeac and start hiking. We hope to make it to Moissac in 7 days. Then we’ll take public transportation, cross the Pyrenees at St Jean Pied de Port, and start hiking again from Roncevalles in Spain. We hope to arrive in 7 days in Logrono. From there we’ll again take public transportation to Barcelona and meet up with friends for a few days before returning home.

But we know plans change.

Brrrr.... (Written March 11)

I hope it does not really get cold in France, or at least that they have some blankets we can rent. At about 4 AM I proclaimed an end to our sleeping bags test and turned on the thermostat. Still, they’ll almost surely be just the right bags; they are wonderfully light and we do not really expect it to be below 50 indoors.

Trekking requires optimism.

Being Committed to the Camino (Written on April 6)

I am totally committed to walking this walk. Some days, on the other hand, I am not sure that it will be fun. Maybe it will be a great thing to have done, but only for the bragging rights…like riding the mules down the Grand Canyon.

I know we can do it, if we don’t get an injury, which could happen any time any where, so really doesn’t factor into the thinking.

In the beginning, it just sounded like a cool idea to me. Then for a while I thought it seemed a bit extreme, especially the backpack part. But the more we walk and the more we buy stuff, I have no doubt about doing this.

I am usually a reluctant shopper. But shopping for this has been really fun. When it gets finalized, I will tell you what I am putting in my pack, and how much it weighs. I really want to keep to not more than 15 pounds…so I may have to jettison some necessities. Maybe I can live with a comb and no brush…saves an ounce!

We have found some beautiful places to train. This picture is from a trail in the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge, near Cedar Key.

Another of our favorite spots is the San Felasco Hammock. They did a controlled burn this week, it it is still lovely.

Training and Logistics (Written on April 7)

Only two more reservations to go. We will be on the Camino for 18 nights. We had heard that you need to reserve ahead in France, but we thought that in Spain it would not be possible. Then we learned that lots of people start hiking in St Jean Pied de Port, where we will start for Spain. So the refugios and albergues get full on that part of the trail. We decided to go ahead and reserve at places that, unlike the pilgrim refugios, will accept reservations. The thought of walking 12 or 15 miles and then finding no beds at the inn was too scary for us.

We did a 5-mile training walk today. Trusty Jake, the Golden Retriever, hiked along too. Five miles is about his limit, especially as it gets hot in Florida’s April, but today was cloudy and he did fine.