Thursday, May 13, 2010

CSA Harvest #3

Picked up another great box of veggies fresh from the ground today—2010's third CSA delivery from New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC (about 15 minutes from my house). This week there are three large heads of different lettuces, a head of escarole or endive (not sure which), a bag of baby arugula, a bundle of chard leaves, a huge bok choy plant, a bundle of "candy" carrots (Eliot Coleman's term for sweet baby carrots, usually sweeter in the winter), three baby Waxahalia onions (these are the same onions grown in Vidalia, GA, but which cannot legally be called "Vidalias" unless they're grown there, so Sammy combined Waxhaw and Vidalia and calls them Waxahalia onions), a bundle of red kale, and a small broccoli head from the first cutting of the spring broccoli. (New this week as they come on line: broccoli, carrots, and onions—new flavors for the palate as the weeks progress.)

I post these pictures weekly as a chronicle of the seasons. Because food is shipped all over the world today, our grocery store produce sections have "everything" all the time, regardless of season. But everything doesn't grow all the time. Plants have seasons, and I have to think there is great wisdom in learning to eat with the seasons; that our bodies, unbeknownst to us, process different foods better in different seasons. That's a foreign thought given the conditioning we are used to—for example, having tomatoes in winter. But a modern grocery store is a wholly unnatural thing (said the naturalist whose last name means "grocer" in Dutch). If I can ever have a parcel of ground large enough to grow my own food year 'round, I'll pursue eating with the seasons more faithfully. But being part of a great CSA like New Town Farms is a step in that direction.

(Wilbur update: Wilbur was right where I left him last week—snoozing in the cool, green grass; still underwhelmed with my presence, but I'm undeterred in my efforts to be his pal.)


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Get the Oil out of the Gulf

I love people who spend their days solving problems—like the two guys in this video. They demonstrate an unbelievably simple way to mop up the oil that's already escaped from the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico, keeping it from fouling the beaches. Are there problems with their idea? Perhaps—but it sounds better than anything else I've heard. Guys like this are often laughed at by "scientists" because they wear overalls and "talk funny." But I love these guys and others like them—solving problems simply. (They don't say in this video, but it's important to remember that oil is lighter than water and floats on the surface of the ocean, making their system workable.) (Thanks to Daniel for the heads-up on this video, apparently first published on the Huffington Post this week.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bike Ballet

One of the three major pro bike races of the year, the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), began yesterday. It features a TTT—a team time trial. That's when all nine members of a pro team ride together over a prescribed course, one team at a time, racing against the clock. The team that rides the prescribed course fastest wins the TTT segment of the three-week race. The TTT is one of the most popular stages in a pro bike race for the fans who watch on TV. The TTT is a carefully choreographed ballet—nine riders flying in a straight line at upwards of 30 mph, tire to tire. They can lose up to three members (crashes, mechanical problems) and still win if they cross the line with six of the starting nine. The time of the fifth rider to cross the line (I think) is the time given to the entire team.

Michael Barry, who rides for the British Sky Team (and writes about pro bike riding), published this video of the Sky Team practicing near Amsterdam for the Giro d'Italia TTT. There is a camera attached to his handlebars, and another attached to a trailing motorcycle (I think) that Barry turns on as they set out. In the video, watch how fast they move and how closely they ride to one another—and how the lead rider in the train, who does the hard work of breaking the air barrier at the front of the line, peals off after about 20-30 seconds of hard pulling at the front, and fades back to last place in line to catch his breath. The line cycles that way for the entire length of the course. And watch for the HUGE two bladed wind-powered electrical generator (near the beginning of the video)—Europe is way ahead of the U.S. in alternative energy.

Watch for a yellow car that passes the team on the road and throws something at the riders, and the reaction of the Team Sky rider in white. I might expect that in the U.S.—surprising to see it in Holland where biking is ingrained in the culture. Idiocy knows no nationality, I guess.

And check out the Team Sky bus that ferries the riders from race to race. Nice.

In the words of the lyrics to the techno rhythm accompanying the video, "If you got a pair of headphones—you better get 'em on and get 'em cranked up!" (See more of Michael Barry's writing and videos about life as a pro bike rider at his blog, Michael Barry: Le Métier.)

Oh, and I have to say: Team Sky rides the Pinarello Dogma 60.1 (the Pinarello Graal is the brand new time trial version of the Dogma), a fold-out picture of which is taped to my bathroom mirror. It's an Italian dream machine. I have never ridden a time trial bike and would be scared to. They're like regular race bikes except, instead of regular handlebars, they have tiny hand grips jutting off the front of the handlebars that the riders grasp, with their elbows resting on the handlebars, to create more of an aerodynamic position for speed. Thus, in the video, you see the camera on Barry's bike shooting between his two hands. The closer your hands are together, the less control one has over the bike. And at 30 mph . . . ? I would love to do this—bike ballet!

Cold Spring, Mt. Pleasant, NC

I came across a great web site——that identifies fresh-water springs all over the world. Turns out there is one, Cold Spring, in Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, about 30 miles from where I live. (Note: This obviously isn't the only spring near Charlotte, it's just the only one that a user has uploaded to The site is user-generated, so reflects only the springs that individuals have visited and uploaded to the site.) The web site provides directions and how to locate the spring, and finding it was a snap. If you want to look for a spring near you, just drill down through the world map on the web site until you get to your locale—it's pretty self-explanatory.

Cold Spring is located behind Cold Springs United Methodist Church and the water is free for the taking. The church has a traditional Southern "supper on the grounds" pavilion right by the spring, and all the grounds are neat and well maintained. The spring runs 24 x 7 x 365—one long-time resident of the area I talked with said he'd never known it not to run, even in periods of severe drought. The spring is down in a low place behind the church with hills rising up behind it. I can only assume that the high water table in the hills keeps pushing the water out at the low place. It is a beautiful, quiet place. The church has constructed a sort of grotto with a reservoir out of which the spring runs from two outlets.

Armed with all the jars and containers I had on hand, I set out after church this morning to get some real live spring water and had a pleasant afternoon in Mt. Pleasant. I've included more pics and movies than you want to see—but hope you enjoy your virtual tour.

Here's where Mt. Pleasant is located in relation to Matthews, near where I live:

Map to Mt Pleasant

This is Cold Springs United Methodist Church, a modern facility that stands on the grounds of the original church. I was surprised at how big the church is for the rural area in which it is located.


The church cemetery across the street—not sure of the purpose of this interesting structure in the cemetery:


This sign behind the church points the way to the spring. The church's web site indicates that people stopped for water at this spring as far back as the 1830's—and probably before. I assume "the 1830's" is as far back as written records exist:


Behind the church, looking down toward the spring. The hand rail is alongside steps that lead down to the spring and the supper pavilion:


Isn't this nice? Shady, cool, and not a sound except for the gurgling of pure water coming out of, and going back into, the ground. The stone work around the spring looks to be at least 50 years old:


This concrete cistern, I assume, goes down into the ground a ways and captures the water from the spring and channels it into the outlet pipe. The two outlets empty into a drain that runs somewhere—perhaps into a small creek that runs behind the spring? This reminds me of a cabin in the mountains outside West Jefferson, NC, where my son and his wife lived for a while (and where their first child was born). Water for the cabin flowed downhill through a pipe from a spring on the side of the mountain behind the cabin, into a pressurized bladder (holding tank) in the house, which then fed the kitchen and bathroom with water. That water also filled the large birthing tank set up in the cabin in which their first child was birthed. Being born in that mountain spring water probably accounts for Ellen's sweet disposition! :-)


The sounds of running water:

I filled up all the containers I brought with me—probably three gallons total:

I was so impressed that I decided, "I need more containers." So I set off looking for Mt. Pleasant to find a grocery store and saw more than one abandoned homestead:


While I was wandering around looking for Mt. Pleasant, I came across this repository of memories standing like a sentinel, a reminder of times past, on an abandoned farm. Who sat on this porch, and what did they talk about?


I'm speculating here, but I'm sure this house started as most old farm houses of this era did, as a two-story rectangle with chimneys on both ends. Sometime later, as resources allowed, the two sections in the rear were added—either at two different times (my guess) or at the same time. I'm thinking the smaller one was a bathroom (there would have been an original outhouse, separate from the main house), the larger a kitchen—most of the windows had blinds and I couldn't see in; where I could see revealed that most of the interior had been gutted, hopefully in anticipation of refurbishing. But there was no sign of recent activity, sadly.


A small "house" standing in a pasture about a hundred yards from the main house:


A beautiful black walnut tree in the side yard:


It wouldn't be a Southern farm house without a magnolia in the front yard—there were two of them:


In time, prosperity brought black and white images sent through the air and viewed on an electric screen, around which a farm family gathered to be influenced in ways they couldn't have foreseen (and might have avoided if they'd known who and what they were inviting into their home):


Another icon of abandoned farm houses: a hornets nest. While this one has been mostly removed, you can see the size of it by the stains, like tree rings, on the siding under the eave of the house:


I finally found Mt. Pleasant—a few shots of "downtown." The office of the local barrister:


Not sure what happened in 1929—perhaps Mr. Moose passed on and left the store to another:


The main business district:


I found a Food Lion, bought six gallon jugs of some kind of filtered water, poured out the water and took the jugs back to capture more spring water. (I know, I know—it's just the way I'm wired. I didn't drive all the way to Cold Spring to bring back tacky Food Lion water. I wanted the natural minerals from the spring water which are absent from distilled and reverse osmosis bottled water.)


On my way back to the spring, I passed a lovely house with bird feeders and bird houses for sale in the front yard. (Note the large "box" hanging underneath the table—it's the payment box.)


If the owner/builder, Troy Miller, hadn't been home, I would have obeyed the sign on his table and put my money in the slot (vertical slot beneath the word "cleaning"). Nice to know the honor system lives on in rural America:


Fortunately, Troy was home and we had a nice chat, and I bought this great bird feeder from him. He said he didn't think anyone had ever taken a bird house without paying. He found an I.O.U. in the box one time—it was from his daughter, who lives next door. :-)


I returned to the spring and filled up my six gallon jugs and made it home with about 10 gallons of wonderful water. On the way out of Mt. Pleasant, I saw these four monuments. The second from the left is a 1949-1950 era Ford. My family had one of these—a "ragtop" (convertible) when I was around 5-6 years old (around 1953) in Decatur, Alabama. My dad grew up in a car-business family and loved cars. Our beige '49-'50 Ford convertible was pretty snazzy for its day. These looked a little worse for wear. But they're available. Let me know if you want directions. :-)


A pleasant afternoon at Cold Spring in Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina. If I can rustle up some of those BIG blue-colored water jugs that you see in offices, etc., I'll probably go back for another load. I don't know who is behind the site, but I'm thankful for their efforts.