Sunday, October 21, 2012

What Leaves

This week has been insanely busy.  And it shows no signs of letting up.  Today is my day to once again (try to) catch up on all of the things that absolutely have to get done or else the earth will simply spin off its axis and I alone will be held supremely responsible for the ensuing chaos.

Actually, it's been a really nice week.  Thursday was my birthday, so I am now officially 44 (nice double number).  My friends treated me to dinner at a Portuguese restaurant, so I was pleasantly reminded of the lesson that I learned in 2008 when I was in Lisbon for a week: Portuguese cuisine, accompanied by Portuguese wine, is both inexpensive and awesome.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am on a quest to make my own soap from homemade lye that I'm making from wood ash.  I'm taking it one step at a time, since I can't quite believe I'll be able to do it, but I must say, it does seem to be working.

I saved up white wood ashes from my fireplace for a week or so, put them in a bucket, poured boiling water over them, and let the water drain into another bucket through a tiny hole drilled in the first bucket.

I've re-boiled the drained lye-water twice now, and re-drained it through the ashes (I added some new ashes the second time around).  I tested it today, and I think it's almost strong enough.  Once it gets to the proper strength, I have to let it evaporate and collect the resulting lye crystals.

I have no idea how much lye this whole process will make, but if I get enough, the next step is for me to render some fat and see how that goes.

It's definitely a project with a long-term timeline, though, because even if all goes smoothly and I get some bitchin' good soap out of all of this, I will need to let it cure for months before anyone can use it.  Otherwise, it will burn my skin and the skin of those I cherish, and that would not be good.  I'd like to avoid that, at all costs.

In another random observation, I would like to note that, by some strange coincidence, I always seem to time it such that I'm teaching Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" and Keats' "To Autumn" at precisely the time when I'm required to rake the leaves in my yard.

I have two observations to make on this point: 1) Shelley clearly never had to rake a single leaf in his life, or he wouldn't be all "West Wind, you rock, etc. etc.", and 2) I hate leaf-blowers.

I don't own a leaf-blower, because I think they are kind of ridiculous.  They make a lot of noise (pollution), they use gasoline (pollution), and they are, in my opinion, no faster than a plain old rake.

If you want to drive me insane, let me see you blowing a tiny little pile of leaves across the yard with a gigantic leaf-blower.

The ones who really get me are the ones who chase a single leaf across the yard with a leaf-blower.  I calm myself by assuming that they must be engaged in some form of transcendental meditation about the small and the singular being driven by the mighty and the unseen.  Because otherwise it just doesn't make sense.

I have noticed that there is an unspoken landscaping assumption that you have to have every last leaf picked up if you're using a leaf-blower.  (No matter how foolish you may look doing it.)

I just rake.  Quickly.  Then I bag it, drag it, and go about my business.  I do this in weekly installments, and lo and behold, the job gets done.

I think leaf-blowers encourage a devil-may-care attitude toward the autumnal descent of deciduous foliage.  If you wait until you have a thick carpet of wet and rotting leaves, you will have a bad raking experience, no question, and under those conditions, a leaf-blower will seem to make sense.

But really, you could also just mow, and then occasionally rake.  Not every week, but every couple of weeks.  Mowing will mulch your leaves and fertilize your lawn, and lawns do grow quite a bit in the fall.

My best leaf-centered story though, happened this week.  I realized that one of my adopted cats has probably never seen falling leaves.  When you think about it, it makes sense: he has been in shelters most of his life, and although he did have a foster home at one point, he may not have lived there last autumn. (He's only a little over a year old.)

He is entranced by the sight of falling leaves.  For the past two days, he has been sitting by the screen door, sniffing the air and staring up at the sky, watching them fall.  He stays there for hours on end, never getting tired of the sight.

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Percy Bysshe Shelley's fair draft of lines 1-42 of "Ode to the West Wind," 1819, Bodleian Library

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."