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She Shall Be Released!

Friday, December 6, 2019


Liam arrived from Morgantown about dinnertime on Saturday, November 23 for his Thanksgiving break. He had a well-aerated cardboard carrier with him. And in that carrier was precious cargo: the redtail, coming home. All that care and medication and rehab had paid off and she was ready for release! He'd picked her up at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital that afternoon. I couldn't believe how smoothly this was all working out. 

The night turned wet and bone-chillingly cold, with rain changing to wet snow. I was happy that our mighty redtail was in our protected basement and not facing a night like that outside. I'm sure she didn't love being in a box, but I comforted myself by thinking about the 30 days she might spend in springtime, lying over her eggs. She'd be fine overnight, resting on soft toweling. 
Better there than in a freezing rain.

I'd been giving my Jemima book talk to Master Naturalists at the New River Gorge in West Virginia Friday evening. It was a blast. Stayed overnight at Opossum Creek Resort. Saturday morning, I took a last long hike with Curtis along the Fern Creek/Endless Wall trail (fabulous!) and headed home at midday. We hit the grocery store on my 3 hour drive home, and I proceeded to go totally Martha Stewart. Knowing that you're going to release a redtail the next morning is cause for celebration. Saturday evening, I cooked like mad, making kits for a couple of gouda and broccoli quiches, arugula salad and the piece de resistence, a persimmon custard pie. All to be assembled and baked on Release Morning, bright and early. 

I invited a few friends who'd been especially involved in her story. Tanya and Shila, who'd provided moral support. Chris, who drove her to Morgantown, took the first shift carrying her box out to the meadow where she had pinned me down a month earlier.

Liam took over as we neared the hayfield.

He set the carrier down in the middle of the open field. We wanted to give her room to fly, and we wanted to have her in view for as long as possible.
I very carefully opened the carrier, and she sat back and considered her situation for several minutes. 

We were all in a wide circle around her, our iPhone cameras at the ready. 

She didn't like that, so we pulled back a bit more. I used my 300 mm telephoto for these shots. 

Man, she looked beautiful, just ablaze with life. 

I tiptoed closer to check on her and she woke up and began to consider using the sudden space over her head. Shila was lucky to be standing directly in front of her when she finally took off, and professional photographer in her kicked in as she kept the camera rock-steady on the bird flying right at her face. She had set it to slow motion to capture the wing action and the pure magic of something we knew would spool out all too quickly. Well done, Shila!!

My real-time video, which Blogger will not accept, captured our heroine taking umbrage at my quick peek, and getting the heck out of that box, that meadow full of people, the whole scene. She was gone, brother, gone. Strong and beautiful and gone.  

She landed a few hundred yards away, in the woods, and roused her feathers a couple of times. Then she zigzagged gracefully through the trees, turning on her side once to make a narrow passage, and headed for Dean's Fork, where I bet she took a cold soaking bath to clean those soiled feathers. 

We have released the hawk! She lives to fly another day, to eat rabbits and refurbish her nest and raise some more hawks!  We high-fived and smiled fit to split our faces. Now we feast!  She'd been feasting for almost a month; this bird that came in at 2.4 lb. was now tipping the scales at 2.75 lb (1250 gm). Ack. That's a lotta hawk!

We repaired to the warm kitchen, where we filled up on delicious homemade things. It was a fine, fine morning, a great day with good friends. Part of me is still flying with that huge, ornery, gorgeous, terrifying, totally worth it redtail. 

Cue The Roches singing, "Persimmon Custard Pie...." in three part harmony

If you have enjoyed this multi-part story, please send your thanks to the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a small but mighty clinic in Morgantown, WV, with the best vets and volunteers you could find. They took in more than 400 creatures this season. Jesse Fallon and his devoted volunteers do this on their own time. He's a hard-working small animal veterinarian who cares about all wild things, and knows just what to do to heal them.

Thank you!!!

Testing Her Wings: Redtail Update

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Wildlife rehab, and especially avian rehabilitation, is not just bunnies in baby blankets, though rabbits certainly present their own unique challenges. When you're trying to heal a bird, you've got to make darn sure it's going to be flightworthy before you turn it loose.

By November 17, our barbed-wire redtail was eating voraciously and it looked as though her patagium was healing well. But would she be flightworthy? Jesse was worried about her patagium and especially the area around her wrist, which looked "abnormal," in his words.

There would be only one way to tell if she could fly well enough to be released, and that was creance flying. One person holds the bird, and a second person (Dr. Jesse Fallon) holds a long thin line attached to jesses around its legs. An ACCA volunteer releases the bird, and Jesse hauls ass behind her as she flies, like this:

Oh, that's encouraging! Let's try it again.
No good deed goes unpunished. Jesse finds a hole in the field and goes down like a thrown steer. His heartless writer wife Katie giggles. Just kidding. They're both all heart, and dear friends.

 Having recovered his composure and apparently uninjured by his spectacular fall, Jesse explains about barbed wire injuries, and this bird's injuries in particular.

He said it. The R word. Release!! Readying for release! How do you like that, Formerly Doomed Redtail? I like it very much!

At this point, it seems meet to point out that the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia is always grateful for donations to support the free medical assistance they offer to injured and orphaned wildlife. I wanted you to have a glimpse into what they do to ensure the birds are recovering and flight-ready. It's not just bandaging them up and tossing mice into their cage--it's physical rehab, too!

And for anyone wondering about the legality of taking an Ohio hawk to West Virginia for care, I've cleared it with the Ohio Division of Wildlife Permits Officer to have this bird treated in WV, then returned to Ohio for release. Gotta keep that stuff up front and out in the open. I live two hours from the closest wildlife rehab facility with veterinary staff (Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus). ACCA is almost three hours from here, near Cheat Lake, WV. It's tough for wildlife rehabbers in my part of Ohio, really tough. Any way you cut it, you're going to kill an entire day transporting the creature. I appreciate these two facilities more than I can say, and I sure wish they weren't two and three hours away. 

H is for Help!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Now, I have the hawk in a big supertough plastic tub. She'll be OK in there for the time being, but I have to drill some holes in it STAT. My heart is still beating out of my chest from the excitement of getting free from her painful footvise, then carrying her for a half mile, opening the front door with my face, carrying her through the house and down the basement steps, and successfully getting her into a plastic tub, all without getting re-clamped, perforated or, um,  enucleated by her wicked bill. I found out after the fact that she is a rarity for a buteo--a biter as well as a footer! 

 I get a kitchen knife, stab the tub lid in four places, and begin turning the knife to make a hole (my electric drill chops are absent; I didn't even think of trying to do that. I was in a hurry). I make four decent sized holes, and realize it's going for noon and I've had nothing to eat or drink. I stop to choke down some breakfast, then return to make more holes in the lid. I grab the knife and stab. Stab. Stab. I try a bunch of different places. Nothing happens. No matter what I do, I cannot make the slightest hole in that lid. I can't make so much as a dent!! What the hell?

I realize that, in my adrenaline-fueled rush, I was like the mother who lifts a car off her child. Had a hawk in the tub. Had to drill holes so it could breathe. If I didn't succeed, it might suffocate, or (more likely) I would have to handle it again, and THAT I did not want to do. So I stabbed and made four  holes in the lid, one with each try. And now, with the remove of a little time, having had a chance to eat and calm down a bit, I am weak as a kitten by comparison. So I decide just to enlarge the holes I made as SuperZick. Sheesh. Adrenaline is a beautiful drug.

Now, I have to get back out to my car in the hayfield, because Curtis is sitting out there, waiting for me to come back. The last he saw, I was prostrate on the ground, face down, with a hawk nailing my hand, and then I was walking away holding the dangerous bird out in front of me. There's another rescue to do. So I grab a bicycle and ride out, throw it in the weeds to hide it, and drive back home with one happy, wildly waggy and very relieved brindle dog. I give him his overdue breakfast.

That's an original watercolor on the floor there. He's a good boy, not the kind to stomp things.. 

Now, to figure out how to get this bird to help. I turn to Facebook, the oft-maligned but extremely useful outlet for you-name-it and what-have-you. I post a photo of the hawk lying helpless, impaled on the wire, and enter a plea for a ride for her ASAP to anyone heading to either Columbus, OH  (Ohio Wildlife Center) or Morgantown, WV, where two fine wildlife rehabilitation clinics are located. I don't think my plea had been up for two minutes when my friend Chris swoops in out of nowhere and says he's headed to Morgantown, home of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital and the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, this very afternoon. Wha wha wha?? woo HOOO!! and BOO YAH!!

Mr. Bennon, you are ON. I get his office address, pack up Curtis and the hawk and myself, and head for Parkersburg WV, about 40 minutes away. Chris is only too happy to help, and I am so happy to  turn his awesome orange truck into a redtail ambulance. After the morning I've had, I'm no good for a six hour round trip to deliver the bird to care. I am so thankful for my sweet friend, leaping to the rescue! Although I barely recognized him in his work clothes. He is usually grinding up ridiculous hills on his mountain bike.

Within three hours, the hawk is in caring, knowledgeable hands (as opposed to dumb, terrified ones) at the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia in Morgantown, WV. You will remember them as the people who miraculously healed the emaciated, broken Grand Central Mall snowy owl of 2017.  Man, that was a story. I disappeared into that story. Another bolt of grace, that bird, for so many people.

A radiograph showed no bones had been broken.  (All subsequent photos courtesy ACCA). Isn't she beautiful in radiograph??

Her patagium  (the skin membrane that stretches from wrist to shoulder) was not beautiful. When I saw this photo, my heart sank. I can't even really tell what I'm looking at here. I just know it looks shredded and raw and very, very painful. The hawk was immediately put on painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and I was so glad of that.

The danger in barbed wire entrapments is not only broken bones, incurred as the bird struggles and flips itself around on the wire, often getting hung around several strands.  It's shredding and (often) snapping of the patagius longus tendon, with grave implications for future flight. This photo was taken Oct. 25, showing the damage to her patagium to be more extensive than it appeared at first. Her patagial tendon was damaged, but not snapped, and for that we are very grateful.

The bird's head would be to the right, and the big mass of injury is near the wrist of her extended right wing.

The wire as clipped by moi. Nope, I don't want to make jewelry out of it. 
Throw it out. Hateful stuff.

By October 28, the patagium was looking a lot better, though it wasn't exactly pretty. You have to look past the gross matted feathers, to the flesh, to see the progress.

In order to prevent scarring and resultant immobility, the hawk was regularly exercised under light anaesthesia, her injured wing stretched and extended repeatedly. This would have been painful without the anaesthesia. (The hood keeps her from seeing anything and freaking out.)

I was glad to hear she was being exercised under light anaesthesia. Any other approach would be unsafe with this individual. You don't want this bird mad at you. I have a whole new respect for redtails after handling her. I realize that every buteo I've picked up before her (and owls, too) has been either so compromised they had no strength to fight, or exceptionally kind.  I shudder to think of the people I've told over the phone not to worry about it, just put some heavy gloves on, throw a blanket over it, grab its ankles and you're in control!  Lord have mercy. This bird is a lightning-taloned Zickkiller, a demon from Hell. She was my match and then some.

Her intake photo, Oct. 25 2019. OMG. I just realized you can see the length of barbed wire still embedded in her right patagial membrane!!

She was brought in the afternoon of October 25. She refused to eat. This was worrisome because she'd come in underweight, at 1090 gm (2.4 lb). Jesse thought she could have hung on the wire, struggling, for as long as 24 hr. before I found her. It's hard to know. But it was imperative that she eat if she was going to heal. Finally on Oct. 28, Jesse force-fed her a small mouse, loaded with medications, and that began a turnaround. She began pouncing on everything tossed into her enclosure. 

Leave it to ACCA!  They are all about healing! And isn't she WONDERFUL here?? Be still my heart!!

I've Got the Hawk and the Hawk's Got Me

Thursday, November 28, 2019

As I ran, I repeated: Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves. Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves. Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves.

I didn't want to forget anything. But first to find boltcutters. Did we have them? I'd need them. 
I scuttled around the garage, looking in the dim recesses for anything that might cut double-strand barbed wire. Pruners weren't gonna do it. And there on the wall, hanging from a nail, a brand-new pair of wire cutters. Incredible. Tag still on them, still zip tied so you couldn't use them. OK. Damn. I had boltcutters. Sure beats a hacksaw (my next option).

Grabbed the cat carrier. It looked small. In too much of a hurry to figure something else out.

Grabbed a couple of towels and my rose-pruning gloves from Foxgloves. I knew they wouldn't be thick enough, but I needed maneuverability. I couldn't handle her in gauntlets, even if I had 'em.

Threw it all in the car and sped out the driveway. Curtis was just returning from his little hunt, tracking me home, and I stopped and opened the door so he could jump in.  We drove right into the hayfield because: Subaru. 
I  unloaded all my stuff and assessed the situation. 

First, I threw a couple towels over her so I could contain her. She tore them off in a lightning flash of talons.

OK, that didn't work. I went to grab her ankles and she struck even faster. Bam! like a snake. That didn't work, either. I covered her head with towels. She threw the towels off. By now she was ready for anything. Man. This hawk. 

I decided I would have to just cut her down off the wire and try to contain her afterward. Two cuts and she was on the ground, on the other side of the fence from me. 
She was so shocked to no longer be hanging that I managed to throw towels on her again and sort of semi-bundle her up and feed her through the wire to my side. I wasn't about to try to get that section of wire out of her patagium; she could just wear it until she got into surgery. 

I knew I had to contain her for both our safety. I lifted her and took one photo before all the fun started. She was simply monstrous! In retrospect, I should have headed for home right then.

I started to put her head-first into the cat carrier until I realized that it was a horribly small space and that wouldn't be right. I didn't think I could even close the door! This was one HUGE redtail. 

So, against my better judgement, I backed her out of the carrier. Thinking on it, I probably should have left her in it, headfirst, for transport, open door or no. Yeah, that would have been the smart thing to do, but I wanted to do the kind thing.

Painstakingly, I backed her out. And when her head came free and she could see what was going on, she nailed me. Her foot clenched on my right index and middle finger, and bore down with a viselike grip that took my breath away. 

The glove helped, but it didn't help as much as I'd have liked.

I was now in a most curious position. I was squatting in a hayfield, out of sight of the road, and even my car was out of sight, thanks to a rise in the field. 

I was in a lot of pain. My hand was pinned by a very angry hawk. Trying to loosen her talons with my left hand only made her bear down harder. I knew that would be the case, but you try anyway. I thought, "Right index finger. Who needs that?" I allowed myself a humorless chuckle, but the gravity of my situation was not lost on me.

I knew that she could maintain this grip for hours. Well @#$#@$#. What do I do now? I can't walk with a hawk dangling from my hand. I can't do anything with a hawk locked onto my hand.  I couldn't drive or walk or crawl or do anything but pray she'd let me go.  Curtis was waiting in the car, and I was not about to get in the car with my precious dog and a flapping, unsecured hawk! What a mess that would be. I couldn't have driven it anyway!

The only thing that I could think to do was to face completely away from her and get my body and face as far away from her as possible. I curled up in the grass, my captive arm extended, and tried to forget that I was utterly helpless. I hoped the hawk would forget that I was there and relax her grip.
It was unholy strong.

And ever so slowly, she did let up. Moving like a slug, I grasped the fingertip of the trapped glove with my left hand, and started to wiggle and back my smashed fingers out of it. Thank God I'd been wearing gloves. 

My thoroughly dented but unhurt index finger. Note that she still has a death grip on the glove!

Finally, I was free, sort of. I wadded toweling around both of her wicked feet and picked her up by her feet. This should have been a one-handed maneuver, but because I was afraid she'd foot me again, there was so much toweling in the way that I had to hold the great wad around her feet with both hands. So off we went to walk the half mile home, me holding the towel-wadded hawk aloft like some kind of medieval standard. My mind was racing. What was I going to do with her when I got home? Both my hands were fully engaged. I couldn't open the basement or garage doors, because they have doorknobs, and I have yet to figure out how to open a doorknob with my foot or knee. 

As I walked up the sidewalk I saw that in my hurry, I had failed to close the main house door. And the glass storm door had a lever on it! Maybe I could get inside! 

No dice opening it with my knee or elbow. Can't be done, at least not while holding a hawk. The only appendage I had available was my chin. I have a substantial chin. Bill always said our kids owe their chins to me, since he didn't have one. My giant chin X his receding chin= normal-chinned offspring. Warily, I leaned down, holding the angry bird as far away from my face as I could, which isn't far enough. I depressed and pulled the door lever with my chin, and after a few tries was able to hook my right toe on the bottom of the barely-opened door and open it enough to admit me and my furious bundle of feathers and talons. OK. I was inside, in an enclosed space with an angry hawk. At least she wouldn't be able to get away from me while badly injured, which were the stakes out in the middle of that hayfield. 

I tottered down the basement steps, holding the hawk high. Kicked the lid off a large, blessedly empty Rubbermaid tub. Lowered the hawk and all her toweling into the tub. Grabbed the lid and latched it on. Then, and only then, did I exhale. 

Better times are coming, my love. I promise you.

And now a word from your blogger. I decided to post this on Thanksgiving because I am feeling very grateful  for all that I have been given: an interesting life in a beautiful place; the ability to share it here, with photos; and the best, sweetest, most thoughtful readers anyone could ask for. I create multi-part cliff-hangers not to torture or tease you, but because it takes me most of a day to do each one. I write them for you, and I write them for me, because making them helps me put together and process the things that happen to me as I wander through this world. Sometimes you can't grasp the gravity of a thing until you think about it long enough to wrap it up and present it to others. Knowing what is special, unrepeatable and flabbergasting; thinking outside the box of assumption; drawing connecting lines of significance, is a skill I am developing.

Nearly every day, I get shot through by bolts of grace and wonder and a kind of spiritual exaltation that I can only find outdoors, in the company of wild things. I feel my connection to birds and animals deepening and expanding into orbitals that have nothing to do with coincidence; that seem somehow ordained; and stumbling upon this hawk on an ordinary gray Friday and being charged with her rescue (and gifted with her story) is just another instance of that expansion. I don't take these bolts of grace for granted. I believe they seek me out, like those people who just seem to attract lightning. I get struck like a tentpole. It's not fun. It's hard.  Each time it happens I panic and think why me? and what am I supposed to do here? and sometimes ow, ow, ow!! even as a much older voice inside me whispers, 
"You know what to do here." 

Happy Thanksgiving. Read to your babies**, and help the wild things.

**I love you, Agnes!

Once Upon a Fenceline

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

I find a lot of things when I'm out walking. Pretty leaves, frost flowers, box turtles, scat...I read the book of the forest. 

Some of the things I find are beautiful, and some are ghastly. I came upon this bit of animal on October 25, 2019. It's the leg of a white-tailed deer who got hung up in barbed wire in a hayfield about a half-mile from my door. 

The wires all converge in a deadly star, a Union Jack pattern, on the severed leg of the hapless deer. The flesh on it was still moist and pliable. This had happened last night.

The ground beneath is leafless, kicked white, down to the clay. I gazed at this scene, at the splayed toes of the deer, and felt in a great rush all the agony and terror of the animal being free and leaping and then, in one miscalculation, instantly caught and doomed.

Last night, I'd been kept up by coyotes singing and yipping. I knew they had happened upon something big. I listened in the dark and wondered who might be the object of their attention. I was glad to be inside. The woods is a different place at night.

Well, what they were singing about was here in my hand. They were setting this deer free in the only way they could. I was grateful that we now have packs of coyotes in Ohio; that there were social canids big and skilled enough to end this animal's suffering--even to sever its leg and drag it down the hill to be eaten. No trace of it remained, save for a random bone fragment that I heard Curtis crunch down as he inspected the catbriar patch just down from the fence. Yes, a pack of coyotes can make a large whitetail disappear overnight. I've seen it done.

The splayed hoof was eloquent in its silence, speaking of the wire's cruel and ever-tightening grip. I was stunned and very, very grateful I hadn't been the one to come upon the struggling deer, for that is something I could not have let run its course.  I would have had to find someone to kill it as humanely as possible.  Instead, Nature took her course, and the coyotes feasted. I'd heard their song of death and satiation, the song that raised the hair on my arms in the dark. 

We walked on, me silent and absorbed, Curtis ebullient and enthusiastic. What a neat find for a dog to unravel! I wished I could feel that way about it, but I was stumbling on empathy and sorrow. 

It was a soft gray day, and until we found the dangling leg, it had been the kind of day when you don't expect much to happen. I let Curtis snoop around in the grass and composed photos in a desultory way, thinking about that deer and the rotten way it had to die. There are cattle behind that old fence; you don't just go tearing it down, as was later suggested to me, without wreaking havoc on the landowners. Clearing around it and flagging each wire so the animals can see it, as has also been suggested to me, would be the work of a lifetime, and I don't have that kind of time. There are miles of such fence all around these fields. It lies in wait. Sometimes it snags something.

It is easy to suggest such things when you are sitting comfortably, pecking at your keyboard hundreds  or thousands of miles away. It is much harder to go out and do those things.  I am the one who lives with this fence. I decided  as I tramped along that I would have to walk it as often as I could.

We turned around. I heard crows cawing, the harsh rough crawwww call that says they have something. I ran to a hedgerow running at right angles to the deadly fence and came up the hill under its cover, hoping perhaps to see something snooping around the fresh kill site. 

The leg was untouched. The crows flapped off. The sky was quiet. 

And a hundred feet farther on toward my house, I heard a soft "flup."
It was the sound a manila folder makes when it falls to the floor. It was not an impressive sound, but it stopped me in my tracks.

It was the sound made by the wing of a red-tailed hawk, opening suddenly against briars. A red-tailed hawk, hanging helplessly on barbed wire. I had probably walked right by her on the way out. That time, she hadn't opened her wing.

The cascade of words and oaths and silent cries and prayers that happened inside my skull at the moment I found the hawk could never be put into type. "Sweet baby Jesus!!!" was one thing I said.  And "Oh sweetheart. I have to get you off this fence!!!" was another. The rest was incoherent, panicked, profane because I was alone and here was this hawk who needed me like nothing had ever needed me before, save perhaps crawler Liam when he choked on a Goldfish cracker and I ripped him out of his high chair without even unbuckling the seat belt whoooosh and he was up in the air over my head upside down and the cracker fell out. It was like that. Pure adrenaline and horror and just do it, all colliding at once.

I knew I couldn't untangle her. I couldn't even touch her without gloves.  I'd have to find a way to cut the wire. "Stay here. Don't struggle. I'll be back. I will get you off that fence."  I broke into a run and started the half-mile home, glad I could run in hiking boots, glad I could run at all. What I'd planned for my day had changed.

Until I Get It Right: Persimmon Pie

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We've been doing some foraging under a particularly generous persimmon tree in Marietta. It has been dropping fruits since mid-October, and there are still a ton of them in the naked branches as of Nov. 17!

You don't have to pick them; they're lying all over the ground, like Easter eggs!

 Obviously, the thing to do was to make a pie.

I love a custard pie. But the bar is high. Bill's mom Elsa made a cherry custard pie for his birthday every year that was just the most delicious thing you've ever tasted. Her crust, for one, you could eat like a cookie, it was that good. And the custard was velvety and vanilla-y and it never tasted really eggy. I just don't know how she did it. I believe there was a double boiler involved. And time.

Two weeks ago I set out to make my first persimmon custard pie. I followed the custard recipe I found it Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It ruled out a graham cracker crust because you had to cook the liquid custard in the crust. OK. So I used a conventional pie crust (Pillsbury, if you must know) and Bittman's custard recipe. Not giving it here because read on.

Once it had cooked and set and cooled, I schmeared fresh persimmon pulp on top. I pulp the fruit with my fingers, just getting the seeds out. Many, if not most, of these cultivated American persimmons are seedless, a huge bonus. You can't really peel them at all; the skin is too thin to get a hold on it. So what I do is seed them and then mash them so the skins disappear into the pulp. I agree with the reader who commented that it's hardly worth pulping wild American persimmons--they're mostly seed. These cultivars are the bomb! There's a lot of food in each one.

This first pie was really, unexpectedly delicious. I will say that the custard part was quite eggy-tasting, and the consistency was that of flan--thin and a bit jiggly. So it wasn't quiiiite what I was going for. But it was still gone in a day, between me and Liam! No regerts!

Fast forward two weeks, and sweet Liam is coming home again for my lecture at People's Bank Theater in Marietta, Nov. 14. I resolve to make another attempt on this pie. I figure the missing element is VELVETY. So I Google "Velvety vanilla custard" and this recipe pops up.

Right away, I can see this is more what I'm after. I follow most of the instructions, omitting the candy thermometer (I can durn well tell when a cooking custard has set up) and the strainer (who cares if it's a little lumpy, and who wants to push custard through a strainer, then clean the strainer? Not the Lazy Chef.)

I cook it mostly to instruction, then cool it outside, with Saran over it to keep a skin from forming, while Liam and I make the graham cracker crust and pulp the persimmons. We are terrified a raccoon will come and eat the custard so we keep glancing nervously out on the deck (our big cheap refrigerator).

We make the crust with fresh cinnamon sugar Honey Maid graham crackers, even though they remind Liam of eating them while running cross country repeats which he did not like.  Liam lets out a little emotion in smashing them in a large Ziploc bag. We're a little short of them so we add a couple Breton wheat crackers to fill it out. We melt 6 TBS butter and mix it with 1 1/2 cup of crumbs, then press the mixture into a 9" pie plate and bake it at 350 for a few minutes until the edges start to brown. When the crust and the custard are both completely cool, we combine them and it looks like this:

I.E. YUM!! It's light and fluffy and vanilla-ey and not eggy. Not flanny. Perfect.

Here are the pulped persimmons.

 and the finished pie.

I cannot tell you how delicious this pie is. This is what I was shooting for, but it's better than I'd dared hope.

We had to let little Curtis clean up our plates. He likes persimmons! and, needless to say, custard...

It's been such fun having Liam home the last two weekends. And Thanksgiving break starts this coming weekend. I'm in tall corn and getting very spoiled. We all are! Liam is just about Curtis' favorite person on earth.

I've got lots of extra persimmon pulp. I'm going to freeze it, though it keeps remarkably well in the fridge. High sugar content, and it seems to have some kind of natural mold repellent. Very little problem with that. I want to find a way to get this stuff to my three cooking sisters, see what they do with it.

The gorgeous time is coming to an end, and we'll need bright cinnabar fruit to get us through the long gray winter.

If you don't have American persimmons around, you can do a custard pie with rhubarb, cherries, strawberries--anything that'll make a nice bright schmoosh for the topping. Bon appetit!!

Autumn in Marietta: Gingko Drop and Other Delights

Saturday, November 16, 2019

 My to-do lists probably don't look like most other people's. Oh, there's Bank Deposit and grocery lists and Take Trash and Check Proofs and all that. But there's also GINGKO DROP and GET PERSIMMONS and VISIT MAPLES. Late October and early November is a very busy time in Marietta, Ohio.
That first really hard freeze always makes the gingkos, with their primitive vascular systems, drop all their leaves within a few hours. If you're lucky, they've had time to turn gold first. Then you get this puddle of gold coins under the stark straight trunk, and it's pretty wonderful. So when I wake up to a really hard freeze, I head into town to seek out the gingkos I know, and see what happened overnight.


You've got to be careful not to slip on their nasty little fleshy fruits, which smell disconcertingly like vomit. I don't know what that is designed to attract. Dogs? Ishta. Oofda.

The miracle is that they're planted all over here. I love them, especially when they do their Halloween drama queen leaf drop. Look at the ombre shading on those little fan shaped leaves! Gingko leaves are the most primitive leaves you'll see. They're actually tiny fused twigs--hence the fan-shaped venation. Gingkos have no proper twigs--they've put them all into leaves. This tree hasn't changed since dinosaurs were browsing their branches. It hasn't needed to. 

The red maples were showing very well on Fifth Street on November 8. 

I wondered if this lady raking leaves knew that she matched her house? Pink top, black foundation. I love the color of her house. It's kind of a mauvey maroon, painted brick. Yum.

The fall color is better in town in early November than it is out my way, where it's a lot colder without the rivers to warm things up.  By then, the winds have taken most of the leaves away where we live.  Curtis and I walked the streets in all their lit-from-within glory. It was heaven.

He's caterwauling at me because he wants to get out the back and explore while I'm trying to load corn and seed in the car. Nope. You cover too much ground too fast. You are not Chet Baker, who rarely ever wore a collar because he never let Mether out of his sight.  You're a ramblin' man!

I've gotten into the habit of taking this little creature with me most everywhere I go. Fall is the time to do it, when it's not too cold or hot to leave him in the car for a little bit, and it's fun to walk him and take him to the office for a visit with the people he loves.

 A special hug for Cindy.

Back scritches from Angela! Tail going like mad the whole time.

Curtis keeps a ridiculously close eye on me when we go there, though, because the Bird Watcher's Digest office is where I left him when I went away for a long long time to Africa, for Pete's sake, and he doesn't want that to happen again. Oh, he did just fine, but he prefers to be with Mether. He's convinced that if he's vigilant enough he can prevent me from leaving without him. So he lies down and blocks doorways, to make sure I don't slip out without him. It's really funny. Everybody in the office is onto him and we laugh and laugh. He is Not Slow.  He is Always Thinking.

The most important thing I do in Marietta in late October and early November is Gather Persimmons. There are some absolutely fabulous trees planted on the streets, that produce wondrous quantities of the most succulent American persimmons you have ever seen.


They fall to the ground and just lie there for weeks and nobody much eats them. Most people are afraid to eat something off the ground. They walk up and tell me that as I'm picking them up and sucking on the seeds and putting them in my big green trug. "More for me!" I reply.
How silly that is, to be afraid of a fruit just because it didn't come from a store, wrapped in plastic. How sad that is. It's pathetic. This bounty, this bounty, and you're letting it rot.

 So I walk away with a trug full of gorgeous ripe 2" American persimmons, and they walk away thinking I'm weird and will probably croak young. I've tried to get people to just taste them and they refuse. Sigh. More for me.

 And what do I do with these fabulous fruits? Well, I usually eat the pulp for breakfast over 4% cottage cheese, and it is fabulous that way. But this year I decided to make pies.

My next post details my Quest for the Perfect Persimmon Custard Pie. 

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