Friday, January 27, 2012

The Winter Swim

Photo courtesy Flickr

New Year’s Day brings a predictable local news story about maniacs jumping into Puget Sound. Sunday brought what is probably a predictable Russian story about pious citizens jumping into cold water, too, as part of a traditional practice.

Puget Sound is about fifty degrees Fahrenheit year around. Going for a swim on an ordinary July day involves a chilly trip over barnacled rocks into a shockingly cold bath. It can take several minutes to work up the courage to walk neck deep into the penetrating chill of what passes for a recreational opportunity.

Going for a swim in cold weather involves a chilly trip over barnacled rocks into a shockingly cold bath. The experience of immersion is the same as July’s. The secret of a Puget Sound winter swim is that leaving the water feels like wading into tropical air.

I write from memory, not recent experience.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Wisdom of Navy Supply


Photo courtesy Flickr

The rule of thumb for keeping a vessel equipped, I have read from two sources, is to keep two in reserve. When one replacement is tapped, get another.

Hard weather gave me cause genuinely to rejoice in rationally-stocked shelves. From time to time, the double reserve has been a fleeting convenience, so to speak, but last week I was really stuck and had a taste of the wisdom of maritime culture. With luck, lessons like this will return to being mere theory and with luck, I’ll retain enough anxiety to realize that such theory is probably the result of hard lessons learned over millennia.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Latchkey Vegetables

Photo courtesy Flickr

My food gardening is casual almost to the point of non-existence. The only conscientious efforts I make are to prevent cycles of disease. Thirty-two years of planting and then forgetting about various edibles have produced several strains of alliums and leafy greens that literally grow themselves.

That’s not a bad result. Collards, chard, tyfon, and corn salad have adapted to the particular conditions on this particular soil. During the recent foul weather, I buried some compost and turned up a whopping, healthy potato in the process. Had we been short of food, that tuber would have been very welcome. It was the offspring of a weary sack that I turned into the heap ten years ago.

Seattle’s recent hard, hard weather is melting away. The turnip greens, parsley, and shallot tops that looked wretched two days ago are frisky and raring to grow. The next clear day I should be able literally to watch them grow, if I can hold still for an hour.

Not everyone is born to garden, but it’s not a bad idea to try, if only to establish a gene bank of edibles for one’s particular turf. If I were starting fresh, I’d contact Tilth and see about fostering heirloom plants. It turns out that the kitchen compost heap that initially was a simple effort to reduce solid waste has become a small-scale automated food factory.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sophisticated and Brittle



Photo courtesy Flickr

Welcome to Deft's third most popular post

In yesterday’s latte line, I found myself standing between two fellows who were comparing notes on last week’s snow and ice storms. One said he had lost power for four days. His family spent day one with neighbors and the rest of the time with family.

Frankly, that’s dumb design. There’s no excuse for setting up living quarters that are not resilient. High-tech domestic systems are fragile, but it’s simple and straightforward to found housekeeping on featherweight, portable techniques that allow any ambulatory person to live comfortably nearly anywhere.

Basic hiking equipment does all that, and it does it well enough to serve everyday needs, too. A portable camping stove, the clamshell kind with a gas cartridge, can turn out daily meals just as well as it rehydrates a freeze-dried packet. First-rate sleeping bags let one laugh at low temperatures, and an insulated parka with a hood makes the best bed jacket of all. Solar and manual charging systems keep the phone alive.

By relying on field gear for at least some aspects of daily life, one can ensure that disruptions don’t interrupt the habitual motor sequences of cooking, going to bed, and getting dressed. In effect, one is constantly drilling for the unexpected, but in ways that are not pessimistic. Including emergency food supplies in the basic meal rotation keeps the reserves fresh and displaces fast food now and then.

One of the less obvious rewards of living close to the field is that it shrinks one’s carbon footprint by reducing consumption, energy needs, and transportation costs.

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More after the jump.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cold Feet

Photo courtesy Flickr

That’s been the theme of a week of bitter weather. Several days of fending off chill reminded me yet again of the body wisdom of the old phrase. It is indeed true that cold feet affect courage and the willingness to press on.

A couple of years ago I realized that my vintage low-mileage hiking boots had become too small and were far too heavy for any kind of field use I can reasonably anticipate. I replaced them with an abbreviated pair of trail running shoes. Last week I realized that those shoes, realistically, had a good chance of killing me should I ever find myself outdoors in one of our rare damp and gruesome winter storms.

The odds of having to evacuate during bitter weather are too small to consider, I hope, but being immobilized in the house due to inadequate footgear is a clear and present danger to health and morale. I didn’t actually think about the Donner party, but the chocolate was running low.

It speaks volumes about the culture of the Great Big Hiking Co-op that when I called to see if I could return a pair of shoes I thought were dangerous, they didn’t snicker. One short trip later, I’m properly equipped with a snazzy pair of suede waterproof urban hikers.

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