Saturday, February 25, 2012

Whence Came the Easter Bunny?

St. Bede, the 8th-century English scholar, believed the name Easter originated with the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre,” goddesses of spring and fertility. (Gee. Guess how the word “estrogen” got started?)  Their festivals were appropriately celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, on or around March 21, when days lengthen, weather warms, and things start growing again.
So what’s with the bunny? According to “The Unauthorized Biography of the Easter Bunny” in the spring issue of Mental_Floss, he’s a German sleeper agent. His roots go back to a 16th century character named Osterhase, who infiltrated North America during a mass migration  of Germans in the 1900’s.

What accounts for his meteoric rise in the egg delivery business?  Charm and virility. Both rabbits and eggs have been symbols of rebirth for centuries. And when Germans started hiding eggs for children back in the 16th century, hares’ nests were the hidey-holes of choice.

Not all Western Cultures embrace bunnies. In Australia, for instance, they’re a devastating, crop-ravaging plague. In the 1990s, they finally hit upon a replacement for the hated hare: the bilby. Bilbies are long-eared marsupials that can look like Easter bunnies while still respecting Australia’s valuable crops.  So down under, the kids are treated to chocolate bilbies.
So there you have it. Happy Vernal Equinox!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

From the Great Southwest Back to Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle

Inheritance, the last book of the Cycle, arrived before Christmas. But I was involved with Tony Hillerman’s Navajo tales and was loathe to leave it mid-series.

I’ve been engrossed in the American Southwest, ancient and modern, for some months now. There was a trilogy of Anasazi Mysteries  by anthropologists Mike and Kathy Gear; Kirk Mitchell’s series featuring Emmett Parker, a Comanche agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, often  teamed with a Modoc FBI agent, Anna Turnipseed; and lastly all 18 volumes from Tony Hillerman. Actually, Hillerman penned more than that. I only followed the adventures of Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. Great stuff.

But now I’m back to my home genre – fantasy. And no one writes it with more meticulous detail than Christopher Paolini. And, as I did with Harry Potter, I won’t read the new book without first re-reading all the preceding ones. One can’t just dive in without getting reacquainted with the characters, places and situations can one? It’s been way too long since Book Three, Brisingr. And it’s complicated.

So that’s where I am now - halfway through Eragon.

I have no idea how I got so caught up in Native American mysteries and culture. It was quite a profound experience, actually. Maybe it harks back to my travels through Shiprock, NM and Casa Grande, AZ back in 1973. But now (clicking my ruby slippers together three times) it’s good to be home.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

One Last Mention of the Mountains

Yes, I know. I’ve been back in Texas for weeks now. But my sister’s mountain cabin still dominates my mind. I can still see the sweeping vistas of mountain ridges – one behind the other all the way to the ocean. Over the hills stretch endless rows of grapevines, their meticulous symmetry adding their own sense of beauty. And I vividly recall the wild fragrance of the woods beyond the vineyard gates. When Sarah sent me an envelope filled with bay leaves, rosemary and lemon thyme it nearly sent me over the edge. I’d run back there in a minute.

And there is one more thing to mention – the neighbors. None are within walking distance, at least not at our present age, and none can even be seen from the house. The nearest is Ellen, the kind lady who took care of Sis until I got there and then met the airport shuttle. One day we drove up, down, and around on the one-lane, more or less blacktopped road to have lunch on her patio.  It was sunny and cool and the view, of course, was spectacular. The visit was full of local history and further insights into mountain life.
Another time we called on Anita, a lady who has read my books and wanted to meet me. As it happened, I was wearing one of her husband’s cast-off shirts (which Sis had acquired at some point) because the airlines had yet to find my luggage.

Anita’s gardens were almost as fantastic as the scenery. Off the driveway was a beautiful bit of landscaping with junipers, flowers, herbs, art objects, and pathways. Every other side of the house had vegetable plots as well as orange and persimmon trees. We left with almost more produce than we could carry.
That evening I discovered that preparing super fresh foods is quite different. For instance, cutting a carrot right out of the ground releases a sweet, moist fragrance. Another surprise is how quickly they cook. The rhubarb, cauliflower, Swiss chard, and carrots were tender in minutes. Even a couple of days later this was still true for the snap beans, cabbage and broccoli. With access to such fresh and wholesome foods, it’s no wonder Sarah healed so quickly.

All right, that’s it. I promise. Next time it’s back to the books!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mountain Fun

It Wasn’t ALL Hard Work!

Flavors Unlimited

Our first stop after my luggage-less arrival in Santa Rosa (after Target and two grocery stores) was Flavors Unlimited, an ice cream parlor/sandwich shop in touristy Guerneville. It was, I discovered, Ellen’s standard pit stop on the back up the mountain.
The "Unlimited" means you aren't limited to the flavors of ice cream that are already offered. You order your ice cream (or frozen yogurt) mixed to taste from a seemingly endless array of candies, nuts and fresh fruits. We all selected 2-dip waffle cones. Ellen mixed fresh blueberries with cheesecake; Sarah chose toffee with chocolate and M&Ms in vanilla. Mine was pumpkin and peanut butter with walnuts. The idea nearly made the guy throw up, but it turned out to be really good. Honest. 

Trinks Cafe in Gualala, CA
Trinks Café in Gualala was an outing with two purposes: to meet Sarah’s BFF Paula, and to get me online.  My cell phone, a Samsung with AT&T provider, was completely worthless up there.  Sis does have a pretty decent Mac, but her iffy dial-up connection and ISP refused any and all requests to check my email. So by the time I hit Trinks and settled in with a monstrous mocha latte, my inbox and Facebook page were seriously backed up. 
When Paula joined us, we moved out to a patio table and ordered from their trendy breakfast menu. I took the coward’s way out with scrambled eggs and toast. Paul either had the Griddle Combo or eggs with mixed greens, and Sis indulged in some insane breakfast sandwich on an “everything” bagel. She ate it all, too!  
Sizzling Tandoor

The Sizzling Tandoor, an Indian restaurant about which the locals rave, was our stop on the way home from Sarah’s post-op checkup. It was my first time Outsourcing supper, and I didn’t know what to try. Sis took a lamb curry, and I pointed to some sort of chicken thing which turned out to be dry and not as spicy as I’d hoped. On the side, however, were generous pieces of garlic nan (puffy Indian fried bread) served warm and fresh. And there was an incredible creamy chai tea which, were it generally available, would cost coffee one of its biggest fans. 
Duncans Mills

Studio Nouveau at Duncans Mills
Duncans Mills, a rustic roadside collection of antique and specialty shops, restaurants and galleries, was our last outing as we headed for Petaluma. The next day I would catch the 4:30 AM shuttle to the San Francisco airport and home.  We strolled through nearly all the shops finding a scarf at Worldly Goods, a floor puzzle for grandkids at Pig Alley, a very special pair of earrings at Studio Nouveau (later lifted by the TSA), choice packets of exotic tea at Mr. Trombly’s, and finally coffee and pastry at the Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery. Duncans Mills is definitely a place to visit again.
There was a quick stop for gas at Bodega Bay. Very pretty views, but you know what? Not so much a seagull in sight!