A Love Letter to Oysters

A Love Letter to Oysters

This post is a love letter to oysters. But you should just read it to yourself. Oysters have mouths but no ears; they won’t hear a thing.

We hosted an oyster roast over the weekend, one in a long string of oyster roasts I’ve hosted, attended, or crashed. Once, I hovered over a table of steaming bivalves and did not know a single person there. I don’t know whose house it was; I’d just heard there was a big roast, invited myself, and brought a knife. Those oysters were delicious.

They’ve all been delicious. I like tiny ones, like last year when a friend emptied out his beds in the sound near us, bringing the last few bushels of the season – singles with deep cups – each a sweet bite of the beach. I like big juicy ones, too, ones as long as my middle finger (or my husband’s pinky – I have tiny hands). I stab them with an oyster knife to let the excess saltwater drain then dip them in cocktail sauce (extra horseradish, please), dangling them shamelessly over my mouth before letting them slide down in one gulp. My favorites, though, are mid-sized, midway done, jiggly but not oozing, firm but not chewy. I’ll eat those without any cocktail sauce, butter, hot vinegar, hot sauce, or whatever other abomination you’re putting on yours, thank you. And with dark beer – it’s winter, after all.

We eat oysters in the “R” months around here, both because there’s less chance of contamination or bacterial growth in cooler (and less touristy) waters, and because the randy little bivalves mate in the warmer months. They turn gamey when they mate, lean and focused on the continuation of generations, releasing seed and eggs into the water. The resultant babies, or “spat,” settle on hard surfaces (preferably other oysters), and everyone plumps up for my winter eating pleasure.

Oysters don’t appeal to everyone. They’re filter-feeders that eat the plankton (tiny floating critters) in the water. I suppose, during mating season, they eat their own babies. They clean the water as they filter – they can clean around a gallon of water an hour, which is not what one generally wants out of their food. No one’s trying to chew my humidifier filter.

But they’ll line up and pay good money for a taste of an oyster’s salty, unique merroir. That’s a real word, and it’s fun to say, if fancy-sounding for a snotty little ocean scrubber. Merroir is the flavor of the sea; it changes depending on the oyster’s source. Oysters from Stump Sound (just north of Wilmington, NC) are much saltier than Rappahannock river oysters (in the Northern Neck of Virginia), for example. If you suck down a VA river oyster after having been raised on NC salty sounders, you might accidentally “act ugly.” It’s not polite to insult someone else’s oysters, but damn – what is there to taste in Virginia?

Now that’s Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern oyster, native to the southeast coast of the US. Sure, it has “virginica” in the name, but Virginia’s doing it wrong. I guess the pilgrims once guzzled down some Virginia bags of bacteria, and the name stuck. But once they tried NC oysters, they knew they’d tasted saline superiority. They’ve been jealous ever since.

They’re not the only species of oyster. There are five species harvested commercially worldwide and hundreds more out there. I wish I could say that I’ve tasted them all, or even one more than Crassotrea shouldbecarolina, but no, I’ve only sampled my own geographically limited merroir. If you have an oyster to send me, I’ll eat it.

I learned a lot about oysters from reading A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobsen (also, I cheated – I was a marine science teacher). Rowan ate all the oyster species, lucky fella. Before reading his book, I was content with my gnarly gray goobers. Now, I will spend my life wondering what I could be missing.

I was missing their potential for ecological art, that’s for sure, but others found it. In the North River of Carteret County, Carolyn Henne created a 3D art installation from a special material made to grow oysters; you can see it from the air or a boat. She colored and sculpted the material to create an octopus and several large sea stars. As oysters grow, the structures will be altered – like those art-that-interacts-with-its-environment projects you learned about during “Intro to Art” class.

Oysters are surprisingly hard to grow – they need just the right salinity, intertidal range, wave action, water quality, temperatures, and then, if you want to eat them, about two years of waiting time. A storm or any disruption in their needs can ruin the harvest – not that harvesting them is easy. They’re sharp, muddy, heavy, and cemented to each other and their substrate.

Still, people do it anyways, because oysters sell ($60-100/bushel – about 100 oysters depending on size). Oysters are good for water quality, they protect shorelines, and they create habitat. Oysters are sexy. Living shorelines, oyster farming, and name-brand oysters are trending. Plus, they’re supposed to make you feel sexy. But that could be the beer talking.

If you want to host a roast, invite whoever you want, but jot down how many oysters they will eat. There’s a big difference in preparing for a 1/2-busheler like myself versus a “maybe 6 or so” saltine sampler. Get your oysters, ice them, keep the raccoons and possums out, then spray them off with the hose before cooking, so your hands and mouth don’t get so muddy.

You have several options. One option is not to cook at all and crack those calcified fortresses open with sheer willpower (and maybe throwing them onto a hard surface; I think it disorients them and makes them easier to crack. Also, it’s fun.). They will be cold and extra snotty, but you won’t lose any flavor or texture to the fire.

If you’re just feeding a few pigeons, throw them in a deep pan (not your favorite pan) in the oven with a half-inch of water or so in the bottom. Cook them until they open, adding water if it dries out and turning on the exhaust fan.

Don’t want them in the house? Do the same thing but on the grill. Benefit: you can put wet oyster rags on the grill top to dry while they cook.

Because you need rags, a big pile of cut-up old towels, to lay across one hand while the other hand wields the knife. The rags will protect you (from the oyster but more importantly from your own knife), catch some of the leftover marsh muck, and allow you to handle the shells hot off the grill. If you wait any longer, I’ll eat them all first.

More people? Get a steam pot. We got a 53qt one this time; your ability to lift it while full of oysters is your limiting factor here. Rags can also dry on the pot lid.

About a hundred people? Invite me. Hell, might as well; I’ll show up anyways.

You need a pit (and a keg). Stack cinder blocks to make a rectangle or square, leaving spaces between them for airflow. It doesn’t have to be very high.

Steal a large metal street sign or wait for a hurricane to knock one down. Have a teenager stab holes in it with his/her unfocused rage. Put your oysters on that, over a low fire in the pit (again, wait for a hurricane for firewood). Throw a few wet burlap sacks over the oysters (you can get these at the feed store) until they open

Pour out your oysters onto a table, break out the knives (I’ll bring my own), and dig in.

They may have better oysters in France. But at my house last weekend, I got tiny plump pea crabs in at least one out of every ten I opened. I love their quick crunch. I got three half-inch long cuts on my right hand, four dark craft beers, a half-bushel of friends, and I got to laugh loudly over a table full of Carolina’s finest. Lucky gal.

The Games They Played

The Games They Played

My son received a barrel of toy soldiers at his fifth birthday party this past weekend. He and his almost-seven-year-old brother have been playing with them for three days. These are our first army men, and I’m not ready.

There are two opposing armies – one dark green, the other light green – each with jets, tanks, fences, bunkers, and a variety of well-armed soldiers, but there’s only one helicopter. I told them it was the rescue squad – it picks up injured soldiers from either side and takes them to the hospital.

Later, I overheard big brother saying: “My guy is too injured to get better at the hospital. He had a bullet go all the way through him. He can’t be fixed.”

I called out from the kitchen, “No…Let’s play that the hospital always fixes them. Then they can come back to the war afterwards.”

The boys agreed, but they know as well as I do, even at their young ages, that the hospital doesn’t always fix them.

I’m currently reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, which I’d heard was good, and it is. It’s good in an uncomfortable way, like watching my little boys play with army men, or watching them wrestle. They love to wrestle. I hate it; someone always gets hurt. But they just can’t stop; it’s in their nature to fight.

The Things They Carried reminds me of another book I recently finished, The Buddha in the Attic, where a large cohort of characters are humanized through quick but detailed shots of their lives, making them simultaneously into relatable individuals and into a cohesive whole. In Buddha, we feel the thousand injustices and cruelties inflicted upon Japanese immigrants before and during WWII. No one character is the protagonist – they all are.

The Things They Carried describes the experiences of US soldiers in the Vietnam War. The author begins by listing all the things the men carried and their weights – both in pounds and in mental load. The burden becomes unbearable.

O’Brien states “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it….You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you.”

O’Brien’s stories are immoral, embarrassing, and they ring true. They also repulse. I do not want my children to experience them; I do not want anyone’s children to experience them.

But it is unlikely that war will end anytime soon. Or become less ugly. It’s in its nature to be ugly.

So, like a million little boys before them, my sons are setting up their army men and shooting at each other. Each win leads to another battle, the soldiers keep coming back for more, and they’re all the good guys. Especially my two.

Adults Only

Adults Only

I like my insurance agent. He gives that personal touch – you know, like I’m his only client, his only concern. He looks me in the eye. He knows my name. He asks about the kids. He never scolds me or rolls his eyes when I ask redundant questions or need it all re-explained to me, one more time.

When my husband wanted to switch providers after a particularly horrible exchange with his current company, I suggested my guy. My husband called him, and my guy transferred him over to his female associate. The hubbie says she gave great phone. She really listened. She ran all the numbers, then ran them again, as many times as he needed, without complaint. She was cheerful about it, even. He signed on with her and is looking forward to a long, mutually satisfying relationship.

Last week, we went to the Adults Only program at the Beaufort Maritime Museum, where we sampled Carolina moonshine (my favorite tasted like a pina colada), smelled whale poop (pungent but not overpowering), and learned about such topics as: why bare boobs are lucky at sea, King Louis XIV’s enemas, whale bone dildos, and actual whale weenies.

Prostitution came up, as it will, and the host told of a wildly successful port town brothel in South Carolina. It catered to an elite clientele, even offering a legislators-only week in the spring. That brothel reminded me of a book I read not long ago, Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways & Sailors’ Wives.

With such a great title, my expectations ran high. Unfortunately, the focus was more on men than women; the women were about as well-developed as those racy arm tattoos that dance when the fellas shake them.

Still, the chapter on magical marine maidens was helpful. Turns out there’s 3 kinds: nymphs, sirens, and mermaids. Nymphs ride dolphins, sirens sing the (deadly) music of the spheres, and mermaids can occasionally transform into humans.

There, that’s all cleared up.

And the pirates were entertaining, of course. It would be hard to ruin the daredevilry of Mary Read and Anne Bonny. I’d enjoy an entire book just about them (any recommendations?). Can you believe they pirated together and were the only members of their crew to refuse surrender? Mary shot a crewmate when he wouldn’t fight and Anne reportedly told her captain, while he awaited hanging, “If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

What I most clearly remember, though, was the part about prostitution.

There were brothels in most port towns during the Age of Sail, from about 1570-1860. At those brothels, sailors often had “wives”. A lonely sailor would pick a prostitute to stay with for the days or weeks he was ashore, expecting her fidelity for as long as he could afford her. When he left, she’d take on a new sailor and be just as loyal and genuine to her next temporary “husband.” When the previous sailor came back, he’d visit that same special lady – “Hi honey; I’m home!”

These guys wanted the whole package – someone who listened, gave them undivided attention, and (acted like she) missed them, in addition to the basic services. They wanted that personal touch. The fact that their “wives” did the same for other fellas didn’t really bother them. The illusion was enough.

Sorry, insurance salespeople, but I think you know what I’m saying here.

My brother calls these “soft skills” – the ability to handle others so that they like it, control your emotions and reactions – interpersonal skills. They are the most valuable asset in business and the hardest to teach. Only pirates get to forgo them completely.

So which are ye, matey? Pirate or sailor’s wife? Yo ho ho and a bottle of moonshine; it’s a pirate’s life for me!

Punk Poetry

Punk Poetry


You know why second-hand stuff is better than new stuff?

Because someone else already decided it was good enough to buy in the first place. It’s been curated. The really awful junk doesn’t even make it to round two; the best of the best gets to advance to the finals, where it become vintage or antique. Plus, when you dig through hand-me-downs, there are all sorts of surprises.

I have an older sister, and she’s been generously passing down her hard-earned college education. She has a PhD in reading, or writing, or short stories, or something like that. There’s lots of big words and theories. I don’t get any of that boring stuff, though (thankfully), just the good parts. When I realized I was a poet who didn’t know anything about poetry, Sis sent me a trash bag full of used poems.

Rummaging through, I kept catching hints of a familiar perfume. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was – something from my past – maybe CK One, or patchouli. It definitely wasn’t Estee Lauder Pleasures or Bath & Body Works Sun-Ripened Raspberry. It was far more dangerous than any of those. I couldn’t quite place it.

But then I skim-watched a video of Simon Armitage talking about poetry being a form of dissent, and it hit me. The thing I was smelling was…punk.

Simon Armitage says, “There’s something about poetry which is oppositional, and it’s a form of dissent. I mean, even in its physical form, it doesn’t reach the right-hand margin, it doesn’t reach the bottom of the page. There’s something a little bit obstinate about it […] Poetry’s always had a complex relationship with language. It’s alternative. It’s independent. It simply cannot be a mainstream art form.”

Like punk music: if it becomes widely appreciated, blasting on the radio or at a Superbowl concert, then it’s not punk anymore. It’s supposed to be fringe.

I have another friend who knows poetry (what are the chances?). She says you can do pretty much whatever you want and call it a poem. Currently, she’s serial-killer cutting up old poems and pasting them together to make a new one. And it’s poetry. She shared this gem with me recently, and it’s poetry, too. Anything can be a poem. Back in high school, a few friends tried to start a band. They wrote some really awful songs. When I voiced my opinion (a lifelong fault of mine), they said it didn’t matter – it was punk music.

I was at the skate park the other day, with my two young boys, just fooling around. They don’t skate; instead, they fling their bodies around in free-form parkour. No rules – you know, poetic. Punk. We were about to leave when a guy walks up with his BMX bike, in all sorts of flashy gear. He sets up by the big skate bowl, which resembles an empty swimming pool.

My boys were rapt. Was he going to bike it? He blared the Misfits, then Social Distortion, while he surveyed the area. He walked around and around, considering the drop from different angles, kneeling down, standing up again, kneeling at the other end. He mumbled something and picked up a hefty rock from beside the bowl, throwing it to the side. I thought, he’s doing an extremely thorough job of getting ready. He must be about to do something really cool.

And it was cool, especially for my four-year-old, who fancies himself a trick biker. The guy dropped in, straight down the side, then flew around in circles, all speed and color. He popped up over the edge at the end and balanced on one wheel. Oooh. Ahhh.

Then, he came over and chatted us up. He was a nice fella – my age or so, not as young as you’d (I’d) expect.

“Those long-haired kids have been throwing rocks into the bowl, chipping off chunks of the concrete,” he said. “You see the rocks they were using? I tossed one over there. It’s a shame.”

Now that he mentioned it, I could see gouges in the riding surface and the big stones scattered nearby. Those punks.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes came on, and we reminisced about the good old days. Even during our youth, though, punk music had been secondhand. We’d already missed its heyday, in our heyday. And like The Ataris’ cover of Boys of Summer says, ““Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said don’t look back; you can never look back.”

When I see poetry being performed lately, it’s often speaking up for minority or other underrepresented communities. Did you know that American youth, age 13-25, are a minority? They’re somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the population, from what I can tell. Us old folks are the majority.

I’ll be stopping by Town Hall soon to request they fix that skate bowl – repeatedly, obnoxiously. So we have something to hand down to the youth. And maybe they can host a punk concert while they’re at it. Or a poetry reading. The poetry of dissent.


Fortune 40

Today, I had my annual check-up. Except, I’ve only been once before, so annual is a strong word to use here.

Up until now, I’d stuck my tongue out at the doctor, not for the doctor. Well-checks, exams, and preventative medicine were for other people, not for me.

But forty isn’t young. It isn’t old, but old isn’t impossible anymore, and older vehicles need more maintenance. So, when I got home, I ate spinach for lunch – lots of spinach.

Later, I was digging around in my car console when I came across this slip of paper from a fortune cookie:

"Son said: 'Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he had to.'"

Apparently, this comes from Cynthia Copeland’s book, Really Important Stuff My Kids Have Taught Me. I can’t speak to the rest of the book; I just read the fortune cookie, but it’s Confucius-wise.

It’s time to eat the spinach. But what they don’t tell you, is that by the time you need it, you might actually like it. How fortunate.

Photo of can by Sam Kim, cropped

Conspiracy Beeries

Conspiracy Beeries

I know someone who likes conspiracy theories.

It’s all of us; we all like conspiracy theories.

We’re wired to link disparate events and people, finding hidden connections and uncovering the meaning we so desperately crave. It gives us the advantage over our less sentient co-animals, but it can lead to some pretty crazy ideas, too.

Like this blog post, for example.

I was at The Bar in the Middle of the Road one evening, in Carolina Beach, NC. It had another name, but I don’t remember it now; we only ever called it “the Bar in the Middle of the Road.”

I liked that bar. It was lodged awkwardly in a fork of the main road. What they lacked in ambiance, they made up for in absurdity. Who puts a bar in the middle of the road?

It was there that I first (and last) tried Rasputin Imperial Stout. It ranks as the darkest, thickest, stoutest stout I’ve ever drank. Look at the picture on the bottle; it tastes like the expression on that gnarly mystic’s face. It tastes dangerous.

Outside the Bar in the Middle of the Road, a man was playing music, trying to be heard above the roar of traffic. He had a karaoke machine that kept accompaniment while he sang and played intermittently on his guitar. Never before or since have I seen a performer rely on a karaoke machine.

He asked for requests from the (small) crowd, plugged the song into his machine, and sang along, strumming the guitar when he saw fit, all the while making snarky comments about the patrons’ song choices and looking at the crowd with a clear sense of disdain. Who’s judging who, here, sir?

“Any suggestions?” he asked, sure we’d name the lamest songs ever.

Rasputin in hand, I called out over the rush of cars, “James Taylor.”

“Oh what? ‘Carolina in My Mind’? ‘Fire and Rain’?” he asked with a sneer.

“‘Millworker,'” I said. A dare. No one knows “Millworker”.

His face cleared; he turned off the machine. “I actually know that one.”

He played “Millworker” beautifully, soulfully, authentically. Everyone stopped talking to listen. The cars buzzed on.

He finished, and our eyes met. Yes, that’s a good song.

James Taylor’s “Millworker” was written for a Broadway play, for use in a scene about a steelworker’s struggles.

“Yes, but it’s my life, has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool”

I’m currently reading David Cecelski’s blog post, “The Revolt of the Lint Dodgers: The Lumberton Cotton Mill Workers of 1937.” I like ALL his work, which is extensive, so don’t be surprised if I mention him repeatedly.

“Revolt” details the strike of 1930s cotton mill workers less than two hours away from the Bar in the Middle of the Road. The work days were long, the pay low, the hazards high. The workers were as young as twelve (or younger, pitching in to help mom); they lived in homes owned by the mill company. The work was becoming faster-paced, more grueling, less humane. Their bodies and lives were tools of the mill owners. Cecelski’s story highlights how they (mostly peaceably) pushed for changes in this system.

Rasputin was the spiritual advisor to the last Emperor of Russia and his family (including Princess Anastasia, featured in a Disney movie). The last Emperor became the last Emperor because the working class rose up against him in dissatisfaction with working conditions and social inequalities, non-peaceably. Rasputin unwittingly helped their cause by giving bad press and bad advise to the monarchy.

I once attended an anarchist meeting. That’s what they said they were, which sounded exciting to a first-year college student with a love of punk music. But it was a bunch of talk about labor laws abroad, the World Trade Organization, and other peoples’ revolutions. Turns out I wasn’t serious about anarchy, after all; I just wanted to stick up an occasional middle finger to the Man.

So where am I going with this?

If you drink Rasputin beer while listening to a song about the struggles of millworkers, in a bar a few hours from an old unionized mill town, and you once attended an anarchist meeting, and you find a connection between those events, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or a writer. I choose writer.

The “Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing” (I already read the updated one; now I’m reading the 90s version) calls this “segmented reality.” Call it what you will; it’s the stuff that stories are made of.

Photo: Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Hairy Subject

Warning: This post is 99% tasteless jokes, 1% serious writing. I tried to do better. You see, I wanted to write a smart and sensitive post about eunuchs, but I didn’t have the balls.

I warned you.

The pun all began with a quote from an article in this month’s Smithsonian (Jan/Feb 2023), “Sheer Willpower: The Life of the Last Empress,” by Tony Perrottet. In the decades I’ve been reading the Smithsonian, I don’t think there’s ever been a dud issue. If I had to let go of all other periodicals, I’d keep the Smithsonian.

Perrotet says, “Born around 390, the daughter of a patrician named Galla and Emperor Theodosius the Great, (Placidia) spent her infancy as a nobilissima puella, “‘most noble girl,'” in the Great Palace of Constantinople in modern Istanbul, where the royal family could watch dolphins at play while being fanned with peacock feathers by eunuchs.”

Eunuchs. Now there’s a practice long gone out of style. Though maybe not; what would I know? I’m no nobilissima puella, though I did take several years of Latin. How can something so beautiful be so painful to learn? It’s like classical ballet – those shoes hurt.

Eunuchs. How cruel, that servants of the ancient world were castrated to render them harmless to the upper echelon’s families. To think, ancient Romans were more comfortable around those with an altered gender, while we (the royal we) stigmatize transgendered people.

That’s nuts.

Eunuchs. They bring to mind my current experience with male hormones.

I have androgenic hair loss and am treating it with an androgen blocker. As far as I can tell, the drug’s Latin name translates to “twisting milk tension”. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the cold.

Apparently, my scalpular sparsity is due to male hormones. You’d think a little masculinity would make me hairy. My husband, The Yeti, is hairy. But somehow, no. It gives me male pattern baldness instead. I don’t have strong muscles or an extra twenty cents per dollar salary, just the baldness.

How might this medication change me (besides growing more hair, please)? If I’ve been manly this whole time, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m not sure I want to be eunuchized. But then again, in the words of Betty White,

“Why do people say, ‘Grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive.
If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina. Those things really take a pounding!”

And that concludes today’s deep thoughts. I’m sorry. I promise to do better next time. Until then, carpe diem testiculis, ya’ll.

The Vegetable Revolution Resolution

“Gotta eat yo vegetables, eat yo vegetables” – Broccoli Brothers

The Broccoli Brothers said it all. Vegetables are good for you, tasty, necessary, and in my house, in need of a revolution.

Last night, we lost power about 8pm. When I was woken by the four-year-old at 3am, it was still out. As I tried to get him back to sleep, visions of a life without power danced in my head.

It was New Year’s Eve – time for big changes. What if some nutjob had knocked out the whole power grid, Fight Club style, and we’d be without power from here on out? Was I ready?

I like where I live, but it’s not good for growing food – the soil is too sandy, a little bit salty. We’ll have to move.

Also, I need to learn how to grow food.

Good thing I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s the story of how she and her family spent a year eating only locally grown and sustainably produced foods, livin la vida locavore. It’s not exactly a how-to book for subsisting off the land, more of an inspiration to try. She describes harvesting asparagus spears so sweet and tender, it’s a revelation. Me, I want to grow a leafy green – probably kale; we like kale chips.

But more importantly, I want to eat more vegetables. Even and especially ones I’ve never tried before.

Last night, my husband declared his New Years resolution to eat more vegetables. And without a competing resolution of my own, I jumped aboard the veggie van.

We were at a friend’s house, built in the 1700s, surrounded by reminders of a past without much meat or fast foods. I’d been walking with the lady of the old house, talking about recipes and foods – searching for that new meal that would wow a 4-year-old and a foodie alike. Maybe it could be found at Trader Joe’s, or maybe it could be found at a Tienda Mexicana.

I got that idea after reading all of David Cecelski’s NC food articles. Cecelski’s visited Hispanic restaurants and grocery stores (and grocery store/restuarants) across the state’s coast, and he made them sound so…so…so…delicious. I, too, want to eat goat and cactus. No one’s even offered it to me before, and to think – it’s right here in my state, just a language barrier away.

There are bound to be unexplored vegetables in the Hispanic grocery. Or the Asian grocery. Or anywhere I haven’t looked before. Maybe, in my backyard. Maybe, in your backyard. Let the Vegetable Revolution begin. Party on, Broccoli Brothers, and Happy New Year!

Trash talk

My friend watches a YouTube channel, Northern Mudlarks, with a Scottish mother-daughter team who hunt for (dubious) treasure along riverbanks and other shores. They find mud, reliably, and tiny pieces of the past that they analyze for value and meaning. Could that pot shard be from a moonshine jug? Could that pipe have traveled across the ocean? What kind of bone is that, sepia-toned, carved, and polished into a button? Was it from a greatcoat, or did it grace the small of a woman’s back, rendering her helpless in her own toilette?

Speaking of toilets, January’s Our State Magazine, a monthly publication devoted to all things North Carolinan, includes an excellent article by T. Edward Nickens titled “Talking Trash.” Mr. Nickens seems to crank out good articles as easily some people (me) make excuses as to why they can’t write good articles. In “Talking Trash,” he considers the humble derelict trash pit, a remnant of country homes before trash service, landfills, and familiarity with the horrors of chemical leaching.

He describes walking the woods, looking casually for these treasure troves and the invaluable pieces he finds there – a tin pan, a holy pail, a motionless motor. Also, sometimes, toilets. It’s like mudlarking, he says, and he can’t help but imagine the stories behind the objects he finds and what the previous owners would say if they knew of his interest.

My grandparents had a trash pit. It came with a house and land they bought near Winston Salem. I loved that house. I loved that trash pit. I poked around in it, bringing home an Old Spice aftershave bottle I found – the white kind with red writing (is there any other kind?). It looked so interesting, so old.

At school on show and tell day, I was carrying my “antique bottle” when one of the maintenance men saw me and made clear that my treasure was not a historical artifact, but rather, the kind of aftershave he used daily. His laugh was crushing.

But he was right; that wasn’t a treasure. Or, was it?

What item might you stumble upon in the woods or an old trash pit? What story could lie behind it? Whose life would be changed by your discovery? What story could that aftershave bottle tell? There’s treasure there, of the best kind.

An Inspiring Chick

I’m a sucker for sweet southern writing – the kind that glorifies grandmothers, reminisces about time gone by (even if it was just yesterday), and speaks to the heart in a secret language I’ve never quite learned, despite all the time spent listening. Perhaps reading Emily Carter’s blog, A Chicks View, will finally imbue me with the ability to speak this native tongue. If not, it was still time well spent. She writes beautifully, and if you get the chance to hear her read her work, it will bring you to tears. She shared this gem at one of our meetings recently, and it’s priceless. You’ve been warned and hopefully, inspired.

Photo courtesy of Emily Carter