Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Solitary Vice

You can see more going on around you if you keep quiet and still; this is true for scuba diving, walks down by the St. Lawrence and life in general. The sun is stretching itself now and developing some real warmth; the only ice remaining is a thin fringe on the river bank, and sheets of candle-wax ice in the sheltered bays. Turning round slowly my eye was caught by a coyote crossing the field with a steady gallop like a fox's; he was bigger, of course, dog-size; sandy-coloured with a black tip to his tail. I was downwind of him, and motionless so as not to scare him, so he hung around for a few minutes, all business, searching for food. The deer must have picked up his scent; normally I have to beat them off with a stick, but there were none anywhere today.

The blue herons are back; one flew overhead with a stately slo-mo flap of wings, legs stretched out behind and neck coiled up. Two or three hawks were up there too, balancing on the thermals, checking out the progress of the geese nesting season; it doen't bode well for goslings, but it's early yet.

The high waters of last fall left a line of flotsam and all kinds of pack-rat treasure. Haul so far: abandoned fishing float (good toy for Riley the cat); two plastic toy spades (will do nicely for spreading salt on ice, and bird seed on lawns); a plastic tent peg; nice piece of two-by-four for campfire kindling, and a large plastic scoop to use as a bailer for my rented rowboat. Also seen: a complete set of sturdy steps which would have made a seviceable plant stand--alas! too heavy to carry.

The joy of a deserted riverbank is that I can indulge these eccentricities and no-one's any the wiser.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fooled Me Twice

"Surely," I mused as I opened "Deception Point," which had been pressed on me by the urging of an otherwise well-meaning friend, "this has to be better than "The Da Vinci Code."

OK, here's the formula:
Comb ten of the best-selling recent thriller novels; select their salient features--all of them--mash them in a blender and throw them on to paper. The result is a food-fight: too, too much information; the usual over-exposition, the most obvious being two, count 'em, two, pages of perfectly-scripted plot exposition towards the end of the book--and this by the arch-villain, who's armed with a rifle and perched on a sinking ship in the midst of a maelstrom. Plus hero/ines with a background merely in desk jobs who can assimilate complex geological data, pilot underwater subs and run for twenty-four hectic action-packed hours in the arctic without food, sleep or bathroom breaks. Oh, come ON!

By the end I was gagging. Serve me right for trying Dan Brown twice.

My only consolation was that the books were borrowed.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Frozen Stiff

"What's going on?" is purely rhetorical in this part of the world; we are a small village, in a very big country whose climate can kill you. Out strolling--with crampons--in the local park beside the St. Lawrence as winter wound down, I was the only soul on the face of the earth, marvelling at the breathtaking silence. Bells of solid ice swung from the tips of the weeping willows. The river was frozen right across to the USA, less than 1km away, all motion suspended.

And then I heard it: the ice was singing. There was a soft background hum, like the echoes of a choir in the nave of a cathedral. From time to time came another sound like a rifle shot as distant floes buckled; there were crunchings, and what I took at first to be a dog barking. A crack flew by me along the river bank, with the scouring sound of a jet flying overhead. On another occasion I'd followed what I took to be a flock of small birds twittering, only to find a fringe of delicate ice plates blown by the wind into the edge of a patch of open water.

Yesterday the river was emitting deep, hollow coughs from far down below the ice; it was clearing its throat for the big thaw. Today the temperature soared to 10*C and everything started running; pools of water everywhere, the official start of Mud Season. Time to drag the ice-fishing huts back, and drive those pickup trucks to safety off the ice.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Borrowed Finery

I've just finished reading "Music and Silence" by Rose Tremain, which I scooped up while visiting my sister; a gorgeous historical novel about 17th century Denmark, lavish with texture, peopled with complex living and breathing characters.
What a stunner! Its time-warp wafts you away into this other world, so vivid that it's virtual reality. The first time I read it for the story, the second time I'll read it for the craft.
Mercifully, the blurb doesn't tell us how Ms Tremain divides her time.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hoist on my own petard

Tax time's coming, the Sharing o' the Green, and the accountants' offices are busy as a cat house when the fleet docks. Frustrated by the goings-on of last year's firm, who treated me like chopped liver, I jumped ship and landed in a much more professional outfit. They did, however, remark that I was "too well organized". Moi?

Reading: "The Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey", mostly by Patrick O'Brian, very thoughtfully sent to me by Susannah.
It is well known that I am the man's geatest living aficionado, but this is ridiculous. If they could squeeze another corpuscle out of that man, this is it. Like underwear, no matter how clean, it was never intended for public viewing; it's the bare bones of a novel, the first draft, padded copiously with duplicates of every page in the original handwriting, and with an embarrassingly fulsome multi-page intro. If it reveals anything, it's that the finished books were brought to life by vivid, imaginative embellishment which is missing entirely in this rough sketch.

The man's dead, for heaven's sake. A marvellous, unmatched series of beautifully crafted novels/ripping yarns has come to an end. We'll just have to get over it.

Truite rotie boulangere: (for the boyfriend)
1 whole trout, about 1kg.
1 kg potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion
1 clove garlic, minced
250 ml bouillon or fish stock
1 bay leaf
Sprig of thyme
50 gm butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
salt, pepper

Generously butter a baking dish; layer the potatoes, garlic and onion in the dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the bouillon, bay leaf and thyme.
Bake in preheated oven (gas mark 7--210*c or 425*F) uncovered, for 25 minutes. (Original recipe called for 15 min., but I found the potatoes remained crunchy)
Place the prepared trout on top of the potatoes, brush with the oil and adjust seasoning. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.
(Je cuisine--365 jours,730 recettes--marvellous book, unknown publisher, another gift from Susannah)