Life + Outdoors » North Coast Almanack

May 5-11

Mint juleps, whale calls and planets aligned

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May 5. The planet you are currently occupying will pass through the debris of Haley's Comet tonight and tomorrow. This year's Eta Aquarids meteor shower takes place across a dark sky, so up to 40 to 50 meteors will be visible per hour if conditions are ideal.

May 6. Unless you own a greenhouse and intend to use it, resist the urge to plant tomatoes.

May 7. In honor of the Kentucky Derby, we invite you to harvest fresh spearmint -- mint is not difficult to grow, so there is no excuse for the limp, wilted, store-bought version -- and take the time to build a truly respectable mint julep. Remember that a well-constructed mint julep is intended to last all day; there is no second mint julep, just one large, powerful drink that grows gradually sweeter and more watered-down as the ice melts and the sugar and bourbon settle together at the bottom of the glass. Walker Percy insisted that a good julep should hold at least five ounces of bourbon, a quantity that sloshes right over anyone's daily limit. Into a silver julep cup, a tall, sturdy glass, or a mason jar, press two or three tablespoons of superfine sugar together with a very small quantity of water, just enough to make a sugary paste. Add a layer of fresh spearmint leaves; press gently but do not smash them. Make a layer of fresh, finely crushed ice -- Mr. Percy prefers that you reduce the ice to powder by wrapping it in a dry towel and banging it with a wooden mallet. To that layer add a fine sprinkling of sugar and mint leaves that you have spanked, but not crushed, by clapping them loudly between your hands. Continue in this manner until the glass is so full that it seems that it cannot possibly hold a drop of bourbon, then pour in as much as it will, in fact, hold, up to five ounces. Do not under any circumstances use a cheap bourbon. Maker's Mark is a fine choice if you don't have an even finer bourbon on offer. Now carry your julep to the porch and remain there until bedtime; there will be nothing else to your day but the slow draining of the glass and perhaps a remark about horses or extravagant hats.

May 8. Mother's Day. On the question of whether one should feel pride for one's children, Charles Lamb said, "When I consider how little of a rarity children are ... I cannot for my life tell what cause for pride there can possibly be in having them. If they were young phoenixes, indeed, that were born but one in a hundred years, there might be a pretext."

May 9. A study of the mating calls of humpback whales has revealed that the most popular mating song becomes a hit among the other males; they sing it, improve upon it and carry it across the ocean. The following year, the most popular riffs from last year find their way into newer, improved mating songs.

May 10. Semordnilap, a word created by spelling "palindromes" backwards, refers to words that can be spelled forwards or backwards but carry different meanings. For instance: evil and live, deliver and reviled, fires and serif.

May 11. The Triple Conjunction is not a grammatical construction but an astronomical happening in which three planets -- in this case Mercury, Venus and Jupiter -- align. Look eastward near dawn, and expect to see Mars hanging about nearby as well.

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