Life + Outdoors » North Coast Almanack

Sept. 16-30, 2010


Artist's depiction of Platecarpus Coryphaeus with an anguilliform-like swimming motion. - ILLUSTRATION BY DMITRY BOGDANOV/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikimedia Commons
  • Artist's depiction of Platecarpus Coryphaeus with an anguilliform-like swimming motion.

Sept. 16: The roasted heart of the agave tastes like an artichoke that has been interbred with beef jerky: stringy, smoky and strangely dark. Mezcal, the spirit fermented from the agave, owes its murky lineage to the violent but nonetheless creative clash between Spaniards and Mexican natives.

In honor of Mexico's Independence Day, pour a copita of mezcal and sip it slowly in the late afternoon. Like Scotch, it is not to be gulped or mixed with anything but perhaps a few drops of water. If your last memory of mezcal involved a worm in the bottom of a bottle and an evening of regrettable actions, be advised that Del Maguey single-village mezcal is as fine and rare as any good whisky and will leave you with no regrets. Most varieties bottled by Del Maguey are readily available at better liquor stores. The rarest, called pechuga, is made from a traditional recipe in which a skinned chicken is hung in the vapor of the still during the third distillation to balance the sweetness of the wild mountain apples added during fermentation.

Sept. 17: The proper way to begin a letter apologizing for a delay in answering a letter is as follows: "I know you must have thought me neglectful in leaving your letter so long unanswered, but I trust you will forgive me when I tell you all the children, my sister Hannah's and my own, have been ill for more than a month with the measles."

Sept. 18: Scorpions are bioluminescent; to look for them at night, always carry a flashlight outfitted with an ultraviolet bulb.

Sept. 19: The use of chickens in distillation is otherwise quite rare in Mexico and elsewhere.

Sept. 20: The play "Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady" is probably too well-known to require any lengthy description here. The parts may be played by any party of four or more women and an equal number of men, one of whom must be well-suited in looks and temperament for the part of Marquis de Santa Cruz, the unwelcome lover of the duchess. Costumes are required, but any drawing-room will do for scenery. Time of representation is three-quarters of an hour.

Sept. 21: The International Day of Peace, celebrated today, is also, logically enough, designated as a day of Global Ceasefire. Lay down your arms. You may pick them back up tomorrow, but we wish you wouldn't.

Sept. 22: The venom of the deathstalker scorpion contains a substance that can slow the growth of brain tumors and enable gene therapy to be more fully expressed, rendering the treatment more effective. This has led to a marked increase in affection for the deathstalker.

Sept. 23: Full moon at 2:18 am; also the arrival, all too soon, of the autumnal equinox. Commence complaints about early and lingering darkness.

Sept. 24: Hand-raised Buff Orpington hens are unusually attached to the people who brought them up. If they are not prevented from doing so, they will perch on a windowsill and watch the inhabitants of the house for hours, the way a dog might if left out in the yard. If given access to a kitchen window, they will react with some surprise to the sight of an egg being cracked into a saucepan. There is no good way to explain this arrangement to a hen; it is simply something she has to learn to accept.

Sept. 25: The authors of The Child Welfare Manual suggest that families adopt a regular program of conversation with their children. Questions that one might ask of a child include "How did a pig nearly cause a war?" and "Why will a rug smother a fire?"

Sept. 26: Every garden center will have pots of short, fat asters in bloom about now, but why settle for that? Demand an aster like "Bill's Big Blue," which struts about the border at five feet tall and three feet wide. Digging Dog Nursery will send you some; they have about a dozen other such muscular specimens on offer this year. Some gardeners pinch them back starting in June, but we see no reason to restrain an aster.

Sept. 27: Marine biologists now know that the 20-foot Platecarpus swam more like a shark than an eel.

Sept. 28: Tea leaves that take the form of a rose with thorns suggest that romance should be tempered with caution.

Sept. 29: On this day in 1650, Henry Robinson set up the Office of Addresses and Encounters in London. He believed that such a clearinghouse would provide "people of each rancke and quality ... Direction and Advice for the most cheap and speedy way of attaining whatsoever they can lawfully desire." Such an idea has not been tried here lately, but in these difficult times an Office of Addresses and Encounters might prove popular once again.

Sept. 30: A letter congratulating a friend on their escape from a railway accident should begin thusly: "In reading the account of the frightful accident yesterday I see your name in the list of those who escaped unhurt." Expressions of congratulation, tempered with regret for those who were crushed or maimed, should follow.


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