There’s nothing quite like seeing your home through others’ eyes. This past weekend I’ve had the pleasure of this experience reaffirming for me, as if I needed it, why I live here.
I’m a member of what I might call a sustainability/community development think tank made up primarily of architects and engineers, with a few of us oddball liberal arts others thrown in for good measure. This group, for shorthand call us “Discovery,” visits different locations every six months to explore to check in with each other and explore entrepreneurial models for sustainability and social change. For our fall visit this year, Glenn Leichman and I hosted our Discovery group on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Some of the comments we heard, “The landscape is stunning.” “I love all the different aspects of the Peninsula — the bay, the ocean, the trees.” “The clouds are beautiful — we never see clouds, we only have sky,” and, best of all, “I see why you live here.”
Call it a kind of top-level validation when one’s friends — especially this well-heeled group — agree with one’s most intimate decision, i.e. where to put down roots. In order to give our friends from far-away (California and New Mexico, among others) a real “taste” of our Peninsula life, Glenn and I rounded up a motley band of “subject matter experts” to guide us through a variety of experiences. We had help from David Campiche, Laurie Anderson, Phil and Nancy Allen, Nanci Main, and farmer Fred Johnson. Our first day was, quite literally, about tasting the Peninsula.
We started our morning on day one when sensei Glenn led some of the early risers in Aikido stretching, in a building I call the Floating Dojo: a hand-built structure that, like a tree house, seems to hover above the forest floor. Out every window one sees only bay, sky, and trees. When one bows to the sensei after a throw, one bows to the forest outside the windows and the forest inside. (Every structure on Glenn’s Willapa Acres is made from wood felled on the property in the Great Blow of 2007 — cut, milled and planed by hand).
The real fun began after breakfast — foraging with David and Phil. I had no idea where they would take us, but we were ready with funky clothes, boots, hats, and sack lunches. Our first stop was Surfside to a patch of lobster mushrooms that Phil had spotted in his reconnoitering the day before. Alas! Someone beat us to the goods. But, determined foragers that we were, and lead by our trusty guides, we persisted and ended by finding another more hidden lobster mushroom community not far away.
We got stories not only about ‘shrooming lore but also the correct way to gather to ensure future harvest. Along the way Phil and David regaled us with stories about their hanging out time on the Peninsula as teenagers. Oh, and, yes, our foraging baskets filled up.
I can’t name all the mushrooms we gathered, but I know that matsutake and king bolete were among the stars. Midmorning, I had to leave the foragers to make the trek to Fred’s Homegrown in Naselle to pick us up some fresh veggies. We had decided that our dinner would be made from local or foraged ingredients. Phil had already been working hard (“Gone Fishin’) at Black Lake and brought in 11 or 12 lush and beautifully spotted trout — protein for dinner.
When I got to Fred’s, he was nowhere to be seen because he was putting up a fence in the lower 40. I wandered the property, noting the beginning of a roof platform near the apex of the 30 plus foot tall heritage barn he’s restoring. I rambled down the hill into the greenhouses and did my own “gleaning” — the term for picking up grain or other produce after a harvest is finished. There were summer squash lying on the ground, one half rotten but half good. Green tomatoes still on the vines were heaped in a discard pile. Red peppers scattered here and there. And long Japanese eggplant with tunnels where bugs had begun excavation. Still everything was organic, perfectly edible, and, yes, home grown.
Fred rumbled up and I talked him into joining us for dinner later, where we intended to enjoy all our foraged findings.
Since Discovery meets only twice a year, a lot can happen in a life between gatherings, so we always start with an extended check in. We pulled our chairs into a circle in Glenn’s kitchen house and everyone got the chance to tell the group exactly what they wanted about where they are, what’s new, what’s old, what’s great, or what’s been bothering us. While we sat and talked, David got busy in the kitchen providing a rhythmic rattle, bing and razzmatazz accompaniment to our sharing. After two and a half hours, delicious smells and savory vapors began emanating from the kitchen into our circle by the fire. We closed our meeting and shifted gears, heading toward dinner.
David had stuffed the trout and overlaid it with a golden buttery mushroom sauce. Fred’s squash, eggplant and peppers, in David’s hands, became a delicious, tangy ratatouille. I sautéed up one of our family favorites: fried green tomatoes (just douse them in flour and paprika). Other side dishes, featuring our cast of mushrooms, were served over rice.
Nanci Main arrived with an enormous pan of freshly baked apple crisp (Jack’s has their traditional fall apple sale going on); and Phil and Nancy Allen returned bearing two half gallons of French vanilla ice cream.
After filling our plates, we ate outside on long tables while a fire in Glenn’s potbellied stove roared and popped. Laughter and conversation echoed off the tall trees protecting our temporary hamlet; friends from our Discovery circle mingling with our local friends.
The bounty of the earth, of our specific Peninsula earth, our land and sea, delivered this day to us. We were grateful for sun in the morning as we searched the ground under our feet for mushrooms. I marveled at the diamond sparkles and a misty ribbon of fog over the Columbia River on my drive to Fred’s Homegrown for the fruits of his labors. And as I swung back to Glenn’s by Black Lake, I tipped my hat to the pink-fleshed trout that had jumped onto Phil’s hook.
The bounty of the Peninsula was everywhere present. Of course it was spilling over on our dinner plates, but it was also around our table — in the people this place has grown, produced and brought to us.