Okara to Okra

“You have okra?” is a question I get a lot at the farmers markets. It’s because customers see that I am selling “okara” and mistake it for “okra”. Okara is a byproduct of making tofu, and there are many dishes you can make with it. It makes remarkable pancakes and muffins, and the hens love it too.

I get asked about okra so much, that I went ahead and planted a hoop house full of it. It started sprouting, and come mid August, when customers at the farmers market ask, “Do you have okra?” I should be able to say, “Lots of okra!”

Life is like a river ride. You never know what is around the bend, and you really have no control where the river will take you. You might as well enjoy the ride. Often the best things in life are the things you never planned. My childhood dreams, or visions of where I would live or what I would do when I was studying in university never included me growing okra out in the country in the Pacific Northwest. They didn’t include having an established bed of poppies that miraculously grows every spring and puts on a dazzling display of flowers in early summer, or having pear trees where robins nest.

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A Sad Day

The first of the poppies opened this summer solstice day. I find the summer solstice tinged with sadness. It’s all down hill from here. It’s barely gotten warm, and already the days will start getting shorter. They should keep getting longer until the end of July, and wait to shorten until September.

The skies are rarely so blue as they are in the Pacific Northwest. The cottonwoods on the other side of the pond wave good bye to the setting sun. Are they sad to see the days getting shorter?

With the days getting shorter, it’s a race for the apples to get fat by fall. I don’t know what kind of apple this tree is, but by mid August it’s apples are sweet, crisp, and juicy, a consolation for shortening days.

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First Blush

The first blush of blue is tinging the hydrangea. They are called “Ajisai 紫陽花” in Japanese, which translates to purple 紫 sun 陽 flower 花, though since they bloom during the rainy season, they are associated with rain. Throughout Japan, there are temples with so many hydrangea, they are called hydrangea temples. Hasedera in Kamakura has some 40 varieties of 2,500 hydrangea. Yatadera in Nara has 60 varieties and 10,000 hydrangea.

Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, a German doctor from Würzburg who joined the Dutch military, traveled to Japan in 1823 and was posted as a physician and scientist at the Dutch trading post of Dejima, a small island in Nagasaki where the Dutch were allowed to live and trade from 1641 through 1853. At the time, it was the only place where foreigners were allowed to live in Japan.

Because of his skills as a doctor, Siebold was allowed to travel throughout Japan, and he collected specimens of thousands of plants and animals during his stay. He particularly loved hydrangea, and named a variety, Hydrangea otaksa, after his Japanese wife, Otaki.

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The Roots of Everything

Trimming garlic this morning, I ended up with a pile of wiry roots. Their intricate weave, as complex as any urban street system, show the intense commerce that happens just below the surface of the earth: plants negotiating contracts by the second with a host of bacteria and fungi, and the micro organisms that feed on them, exchanging sugars for nutrients plants need.

Without roots, we would be nothing. No roots, no plants. No plants, no people. Our lives are dependent on these thin, tangled filaments we rarely see.

The Japanese Stewartia is blooming. I look forward to their blossoms every year. If you look closely at the sepals covering the flower buds, you’ll see that the edges of the sepals are lined with jagged teeth.

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Mountain Priest, Mountain Hat?

A single clover blossom makes a lovely bouquet. The first of the potatoes are blooming too. This year I planted potatoes spaced apart so that all summer long and into the fall I can enjoy their flowers.

In the woods, the dogwood is starting to bloom. They are called “Yamaboshi” in Japan, and sometimes it is written 山法師 which translates to “mountain Budhist priest”, but it is also written 山帽子 which means “mountain hat”. I’d say they look more like hats than priests.

Yesterday while picking up logs to burn from a friend’s place in the woods, I came across a branch covered with feathery mycelium. The transformation of wood to soil is a slow, exquisite process, cloaked with astonishing beauty. Most of the time all this beauty goes unseen, deep in quiet forests, out of sight, out of mind. Only the mycelia know. The next time you drive by a forest, know that on the forest floor, under a blanket of decaying leaves, mycelia are spinning exquisite art as they convert wood into soil.

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Bumblebees Love Blue

The ceanothus is in full bloom and is swarming with all kinds of bees, including bumblebees. There is so much pollen to collect, the bumblebee legs fly wedging pollen into their hairy legs, and cleaning their big eyes. As hard as bumblebees work, they must look forward to a good night’s sleep in their cozy nests.

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UPS Driver and the Tiger

If I hadn’t ordered soybeans on May 26, the UPS driver would not have shown up today, and if the UPS driver had not shown up with the soybeans, I would not have made the trip to the cabin at the precise moment that a Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) was visiting the blooming mint along the trail to the cabin.

So many unimaginably wonderful things happen as a result of the very ordinary. I never thought when I ordered soybeans it would result in having an enchanting encounter with a Western Tiger Swallowtail. It makes me wonder what the Swallowtail did to have the encounter with me.

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