Notes about writing, landscape, and life in the Texas Hill Country


"We keep each other alive with our stories. We need to share them, as much as we need to share food. We also require for our health the presence of good companions. One of the most extraordinary things about the land is that it knows this—and it compels language from some of us so that as a community we may converse about this or that place, and speak of the need."
Barry Lopez

"As much as we live in a place, we live in place; we inhabit a condition of the soul. We live where we have made definitions, and in the process of making definitions, we create a place in which to live."
Sallie Tisdale

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."
Rachel Carson

"I can see myself beginning to fashion what I need: new pathways to solitude, new ways of looking at time and at time alone, new ways of conceiving a notion of place, and other ways, if not new ones, to create places apart."
Jacqueline Jones Royster

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."
Linda Hogan


Susan's Hill Country Journal
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Susan Wittig Albert
Ph.D. UC Berkley

author of
China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries
(as Robin Paige)
Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
Writing From Life
Work of Her Own

Contributing editor:
Country Living Gardener Magazine
writing teacher
garden columnist
Founder: Story Circle Network

Bulletin Board
A Map of MeadowKnoll
All text/photos
©2003-2005 Susan Wittig Albert

The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas
The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas

Familiar Plants of the Edwards Plateau
History and Change on the Plateau
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
(10 miles south of MeadowKnoll)
habitat description, wildlife lists
The Edwards Aquifer
The Trinity Aquifer
Our Weather

Story Circle Network
The experience of Katrina is an experience of place, located at the intersections of the natural and human-made worlds. If you have a Katrina story to tell, the Story Circle Network invites you to record it here, and to read others' stories:

Killer Plants

Ecotone: Writing About Place

Tuesday, August 30, 2005  
It’s done, and I am VERY glad. The Book of Days, that is. Like a lot of things I do, I overdid it. The individual entries were longer and more complicated than I had originally intended, which is why the project took a couple of months longer than I meant to give it. My excuse: I really love the material and wanted to do it justice. But of course, that won’t cut much mustard with my editor, who will probably tell me to cut out most of the “extras” I included. Ah, well. Maybe I’ll just hold onto the cut-outs for the cookbook which will (I hope) come later. Much later. Like maybe two or three years.

My pleasure at having finished the project is considerably dimmed by what happened this week along the Gulf Coast. I lived in New Orleans for a couple of years when I was dean of Sophie Newcomb College, and have warm memories of the hospitality and many kindnesses of the people at Tulane University. It’s heartbreaking to see the city inundated. And Biloxi and Gulfport—so much gone, so many lives lost. Such a horrible mess to clean up, no electricity in NO for another month, and nearly three months left in the hurricane season.

Here, it’s been dry and very hot: the usual August in Central Texas. Still, the garden is blooming. These are yellow bells, one of the bright spots of every August.

New Mexico. Bill spent a couple of weeks at our place in New Mexico, which we've named Coyote Lodge, for the coyotes that seranade us most nights. Now it's my turn. I’m hoping to be gone for about ten days. I’ll be glad for the cooler weather, and some time to read. I’ve been accumulating a stack of books while I’ve worked double shifts on Days, and I’m suffering from a serious knitting deficit. It’ll be Christmas soon, and I haven’t even started on the usual hats, scarves, and socks. Hoping to remedy some of that while I soak up some cool.

Skip down to the reading notes, please—“writing is a very lonely job.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. This is so often said, but it just isn’t true for me. Maybe it’s the Internet and email, maybe it’s this blog, or the nature of the books I write. Whatever it is, when I write, I feel very much connected to readers. I almost feel as if you’re sitting here beside me, and we’re discussing the material: the fiction, the non-fiction, whatever. A running conversation that is both comfortable and comforting. Thank you for being the kind of readers that make this happen.

Stay safe. Stay out of hurricanes. Don’t go too far away. I’ll be back in mid-September.

Reading Notes. "Writing is a very lonely job, and it's a very insecure job. ... Writing is just me and my computer." Simonetta Agnello Hornby, as quoted in "Writers at Work: The Merits of Nine-to-Five" in the Sept/Oct 2005 issue of Poets & Writers.

8/30/2005 04:38:00 PM

Sunday, August 14, 2005  

Some of our loveliest wildflowers have the most descriptive names. Here’s one: snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata). In this citizen of our summer plant community here in the Hill Country, the flowers are tiny; the showy elements are the bracts, variegated come-hither leaves that attract pollinators. (Poinsettia is a familiar example of this seductive strategy.) The milky sap is said to be distasteful (you couldn’t prove it by me) and highly toxic, a defensive mechanism which keeps it from being eaten until it’s mature enough to produce seeds. These go ballistic when they’re ripe, shooting out in all directions. One snow-on-the-mountain, having found a situation it likes, quickly colonizes the neighborhood, making for drifts of white across the meadows and fields.

Bill is back from a couple of weeks at Coyote Lodge (our place in New Mexico), just in time to mow the grass that has been enjoying the unusual rains we’ve had in the past few weeks. A couple of tropical downpours, but mostly light rains that mist the foliage and keep everything green. The garden’s loving it. In bloom now: roses, salvia, echinacea, daylilies, yellow bells, daisies, and gaura, which blooms at the end of long stalks, so that the pale, delicate blossoms look like hovering butterflies. Bill took Zach (the senior black Lab) to Coyote with him, which resulted in several interesting adventures. That dog definitely does not like to be left alone.

Still working on the Book of Days, but am now on my last pass through the text. I have about two dozen short pieces left to write, and then I’m done—by the end of the month, I hope. It would have been nice to have had the summer off, but Days has taught me a great deal. Glad I decided to do it. The next “extra” project of this sort is probably going to be a cookbook. But that’s 2-3 years away, I think.

Reading Notes: Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. Pablo Picasso

8/14/2005 08:27:00 AM

Sunday, August 07, 2005  

High summer at MeadowKnoll. The sumacs are blooming—I picked several sprays for the house, and took this photo of one of them. Our sumacs are flameleaf sumac: Rhus lanceolata. Around here, the raccoons feast on the red berries (drupes, really) in the fall. It’s a treat to see a good-size mama coon clambering up one of these slender sumacs, bending it almost to the ground so she can get at the berries. When the seeds have passed through the coon’s digestive system and out the other end, they sprout easily: hence, lots of sumacs. The sumac fruit also attracts the blackbirds and cedar waxwings, which have also been feasting on juniper berries. The juniper seeds go out the other end of the birds and the baby junipers sprout around the sumacs. In another 20 years, the sumacs will be crowded out by the junipers. It’s all part of the cycle, animals and birds helping to propagate the plants.

The Book of Days project is chugging to a conclusion. I was going to take a few days in New Mexico, but decided that I should finish this first. I have some holes to fill, mostly religious holidays. (If you have any information about herbs/food used in the major Muslim holidays, I’d love to hear from you!) It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me. I’m going to work on the book this morning, so I’ll sign off this blog entry with one of the entries I finished yesterday, for January 13:

In pre-Christian Ireland, the Celts celebrated this day as the Feast of Brewing.

A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it's better to be thoroughly sure.—Czech proverb

Beer: A Magical, Mysterious Brew

Brewing has been part of human history for over six thousand years. It is thought that the Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by chance, perhaps when bread became wet. The earliest account of brewing pictures wheat or barley bread baked, crumbled into liquid, and fermented—a process involving natural yeasts—into a drink that is said to have made people feel exhilarated.

Beer (sometimes thought of as “liquid bread”) has been an important foodstuff in many cultures, especially in places where the water was impure. People of all ages drank it throughout the day, and workers were often paid with jugs of beer. Some beers played an important part in worship, where they was considered to be the source of inspiration from the gods, and were ceremonially prepared and ritually drunk by priests, such as the Druids who celebrated the Celtic Feast of Brewing. Laws were frequently made to regulate the consumption of beer. For example, the Puritans were allowed to drink only two quarts of beer for breakfast.

Hops (which adds bitterness and aroma) were not added to beer until the seventeenth century. Instead, other herbs provided a more subtle, complex flavor: bog myrtle, yarrow, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, anise seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, wormwood, sage, broom. And rather than barley or malt, some herbs—such as ginger, nettles, St. John’s wort, and dandelions—were the primary ingredient of some delicious beers. Ginger beer was a much-loved nineteenth-century drink.

Miss Beecher’s Famous Ginger Beer (1857)

3 pints yeast
1/2 pound honey
1 egg white
1/2 ounce lemon essence [lemon zest]
10 pounds sugar
9 gallons water
9 ounces lemon juice
11 ounces gingerroot

Boil the ginger half an hour in a gallon of water, then add the rest of the water and the other ingredients, and strain it when cold, add the white of one egg beaten, and half an ounce essence of lemon. Let it stand four days then bottle it, and it will keep good many months.—Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book

Read more about herbal beers:

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, by Stephen Harrod Buhner

8/07/2005 09:30:00 AM


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