By lunch time the spectators began showing up.
That is, lots of cameramen scattering across the city looking for advantageous locations, lots of people in expensive suits despite the late summer heat and a few extra policemen in groups talking and pointing. Angie and Preston agreed they would now miss having their bikes. Up to this moment, things had been fine, but with so few crossing bridges and the long stretches between landmarks, the bikes could be really useful. On the other hand, this was setting up to be an even more crowded place than even the worst of normal tourist traffic.
So the next morning they put on their business casual attire and left early so they could take their time. The regular bus schedule was disrupted and they decided to simply walk back into town while it was still relatively cool. The hillside with a good view Preston had found was occupied by a cluster of photographers already setting things up and competing for the best spot. Preston pretended to do a slow panorama but only recorded while aimed at the cameramen and their activity.
At the bottom of the hill on the traffic circle stood, of all things, a shawarma cart. Angie and Preston agreed it was the perfect quick breakfast, and they weren’t alone. The river was extra busy with small motor boats all over the place. A few had cameras mounted on poles or small towers. Meanwhile, a flat bed truck was dropping temporary traffic control equipment to groups of workers and the occasional policeman. Preston and Angie decided to hide in the throng already gathering on and around the bridge.
They had plenty to do working to spot and shoot various people too well dressed for ordinary work or tourism. From time to time they would trade the cameras back and forth for one purpose or another. As the buzz of police motorcycles and patrol cars increased upriver near the gauntlet running into the Hall of Justice, they watched closely to see mostly local officials and opulent cars, but no limos. Preston and Angie worked their way slowly toward the east end of the bridge.
It was two hours before the first limo came. In the lead were the motor officers forcing serious impediments off the N95, followed by the actual motorcycle escort just in front of the oversize car, zipping along and up to the entrance of the gauntlet. Barriers were moved to allow smooth passing, and then quickly put back in place. This got the crowd’s attention and bodies everywhere surged a bit in renewed activity, yet strangely having no real effect on the actual crowding itself. Preston and Angie positioned themselves to watch the departure, which they expected to run back out heading north along the one-way street pattern because of the movable barricades on the plaza. The N95 was split: Southbound was along the water’s edge, while northbound was a block inland. The open plaza at the west end of the bridge afforded a good view from a wide range of locations. They stood against the northern bridge railing, where the southbound half of the highway ran under the bridge and along the quay on the eastern bank of the Meuse.
The first limo delayed longer than they expected at the Hall of Justice, making them wonder if their guessing was all wrong. Eventually it was led slowly past on the northbound lane as police struggled to clear the pedestrians. Preston and Angie crossed the open area to watch where the limo went. A ways down it turned right, at what should have been the long climbing N936. They decided to start moving in that direction. It was a long interval before the next limo whizzed by, so they had already begun the long climb that they had come down just two days ago. Before they managed to get as far as the small trail they had taken down from the citadel, another pair of limos passed together. Preston noted, “I have a hunch they’re parking somewhere near the citadel.” So when they came to the path climbing up through the woods, it seemed a natural choice.
They stopped where the path turned to give them a clear view across the open field, leaving them still rather obscured in the woods. A couple of batches of hikers passed, one group in each direction. The limos came into view just seconds later, heading down the drive to the citadel parking area. Preston backed up a bit and found a track running through the woods, keeping them in the treeline while winding around to the backside of the parking lot. They eventually got where they could see that the police had cordoned off the section of the gravel parking area just along the trees. The limos were being lined up rather like a funeral cortege. They decided to continue watching from the woods for awhile, recording video of the activity around the big cars.
“It’s Gordy!” Preston exclaimed in a loud whisper.
“Who is Gordy?”
They both kept their eyes and cameras trained on the activity. “Gordon J. Bishop. Back when I was in the military, we had a cluster of serious college basketball fans in my unit. There was one player the mentioned who had enough size and strength, and pretty athletic, too, but he never seemed to find his niche. For a few games he was a busy guard, the next a hatchet man…” Angie could see a dark-skinned man considerably taller than the others people milling around the limos. “Among the players, he was only average height, still pretty tall, though. He was drafted kind of low, didn’t adjust well to the pros, and finally ended up playing on some team here in Belgium.”
One of the odd things to Americans visiting Belgium was the Wallonian obsession with basketball. Every tiny village had at least one basketball goal mounted somewhere in an open area. There was as much basketball as there was soccer. Somewhere out around Spa in the Ardennes, Preston once stumbled on a tiny hilltop village where the central open plaza was one big circle. Around the whole perimeter were at least a dozen basketball goals, and some of them seemed busy almost any time of the year. At some point, the Belgian professional ball clubs began drafting pro players from the US who couldn’t make the cut back home. For awhile it was so common that the English-speaking international schools in Belgium always had a few kids whose dads were professional basketball players from America.
Preston explained, “Apparently he never really got comfortable playing here, either. He dropped off the radar. He always was a thug; he’d make the perfect fixer.”
“What’s a fixer? Not a repairman of any kind, I assume. Is he a bodyguard?” Angie asked.
“No, more like chief thug. It’s not so much doing physical violence as threatening it, along with other ugly consequences. They take a high paycheck for the high probability of being arrested on a regular basis, keeping their boss out of trouble. It keeps the lawyers busy, too, but remains an essential part of dirty business.”
They held their location in the trees until sometime after two dozen limos had pulled into two lines and things slowed down a bit. Angie was looking through the back of the small camera at the activity off to the right, near the gate leading into the citadel, when Preston said, “Uh-oh.”
She lowered the camera and turned to see someone walking straight toward their position. At about the same time, there was some noise off to their left from the direction they came. They quickly stuffed their cameras into their fanny packs and started looking for a way of escape. It was pretty thick underbrush to the right and behind, but they began pushing that way. The bluff wasn’t quite so terribly steep here and Preston whispered something about avoiding any ledges. Part of the rock formation formed a wall that forced them down-slope. Somehow, they ended up facing a fence about three meters above the street, but somewhat close to the roof of a building. It was ancient stonework, and Preston guessed it was one of the shrines, squeezed between a business and the sheer stone bluff.
The noise in the brush above them continued, though no pursuit was yet visible. “We’re out of options, Babe.” Preston climbed the chain-link fence and lowered himself down to the clay tiled roof. Angie came right behind him. They clambered down the slope and Preston took advantage of the wire mesh tightly clinging to the rock face, designed to prevent loose rocks from falling. He engaged in a little impromptu assisted rock climbing to get down. Angie was a good bit better at it. While a few onlookers in the open square there expressed a little surprise, no one seemed too excited. That is, except for the sound of cursing voices above and still out of sight.
Still, the adventure had roughed up their hands, and Preston began digging for their little first aid kit as they walked quickly away across the busy square and past the Sicilian cafe they had enjoyed just the other day. Next to it was a narrow cut between the buildings, which led them back down to the busy quayside. They were daubing antiseptic on their cuts as they walked.
“That’s enough adventure for one day. Let’s go back to our dark lair, Babe,” Preston suggested as if bored. Once across the bridge, they stopped just long enough to grab some carryout from a friture and hurried up the hill, across the tracks, followed by a sharp right up the hill toward the boarding school. The long hike back was uneventful.
“We need to remember to carry gloves,” Angie said looking at her hands. Preston’s were worse because the same amount of skin bore a heavier load on his hands.
Lunch was great and Preston waited around a bit to see if anything changed on either the email or dropbox, but there was nothing. He repacked the laptop and shrugged into the backpack. Through the window he spotted a tourist shop with a rack on the sidewalk in multiple languages: “Bike Routes.”
Once outside he hurried across the street with Angie. He began poking around and pulled out a moderately thick booklet. “Here we go. I wish they had had this at the bike shop. This covers the entire Benelux with graded bike routes and how they are marked. Perfect!”
After paying for it, he handed it to Angie. “Where should we go, my blushing chocolate bride?”
She looked surprised. Opening the book, she looked it over a bit. Suddenly she lowered the book and looked up at him. “What’s wrong with getting back on the Venn Bahn? Doesn’t it go where we are headed?”
“Yes and no,” Preston replied. “The map I’ve been using indicates the nice asphalt we’ve been riding will disappear in just a few kilometers. Our two primary choices are to parallel the Venn Bahn until we get somewhere around Saint Vith, or we can strike out south from Monschau and zigzag across the German countryside until we get to the start of the Our River. Either way, we’ll end up on that river because it takes us down some gorgeous scenery on the eastern border of Luxembourg.”
She shoved the book back at him playfully. “Stop playing with my mind. Let’s go to Saint Vith; I’ve always wanted to see it.”
He grinned and took the map book. They crossed the street and unlocked their bikes from the crowded rack. He directed her to ride south out of town, essentially chasing the Rur River upstream. The well-worn path ran parallel to the river through some woods, winding around the steep hills in that area. Just behind Reichenstein Monastery, they crossed the river on a small bridge and rejoined the Venn Bahn.
A kilometer on, the pavement came to an abrupt end in the middle of a village. A couple of mountain bikes were ahead of them picking their way along down what as now a rugged gravel track.
Preston consulted the new map book. “If we take the official advice, we face a couple of steep climbs on muddy tracks. Not that much better, if you ask me. I think we should go left here and take the main road, since it goes pretty much the same place and will be easier to climb. I recall it’s narrow but the traffic is slow enough they can usually work around us well enough. The first part will be just a bit dreary at times, but once we get past the military base, it should be a lot nicer.”
He ran through a quick reminder about how to anticipate down-shifting for hills. They rolled a few hundred meters to the N669 and began the gentle climb up the Elsenborn Ridge. Almost immediately Preston regretted it. The traffic was heavier than he expected. While it seemed the drivers took it with grace, he was uncomfortable impeding their normal operations. However, things got even a bit hairer when a small group of serious road racing riders passed them, as well.
Over the hump and around out of the woods, they could see the Venn Bahn track on their right, just across the Rur, but it was no more inviting than dealing with heavy traffic. The two routes diverged at a last stand of trees and the Venn Bahn swung east and out of sight. A thin tree line on the left suddenly opened onto the end of the airstrip at the Elsenborn base. They slowed enough to glance back up the strip and at some of the buildings. The terrain rolled up and down a bit now as they passed through more trees, and then they began seeing a large number of military structures.
In the grassy center of the traffic circle stood an armored vehicle. They stopped to admire it for a moment. Angie asked if he knew what kind of tank it was. “Actually,” he said, “it’s an armored cannon. The proper term is ‘self-propelled artillery.’ It has to stop and set up in order to properly fire. My understanding is that this is the prime artillery training ground for Belgian forces. During the Battle of the Bulge, it was the artillery in this area that did so much to prevent the German advance, so artillery has a really strong legacy here.”
They headed south, then dropped off the main highway. The direction signs indicated they were headed to Weywertz. The tall pines gave way to a mixture of broad leaf trees, then opened again onto farm fields. A tiny village served almost as a suburb of Weywertz. The route sloped down to a stream valley. He called out for Angie to stop at the bridge. A small sign indicate it was called La Warche.
Pulling alongside, he pointed at the water. “Look at that. It’s clean enough to swim in. There aren’t many places I’ve seen in Belgium where the water is that clear and unpolluted. Fall into the Maas and the first thing they do is detox before they even treat your injuries.”
Just a short time later they ran into the Venn Bahn again, paved at that point. Preston directed Angie to turn left and follow it. Once again, the smooth wandering route carried them through the odd mixture of dilapidated properties and roads mixed with breathtaking beauty in the countryside. In Faymonville they picked up the La Warch again, just a small brook this far upstream. A short time later the Bahn split. The main path went on toward Malmedy.
“Maybe we can make that on a future ride,” Preston said with a hint of regret. He stood staring for a bit, then turned toward the left where the path ended abruptly. However, it was clear by the heavily worn track in the grass where they had to go. It took them to a very nice bus station built as an oval off the street. Directly across was a gate that probably hadn’t moved in decades. The signs of unfinished construction didn’t keep them from seeing the route continued through there. A good bit farther on, the route ran through a traffic circle. While visually puzzling, the map book showed it picked up again just a few meters down the road. The view was blocked by a small hill covered thickly with trees.
For another hour or so they rolled across mostly open land. Here there were small streams, patches of woodland and tiny clusters of building. They crossed back and forth over the main highway several times. Just outside of Saint Vith they passed on their right a large, tightly packed cluster of tiny trailer houses. Preston always found it funny how people would pay premium rates to leave their camp trailers in a place like that only to visit for a week or two out of the year.
Once inside the town, Preston handed Angie the map again and let her wander the streets as she wished. It meant some fairly sturdy climbing, since the town was centered on top of a high hill. There really wasn’t that much to the place, though it had a surprising number of new buildings and opulent pavement work for pedestrians and bikes. Toward the older center of town, the streets were very narrow. Shops lined the streets at ground level, while most of the buildings had living quarters in two or three upper floors.
Preston insisted on stopping at a bakery on the main central street. He saw through the window small tart pies with strawberries and white creamy topping. He knew from experience to ask for the ones with a chocolate lining in the shell. They enjoyed this snack sitting on one of the few benches they spotted in front of one building.
They both admitted to being tired, so after rolling a little farther down the street, they stopped at a sidewalk cafe for tea.
I am a food activist, in the sense I am actively doing what I can to make food available at the best cost possible. I offer to help anyone find out where to get free food from nature.
For example, my bonus find of blackberries yesterday was at SE 44th and Choctaw Rd., on the SW corner. Watch your step; they are thick. Another place I’ve yet to check recently is just west of Triple X Rd. on SE 59th, the north side. Of course, the development just west of our trailer park has tons of blackberry bushes along any mowed common area, plus a few fruit trees and lots of persimmon if you know where to look.
We found some cranberries buried in the bottom of our freezer, so we pureed them (it requires extra liquid) with blackberries to make a mixed jam. Did the same with the last of our strawberries and some more blackberries. I now have some 16 pints of berry jams. I’m letting the neighborhood kids scavenge the rest of our strawberries for this year. I’m pretty sure a few will want to go along on the next blackberry pick, and I’m going to make sure they all get more than they can eat.
An activist does things to change the situation. I can justify food activism of this sort, simply because it’s fundamental to the Laws of God. Political activism is just the opposite. It’s folly by definition.
To say someone is “anti-” this or that implies they are an activist. There is something there which is more than mere dislike or failure to support. So, for example, I’m not anti-gay. I don’t care a whit either way about gay marriage, because I don’t want the government involved in marriage at all. According to the Laws of God, any sex act itself is de facto marriage between the partners, and He isn’t happy if you spread it around.
I just note homosexuality is a sin according to Scripture. I don’t support it, and will discuss it in terms the Bible does, mostly as immoral and a threat to community stability. Otherwise, it’s not worth my time to discuss it much. It’s not worth an article here, largely because it’s simply not news. I’m more likely to write about adultery and all sorts of other sexual immorality. Not in the sense of hoping to affect the laws and policies of this nation, but the moral sense of people. Human politics is typically wrong on almost everything these days, so I try to avoid that, simply because the process itself is immoral in all it’s methods here in the West.
My antipathy for Western Civilization is clearly established. Not just in its manifestations, but its very epistemology. That campaign is mostly over on this blog. It’s not likely I’ll have any new formative teachings to offer on the philosophy and religion front. You may see some opinion pieces as a means of clarification, but I’m unlikely to say anything not already stated somewhere else in my archives.
I’d be very interested in entertaining questions about anything at all. Some of my best work is done in answer to questions which make me think. Indeed, for a time on a previous blog, it was mostly just that, because I had a partner who asked brilliant questions. He’s too busy these days, and I miss that influence. I learn so much from good questions. Even contrary questions are useful. If all you want is to insult me, you are wasting your time, because that puts you in the category of folks whose opinions and feelings mean nothing to me. Get your own blog and talk bad about me all you like. On the other hand, respectful dissent makes for a powerful friendship.
I can be friends with almost anybody who wants it. Thanks for stopping by today.
After nearly two weeks of exercising with my axes and saws on firewood, I think I need a break from that routine. Of course, the other workouts will continue.
I was surprised yesterday when I spotted ripe blackberries on one of my jaunts. I found a metal basket set which could be modified to fit my mountain bike, so now I’m riding to the picking spots. It’s much easier carrying the picking stick, collecting bucket and all the other junk I like to have on hand.
So I went back today and rejoiced to see quite a few already turned dark, when I started poking around under the foliage. Just the first day of picking, and all I took was the easy stuff. They are huge for the most part, with quite a good portion as large as the end of my thumb. It was enough to make a quart of paste after running through the blender. Whole berries and lumps are fine for pies and such, but for jam, I want my fruit pureed. Two quarts of berry sludge, after adding lemon juice, sugar and gelling agent, makes about five pints of jam.
We decided not to mess with sand plums this year. It was too much work for too little return. But they are ripe already. However, I won’t pass up the apples and pears, and the lone volunteer peach tree I saw on one road. In the fall, we should have a large crop of persimmons.
It’s going to be a very good year for wild fruit.
So very much of life is symbolic of much deeper truths.
I love fruit; it’s my favorite type of food. I’m quite fond of jams, preserves and jellies as a way to have fruit out of season. This is the first year our strawberries have produced enough to begin the process of making jam. I refuse to spray them for insects, so some of the fruit is pretty ugly, with scars and bite marks. Still, it’s just about worth the trouble.
Even better is the wild fruit and volunteer crops popping up around here.
There’s the apple tree behind my house, slowly dying and there won’t be quite so many this year. I believe if I cut off the dying parts, it will probably regenerate, but that takes years to produce fruit. Still, it has to be done. The pear tree a mile away in someone’s front yard, which all and sundry are freely welcome to harvest, is the best fresh eating pears I’ve ever had. I gorge on them during season. I also found a volunteer peach tree and some other apple and pear trees around here.
The early crop blackberries growing in this area are already putting out green clusters. The late crop is decked with white flowers, signaling a good harvest coming later in the summer. We are getting good rains so they should be abundant. Last year I scavenged and got two gallons. During better years I can get up to six gallons leaving a lot of lesser berries for others to eat. Then there’s the sand plums, and I keep scouting for more.
All it takes is the effort for most of this stuff. Half of it is knowing what to look for, and that’s not as simple as it sounds. Late crop blackberries are best by far, but they only grow in certain areas and have vicious thorns. You can only harvest the outside edge of any patches where they grow, and that’s only in sandy soil, high ground and out in open areas away from shade. While early crop blackberries grow all over the place, only where the sun hits them to they actually produce berries. But you have to walk around to gather them, and risk all sorts of other threats: poison ivy, chiggers and deer ticks love the same areas. But I’ve learned to spot likely areas while out riding, and found some great harvests that way.
Some of the finest, wisest minds in this world — perhaps the very finest available — are not in high profile positions, known by name. The best Christian teachers I ever encountered are people you’ve never heard of, people you could hardly find if I told you their names. The deepest thinkers were not professional academics, but people who did the most ordinary things. The face of God glows behind the masks of some folks you’d never give a second glance.
If you don’t know what He looks like, and aren’t looking for Him, you’ll never see Him.
It’s not the salad left over, but the leftover turkey.
Any meat will do, but for this time of year in the US, turkey is abundant and cheap. I frankly enjoy using my bare hands to strip all the meat off the carcass when the feast is done, because it allows me to find the gristle and pull the meat away.
Grind the meat. I have one of those old hand-cranked kitchen food grinders, which I still love to use. I push through as much as a pound of meat, then add fresh carrots and celery. I also added half a small yellow onion. If you don’t have pickle relish, run the pickles through. Most people prefer a sweet relish. In this case, I used some pickled sweet peppers my wife made from our garden produce using her own recipe. The point is to sweeten the whole thing and add some moisture; I even dump in some of the sweet pickle juice. I run a slice of whole wheat bread behind everything else through the grinder to push through the last bit of vegetables.
Finally, add some creamy salad dressing. Here in the US, most people like mayonnaise, but I grew up hating the taste. I still hate it; nowhere have I been in the world where I’ve liked the local version of mayonnaise. So we’ve always used Kraft Miracle Whip. Stir in your favorite until it reaches the consistency you like. I want it to stick together and be spreadable. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator without any hint of spoilage due to the pickle vinegar.
Today I ate it on a slice of pita bread, which I lay in the skillet with a pat of real butter. Using low heat, I put a lid over it to catch the moisture from the melting butter. I heat the pale side down first, then turn it and lay thinly sliced cheese across that face while the browner side gets warm. Because of the low heat, it gets just slightly crispy. Dump a large serving of the turkey salad on top, spread, and eat.
Yes, I use my fingers so I can lick off the butter. Men are like that. And I’m still losing weight.
It’s the berry and plum season again in Central Oklahoma.
This winter was cold enough, and it kept coming back again and again, but in short bursts. So while we had late freezes that required me to cover our vegetable garden several times after planting time, it still registered as a mild winter. I suppose that explains why the blackberries and sand plums are already ripening a couple of weeks earlier than last year. The problem is the big fire took out quite a few berry vines in one area. Then the grounds keeper crew cut back a bit too deep in the fancy neighborhood just west of here where most of the berry vines were so easy to reach. Most of my picking takes place along a very nice divided boulevard just over a half-mile long (approx. 1km). So the berry crop will be a bit thin this time around.
Still, the first walk through today yielded about a cup of berries. Once I’ve gotten a couple of quarts, we’ll puree them in the blender and cook them down into preserves. I’ll keep gathering so long as they keep producing. I’ve already been trying get the sand plums, so we have about a pint of them now. Because their pits are so large, we cook them down, then rice them and keep the pulpy juice for jelly.
Because of the threat of chiggers, I have to nearly bathe in insect repellent before I go. Because of poison ivy and certain thorny bushes which grow right alongside the berry vines, I have to cover up all but my face. I wear knee-high rubber boots and a long rubber glove on at least one hand. It’s a pretty sweaty exercise in the summer heat. So far, it’s been worth it.
Oh, and our apple tree is doing better this year. I’ve been careful to water it every day, so it’s not losing so many before ripening. We should get about a bushel this year.