Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise I (maybe) found a more public voice.

Cranberry Redemption

 

    

 

     I have a confession to make. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff at Thanksgiving – not sauce, relish, whatever. It seemed like some sort of Holy obligation — I had to eat some because of the sacred tradition.  My mom always opened a can and dumped it on a plate like some sort of  gelatinous cylinder…festive, flavorful, and to me, kind of industrial looking. It would be passed around the table like communion and folks would take a spoonful and deposit it on the side of their plate but not let it touch any of the other food…it was something apart.

 

     Now there are many ways to prepare cranberries and my mom experimented with different recipes but she had her hands full with everything else. We knew that it was best to stay out of the kitchen. I recall one year when there were flames roaring out of the oven and my mom and my aunt were franticly throwing stuff in the oven to put out the turkey. Another year the turkey lurched out of the oven and bounced across the floor. She picked it up and crammed it back in the oven and the look on her face said…”I dare you to say anything…it will be the last thing you ever say.”  So the little plate with the cranberry cylinder was fine.

 

      The cranberry plant has an odd life. It is sort of a vine-like shrub   that lives in a sandy, wet bog in rather cold climates — a very acidic environment. The common North American version (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) is somewhat different from the European variety but I have no idea what that difference is. We have several varieties or species of cranberries that have some differences in growing requirements or berry color but Vaccinium Macrocarpon is the one that seems to be widely cultivated. The Indians loved cranberries and probably introduced them to the hungry Pilgrims. I suspect you have seen the commercials with the two guys standing hip deep in a pond extolling the wonders of cranberries. The berries float so the farmers flood the bogs with enough water to float the berries above the submerged plants and then harvest the floating berries. The bogs are then drained after the harvest and the plants get ready for next Thanksgiving.

 

      As I said, I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving cranberry stuff. I generally like the flavor of cranberry juice and I like dried cranberries. There are lots of cranberry relish recipes all over the internet. The recipes seem almost like a desperate attempt to make something out of cranberries. Some have nuts, some have a mixture of other fruit, some have lemon peel, some attempt to replicate the same stuff that comes out of the can. None of the pictures look like anything I would want to eat much of. A chopped up cranberry mixed with other things that I can’t identify is not very inviting. My mom’s experiments with real cranberries didn’t seem to be an improvement over the convenience of opening a can while the smoke poured out of the oven.

 

      My days of big Thanksgiving dinners are behind me. I live 1,000 miles from most of my relatives so it is just me and my daughter  — who lives a short distance away —  conjuring up some sort of plan for the holiday. Neither one of us want a great deal of leftovers so we keep it small. This year we decided to forego cooking all together and made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole parade of traditional Thanksgiving  delicacies…including cranberry relish. Even in this situation, the cranberry concoction was served up in it’s own little Holy sepulcher …not part of the main attraction.  It was of the chopped or minced variety…not the semi-transparent gelatinous form. I pondered it for a minute or so. My plate was full of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (all drenched with turkey gravy) and green beans and candied sweet potatoes plus a basket of warm bread. That little dish of red stuff peered back at me…”Try me” it said, almost winking.  This seemed like too public a place to partake of the cranberry sacrament. Well…nobody was looking…I made a run for it and discreetly took a sample….and behold(!), I saw that it was good!  I tried some more…I was not deceived. It was quite good…very good.  It was clearly some sort of marriage of cranberry and orange marmalade.  Maybe I’ve been deprived all these years but I never considered those two flavors working well together. We enjoyed our dinner. My daughter also enjoyed the cranberries which I considered a good sign….it wasn’t just me. Perhaps the spell has been broken — we have reached cranberry redemption!  Shout Hallelujah!!!

 

 

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Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
A comic and informative discourse on Thanksgiving and the humble cranberry! Very entertaining! Thank you, Ken. Have to say, I do... Read More
Monday, 28 November 2016 14:39
Katherine Gregor
Very funny. I only eat cranberry sauce when I make it myself because then I can have it with minimal sugar. Again, with cranberr... Read More
Monday, 28 November 2016 14:52
Katherine Gregor
Delicious!
Monday, 28 November 2016 16:29
807 Hits
5 Comments

The Poplar Tree

 

It’s a windy day, blue and sunny.

 

I have a head cold and sit in the sun

 

hoping to bake it out of my skull.  

 

The sun tries its best with warming rays.

 

But the wind intervenes. It’s October.

 

The warm days of summer are behind me

 

and I pull on a sweater.

 

 

 

I can still feel the heat of the sun even

 

with the autumn wind.

 

Almost dozing, I surrender to the present...

 

the sun, the wind, the sounds, and the smells...

 

I have a chicken boiling in the pot. Soup is in my future.

 

I see the treetops swaying in the wind.

 

That takes me back to other windy days.

 

 

 

Years, a lifetime,  ago there was a singular

 

Poplar tree on the edge of a forgotten cornfield;

 

abandoned with old stubble and rabbit tracks,

 

and sometimes snakes when the weather was right.

 

That tree – not an old rigid tree – was

 

almost thirty feet tall and straight and strong

 

but still flexed nimbly in the wind.

 

 

 

The Poplar came equipped with low branches

 

perfect for an eight-year-old to climb.

 

An Adventurer, a Sailor, a Flying Wallenda!

 

It could be anything but on windy days

 

it was a Pirate ship and I was up in the rigging

 

swaying back and forth as the ship bounded

 

through the waves. 

 

 

 

Squinting toward the horizon,

 

I search for unsuspecting Galleons full of treasure;

 

full of spices, gold, jewels and who knows what else.

 

Maybe even a damsel or two?

 

Yo-Ho and Ahoy!!  Avast me hearties!!

 

Hold fast and turn her about! What do I spy?

 

It’s my mother – the chicken soup is ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
It was so easy to dream at that age. For me I think it was space, and dinosaurs.
Saturday, 08 October 2016 21:21
Ken Hartke
I think I saw a pirate movie about that time...late 1950s.
Monday, 10 October 2016 23:20
655 Hits
2 Comments

A Chance Meeting on a Train

 

The chance meetings or random coincidences always intrigue me. I’m travelling cross country by train and I‘ve met two writers already just as table-mates in the dining car. One, age nineteen, has two published books (what was I doing with my time at nineteen?). The other is a ghost writer and mostly now does short stories. The nineteen-year-old just started a university writing program so, who knows, she may never write again – or maybe be a great success.  I knew her when…

 

I had lunch in the dining car yesterday with a lady from the island of Hawaii travelling to St. Louis, which happens to be my destination. As we talked, she shared some of her experiences of moving to Hawaii and what her immediate surroundings were like…plants and animals. There was also another lady sitting at a table across the aisle who was glancing over from time to time. It turned out that she also was also from the “Big Island” and they were, in fact, near neighbors. They lived in adjoining communities. So what are the odds of two people starting off on separate journeys from the same general place at different times and meeting in a dining car in New Mexico on an east-bound train? How many different things had to fall into place for that to happen?   I suppose someone could figure out the odds with enough information but I’ve learned just to accept it.

 

My life is full of similar random coincidences that defy explanation. My late wife’s birthdate matches exactly with my brother’s wife’s birthdate…same day and year. They were born in the same state but not the same city.  Also, totally unknown until later, my wife once worked for my sister-in-law’s mother when she was starting her career before I met her.

 

About a twenty years into my work life I was living in a small town and employed in government as a program manager. I had to hire a new secretary so I interviewed maybe a half dozen candidates. I hired a local woman from the small town and never really thought much about her background or family. In small towns one doesn’t pry into family connections unless the topic is initiated by the other person. My experience was that many people were related to each other either directly or by marriage and it was best not to express opinions or comments about someone. Now, realize that I was born and raised 150 miles away and had no connection to this town. That is what I thought until a chance conversation with my secretary revealed that we were both cousins to the same person. Somehow one of my cousins married her cousin and we were commonly related to their children.  It was a second marriage for both of these cousins; both being divorced in different localities.     

 

I also have two insurance agents, both living in that same small town that I moved to at age 27, and both of these agents share my birthday. One is exactly the same — day and year – and the other a few years later.  They don’t know each other and work for different companies. There are other date-related coincidences:  my dad died ten years, to the hour, before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.  I could list almost a dozen other odd, seemingly random occurrences but you get the idea. 

 

I was recently reading a short passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which he questions how things happen. Often we see things as planned and managed by a talented leader (in this case, Napoleon) but maybe that is an illusion. Maybe things are set in motion in another way. Maybe a peculiar string of random events led Napoleon to Moscow with a huge army.  Maybe he was just along for the ride. We plan things and sometimes the plans work out and sometimes they don’t.  “Serendipity” is one English language concept – to find something good by accident without seeking it.  In history, one person’s serendipity is sometimes another person’s catastrophe. I suspect that concept is not unique to English speakers.

 

At any rate, things have an odd tendency to fall into place in ways that, while seemingly random, also give a hint that something else is in control. My daughter says that it is the angels at work. She got that idea from my wife who attributed certain happenings to an un-seen hand…”Let it be – marvel but don’t question” was her philosophy. Maybe so.  Maybe the angels are bored and play these games to keep busy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Aah... Synchronicity :–)
Friday, 02 September 2016 21:11
Ken Hartke
Indeed.
Monday, 05 September 2016 01:20
Rosy Cole
Like your wife and daughter, I've come to the conclusion that the angels are best left to do their thing, so prevalent is this syn... Read More
Wednesday, 07 September 2016 15:57
778 Hits
5 Comments

Parenthood

 

It’s not easy being a parent. My house is on a large piece of land, over an acre, and I generally let it grow up with native plants that are suited to the desert climate. This year I have four, maybe five, covies of Gambel’s quail patrolling the yard. It has been a successful year and each set of parents have twelve or fifteen (or more) chicks so I have somewhere around sixty baby quail in the yard. This is in addition to the dozen or more desert cottontail rabbits.

 

Every day there are little dramas played out in the yard.  I’ve taken to throwing seed out because there are so many chicks. The rabbits, who spend their day lounging in the shade under my pick-up truck, have acquired a taste for the birdseed so the venture out and then there are a few confrontations  with mom and dad quail — all peaceful but this is BIRDseed, after all.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

There are so many chicks to keep track of that sometimes the parents lose count. Somebody goes missing and one of the parents, a male in this instance, is tasked with finding the little wanderer. They like to do this from an elevated place…it’s easier to see junior from above. The chicks know to hide in tall grass if they are separated so the parent makes a sound to attract the chick’s attention.  They do this same low-key chatter when they lead the covey out to feed so it is a common and understood sound for the chick. It might take a few minutes but eventually the errant son or daughter is brought home.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I have a walled courtyard in the front of my house with a large goldfish pond that serves as the local watering hole for my local wildlife.  The quail families will parade in through the gate and spread out to forage. A couple days ago one chick was missed in the headcount as they were going back out the gate. Two chicks ran out together and mom miscounted. She was sure there was one missing. She stayed and searched for several minutes until she was satisfied, or maybe dad called to her, and then ran to catch up.  Parenthood is hard enough with one or two but with twelve or fifteen all the same age it must be exhausting.

 

Recent Comments
Orna Raz
This is lovely dear Ken: to observe like you do, to record wth such great photos and to write so well about nature.
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 21:18
Katherine Gregor
Short and sweet... and speaks volumes. I love it. How fortunate you are to have wildlife in your garden, Ken.
Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:50
Rosy Cole
Utterly delightful, Ken :-). A breath of fresh air. New Mexico continues to enthrall. But I hope, if you have any restaurateur fri... Read More
Thursday, 28 July 2016 14:02
622 Hits
4 Comments

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
19 February 2018
High praise! Thank you.
Katherine Gregor A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
18 February 2018
Beckett would be envious.
Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
05 February 2018
I just realized that the last two posts were plays. How true to the spirit of The Green Room!
Rosy Cole A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
04 February 2018
Interesting dynamic. Reflects the popular conception of 'democracy'. (Look at it this way, the US is...
Ken Hartke Flipping the Omelet
01 February 2018
One word: Fritatta

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