Backyard: Clean-Up

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

It’s always striking to me that we live in a deeply seasonal place.

I’m sure that other parts of the planet go through their own share of seasonal variation, but living in one of the nore northern capital cities on the Earth also makes places us in a group where vast differences exist between the heart of winter and the edges of summer.

Today I sit in my backyard in spring and enjoy a mild temperature, barefoot kinda day.

Four months ago I hardly dared open the door to the brutal cold.

Four months from now I’ll be picking fruit and veg from trees that at the moment seem barely alive and from soil that is little more than a crusty brown patch in the corner of my backyard.

I’ve been busy spring cleaning for the last couple weeks.

Grass to be raked. Leftover leaves that didn’t get sorted out before the snow last fall were starting to rot on the lawn. Flowerpots are full of crusty dried remains of last year’s greenery. Weeds are emerging and poking through the lawn and garden beds. Winter dust and the bits of residue from the long-melted snow needs to be wiped down. And that’s not even to mention the various bits of fence, deck or furniture that need a touch of paint or a tightened screw.

My lawnmower died as well, and neither wanting to see it dropped into the landfill nor having the patience or skill to repair it myself I hunted down a guy online who takes them as donations, fixes them up, and gives them a new life. But of course that meant a big clean-up of the shed, and rearranging all the various things I’d stored in there over winter, all to extract a broken tool and roll it out to the curb.

Spring cleaning is a real thing here, not because it’s a good time to get it done but simply because the season ticks over and that it needs done becomes obvious.

The trees are budding with their baby leaves and blossoms.

The grass is turning from a pale yellowish-brown to a vibrant green.

The bees are buzzing through the air and investigating the spring-waking world.

A few weeks from now it will all be just another summer, but for the moment spring is in clean-up mode, as am I, and the passing of winter feels like a barefoot kinda day in the backyard.

Grilled Grilled Cheese Spring Sandwich

Late last year I bought a slab of cast iron from the local home improvement mega store. The idea was not to buy a quality cooking griddle, but instead supplement my outdoor grill with a reasonably inexpensive multi-purpose cooking surface.

Delicate grill items, like veggies or fish are fine on aluminum foil, but I figured an outdoor flattop would be so much better.

If I recall correctly, I spent less than thirty dollars on a reversible barbecue griddle. The one I found that fit my dimensions was meant to match into a specific model of barbecue, but on its own sits just fine atop the grill I own.

I seasoned it up with a triple round of oil and heat. Smiled contentedly at my own ingenuity. Stored the griddle in inside the grill and then … winter hit.

Yesterday at lunchtime I was working from home, as usual. As I rummaged through the kitchen I discovered a loaf of freshly baked sourdough, some leftover Easter ham, a big block of cheddar cheese, and an abundance of painfully beautiful spring weather.

Inspiration struck.

I fired up the grill. Brushed the grill plates down a little (still crusty from the over-the-winter storage). And put some fresh oil on the slab of home improvement store cast iron.

I was rewarded for my efforts with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, fresh off the backyard grill. Hot. Fresh. And in the fresh air.

Ain’t spring grand?

Season

Three months into writing daily missives here on this blog and it occurred to me that there is one particular word woven through my stories to which I have not given much thought. It is a word with multiple, distinct meanings, and that fact should have been obvious for a guy who writes about the outdoors, cooking, and cast iron cookware.

SEE - zunn

Simply, to flavour or preserve food with salt and spices.

Or… simply, to ready a cooking surface through the application of heat and oils.

Or… simply, the delineation of winter from spring, spring from summer, summer from autumn, and autumn back into winter.

Maybe not so simple?

The etymology of the word season seems to come from the Latin satio, which is itself entwined in the word to sow, or to make something ready.

One readies food to be eaten or a pan to be cooked upon.

Nature readies the world to grow, blossom, produce, and come to life …and then resets itself to make ready all over the next year.

Seasoning is an act of maturation and preparation.

It is purposeful conditioning.

To season is to make something richer and more ready.

These concepts strung together clearly form a broader theme for the things I’ve been thinking about and writing about and sharing here. Three months in, ninety disconnected posts, and some forty thousand words spent has distilled down to one not so simple word: season.

To season. To be seasoned. To welcome the changing seasons. To ready the heart and mind. To sow a space for good food in one’s home. To mellow the harsh cold iron of a skillet against the delicate organic surface of food. To flavour life as one ages one’s mind and soul against the cyclical reset of the universe. To season.

Day Hike to Troll Falls

Springtime in the mountains is unpredictable. It could be sunny. It could be snowing. It could blow in with a thick fog and lock the world into a magical claustrophobia inside the vastness of unseen towering rock castles.

Our first twenty-four hours in the mountains in 2021 saw all of those types of weather here, and more. We’re in the mountains for a short spring getaway, including some spring-slash-winter walks in the wilderness to refresh our souls for the upcoming adventure season.

Adventure Journal.

We woke to a spitting rain that was trying it’s darnest to be a snowfall, but by breakfast the weather had settled into a mere hazy overcast sky. Just down the road from our hotel (no camping for us this time of year!) was the trailhead to a short day hike into the woods to a waterfall we’d visited a few months ago in warmer days.

Troll Falls is a popular easy hike for all ages. In fact, we saw as many dogs and kids on the woodsy walk as we saw adults. And we brought one of each… to be fair.

There is some story behind where the name “Troll Falls” originates, too, and it’s linked back to the rocky cliff walls near the waterfall-proper pocked with small holes fit for the likes of the mythical trolls that might live there. I assumed they were all still hibernating during these still chilly days. I didn’t actually see any, though a deer crossed our path once.

Leading into the woods from the parking lot, the still-frozen path led us into a sparse, bare wood.

The trees here are a mix of pine, fir and poplar, the latter being still to early on for any sign of foliage, and the formers notoriously spartan even on a good day. Between the bare trees and the well-trod path (it is a very popular place to visit for most everyone who comes here after all) all this made for a sheltered but bright route.

There is nothing particularly remote about the trail, though. Apart from the fact that one is out and about in the fresh mountain air and at least a hundred kilometers from the nearest city, the trailhead is a mere fifteen minute stroll from a four-star resort hotel, and the route itself traces the lower perimeter of a former Olympic ski resort. Yet for the solitude and clear mountain air one may as well be tucked into a remote valley far from civilization.

Either way, we’ll take what we can get these days.

It was an ideal hike for the pup, tho. At just six months old she’s had a whole checklist of new adventures over the past thirty-six hours: a four hour car ride, a visit to two new cities, an overnight in a hotel, meeting a deer, the fresh mountain air, and now a wilderness hike up to a frozen waterfall. We’ll work up to bigger things and longer adventures slowly. An hour an a half through the woods tuckered her out solid.

The final stretch of the inbound hike brought us to the base of a small waterfall.

In the summer we had hiked up to the upper falls which were much more spectacular, but the steep ascent and the sketchy footing in the still-frozen spring meant that the interesting portion of the trail was still closed for the season.

Instead we crept carefully up to the foot of the frozen shards of falling water and snapped some photos at the base of the view. The cliffs all around it are only about ten meters tall, but they overhang with a teetering perspective that felt as though the whole thing could have collapsed in over us without a moments notice, snoozing trolls and all.

Amazing.

And as we made our way back along the icy path, the weather changed its mind yet again, the fog swelling up like a crashing wave over the nearby mountain and the snow spinning in the springtime breeze.

A short morning adventure concluded before lunch, and just in time to beat that unpredictable weather.