Monday, September 15, 2014

Miamisburg Mound

 After hiking at Cox Arboretum on Sunday, September 14, Tom Buhler and I toured Miamisburg. I showed him where I lived as a child (and how we moved across the street from 735 to 734 N Eleventh Street), where my grandparents lived and where Dad worked.

 Then we drove out to the Miamisburg Mound, a place I haven't visited in many years.

 The Miamisburg Mound is now operated by the Ohio Historical Society. It is one of two of the largest conical mounds in the Eastern United States. A burial mound by the Adena Indians, it was built in the period from 800 BC to 1000 AD.

 This sign is erected at the site by the OHS. To read more about the Miamisburg Mound, click here.

 Here's a view from the base of the mound up along the 116 steps to the top.

 A view from the top of the mound to the west (Pinehaven is somewhere in the distance, probably ten miles away). The mound sits above a rise, about a hundred feet higher than the Miami River which cuts through the valley below. The Adena's had a commanding view of the valley so many years ago. In the immediate foreground is the Mound Golf Course.

 Tom begins the walk down the steps. Originally 68' in height, an excavation in 1869 reduced the overall height by three feet. What was found when a vertical shaft was sunk in the top? One skeleton covered in bark was found eight feet down; 36' down a "vault" was found surrounded by logs. Various layers of ashes and stones were also uncovered.

 But the site has never been scientifically excavated. "Such a project would take several years of careful, scientifically-controlled work," according to the official Miamisburg website. Click here to read more.

Cox Arboretum

 I haven't visited Cox Arboretum in years, but yesterday Tom and I enjoy an afternoon at the 189 acre facility. It's had many improvements made over the years and has turned into quite a natural showplace for the Miami Valley  In fact, neither of us have seen a finer facility anywhere..

 The Visitor Center is a new building - or at least an addition to what I remember. It's quite extensive in its use of rocks, wood and glass.

 The building - which also encompasses the Zorniger Education Campus - uses natural wood and is a bright, open, airy structure. There weren't any classes being conducted on this Sunday afternoon; everyone was outside enjoying the late-summer sunshine.

 A large pond behind (west of) the building is also much larger (and probably deeper) than I remember. The Arboretum is open year-round and is quite a feather in the cap of local land stewardship efforts.

 Turtles enjoy basking in the 70° sunshine on this pleasant day. It won't be long before they're hidden from view and their long winter slumber begun. What must that feel like? ... falling asleep as the air chills and waking when it begins to warm?

 Though safely separated from visitors by an expanse of water, the turtles watch passers-by carefully, angling their necks as Tom and I walk along a nearby bridge.

 This turtle balances on an old log. Others swim underwater, momentarily lifting their heads above the water to breathe, then dive again into the cold cloudy depths.

 Looking back towards the visitor center from a bridge on the west side of the pond.

 I spotted a rare Midwestern butterfly on my walks but was able to catch it with a photograph before it flitted away. I believe this is the elusive Danaus buhlerious. Say what you will, this butterfly actually exists even though it is very rarely seen.

 I think this is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). This shot was taken inside the Butterfly House, a netted enclosure open to the weather. The season of the Lepidoptera is fast coming to a close this year. Though we reached 70° during our afternoon walk, the morning temperature bottomed out at 43°.

 The Tree Tower is quite an imposing structure. I suspected it was made of metal - and there are plenty of metal fittings - but the bulk of the structure consists of three long logs, standing vertically, around which the rest of the tower is built. Are they redwood as Tom suggests? The tower is 46 feet high and is valued at $500,000.

 Interior to the tower and looking up from below, this must have been an architectural puzzle to assemble. I wonder how extensive the upkeep that will be needed to keep the tower in top-notch condition?

 Tom rests at the top and enjoys the view to the southeast.

 Here's a shot of me at the same spot.

 ... and here's a view down through the center of the tower as others climb up. I can't imagine being able to build something this intricate, even with detailed plans. It is a tinker-toy-like maze of parts.

 Here's an exterior view of the tower. Groundbreaking was on November 30, 2011; the tower was opened to the public on October 12, 2102, less than eleven months later.

 Tom and I walked the "red trail" and passed through a prairie where wildflowers and bees were everywhere. This is a "Giant Sunflower" (Helianthus giganteus), hardly the common garden variety. The "giant' refers to the size of the plant, not to flower (which is actually fairly small). The plant stands anywhere from 3' to 12' tall.

 We plowed through the afternoon powered by a large pizza we got at the Pizza Hut in West Carrollton. Normally on special for $11, we received a "senior discount" and got the pizza for $7.99. Even then, we each saved a slice for lunch tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Spaghetti Squash

 I'm a fan of anything from the garden but I have a particular love for spaghetti squash. It's not something we have regularly - and it's not a squash I have ever grown - so it is a special meal we look forward to when we get one. Thanks to Dan Miller for this beautiful squash, homegrown just four miles north of Pinehaven.

Spaghetti Squash - simple and delicious

 I'll show you the finished product first. I prefer eating spaghetti squash as simply as possible. That means adding salt and pepper while baking and adding a pat of margarine when served. That's it. Why drown it in spices and sauces? This way the delicate taste of squash tickles the taste buds.

 The first step is to cut the squash lengthwise. I took it to the garage and laid it on a sheet of newspaper, carefully holding onto the stem as a sort of handle. It takes a large knife to do this right. I then scooped out the seeds and "guts" and brought the two halves back into the house.

 I think the lemon-yellow flesh is perfect. This might be the prettiest squash of all.

 Mom laid the halves in a shallow metal cake pan. Lining it with parchment paper means there's no clean-up afterwards. Here she's rubbing olive oil on the cut sides.

 We like to add a little salt and pepper before the squash is baked. Place this into a 375° oven for about 50 minutes. You'll know when it's done if you can pierce the flesh with a sharp fork. There should be little resistance.

 It's done. 50 minutes have passed and Mom's fork slides into the flesh easily.

 I took the finished squash and scraped the inside flesh with a fork. It comes off like pieces of string. It's ready to eat. The two halves produced two large servings.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Soup Party

 Saturday (August 30) Tom and I were invited to a soup party. The idea is this: a large pot is provided, good heat fired underneath and each party-goer arrives with something to add to the pot. The resultant soup cooks while the party is underway and shared later. It's a liquid, edible mystery of sorts: who know what the result is going to be.

 Tom was invited by Marilyn, a fellow employee at an Amazon warehouse.. She and her husband own four wooded acres near Dillsboro, Indiana, complete with large pond. It's twenty feet deep in the middle, cupped between the hills like it grew there naturally (though it was dug), with a  zip line down the middle. It couldn't be a prettier spot for a gathering.

 On our way from Cincinnati, I held the half page typed directions as Tom drove. "Please do not use GPS," Marilyn had written. "It will not get you there." For most of the ride we used the directions alone, until we needed to find "Station Hollow Road". I fired up my cell phone for that little feat. And yes, I used the GPS to get us back on track (but no more).

 As we neared the location, we saw signs taped to trees. "Soup" it said ... hand-lettered and a sure sign that we were progressing. Finally, we turned into the correct driveway and found the sign shown above taped to a tree. "If you have anything heavy," Marilyn wrote, "just come down and we'll pick it up with a 4-wheeler".

 Tom drove down the dirt lane until we saw other cars and a pond nestled deep among the trees.

 Just arrived, Marilyn (l) shows Tom (center) around. That's a bunkhouse in the background.

Marilyn's invitation called the party "kid friendly ... games, fishing and more". True to her words, a number of kids had already taken to the old fashioned swimming hole. At the center of the above picture, one child rides the zip line across the pond.

 Nearest the eating area, a number of small boats and canoes were provided. One, which held four, was paddled by foot.

 Here's the zip line being prepared for another ride. It's a pretty ingenious system. The rider sits atop the orange plastic disk. When the ride is over, and the rider has dropped into the water near the pond's far edge, the apparatus is reeled back in with a fishing pole. It's a heavier duty model (salt water, I think Marilyn said). A mono-filament line runs out with the rider and provides the means to haul the apparatus back for the next ride. Great idea!

 Here's how a ride begins ...

... while in the water a number of kids play on an overturned kayak.

 Beside the iron cauldron where the soup bubbled was a piece of cardboard where the ingredients were listed as they were added. The list grew longer as the afternoon grew later. "It's always fun to see what the soup tastes like," said Marilyn. "It's never the same."

 A homemade "bunk house" sits just up from the pond. What fun it must be to spend night here, in this dark hollow on a summer moonlit night, coyotes howling in the distance.

 The soup bubbled in a large iron pot. It was heated by a wood fire.

 Here's how the soup looked just after 2 pm, barely begun. The soup party ran from 2 pm to 6 pm.

 Tom and I walked some of the trails on the property. This is from the opposite shore from the earlier shots, looking down through the woods at the pond.

 Tom, a former botany major at Miami University, checks out some fungus growing on a downed tree. Tom pointed out sassafras trees (bushes, really ) to me. The leaves look like a mittened hand. He crushed a branch and let me smell the strong root beer scent.

 Thought the afternoon, other guests arrived and the items they brought were added to the soup.
 Marilyn's invitation said, "All we ask is that you bring a vegetable or seasoning for the soup." There was no fresh water at the pond so the vegetables had to be prepared in advance. Bowls, spoons and crackers were provided.



 Rowing on the opposite shore. There were enough boats for everyone.

 This young guy was manning the zip line reel-in station.

A dock provided a nice diving platform.

 This mother carefully watches her daughter as she tries out a small pink boat. A perfect fit.

 Her son couldn't get enough of the water, either. This is a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn setting if there ever was one.

 These plastic boats filled often with water and became too heavy to drag on shore. It looks as though a couple of rubber stoppers could prevent that. But maybe the sinking of them is half the fun?


 I'm not sure where the greenish mud came from - probably some spot on the pond's bottom - but a couple of boys took great pride in being covered with the slime.

 We had to leave about 4:30 pm so I could get back to Farmersville by 7 pm. That prompted Tom to sample a bowl of the soup before he left.

 ... and this is what the final product looked like. Tom christened it "delicious". Being vegetarian, it's not something I was able to try as it contained squirrel, venison and groundhog. It also contained pork and beef. The final ingredient list is below:

 Another view of the finished soup. It had been simmering for at least two and a half hours at this point.

 Tom finishes up before we hit the road. What a nice way to spend the day. Marilyn and her family were extremely friendly and the setting was perfect for a gathering of this sort. Let's hope it's an annual event. Surely Tom and I aren't too old to bring swimming trunks next time.