Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fish Tales

I was lucky enough to spend a day fishing with my father off the coast of North Carolina the other week. They say a bad day spent fishing is still better than a day spent at the office, and it's true. Not that we had a bad day at all.

We left Poquoson around 2 am to drive all the way down to the Oregeon Inlet Fishing Center on the Outer Banks. I had woken up around 1:20 am to the improbable smell of bacon and a growling stomach. I dismissed the bacon smell as simply leftover aroma from the fried okra we had for dinner. Little did I know Dad had been up before midnight and had already had his breakfast of bacon and eggs. Luckily there were a few strips of bacon left so I could have a BLT sandwich on the road. I love a good BLT, but this one was tastier than usual because my subconsciousness had been smelling bacon for more than an hour before I woke up.

The roads were dark and mostly empty at 2 am. We spied some deer and what were probably foxes on the roadside along the way in those early morning hours, along with an unbelievable number of police cruisers. Apparently some of the towns on the road down to the Outer Banks fund most of their civic activities through speeding tickets during the summer months. We arrived at the docks a little after 5 am and were on the charter boat headed offshore around 5:30 am.

We didn't catch too many fish that day, but neither did anyone else. Our boat pulled in three sailfish, a couple of dolphins (that's the atlantic dolphin, similar to mahimahi in the Pacific and not related to Flipper at all, so don't anyone get their panties in a wad over this), and one yellowfin tuna.

Theresa enjoying her tuna

Yes, the sea offshore really is that gorgeous shade of marine blue.

The fishing report for August 19 from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center stated, "Offshore boats caught and released 29 sailfish, 10 white marlin and 2 blue marlin. Tuna cosisted mostly of blackfins with one good size yellowfin. Some good dolphin catches were made with several wahoos." Read that about the yellowfin? Now there may have been someone else who caught a yellowfin that day, but I know I pulled one in. Mind you it wasn't a big tuna, probably only about 20 pounds, but it was a fun 10 minutes to pull him in and it was the only tuna we got that day, and boy was it tasty the next night.


But mostly this trip was about spending a day with my dad. There were two other fathers with their children on the boat with us. I say "children" loosely, as Chris was in high school and Samantha was in college, and I'm about to start pushing 40 in another month or two. Although the waves were rough at first, the weather was simply beautiful and we spent the day in good conversation, eating more snack food than we normally would, and taking short naps inside the cabin. Catching the fish was fun, but I really enjoyed watching the fathers take pride in seeing their own kids catch fish. As soon as a fish was hooked, someone would shout into the cabin so we nappers could rush out and watch someone else land it. Once in my teens I would have been wanted to bring in all the fish myself, but now it's just as much fun to watch someone else have fun with it. Age will teach you that, I guess.

Pelican Crew, Aug. 2009

I don't even remember my first fishing trip with him, but I've heard the story about how one time I was out with Dad and my grandfather, who accidently dropped the tackle box overboard and cursed. Apparently I cheerfully chanted "Damn! Damn! Damn!" for the rest of the day, much to the bewilderment of my mother after we got home. I'm guessing I was probably around 5 years old at the time and that might not have been the first time I had been out in the boat. There's been many a trip since then, mostly for croaker and flounder, and sometimes clamming in Poquoson or netting crabs off the footers of the James River Bridge. But as I got older the trips were less frequent, and then I went to grad school and maybe went fishing only once every couple of years. I'm not sure why I haven't tried to go more often over the past decade. After all, I do like being on a boat and I enjoy fishing with my father. All I can say is that I regret we haven't had the chance to spend a day on the water with him more often lately, and I hope we get to go fishing together more often from now on. (Plus I want to catch another tuna.)

Me 'n Dad Fishing, Aug 2009

Wordless Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Thursday, August 13, 2009



The cicadas and the coneflowers tell me it's August.


I should have ripe tomatoes by now, but these beautiful green tomatoes are most of what I'll get this year thanks to the late blight. That's my great-grandmother Granny Riddle's yellow-ware bowl that she used when making her bread dough. I don't know if Granny Riddle ever had her tomato crop fail on her, but I'm sure she would have done something with the green tomatoes if she had. That's what you did when you lived during the Depression in rural used what you had, because otherwise you didn't have anything at all. I made a batch of green tomato chutney with most of the green tomatoes I harvested the other day. Granny Riddle may not have ever had chutney, but I know she would have approved of using the green fruit up in one way or another.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've spent the last hour back behind the garage, in the area I refer to as "the tomato yard." I pulled up all my tomato plants this morning because they have late blight. This fungal disease is sporadic in occurrence, often hitting the plants after most of the tomatoes have ripened and been harvested. Cool, rainy conditions like we've had this summer favor the spread of the blight. This year it hit early, while much of the fruit is still green, and it is very widespread in the northeast and moving towards the midwest. A friend from the plant disease clinic on campus mentioned the other day that entire crops have been wiped out up north. I had checked my plants on Sunday and didn't notice any symptoms, but the disease was evident when I went to water them this morning. There are fungicides are available to protect against late blight and other fungal diseases, but it was too late for my garden. My neighbors' plants are probably infected as well, but I decided to take mine out as a courtesy to the other gardeners around me.

Heartsick and resigned, I started at one end of the row, clipping branches and stuffing the plants into a garbage bag. Late blight spores are hardy and can survive from one growing season to the next, so I didn't want to put the diseased plants in the compost pile. I should dig up the soil around the roots of the plants and dispose of it, but I decided to leave it in place and simply not plant any tomatoes or their relatives there for the next two years.

My hands quickly became coated with that peculiar yellow-green from the tomato stems, as if they're so full of life that they have to transfer additional chlorophyll to anyone who brushes up against them. The smell of bruised tomato foliage filled the air, one of my favorite smells. Swarms of whiteflies took to the air in a panic as I cut down their favorite food plant. Mercifully the little mosquitoes left me alone in my work. Most of the green fruit were only the size of a golf ball or small orange. None had even begun to turn the shades of pink, red, and purple that I had looked forward to seeing. I removed the worst of the plants and briefly debated leaving one healthy-looking plant with a half dozen tomatoes on it, but I shook my head and took it out, knowing that in another day or two it too would be diseased, with withered, drooping foliage and ugly brown lesions on the stems and fruit.

Japanese Black Triefele, Black Krim, and another variety I can't recall the name of....not that it matters now, they're all gone. I started each plant from seed back in April and have babied them for the past 4 months. I also have peppers and eggplants planted in the tomato yard. As members of the Solanaceae family (along with potatoes, tomatilloes, and even petunias), they're also susceptible to the disease. They look fine at the moment, but I'll have to keep a close watch on them. The Honeybunch cherry tomatoes are planted several yards away, and I hope that they finish ripening before they show symptoms.

I did save the green tomatoes. I could fry them up tonight, but the fruit aren't very large. I'll probably chop them up and freeze them for a green tomato cake or maybe relish later on this month. That's not the harvest I had hoped for, but gardening is always a gamble and you have to make the most of what you get.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Squid in Pantaloons

I grew a pretty columbine from seed last year and it finally bloomed this spring. Boy, did it bloom! I think most of the flowers had at least two delicate rows of ruffles, but some had as many as five (!). I have no idea what cultivar it might be (or what cultivars the parents might have been, or even who originally gave me the seed), but I call it "Squid in Pantaloons." No doubt the big seed companies will want to change that name after they trip over themselves to get this beauty in their catalogs.