"I'm going to rip the head off the Kubota, force penetrating oil into it, and bang on it with a hammer." It sounded like my dad was outlining his gladiatorial plans for conquering a beast from another planet, but he was actually talking about trying to resurrect one of our three generators that had each abruptly died on us for different reasons. The generator shed was now The Mausoleum.
It wasn't the most sophisticated plan of attack, but there really wasn't much more you could do out in the wilderness with a frozen-up generator. Besides, desperate times required desperate measures. We had just done a huge fall stock-up (more on that in a blog post to come) and our freezers were bulging at the seams. If we didn't find a way to get a generator running we were in danger of losing the lot.
The weather, at least, was in our favor, hanging around the forties with occasional side trips into the low fifties. As long as we didn't have a freak heatwave we'd probably do all right. The fact that the freezers were so full would help to keep everything in them cold.
In the meantime we scrambled to get a generator functioning and get a new one sent out as quickly as possible from Ketchikan, calling around to see if anyone was taking a trip out in a boat since the mail plane wouldn't be coming out for more days than our freezers could stand. No one was.
When it rains it pours and I discovered, when my inverter system gave a warning squeal, that my 8D battery hadn't been taking a full charge before the historical, great generator die-off event occurred. With no way to re-charge my electronic devices I was being thrown back into the pre-email antique, pen and paper mode of communication.
Before I lost the last ounce of juice I sent out messages warning that I was about to lose all electronic communications for the foreseeable future. I felt a bit like those astronauts heading into the shadow of the dark side of the moon.
My dad, not entirely convinced that mortal combat with the Kubota would result in anything useful, decided to rejuvenate a 1980s-era Honda generator that was almost as old as I was with a new engine that he'd bought for a cart he was going to make. He had to hand cut chunks of pipe for spacers since the mounts were different, in order to make everything line up. He had the patchwork machine cobbled together when he called me in to put on some washers and nuts and tighten them down. I could get into places he couldn't with my smaller hands.
After he did a few trial and error attempts to get an adjustable drive belt as tight as possible on the new engine and aged generator, we filled the shiny, never used tank with gas, filled the reservoir with oil, switched on the ignition and choke, held our breaths, prayed, and pulled on the recoil.
To our amazement it took right off on the third pull and purred along in a chummy, kindly fashion that made us take it to our hearts immediately. We basked in the smelly, loud ambience of the patchwork generator for a few moments, yelling our congratulations to each other, before we turned our attention to running extension cords to freezers and our houses. I had to take my kitchen apart to get at one extension cord. Another I unfurled and laid across the walk planks and logs from my dad's shop--where the generator resided--and across the mud and seaweed to my floathouse.
Until we can get a new generator out here, which we need to do as soon as possible since there's no telling how long the patchwork generator will hold up, we'll be stepping over extension cords and playing musical freezers (only one can be plugged in at a time). But my dad's mad skills with engines of all kinds has saved our bacon--literally--once again.
When you go for a walk at this time of the year in the SE Alaskan rainforest you're going to find a wide variety of mushrooms popping up everywhere you step. It seemed to me, as I made the trek to pump water, that there were more mushrooms this year than I'd ever seen before.
As I took pictures of them I thought about how my Russian and Irish forebears would have been on polar ends of a debate on the merits of fungi.
For instance, I have an old Russian cookbook which devotes an entire section to mushrooms. "For many centuries," the book proclaims, "mushrooms have formed a part of the staple diet of the Russians. Consequently it is natural that the Russians eat many varieties of fungus which culinarily less adventurous people avoid mainly because they fear poisoning."
The Russians have no such fear, and, in fact, celebrate with gusto all things mushrooms, but particularly the gathering of them. "No one would hesitate to cancel an important engagement if it should fall on the day of the mushroom gathering," the cookbook's author assures us.
The Irish, however, could not be blamed for developing a fear of fungi, even of the non-poisonous variety. Fungi, for the most part, live discreetly and decently on dead organic matter in soil and decaying wood. But there is a separate breed of fungi that have taken up evil habits. They have become parasites of living plants and animals.
The Irish discovered this to their great cost. In 1845 to 1860 the great Irish Famine was caused by a potato blight, a fungus disease which destroyed the main food crop of the Irish population. This particular parasitic fungus was responsible for the deaths, by starvation, of a million people. Another million and a half were forced to emigrate, many of them, including my forebears, setting off for America.
On the other hand, both the Russians and the Irish might find common ground in their love for the produce of one particular form of fungi: Yeast.
It's true that some yeasts are harmful, but let's not forget that yeast is essential for the production of beer, an assortment of breads, and various cheeses.
I have to say that the love of all three has managed to survive through the generations down to this day in my family.
Many locals here like to gather mushrooms at this time of the year, careful to select only the edible ones, avoiding the poisonous. (I'm not an expert on mushrooms, so I haven't named any, in case I'm wrong.) Always make absolutely sure you can identify a mushroom before you pop it into your mouth.
Since I can't eat mushrooms I left the ones I came across in my autumnal trek where they were, prey for slugs, but otherwise living a happy, if damp, life.
For those who would enjoy a common Russian treat, here is a recipe for Marinated Mushrooms:
2 lb small mushrooms
1 pint vinegar and water mixed
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Wash mushrooms, remove stalks, and cook gently in hot, salted water until tender. Drain and leave until quite cold.
Bring the vinegar-water with bayleaves and peppercorns to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes and leave until cold. Strain.
Pack the mushrooms into jars, add the vinegar-water, and cover tightly. Leave for several days before using. Or pack the mushrooms while still hot into scalded jars, cover with the marinade, seal tightly and leave for 2 weeks in a cool place before using.
(Recipe taken from Russian Cooking by Robin Howe, p. 44: "In the days before the Russian Revolution country housewives pickled mushrooms by the barrel.")