April—one of those months that invites poets to strut their stuff—is here. April is a time to be romantic and sentimental: I mean, who (born before 1970) doesn’t remember Pat Boone crooning to the tune of April Love? But, April is a time also of renewal and hope and perhaps even life’s struggles; and that’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson must have had in mind when he wrote the following words in his epic poem, The Concord Hymn, sung on July 4, 1837:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard around the world.”
Emerson’s hymn was sung in honor of the completion of the Concord Monument. He was, of course, referring to our founding fathers and their struggle to effect freedom from a tyrannical monarchy. Those brave men and women, black and white (too bad we don’t hear more about that!) finding the wherewithal to stand against the strongest nation of their time. They, indeed, planted the ‘seed’ that created the greatest nation on earth. Our nation! And I like to think that my hero, John Victor and his friends, are showing the same sort of bravery as they stand up to Alexander Graham Rossweild and his well-paid thugs. How’s that for a smooth segue into . . . the third installment of: The SEED!
. . . in the last installment, Julia had escaped (well, sort of). And then, there was the evidence that she sent to world-renown botanist Martin Bascomb. But it had slipped unnoticed, behind his library table. Sheesh! And John Victor was voicing his concerns that Colonel Mitchem was a ‘bad seed’. What’s next? Read on and see . . .
WHEN HE WASN’T looking for hidden treasure or family heirlooms for his clients, John worked as a fire crew coordinator for the State of Alaska. Manny, a guy he had recently met on patrol, had invited him to the meeting. He believed that Manny and most of the people were motivated by the desire to improve their lives. However, he was convinced that the group’s leader had ulterior motives. John thought scornfully, if Mitchem’s a real colonel, then I’m a naked monkey’s Dutch uncle–his eyes sent shivers up my spine. Oh well, he thought, I’d better get going so I can work on my plan. John’s skis cut into the icy crust, propelling him across the snow like a diminutive schooner at high wind. Each turn of the winding hillside trail brought him closer to the cozy lodge that he shared with his wife, Betty, on the outskirts of Upper Summit, Alaska. She’d be returning home by nightfall and he wanted to be finished by then.
As he sped along, John acknowledged gratefully that once again Alfie’s theory had worked. He now felt refreshed and ready to solve his problems. He wished he could find the old coot and thank him. Alfie, a hermit-like prospector who once lived nearby, spent many decades panning for gold and avoiding human contact, but during a rare contemplative moment, the secretive old prospector had told John, “Nature has an answer for everything if you just take the time to listen.”
Alfie said it had come to him unexpectedly one day when he was feeling alone and desolate. An inner voice said to look beyond himself, to witness the beauty of nature and to appreciate its miracles. In that fleeting moment, Alfie had discovered the richness that could be found in the balance of nature. His newfound theory was simple: for every need there is fulfillment, but too many wants can cause things to come unbalanced. Perhaps Alfie had heard the voice of God. Or perhaps it had been guardian angels. Whatever the source, the message had a profound effect, and from that day forward, Alfie’s wants were few and he relinquished his dreams of striking it rich.
While John was not ready to stop his own quest for riches, he did think there was a lot of truth to Alfie’s ‘balance theory’ that always seemed to unleash an inner wealth of wisdom. So whenever he did not have the answers, he returned to nature–to stop, to listen and to find the road to balance.
JOHN REALIZED SOMEWHAT ruefully that he never even knew Alfie’s last name. Soon after that remarkable visit, he found the grizzled old man’s cabin stripped of all his personal belongings. He had left without a single goodbye.
JOHN’S THOUGHTS returned to the citizen’s meeting as he came within sight of his front entrance. He was afraid that the leader’s motives were not good. He’d be willing to bet his biggest gold nugget on that. After all, he was no stranger to the criminal mind–as an accomplished treasure investigator and gold miner, John Victor had seen more than his share of unsavory characters and the chaos they could create and an inner alarm rang loud and clear as he watched Mitchem that night. He knew he had to stop the guy before someone got hurt. Damned fool–his eyes practically sparkled. I bet he was hoping they’d get violent!
John came to a quick, snow-spraying stop. He unhitched his boot-locks, scraped the icy clumps off his canary yellow Rosignols and burst through the door. He couldn’t wait to get started; and as he stripped off his wet outer clothing, he decided there were a lot of good people at that meeting–good people seeking positive changes. Unfortunately, the good people had a bad leader. No balance there, he thought, and he realized he’d have to find them a good one.
Reassured by his own determination, John Victor slung his soggy jeans onto the towlrack before pulling on his favorite gray and navy sweats.
CHAPTER TWO: The right leader . . .
John sat down to think. First, he needed a leader–someone he could trust who would recognize that most of these people had the right intentions. Somebody charismatic–a regular George Washington or Martin Luther King would be good! John thought that C.D. would be perfect. Yeah, C.D.! C.D. was a long-time army friend who was currently stationed with the Research and Development Unit near Washington, D.C. Heck, he mused, C.D.’s even a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman–the ultimate box office good guy. I always think of him when I watch Freeman’s movies! Affectionately called C.D., Colonel Lucas Everett Davidson had been a First Lieutenant in John’s regiment. C.D. had proven himself on the battlefield in Viet Nam and again as a Lieutenant Colonel during Operation Desert Storm. The two men had kept in touch throughout the years despite their differing lifestyles and John always looked him up when his travels brought him near C.D.’s headquarters. Well, there ya go!
JOHN SMILED. C.D. was willing to attend the next meeting. If anyone can bring them around, C.D. can. “I did good,” John said to himself. He decided to reward that good self with a generous helping of Betty’s apple pie, a hot toddy and a long soak in the tub. He figured she’d be home well after he attacked her delectable pastry.
CHAPTER THREE: Liquid gold . . .
Three stars were visible in the misty moonlit sky and the peepers and crickets wree in full voice. Their high-pitched chirps created an unworldly atmosphere as a shadowy figure listened for movement within the six-plane hanger. Melvin wondered how such tiny creatures could be so loud. It was as if they were trying to squal on him. To make matters worse, hungry mosquitoes buzzed around his head and vague fears of the West Nile Virus made him wish he’d brought bug repellant. “Darn it!” he groused, his eyes following one of the buzzing creatures.
There were no security guards in sight, but Melvin didn’t really expect anyone to be there. That’s what he liked about small, state-owned airports–easy access. He figured luck was finally on his side with this job. Yup, I feel lucky tonight! Ricardo’s client must be a real chump to pay so much money. All I haf’ta do is add that stuff to the holdin’ tanks. They say it won’t hurt nuthin’ . . . the stupid gover’ment was stoppin’ them from testin’ it. As he turned from the hanger, a new thought occurred to Melvin. Gee, it might even make the planes fly better! He decided this was his chance to do some good in the world, and earning two thousand clams certainly made it worth his effort. And they’ll give me another two to do the next airport. Not too shabby! Melvin felt a sudden surge of pride.
AT THE SOUTHWEST end of the field, Melvin stared at the two fuel tanks. They looked like big white grain silos. Boy them things is tall! He did not relish the idea of climbing that high.
The nearby crickets stopped chirping when Melvin got close enough to read the lettering. The first silo held AVGAS, the fuel used for the small piston airplanes. He shook his head.
Nope. I don’t want that one. He read the lettering on the other tank. “Jet Fuel. Yup, that’s the one.” He climbed to the top of the silo and pried open the hatch. Already tired from the exertion, Melvin slowly backed down, tightly clutching the vertical supports on the narrow metal ladder. His flabby belly bounced from rung to rung until he reached the bottom and hopped to the ground. After catching his breath, he scuttled across the parking lot to his rusted VW van and trudged back with a large black case.
“This thing weighs more than Ritchie’s ol’ lady when she’s on a bender. Nuthin’ but dead weight,” he grumbled as he struggled through the opening in the fence. “Darned skeeters don’t help neither.” After stopping to give the buzzing insects a futile swat, Melvin dragged the large coffin-like case the rest of the way and opened it up. Inside was a heavy agitator assemblage that would blend the liquids. It had three lightweight tubes that had to be connected as a single unit, then eased into the silo.
AFTER MOUNTING the tubes, Melvin bounced back down for the agitator. According to the instructions, the thing had to run for two hours to adequately mix the solution into the fuel. It’s nuthin’ but an oversized ‘lectric mixer, he thought. Hmmm, thinka’ the dough this baby could stir up. And, man . . . it’s stirrin’ up mucho dough for me! Melvin cackled merrily. He continued to grin at his own joke as he fetched the two five-gallon buckets.
It was a struggle to get them to the top, but he was determined to make just one trip. He had to stop three times to rest and swat at the relentless mosquitoes. By the time he reached the agitator, the veins pulsed in his neck and his chest heaved with hard, raspy breaths; and as he emptied the buckets, both the mysterious golden brew and his sweaty face glistened in the moonlight. I hope you enjoyed this installment and are looking forward to #4!
April may have a few warm days up its sleeve, but it’s still got plenty of those damp, windy moments when you just long for a nice, steamy bowl of soup. So, here’s one of my favorites. By the way, it’s great paired up with a chewy slice of bread that’s been topped with tomato and cheese. (See note about Brandywine tomatoes below).
INGREDIENTS: Either a whole chicken or lots of legs (with bones); two medium carrots; one large onion with skins; one parsnip; one stalk celery or the leaves from three stalks; a heaping tablespoon minced garlic; water; salt & pepper to taste. NOTE: Sometimes I drop all of the above, coarsely chipped, into a crockpot for the day, but I prefer the stove-top method described below.
STEPS: (1) Dice the vegetables as small as you can and saute’ them in a bit of olive oil and butter in a large fry pan until they’re soft. Remove with slotted spoon into your soup pot. (2) Brown the chicken (in large pieces) in the same oil/butter. Add chicken pieces to the vegetables. (3) Cover with water almost to the top of the pan and bring to a boil, then add a few pinches of herbs. (I prefer a tiny bit of sage and a sprinkle of thyme). (4) Reduce heat and simmer for about three or four hours (until the chicken easily pulls off the bone). (5) With slotted spoon, remove the solid parts and let them cool until you can handle them. (6) Pour the liquid thru a strainer into a tall, thin container and let it cool long enough to let the fat float to the top. Skim off fat. (7) Remove the flesh from the bones and retrieve the soggy veggy pieces–adding all of it back into the strained broth. (8) Heat up as much of it as you want, adding salt, pepper and powdered garlic to taste. TIP: I sometimes add a few cubes of bouillion if I was too generous with the water.
CRAFT TIP: Often when the soup is simmering, I pull out my current crafting project. One recent one was a “life collage” I created for one of my daughters, using baby pictures thru her high school years. Directions are as follows:
ITEMS NEEDED: Large picture frame with mat (I use frames for under ten dollars from the local dollar-type stores); lots of color photos (photocopies or duplicates); glue stick; scissors; glitter.
STEPS: (1) To make it interesting, I snipped the inside edge of the mat in a non-symmetrical, wavy pattern. It reveals a little more space for more photos and adds an interesting effect. For Elizabeth’s collage, I glued bright blue glitter to the entire front surface of the snipped mat. (2) Trace the outline of the wavy inner mat edge onto your background paper. (3) Arrange photos inside the area, cutting headshots and/or outlining full body shots as you see fit. (4) Once you have the photo pieces arranged, glue them in place, filling the entire area. (5) Place your masterpiece into the frame. (6) Is it soup yet?
SPEAKING OF SOUP: Don’t forget the Brandywine-wiches! Shortly before serving your soup, turn on your broiler; slice your tomato; arrange the slices on toasted/buttered slices of bread (the chewier the better); top with your favorite cheese, then broil until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.
Why Brandywine? It’s an heirloom variety of tomato, known for its delectable balance of sugars and flavor. Juicy, too! The fruit is large, weighing a pound or more. To avoid cracking, pick the Brandywine tomato just before it ripens.
. . . and now for more Johnny Vic! In the last installment, he was having breakfast with Ben and they were joking around.