Thanksgiving comes with lots of food, family and friends – and some fun words. My favorite this year is spatchcock, which apparently means partially deconstructing your turkey before you roast it. (Martha Stewart can explain to you why this is a good idea, I won’t bother.) It’s a fun word to say — and if one did not know what it meant, you could make up all sorts of interesting fake definitions! Another item which traditionally graced the Belanus holiday table is rutabagas. (Though the Belanus-Francis holiday table rarely goes through the trouble – this hard version of a turnip, or swede, is rather a pain to peel as it usually comes covered in some waxy substance, and takes forever to cook to be soft enough to eat.) Rutabaga, another fun word to say for sure, with roots (so to speak) in a Swedish dialect. Not to digress, though I will anyway, I recall when our food coordinator for the 1987 Smithsonian Folklife Festival had to try to find a rutabaga totally out of season, in July, for something a cook from Michigan was cooking – I think it was pasties, which has a whole other fun etymology and double meaning… Hmm. Then, there are the regional terms for foodstuffs. Take “stuffing” for instead. Or, do you call it “dressing”? Well, in Western Pennsylvania, they call it “filling.” All making perfect sense, of course.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend to everyone, enjoy some leftover turkey and pie if you have any, and while you are rolling it around your tongue try out some of these Thanksgiving vocabulary words as well.
If your only kid moves across the country, the hope is that it’s to a place you might like to visit frequently. The San Francisco Bay area is, thankfully, such a place. (Fog and possible earthquakes aside.) During a week’s visit there, you barely scratch the surface of things to see and do within the city and relatively short drives around it. A couple of highlights, besides attending a professional presentation our daughter gave at her workplace (wait – when did she become a fully grown up person?!) were Muir Woods and the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, maybe because the weather was deliciously warm and mostly sunny, and these two places offer walks that are both beautiful and educational. What’s the difference between a giant sequoia and a redwood? Now I know. How, and why, do carnivorous plants lure their prey? Much more well informed about that and other plant information now, too.
A walk through Muir Woods is really a spiritual experience.
Despite the many other people visiting there any given day, there is a sense of wonder and awe to see giant trees that have survived for millennia. While the human world bumbles along, occasionally creating great art but just as often producing chemical run-off and Kentucky Fried Chicken, they just grow. Sometimes being struck by lightning and then regenerating from their roots. Sometimes being cut down by those bumbling humans. But, still there, preserved by some forward-looking conservationists and maintained by the National Park Service for us to marvel at. It offers some hope for humanity, despite everything and anything that might happen. (And has in the past couple of weeks.)
Berkeley Botanical Garden offers a more curated nature experience, tastefully arranged and more or less well interpreted. Climbing up and down hills and past water features, you can take a trip around the world: native California, the Mexican desert, Australia, the Mediterranean, various parts of Asia and Southern Africa. The Chinese Medicinal Garden groups plants by the types of illnesses they traditionally treat – and judging by the fact that there is a brochure in Chinese translating the English descriptions around the garden, it must attract many Chinese visitors. We practically had the place to ourselves the day we were there, which was glorious, though the fog had set in and the promised view across the bay from the highest point was not to be fulfilled.
Thanks, San Francisco Bay area, for offering the peaceful refuge of ancient trees and artful landscapes in a often scary world that changes daily, not always for the better.