Happy Solstice or The Lone Star Season
Not that it was a monumental moment, but I do remember the first time I drank a Lone Star beer. For anyone unfamiliar, Lone Star is the self-proclaimed “National Beer of Texas,” a beer so light and tasteless that it’s hardly passable as more than carbonated water with a dash of beer flavor thrown in. It’s the sort of drink you love or hate; few folks fall into a gray area of emotions around it. I used to be a fairly staunch opponent of the stuff even though I’d never tried it, and even the ad campaign for Lone Star was irritating (a “national” beer of Texas, har har har – eye roll). That was before the land and long days spent with assorted tools in hand hacking away at vile, spiked plants. It was before hours upon hours dragging felled trees and brush over dusty, rocky ground under a searing sun. We brought all the usual suspects out here to quench the inevitable thirst that comes from this kind of manual labor: gatorade, iced tea and just plain old water. They work OK in these situations but at some point during land clearing or fence building (or water line digging) your body goes into a bit of toxic shock, the only remedy for which is – SERIOUSLY – Lone Star Beer. I promise this is true and am sure WebMD will support my claim.
The first time I tried Lone Star I spit it back out before swallowing, declared it was fizzy piss water, gagged dramatically. My error was grabbing a can that was cold but not ice cold. Observe and be wary of the difference when drinking Lone Star. It’s meant to be guzzled or sipped quickly since you don’t want to toe the line between cold and ice cold as it’s really at it’s peak of flavor and digestibility when nearly too cold to swallow. Eventually, I drank it at the proper temperature and now understand something undeniably essential to country survival. Time and heat will chip slowly at your standards, if you bring any into the situation at the beginning. I think about the expanse of time that lapsed, the series of events that occurred between my first swig of Lone Star while standing in between young mesquite trees poking from a dusty pasture to last Monday night. A distinct shift. On Monday I stood in a carefully planned, marble-countered kitchen, stirring a pristine pot of milk destined for creamy cheese-hood, while delicately sipping a Lone Star like champagne. Oh times – how they’ve changed.
Now that the wrath and fury of summer are upon us, I spend most of my days covered in a thin layer of slick sweat that accumulates flecks of dirt and manure throughout the day. The fly traps we’ve hung under the barn awnings are brimming with dead and dying flies; ripe with the smell of them too so that a wave of earthy stink hits each time I walk near. All the animals amble or lope up to the gate, breathing heavily, scattering squawking chickens on their way to greet me. The two newest additions, Augustus and Woodrow, tumble between goat hooves, growling and playing. Usually Gus runs to the water bucket and jumps in with his front legs, causing the clean water to fill with a lumpy, gray film. I swat gnats from my face. A goat urinates quietly into the fresh barn bedding. A chicken burrows into the hay feeder where she’s just laid an egg and makes a low clucking sound, before flying over a goat head “ba-baWWK!” A bead of sweat drops slow into my eye until my vision is blurred and a grubby hand has to wipe it back into clarity. Covered in this layer of grit, surrounded by wafts of eau de farm, with a body temperature simmering well above 98*, I still need to clean and fill waters for goats and chickens, milk the girls and do something productive with the milk.
It’s a cruel season here and will only get hotter. But no matter the temperatures, animals still need milking and milk still needs to be turned into something edible. So it was in this state of wheezy breathing, coated in a protective film of my own sweat and grime that I came into the house to start a cheese on Monday. I managed a quick shower before pouring the milk since the thought of leaning over a pot of it encased in filth makes me (and probably you) shudder. I imagine when I come inside this way and after a shower, that steam smokes off my skin, the toxins float away, the heat rises. I wasn’t cool yet and have learned through much trial and many errors that under these circumstances, only one beverage will cure the scourge of summer. I grabbed a Lone Star and stirred the milk one-handed adding cultures so it would become a decadent brie, swigged my fizzy piss water with the other hand, and didn’t think twice about the bizarre contradiction. Maybe if this were France I’d be slapped on both cheeks and given a firm “Mon dieu, non!” at the notion of drinking such swill around a (soon-to-be) delicate cheese. Irreverence!
But I’ve re-conceived many pre-conceived notions held for a long time since moving here. Notions about propriety and refinement – the sort of standards and tastes I grew up around. There’s just not much room for them here and certainly not when summer comes clawing. Creature comforts are more important than “properly” pairing my food and drink, and clutching a Lone Star feels damn comfortable in these searing months. So, happy summer solstice to you and yours! I hope it’s filled with picnics and swimming and watermelons and whichever drink best soothes the burn of the season. Whatever it is, I raise my Lone Star to you – cheers.