Thursday, August 20, 2009

My own cigars now intimidate me

(The last time that Arnold and I shared a cigar was, well, a long time ago.)

Last evening, I entered the realm of the cigar review. Mike's Cigars, where I buy cigars online, saw my blog of a week ago and asked if I would try my hand at writing reviews of cigars they would send me for their website. The other day I received eight cigars of three different brands, and so now the ball is in my court. Over the years, I have read many cigar reviews in the mags, so I thought this would be fun.

But last night I realized how intimidating this can be. I first read some reviews already written for Mike's website to sample the possibilities: "notes of wheat and oats, lightly sweet, fresh and surprising"; "of wood & ginger, with coffee & toasted nut undertones and a little tang on the finish"; "sweetness steeps up and blends with the current flavors to give a cocoa or coffee flavor"; or "begins to build in flavor and I can taste what I believe is wood and earth, possibly with a little leather on the back of my tongue". Are you kidding me? What the hell? Are they describing the taste of a cigar or a creme brulee? Forget that I already told you these were descriptions of cigars. Just read them, and then tell me in the Comments below what you think they might be describing.

Thompson Cigar Logo 234x60
I have been smoking cigars for about eight years now, and I have never tasted any of those flavors. Have I been smoking the wrong cigars? Is my palette not sophisticated enough to detect the flavors that are really there? Am I just too boring or pessimistic a person to see the world the way others do? Do you need to imagine you are sucking on a Hershey's bar while you smoke one of these sticks? Or, should I just pretend that I am Hemingway or Dickens and write a flowery vignette (minus the sex) from a previous century, then send it to Mike's and just tell them, "oh yea, that is my review of a Licenciados 5x50 Wavell". Would anyone know the difference?

So I smoked last night's assignment, took some notes, and thought about the damn thing all night in bed. Most of the time, I felt like I was describing a California Cabernet rather than a rolled up hunk of tobacco leaves that caught fire. But I noticed one very important thing from last evening's experience. With every single puff, I was studying the cigar, thinking about the flavor, examining the ash and the burn of the tobacco, and watching the smoke intently. It was a wonderful, sensuous hour, and the most enjoyable smoke I have had in weeks. It was not the best cigar I have smoked in weeks, but the experience was extremely memorable. Maybe when you have to concentrate (and I mean focus like a laser) on something you are doing in life that you find enjoyable or important, you enjoy and appreciate it even more.

This was an epiphany for me of sorts. Take more time to savor every well-prepared meal as if you were going to have to put it to words, every sip of good wine, every beautiful vista, every moment spent with a good friend, every moment spent reading to your child in bed. Maybe if we approached these events in this more "rigorous" way, rather than let them pass almost unnoticed, we would respect life more, need less, and live better.

The toad who loved traps

(Guess who came to dinner?)

Every summer I have an American toad (Bufo americanus) that usually spends some time in my garage. Insects accumulate in one corner, and I suppose this becomes a sort of toad luncheonette. For a few days in early July, I found an adult toad sitting during the day behind the open door to the garage. I assume it went outside to forage at night, when toads are most active, but I never really followed him at that time.

Completely separate from anything to do with the toad, we have always had a deer mouse (Peromyscus sp.) problem at our house. Deer mice regularly enter the house somewhere, and they end up under the kitchen sink. So, for years I have kept metal box traps, known as Sherman live traps, set in the kitchen and along a raised wall in the garage. The garage is my first line of defense, where I capture many mice before they even break into the house. This trap has a spring-loaded door, so that once an animal enters the trap, it steps on a treadle on the floor of the trap, which causes the door to snap shut, trapping the animal inside. It is a valuable tool used by biologists who study small mammals. (By the way, deer mice love dark cavernous places, so I never even bait these traps with food. Just open the trap door, set it in a likely runway, and it functions like a deer mouse magnet).

Zoobooks Magazine
So in July, when I noticed that the trap in the garage was closed, I assumed I had another deer mouse to release far from the house in the woods. But when I opened the trap, a large American toad was inside. I released the toad on the floor of the garage, reset the trap, and had a good laugh about it with my wife. But to my amazement, the next day, the same toad was in the closed trap again. This time, I took the photo you see above, and released the habitual prisoner again. I never saw that toad after that second capture.

Now, this toad’s behavior is somewhat endearing, and it reminded me immediately of the “Frog and Toad” series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, which I have read to my children and grandchildren many times. But the most interesting part of this anecdote is yet to come. Notice in the photo above where this trap was located. It is on a ledge about two feet above the floor of the garage, much higher than toads can jump. But also notice the lumber, stacked in stair-step fashion adjacent to this wall. The only way this toad could have reached the ledge is to have hopped up each level of lumber to get to that ledge and the trap. And, it performed that maneuver two nights in a row.

Why did this toad go to so much trouble to get to that ledge, and then enter that metal box? To get to the other side? To explore worlds unknown to other toads? To get featured in a DrTom blog? I have no idea. But it proves how entertaining nature can be, even in your very own garage.