Thursday, December 27, 2012

We didn't know what to think

A traditional Cape Cod hockey game -- a sport endangered?  Or is that just a caption to tie this cool photo with my post?

On my desk, for a while, has been sitting a front page of the Bangor Daily News with an article by Amateur Naturalist Dana Wilde. He says what I have been saying for a long time. Everyone wants to believe that climate change is a hoax. Everyone wants to believe that science is wrong, even if it manages to be right about absolutely everything else, specifically the electronic device I am using to type these words, the invisible electrons carrying them over wires, the satellite dish riveted to a spruce on my front lawn, the nether-regions of space, and whatever invisible blogger server distributes these words, these very same words, directly into your computer or tablet or phone or e-reading device. Yes, the scientists are right about computers. They're just wrong about carbon dioxide.

Several readers reassured me earlier this month with a few pats on the head that climate change, if it's even happening, is a natural occurrence that's nothing to do with us and moreover, to jog me out of naivete, that global warming is a hoax. Don't worry, be happy, we were sagely advised in the 80s.

Here are some points I've heard meant to reassure me there's no need to worry about climate change or global warming:

-It still gets cold in winter.
-Earth's climate has always changed and always will change.
-Global warming is just a theory.
-There is no proof that the exhaust from my car hurts anything.
-Scientists are often wrong.
-Scientists fake climate research findings.
-Global warming is not mentioned in the Bible.
-There was no Y2K disaster (or 2012 Mayan disaster, I could add).

The problem I have with these arguments is that I believe in the existence of computers, cellphones, penicillin, bone marrow transplants, and internal combustion engines. I also believe in photosynthesis, DNA, infrared light, blood types, and the theory of relativity, although I have never seen any of these actual items or processes with my eyes.

What I mean is that the same method of study—namely, “the scientific method”--has led to microchips, life-saving chemistry, and electronic communication.
At this point, maybe I'm preaching to the choir. But I encourage you to rethink your presuppositions when it comes to science, and particularly the scientific method. How have all of the scientific advances of the last 200 years come about? By the persistent and dedicated effort of scientists on an endless pursuit of absolute truth, of matter in motion, of data tracking. Data doesn't lie. It can't. We're the ones who are lying.

I was excited to hear an ad on Maine public radio for Union University, the first college in the US to divest its endowment from investments in fossil fuels. No, I haven't done it yet. I quail. But we'll do it, or we'll die.

Divest. Protest. Grow vegetables.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Joyeux Noel

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, and God bless us everyone.  That's what we're supposed to say, isn't it?  After the turkey and dressing and gravy has been eaten?  And the presents are opened?

I don't know about you, but I like a straight-up Thanksgiving Christmas, none of this fancy stuff.  My idea this year was to do only dishes my Grandma would have made, which means mashed steamed butternut squash, more delicious than it is complicated, and green-bean casserole with canned beans and cream-of-mushroom soup.  One of these days it's going to be home-canned beans and mushroom soup.  One of these years.

It's so easy for me, along with everyone, to discount all of the things I do have at Christmas.  Isn't that what all these cheesy movies are about?  I have more solitude than festivity, but that's what I've chosen.  Evergreen boughs and cheap tinsel.  Every onion in today's feast came from the garden out front.  How easily I let these things drift into the past where I forget them.  There was a time when I thought that impossible.

Maybe it's just that I don't like endings, that I hold on to every bit of this last year.  The deadlines roll so quickly--Festivus, then Solistice, then Noel, then New Year's, then my big Capricorn birthday.  Thence all of 2013 stretches in front of us.  And the Mayans promised we'd get out of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy and peace

“A disaster that no one could foresee” is what Chris Christie said on Jon Stewart last night, about Hurricane Sandy. Really, Chris? Really, when environmental activists have been telling us that this is exactly the sort of disaster we could foresee if we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

It's like Chicken Little running around saying the sky is falling, and then everyone acting surprised when the sky falls. Except Chicken Little in this case is the best science we have, the cutting edge of all scientific and technological progress over the last two thousand years. We just don't like what the scientists have to say. We cease liking science when it tells us that we have to use technology to adapt to ecological limits instead of using it to bypass them.

Science is telling us we are destroying our world. And we're not listening.

Everyone should stop what they're doing right now and go read this interview, "If Your House Is on Fire," with the naturalist and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Riverwalking. Some quotes:

“Toxins in the water, radioactive waste in leaking tanks, acid in the oceans, and climate chaos. And we’re too busy to protest because we have to buy the kids the right kind of shoes for the soccer tournament? What kind of love is that?”

“There’s a disconnect in our culture separating what people do from what they really care about. I love my children and my grandchildren more than anything else. I care about their future. I love this world with a passion. The thought that we might be losing songbirds, trading them for something I don’t care about at all, like running shoes, makes me angry. And still I drive to the store and buy running shoes.”

“The worst offenders are happy to implicate and entangle us in every possible way and make us blame ourselves for climate change. We have to do our best to shake loose of that entanglement and never turn our rage against ourselves or allow self-criticism to dissipate our anger toward the real culprits. Of course each of us should be using less oil. But when I hear people piously say, 'We have met the enemy, and he is us,' I say, bulls***. I didn’t cut corners and cause an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t do my best to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and every other agency that might have limited fracking. I’m not lobbying Congress to open oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. I didn’t cut funding for alternative energy sources. Big Oil is pouring billions of dollars into shaping government policies and consumer preferences. And what do we say? 'Oh, I should be a more mindful consumer.'”

Interviewer: Does having a discourse in moral reasoning mean we need to listen to climate-change deniers?

Moore: No. Perhaps a scientific discourse would engage deniers in a debate about the facts, but a moral discourse isn’t about science. It’s about right and wrong.

Debates about the causes of climate change have become distractions. If your house is burning down, you don’t stand around arguing about whether the fire was caused by human or natural forces. You do what you can to put out the damn fire. You throw everything at it, and then you hold your breath, because there are people inside that house....

Moral arguments are trump cards, whereas economic arguments can always be overridden by matters of principle. Yes, you might profit from keeping slaves, but it’s wrong. Yes, you can profit from ruining children’s futures, but it’s wrong.

This final quote is the one that kills me:
“Many of us wake up in the morning and eat a breakfast of food we don’t believe in and then drive a car we don’t believe in to a job we don’t believe in. We do things that we know are wrong, day after day, just because that’s the way the system is set up, and we think we have no choice. It’s soul-devouring.”

So many people are asking questions about Connecticut, about these horrifying acts of terror coming from inside of ourselves. We want to believe that if we ban the gun he used, if we lock all of our elementary schools up tight, this kind of horror can't happen. Instead, I believe our society is a snake eating its tail, and things like that will continue to happen as long as our souls are being devoured from the inside. I used to live a life like that, the one above, and every day I had to stuff down the horror I felt at living, stuff it down with our cultural addiction of choice, an addiction to cheap consumer goods, cheap food, distraction.

The Appalachian Trail saved me from that life, led me to a life of story; story in all things. Being honest with each other, telling each other stories—these words here, included—is what will save us.

Moore absolves us of our guilt, as Christ did before. Can we all remember that at Christmas? Our guilt is washed clean. Clean as snow, as white as a white Christmas.

All we need is to take action, together. Believe. We can join together and make a difference. Inspired and unified human action brought down slavery, brought down colonialism, brought down segregation, brought down the Vietnam War, brought down apartheid, brought down the Berlin Wall, brought down, most recently, an Egyptian dictator supported by the United States.

We can unite, too.

I'm making a proposal. Our enemies are transnational petrochemical industries. The only way we can fight them is with money. Yes, I'm complicit, as are most of you. I'm culpable. I own petrochemical stock, through my mutual fund, my meager retirement savings. But there are ways to take a stand even there. We can bond together and ask our financial power-brokers to divest themselves of petrochemical stock. To invest in trains, local agriculture, education, science, and alternative energy. If we speak with one voice, eventually they'll listen.

For additional inspiration, a list, from McSweeney's 40. Egyptian students studied the Serbian youth movement called Otpor! that overthrew Milosevic and From Dictatorship to Democracy, a handbook for activism written by a UMass Dartmouth professor. The handbook lists 198 possible nonviolent actions, and McSweeney's published their favorites:

        1. Public speeches

        6. Group or mass petitions

        7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols

        8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications

        9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and bookshelves

        12. Skywriting and earthwriting

        17. Mock elections

        19. Wearing of symbols

        20. Prayer and worship

        24. Symbolic lights

        25. Displays of portraits

        26. Paint as protest

        28. Symbolic sounds

        30. Rude gestures

        33. Fraternization

        34. Vigils

        38. Marches

        46. Homage at burial places

        51. Walkouts

        52. Silence

        54. Turning one's back

        62. Student strike

        69. Collective disappearance

        71. Consumers' boycott

        117. General strike

        119. Economic shutdown

        141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

        148. Mutiny

        153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition

        158. Self-exposure to the elements

        162. Sit-in

        163. Stand-in

        164. Ride-in

        165. Wade-in

        166. Mill-in

        167. Pray-in

        179. Alternative social institutions

See? We have power, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bridgewater, Maine


That's how we roll in Bridgewater, monsters.
 
I'm trying to convince friends and neighbors to go out with me and cut down ye ole Christmas tree. I live among a bunch of heathens, people that didn't grow up in the church. For me, Christmas is about the gift Christ gave the world. To them it's about cheap plastic crap and forced commercial saccharine travesty. I play Sufjan Stevens's Christmas album, wear my red scarf with the gold stars.

But no one will go cut down balsam with me, even though there's plenty of it out there to be cut. It's like a weed. I find myself relating to the heathen from my past, the Druid ancestors who invented advent traditions, of cutting down greenery to hold down the smell of their chickens in the house. Or goats. Whatever. My research into northeastern Europe's medieval livestock is fuzzy at best.

Why must all of you who didn't grow up in the church be such Christmas-poopsters? Such Scrooges? It's a good holiday. It's good ayurvedic practice to fill your nostrils with pine for one month a year.

Anyway. I'm going to find a way to sneak some pine into the house, if I have to buy it at Lowe's. It's a major local employer. At least I'll be contributing to the economy. Investing in evergreen farming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Aroostook County, Maine

Sky tonight

I'm back to my trailer in the woods, after almost two months spent traveling. How many states did I hit? New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and back again. I took my first walk back in the woods this afternoon at dark, back with my Shadow, crunching through the ice in the first snowfall of the year that's stuck.

I'm realizing how far I've fallen out of the habit of recording my experience in words, here, in a digital medium. Back on the boat, on the trail—every day I was looking for a series of words on which to hang my experience. Mostly that hook was the tedium of travel, the tedium of adventure. Most adventure is more about outright pain than it is about anything else.

Webb Chiles (download his ebook, the masterful Storm Passage, for free here), the first American to circumnavigate solo, says: “I am itching and scratching my way around the world. Perhaps the ability to endure such mundane discomforts for months is the hidden heart of all adventure. Ulysses probably scratched his way around the Mediterranean for ten years, although Homer neglects to tell us so.” It's true, that.

Now I have little discomfort in my life, little pain. Except for the cold in my still broken shoulder, the cold in my breast, the cold when I face the challenge to go outdoors in the winter. Winter is growing on me, as Aroostook County does. I find myself longing for the eight inches of snow that will support my snowshoes.

I wrote these words today, in an essay, of my journeying: “All that time, I wrote. I wrote travel essays, food essays, small pieces on spirit and alcohol and pain and weather, nature meditations on walking and sailing. I posted these essays in an online journal I call a commonplace book.” That's this, although commonplace book, of course, I am stealing from Alan Jacobs, my college professor whose every digital word I still hang on. But it's an apt description of what I do here, on these pages—and I miss it when I don't.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

And plead and beg

A Creative Life, from Alt NYC
An infographic I've been meaning to post for a while, that I found courtesy of A Single Layer.  It really captures some things I've been thinking about lately--to start with, do what you live.  Like the whole jobs thing, unemployment as a crisis.  I truly believe that the forty-hour-a-week job with some big company and benefits is going away, along with traditional manufacturing jobs.  And what's rising in its place is cottage industry, small business--people making soap or jam or pickles or books or kayaks in their basement and selling them, mainly on the cyber-web.

Jobs can't be created ex nihilo, not by Democrats, not my alleged "job creators," not by anyone.  Just by ourselves.  We create our own jobs, we shape our own lives.  So just do what you love, whatever it is.

Is it that simple?  Not really.  Because there's all the rest of the stuff on the list, which mainly involves other people.  The community, the church, collaborative partners--whatever you want to call it.

My favorite example is Gaughin and Van Gogh, as much as they are over-used models for the creative genius.  But how great is that?  You go out and paint all day, earn barely enough rent to cover the upper room in your yellow house, and then you come home and get drunk and argue about the meaning of the horizontal and vertical line and cut off your ear and hang out with harlots.  Maybe that's what all of us need in life.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I hear the train a-coming

Isn't it funny sometimes where the internet takes you?  Sometimes I'm wandering down rabbit holes, and I find something like Filthy Creations. 

The Scanner No. 4

Udolpho Vol. 26

The art on the cover is by Gerald Gaubert: Jael & Sisera from The Song of Deborah, which I mention only because I played Jael in our middle-school production of Judges, driving a stave through the head of an imaginary man in a dome tent set up on the gym stage.

I don't know why it makes me so happy that people were publishing literary journals in Aurora and the Isle of Wight from 1988-1991, literary journals that specialized in horror and gothic fiction, and that people today are celebrating that there used to be these physical objects that had beauty, and we can still preserve them with the bits and bytes we use today--all these things makes me happy.  It makes me think that this little putting together of bits and bytes that we do on the internet--this act I perform now, typing on my keys--has value.

I was thinking the other day about art, how perhaps what I mean by art is an object that carries meaning.  I've been thinking that gas should probably cost $100 a gallon, if we're going to cease carbon emitting, but that means we would have to stop buying cheap plastic crap and start making things again.  Things like wardrobes.  Boats.  We'd have to grow trees and cut them down to harvest.



And then we'd make them into literary journals and make woodcuts from the cross-cut milled cedar dipped in paint we'd figured out how to use our minimal petroleum products into, and again we'd be creating objects that carry meaning, objects that have beauty.  Or maybe we wouldn't.  Maybe again I'm just subsumed with optimism, for whatever reason.  Or maybe I'm just reading too many books about sailing.  Three at the moment, including:

On the Water by Nathaniel Stone

Given the merest assistance the blades release themselves from the water.  Press down slightly on the handles of the oars while gently twisting the grips toward you a quarter turn. In an elegant instant the spooned blades abandon the stroke and feather into nearly horizontal forward flight toward the next catch.  Release leads to recovery; remember, reach for the toes and slide into a crouch on your way to the catch.




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You know who he is?

Friends J&N came over and made eggs benedict.  That's my fresh local organic rye bread in foreground.  Yes, I do like to brag about my bread.  Also generic Thai sriracha on the condiment tray, garlic hanging in the window, Aroostook potatoes in the cast iron, and K&N making hollandaise.  Good times.

K. and I drove to Marion yesterday, for a vacation among family, an extended vacation, which, if everything goes according to plan will take me Rhode Island, Illinois, a road trip to Chattanooga, and then a second road trip back to Camden, Maine, via Maryland.  That's the plan, at least.  We came bearing a van full of produce:  whole kale plants upended in buckets full of water, bags full of chard, carrots, turnips.  We came towing the dory, as yet officially unnamed, which I'm hoping we'll get to sail across to Martha's Vineyard (she says, half tongue-in-cheek) even though I'm still on the DL, limping along and unable to lift heavy objects with my right arm.  Or light objects from high or low places.

Nonetheless.  I refuse to allow it to stop me anymore, although it did exactly that for three months.  Although it also, essentially, took the harvest.  As usual, I'm realizing how much guilt has power to take the garden away from me, and pretty much, once July rolls around, guilt is a constant in the garden.  Everywhere I look, I see all of the things I could have done, all of the things I haven't done, all of the things that have gone by.

Harvesting the day we left was the same.  I strolled past at least a dozen cucumbers, left out for the frost, that I could smoosh with the tip of my toe.  I cut a bag of beautiful rainbow chard, not affected by frost, vivid orange and dark red, not a leaf of which we'd eaten.  Head upon head of cauliflower left brown and unpickled.

It's enough to bring on despair, and it did, for several months.  I don't know how many summers it'll take for me to learn the lesson that doing something small is better than doing nothing.  Or maybe I really did need three months of absolute rest.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Farewell, perhaps Ashokan

Tomato trying to grow in the glass room
Will it see fruition?  I doubt.  But then again, I always doubt.

Tonight I'm trying to decipher which versions of Ashokan Farewell and Amazing Grace are included on random mix cds bestowed on me by my siblings.  Surprisingly, there are more than one of them.

Snow flurries predicted tomorrow.  The maple leaves are half on the ground.

Dinner should be broccoli, but the best we could do was cabbage in the salad.  We are more than ever convinced that cabbage is merely a variation on iceberg lettuce.

X-rays today.  Maybe they'll tell me what's wrong with me.  Or maybe I need a psychic.
Cedar burning in the wood stove.  The neighbor says, "The only good thing about winter is the smell of woodsmoke."  I disagree.  There is also snowshoeing.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

We always keep hollow

I have a feeling tonight of:  where have you been all my life?

[The same feeling I had the first time I heard Bob Dylan's "If Dogs Run Free," with its undercurrent of a jazz strumming on a bass guitar--who knew Dylan sang jazz?  Is there a way for this here internet-thingy to play you the song?  Yes, here it is:


And now go give 99 cents to the artist, even if he is a millionaire:  http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/if-dogs-run-free#]

Where have you been all my life, I asked Environment Maine, as now all of a sudden I feel like I have a community, people on my side.  Of course I could have had this last year, if I'd bothered to look up this event, when they tried to get an initiative on the ballot for 20 percent sustainability in Maine, I could have found out about them a year ago, and I could have seen this map:


With a better explanation here:  Extreme Weather's Local Impact.

I've been wanting to do another big climate change post, but let's just say I turned off the debate in about ten minutes when a candidate said he was a "big fan of coal--clean coal."

I've been compiling a list of things to post, proof of the climate change.  Maybe this is becoming an obsession.  Maybe everyone should go give money to your local environmental charity.

Tonight broccoli stirfry for dinner.  How come when I feel guilt about the garden's abandonment I feel prideful about bragging about garden meals?  Here's what was leftover:



Monday, September 24, 2012

Can't see over to the other side

The Psychedelicates and their wine-soaked songs

Last night I went to see my friend Carol's show in Presque Isle, at Bou's, a club aptly named. It made me feel, as usual, on most days when I wander around Aroostook County, that I don't belong. Spending time with Carol, who belongs so thoroughly, who builds community as art practice, as much as I love her and love spending time with her and at her home in Castle Hill, makes the feeling especially acute. All of the county girls were out last night, in kitten heels and shorts, all of the twenty-somethings, one of which I once was.

Now I'm not. Now I'm watching my blown-out garden, praying I get tomatoes indoors, and maybe a pepper or two before frost, bolting cilantro and lettuce, basil I can't bear to cut back. I feel always like the odd man out, the one that doesn't know the score, the thin man in Bob Dylan's ballad. Here I am, the one thing that I want—belonging--the one thing I can't have.

It makes a better story that way. K.'s been looking at boats and boat blogs again. Here are two:


Downeast Cutter
Ingrid 38
I'm not allowed to post links whereby you might go find these fine sailboats and buy them yourself.

And then, what follows soon after sailboat searches?  Adventurer blogs.  This guy, Grillabong Quixotic, flew to Mexico with nothing but a dream, to build an outrigger sailboat. Now he's in Panama.

These people raised a child on their engineless Ingrid. Who needs an engine?

As soon as I'm happy, comfortable, putting down roots, I begin to make plans to pull them up again. Kayak searches to Baja. Lonely Planet guides. Emotional separation from the dog that'll never survive Mexico.

Casting off, you say? Casting off indeed. Sometimes I believe that the best thing to do would be to stay put, that again I'm just running away from belonging, from stability, from home. Sometimes I don't want to run aymore.

I want to paint walls. I want to plant rosebushes. I want to put up bookshelves and brackets for hanging plants and window boxes. But what's the point of buying paint or bolts or lumber for someone else's house? Better save that money for epoxy and teak-and-holly ply and bosun's chairs.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't you remember


To some extent, maintenance is a matter of doing the same thing every day. Brushing our teeth. Eating, sleeping. Weeding, in the garden. Writing, as a practice, on these electronic pages and elsewhere. Coming to my desk to work, coming to my mat to practice yoga.

We must do these things every day, or we lose flexibility, we lose skill, we lose resilience.

At least I do. I become flaccid, lazy, weak. Or that's what I believe. I don't know.

It's been a rough couple of months. The shoulder thing has blossomed into a full-on injury, and I keep blaming myself for it, internalizing the national dialog that's taking place right now over my choice to pursue my own entrepreneurial dreams of being an adventurer, traveler, writer—the choices that have let me to consequences, to a career without health insurance. I've been stewing in my own juices of self-pity and self-blame, thinking about karma (my favorite word to say with a Boston accident) and martyrdom (almost as fun) and how if I had just done more yoga, to the correct amount of vigor, if I had just been able to listen to my body, if I'd had enough faith, more courage, more moxie, more vim—I wouldn't be in this situation. Yet here I am.

In the meantime, I've been traveling, writing, writing about traveling. I had my first ever retreat to the wild world of the Allagash. I'll get around to posting photographs eventually.

The tomatoes are stricken with blight, and no hot peppers this year for green-tomato salsa. The rest of the garden is overcome by weeds. My immobilization means I've been eating ramen, dreaming of the days when I can once again carry wood and dig up sod and knead dough.

And I'm going to see a doctor, even if I have to make a run for the border after.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Well you can ride, ride, ride


Wandering around in Camden. Here for two days helping my friend Carol.  Some photographs from the day:

Trees

Edna St. Vincent Millay achieved her literary debut bare yards from where I nest on a bleached duvet, in the Whitehall Inn music room.  We're here visiting our friend the chef, who works in the kitchen.  Tomorrow morning I am hoping for house-made hollandaise on his own English muffins.  Possibly the world's most perfect food.  In fact, the whole day has been like a food tour.

Eating is an agricultural act.
Big County
 There it is way up there in the tip--Cold River potatoes and 22 Vodka.  Home sweet home.

Libations

Delectable Hendrick's gin cocktails.  If I were a good food blogger, I'd know what restaurant we were at.  I just follow where I'm led and drink gin.

Best crab cakes of my life.  With iceberg wedge.
How do they get them so flaky, but crispy?  It's that conjunction of textures, plus being served piping hot.  Or maybe it's the crab.  I am yearning for lobster, but none so far.  I want to get one that's $3 a pound around here and find a pot and eat it in someone's backyard.  Despite having lived in Maine for eight years now, very off and on, I have yet to eat a Maine lobster.  I eat them in Mass, where K.'s family has the local hookup.  I am told, by Mainers, that Cape Cod lobsters have nothing on the babies up here.  They have to say that.

I finally get a picture of a moose!  Also:  I heart jugs.
At the local, where we finished the evening with piles of french fries, steak salad, and a haddock reuben.  I've never even heard of such a thing before, but it was exquisite.  The mild flavor of the swiss goes astonishingly well with haddock.  Again, if I were a good food blogger, I would actually have a camera that could take photographs in low light.

The walk back to the inn

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nobody knows, nobody sees

Writing tonight with only my left hand.  Even so, I want to type up this passage from Jane Eyre.  Typing left-handed with my right shoulder in a sling is fun.
I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to bind or slay:  they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty, and strength again one day.  Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones weep over their destruction.  Poetry destroyed?  Genius banished?  No!  No;  they not only live, but reign, and redeem.
So there all you doomsdayers about the current state of literature and publishing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Come down from this cloud


I went to bed the other night with a slight twinge in my right shoulder blade, a common problem for me. I use it as a barometer, sometimes, of my activity level. If I start feeling pain in my shoulder from my old backpacking injury, it means I'm sitting in front of too many screens. Time to take a walk, time to get moving.

But the next morning I woke up with a jabbing pain behind my right shoulder blade, a constant throb that feels like it connects to both my spine and my neck, looping around my shoulder joint in the meantime. I've always been one of those people who (as much as I try not to) look down on those who let pain stop them. It's one of the reasons yoga has been so helpful to me, but even then, I think: they must not have been listening to their bodies enough. With some Protestant work ethic and some good Calvinist stick-to-it-iveness, they could snap out of it. No complaining. Work through the pain—push harder, soldier on.

Admittedly these are things I did not know I believed until I started experiencing constant stabbing pain for going on five days, pain that makes it impossible to sleep or to sit or to stand still. I'm on my second day of ice, but I worry increasingly that I won't make it to 2014 and Obamacare before I need to see the inside of an MRI machine.

I also begin to search for what I'm doing that is causing God to punish me, as I do whenever I experience suffering, another firmly held belief contradicted by my stated conscious beliefs. For someone who is supposed to believe in ultimate grace, I believe a whole hell of a lot in karma. What unknown sin have I committed? Is it because I have gained weight this year?

Because of course that's immediately where my mind goes, what I blame everything on. If only I was a svelte 00 nothing on my body would hurt. Babies have starved to death while I have padded fat molecules with egg rolls, ranch dressing, ice cream.

Or is it the sin of pride? For having the audacity to teach a new yoga class when I am a year out of practice? For braving the role of teacher when my own practice, thanks to angst and loneliness, has been dying on the vine?

Is it because of yoga itself, because I've deemed it an acceptable choice of exercise, disagreeing thereby with the orthodoxy of the Southern Baptist convention? Because I disagree that yoga is of Hindu descent and thus of the devil? Is it God's way of telling me that yoga is merely Satanism disguising itself as aerobics class?

Once upon a time a 26-year-old girl walked 3000 miles in two years, while carrying all she needed for life on her back. Her walk was a pilgrimage, a rebellion from the broad path, a way for her to discover her inner callings and gifts. She failed to defend herself against injury. She continues to fail to listen to her own body, the gift that yoga gives her that she continues to deny. She injured ligaments, sprained tendons, tore muscle fibers, built scar tissue—in her shoulder lives the memory of that journey.

Can I blame her? Is it punishment? Or is it merely consequence?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Talking about


K. made us BLTs for lunch today. His obsession with bacon annoys me, to the point where the smell or taste of bacon grease begins to turn my stomach, but he can still do wonders with the meat nuggets themselves. The sandwich was a slice of storebought Canadian greenhouse tomato, a sprinkling of bacon nuggets from breakfast, and piles and piles of lettuce I cut in the garden. Last night was Thai-style tom yum (shout out to my brother, who bought us the tom yum paste) with kohlrabi leaves and cilantro from the garden.

So, see, it's not a complete disaster. That's the thing. I'm constantly panicking about the state of some vegetable or another, when really the thing to do is just to eat it. Even if it's beginning to bolt. The sandwich was exquisite, maybe the platonic ideal of a BLT, something worth sacrificing swine for. Who knew a BLT was designed to be a salad on a bun, with a sprinkling of meat bits?

It's interesting to me how my expectations for myself and for the world moderate. I'm even becoming less of a purist about local food. Of course, the world would be better off if many more people would grow a much higher percentage of their own food. I'm proof that it's easy enough, and it wouldn't be bad to have some chickens scratching around for eggs and meat or a swine in the shed, either. But my tomatoes from Canada I will not give up and I refuse to feel guilty about.

There are all sorts of ways to build and design a more healthy society, but I think there's room for luxury, too. We're only human. We need things like melons in winter shipped from Mexico, like greenhouse-grown tomatoes for all months except this one, and then our tomatoes are still weeks away. The sooner begin to turn our minds around to how we can power this global village in a way that doesn't corrupt our atmosphere any more than it's already been corrupted the better.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

I remember the days


Empty beaver pond, dory lawn art, and garden--basil, peas, tomatoes, and turnip barely visible
Missing my grandparents as we head into August. I'm so glad K. had the opportunity to eat dinner at their house in their last year there, to see the breezeway and the garden, to taste my grandmother's food. I know I've written about it before, but August is when it comes back to me—the zucchini bread, the sliced tomatoes, the swiss chard. Especially because I cut my first swiss chard today.

Ridiculous, I know. We could have been eating it a month ago. A friend stopped by this afternoon, a fellow farmer who mainly farms his wood lot, selling what wood he culls in excess of what his family needs, after cutting it himself. Not clear cutting, as the neighbor is doing. I imagine doing the same, trekking out to chainsaw into hunks the trees that have fallen or will soon, dragging out the logs with my team of Belgians. But that'll have to wait until I figure out how to eat the vegetables in my garden.

I mention it, though, because he said what he learned from an old potato farmer: there's no such thing as 100 percent.

Isn't that great? How many times do we hear that on the news—at least I gave it 100 percent. But it's not true. None of us can give that much. None of us have that much to give. We all fail, all the time, we all fall short, we all stumble.

Especially in this business of getting things to grow. The two of us could eat chard every meal, three meals a day, until the frost, and the leaves would just grow back in time for us to make the cycle again. You doubt it, but it's true. Last year we cut them down to their nubbins before the first hard frost to blanch and freeze—frozen chard is a spectacular addition to spaghetti sauce during the winter—and a week later, after it warmed up a bit, the nubs were putting out new tender green leaves. So eating it all is an endless, impossible task.

My grandparents taught me not to waste—not money, not time, not food. But I'm realizing implicit in the enterprise of growing is sacrificing some of the harvest to the whims of fate, whether it's my own laziness or beetles or frost or rot. Moths and rust destroy here. It's a relief, though. When I give up doing justice to the massive quantities of vegetables out in the lawn right now, when I just accept that many of them will be lost, I can enjoy the five leaves of chard I snipped this morning and scrambled into my eggs.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Come on girl

Inspiration for today:

Kelly McGonigal on the Neuroscience of Change

Some of this blows my mind.  Like the idea that compassion for yourself actually changes your brain chemistry, whereas self-criticism provokes addictive behaviors.

Some quotes:
...There was a recent set of studies that tracked people over time who had set specific goals. Some were trying to lose weight, some were trying to become better musicians, some were trying to finish an academic degree. So they followed these people over time, and they also tracked how self-critical they were. And there was a direct relationship between self-criticism and success over time. The people who were harder on themselves succeeded less—and not just by self-report. It’s not like they were saying, “Oh, I’m so hard on myself. I don’t feel like I did a good job.” It was objective outcomes, like pounds lost.
...There is abundant evidence from every type of challenge you can think about in the addiction literature with dealing with anxiety and depression that the harder you are on yourself for having the problem in the first place and for being unable to fix it immediately, the more likely you are to spiral back deeper into the problem. To turn back to a drink to kind of soothe your feelings for how guilty and ashamed you are about having to drink or to food when you’re feeling ashamed about overeating or being overweight.
...There are a lot of people who are swayed by evidence, sometimes just showing a picture of the brain—say, “This is what it looks like when you’re being self-critical and why it’s not helpful”—it’s not like we didn’t know it wasn’t helpful, but just to see it somehow can help us recognize that there isn’t something fundamentally broken with us, that all human beings have these experiences. I feel like that’s what the science adds for most people.
Maybe these are things that everyone else knows--Olympic athletes, for instance, who must have a firm belief in their own powers to accomplish what they do.  But not us depressives, who hulk in the Maine wilderness and chastise themselves for eating insufficient quantities of homegrown lettuce.  Maybe it's just the protestant work ethic that gets us all down, an inefficient ethic, as it turns out.  It's turned us into a nation of over-medicated over-fed addicts, always full of hatred for ourselves for our multiple failings.

I just keep thinking that this Buddhist, or perhaps scientific, understanding of self-compassion is what Jesus was talking about when he talked about grace.  It's grace He gives us.  Grace to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, grace that washes us as white as snow.  If only I could believe it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

We don't really want a monster

A canker in the heart of the heart of the country
Lately, with the beaver pond going dry in the front yard, after, the rumor is--our neighbor shot sixteen beavers and finally got the last one maintaining the dam and it washed out in the middle of the night-- after the endless apocalypse of wood clear-cut on the back side of the house, and the parasites destroying wholesale all the young poplar in the back woods, I feel surrounded on all sides by destruction.  Perhaps that's because I'm surrounded on all sides by destruction.  Our world is fringed by death, nibbled at its corners by desolation.  No one can find a whole leaf in the forest, untouched by parasite, mold, blight, worm.

Now I walk on the edge of wasteland.  It's an interesting job, the job of a farmer, of bringing life out of all that death.  A front-row seat to nature, red in tooth and claw.  Even a grouse, a stupid one, that kept fluttering beside me as I walked, only a mouthful of feathers in the trail yesterday.

It's becoming almost obscene to me this year--maybe it's the heat--the worms clustered on the undersides of leaves, ripe with decay, their overwhelming fecundity, the sheer quantity of them.  As inexorable as sin.  Every day more of them, more trees red with autumn in July.  All the poplar will disappear, I don't doubt.  The tiny cold stand I make against them is inadequate.

Even us--the germs that twist in our gut, the mites that burrow in our skin, the bugs that drink our blood.  We're at their mercy, at the mercy of whatever grace allows us to keep on living.  I try to coax a few small things to life.  My pot of basil.  Our frilled carrots, leafing ever more bravely to the sky.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nothing good is kept for later


Something is eating the alder 
The first time I saw a pile of entrails was on a farm in Amish Indiana. I was there for Thanksgiving, my first year of college in the States, my parents in Thailand. I went home with a Mennonite friend from high school, one of my roommates whose parents had been missionaries in the southern islands of the Philippines. Her parents had followed her to the States, and she took me and the three others back for the break, next door to the Amish.

We walked over, and they'd just finished slaughtering a cow. The Amish boys stood awkwardly on one side of the pile, and we missionaries hovered on the other. The older men talked of cows and harvest and slaughter, and I stared at the pile. How could a cow's liver be that big? How could there be that many loops of kinked intestine?

In my memory, the cow's head rested on top of the pile, all bug-eyed and monstrous. My friend James Yeo, whose family was also still on the field, kicked the pile with his skate shoe, absently, as a way of avoiding conversation. The head came tumbling down, landing at my feet. But that can't have happened, can it?

I dreamed recently of a heap of entrails, housed behind glass, before a black-eyed witch trying to take home away. One can turn all pragmatist, and insist on the randomness of dreams.  But I can't.

What does it mean?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Transport is arranged

Greenland glaciers melting

There are things that terrify me. These are among them:

A Huffington Post article that explores the consequences of global warming, after the US experiences its hottest twelve-month period in recorded history: Climate Change Effects

Unprecedented amounts of ice are melting in Greenland. See above picture, and the following article:

My vote for the best short story of the last year: Diary of an InterestingYear

This interview with activist Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalog:  Environmental Heretic

He says:
We have thirty years before we face disaster: Europe, North America, and China becoming unable to grow food, mega wildfires, melting glaciers. Reversing current problems before something catastrophic happens will probably require buying time with climate-engineering approaches, such as putting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere the way volcanoes do, to reflect more sunlight back into space. We’ve still got to get the carbon-dioxide levels down — along with methane, nitrous oxide, and the rest of it — but that will take a long time, because there’s so much industrial and political momentum to overcome. Many climatologists who were originally opposed to direct intervention in the climate are now saying we may have to do some form of “global dimming” to buy time.
He says that climate change has become a partisan issue in the US. True dat. He thinks environmentalists have to drop their resistance to nuclear energy and genetically-engineered foods, as those two things are going to be among our only ways out of the coming crisis.  In his interview, he defends and defines science in much better ways than I can, and says:
I’m trying to convince the conservatives and the environmentalists to follow the science right across the board, not just where it’s convenient or supports their ideology. And the science itself needs to move forward quickly. We do not have enough data, especially in terms of how the oceans affect the climate. We don’t have climate models that can predict what will happen or even understand some things that are already happening, such as the melting of Arctic ice.
He's also featured in the documentary Earth Days, which I heartily recommend.

Last, but not least, ShawnLawrence Otto, author of the book Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America who says:
All those dire (alarmist!) warnings from climate scientists 30 years ago? They’re coming true, one after another–and faster than supercomputer models predicted. Data shows 37 years in a row of above-average temperatures, worldwide. My state has warmed by at least three degrees Fahrenheit.
Apologies for enjoying it in Maine, where we've hit ninety degrees pretty much every day of the last month, but my question is what are we doing about it? And why are so few of us discussing it?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Closer than

Some photos of the garden for today:

Chard, ready to eat
Garlic, and its scapes

Kohlrabi, only about golfball-sized

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fate

The beaver pond mysteriously drained itself two days ago in the middle of the night.  Turns out there were trout in it.

I wrote about fate recently, this quote, about moira. I've been thinking, among other things, that may be the best name for a boat, ever.

The Sun ran an interview with the late James Hillman in its July issue, a meaty conversation with an iconoclast, and points he made continue to nourish me. Hillman:
...believed each individual has a purpose or calling in life that reveals itself in childhood and reappears, often as a set of so-called symptoms, until it is heeded. Harnessing this potential is what he considered the great mortal, and moral, challenge. He once said our duty is not to rise above life but to “grow down into it.”
He spoke about something called “acorn theory,” saying:
...it's more of a myth than a theory. It's Plato's myth: that you come into the world with a destiny, although he uses the word paradigm instead of destiny. The acorn theory says that there is an individual image that belongs to your soul.

The same myth can be found in the kabala. The Mormons have it. The West Africans have it. The Hindus and the Buddhists have it in different ways. They tie it more to reincarnatioan and karma, but you come into the world with a particular destiny. Native Americans have it very strongly. So all these cultures all over the world have this basic understanding of human existence. Only American psychology doesn't have it.... Calling can refer not only to ways of doing—meaning work—but also to ways of being. Take being a friend. Goethe said that his friend Eckermann was born for friendship.
And one last quote:
To show one's face is part of having the courage to show who one is. And coming to terms with your own face takes a lifetime. Just think how, when you were twelve or sixteen, you wished you looked different. And that's true for everyone; even the most perfect, beautiful boy or girl is dissatisfied. So why is that? It can't just be that you don't look like the model on the magazine cover. It's something else. You haven't yet accepted your fate, who you are.
Everything uncovering itself to me lately has been about destiny. Like this Ted lecture:


I love that idea, that there's a germ inside of each of us, waiting to sprout if we but feed it correctly.

This year, for the first time, I was able to start seeds. I can really tell you how to do it, in one of these how-to posts I never do. Use six-packs. Fill them with a blend of garden soil, peat moss, and potting mix (any soil from the dollar or hardware store will do). Plant two seeds in each section of the six-pack and barely cover them with dirt. Place them in old cookie trays filled with water (or old plastic trays of any kind). Stretch clear plastic on top so the soil is kept moist (you'll know it's moist because the water will condense on the underside of the plastic). As soon as you see green sprouts, pull the clear plastic off and keep the plants watered as if they're house plants.

It was almost painfully easy this year, so much so that everything was over-planted, and we have two gardens full of plants, plus two ploughed and unenriched sections planted with cucumbers and squash, and the glass room is still full of plants

So what if my destiny is the same? If all it needs is the right kind of moisture and light, and if I figure it out, I'll burst chlorophyll-fueled growth?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seen people blessed

Salad 
I found this blog this week, another Maine farming family, but one that doesn't seem to share the angst and anxiety, the sturm and drang, I thwart myself with all summer.  I said to two separate friends last week that gardening/farming is an act of wrestling with constant failure, and so easily I forget about all the anxiety from last year, all the failures--the cucumber beetles and hail and blight--and now when I look back on photographs, they seem to be taken from a lush tropical rainforest that magically produced vegetables.

Nevertheless, I made my first salad all from garden vegetables this week, and it feels like a huge accomplishment.  Arugula, red and green oak leaf lettuces, snap peas, green onions.  Tomatoes from the store, a fresh radish pickle as garnish.  It was possibly the most delicious greenery I've ever eaten.

I'm not going to lie about the effort it required--sometimes the harvesting feels like the most difficult part.  Getting out of the house with a pair of scissors and a bowl when I'm hungry and just want a snack, and trimming around the base of the lettuce plants and dumping the slug-infested leaves into the compost and finding good ones and filling the bowl up.  Cleaning dirt from the onions, worm-eaten spots from the radishes.  Convincing myself to put it all together into something delicious.

I, too, have things coming up from the ground that came from last year's plantings, most notably echinacea (cornflower) and Jerusalem artichoke, which has hit the big time as "sunchoke," so called by Gordon Ramsey.  And four or five volunteer tomatoes, all sprung up at the end of a row of leeks.  It's all very exciting, these little gifts that the universe bestows.  But the garden I have is never the garden of my dreams, or even the lush paradise I remember from the past.

Tonight I caught another PBS documentary--why are they all so good?--about harlequin romance novels.  It filmed various women, one in Japan, another in India, all hooked on the genre, juxtaposed with a male model who poses for covers and a British romance novelist.  The surprising thing, the beautiful thing, was watching these people, all so different, all searching for love in their own way.  And those who, after spending all their time longing for the romance they read about in books, realize that the love they're looking for has been there all along.  In their own home, with their own husbands or lovers.  That love, too, can only be found in the moment.

I'm trying to realize that this summer.  Failing most of the time, just as with the garden, but trying anyway.
Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage, to love you, and serve you, with gladness and singleness of heart.
That's what I pray in the liturgy.  That's the reminder.  If only I can remember to grow my vegetables with gladness, and singleness of heart.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bound to

Today lightning storms and flash flood warnings and electricity out for most of the afternoon.  It's also the mid-point in July, which means any plants that go in the ground have to be for fall weather, capable of withstanding frost.  The joke, around here, is after the fair in August you bank the house, but I'm not making jokes about winter yet.  Not when it's still ninety degrees during the day.

Not when heat and humidity break with heavy rain, pounding down around the eaves like thunder, and lightning cracks over the next ridge.  It reminds me of home--how in Thailand, during the monsoon, we'd have heavy humidity all day and then a rush of rain like a dam bursting in the afternoon, and then a few blessed hours of coolness in the evening.  Here I relish every drop of sweat, hold it close to my heart, knowing how fleeting these days of warmth are.  How soon I'll have to put back on sweaters and socks.  How few months before the wood stove cranks up again.

What it says about our weather patterns that July in northern Maine now resemble tropical southeast Asia are something else entirely.  Something that perhaps I shouldn't go into now, although I'm sick of no one talking about it.  Sick of everyone discuss cavalier plans for building pipelines and fracking when we're not dealing with the larger problem.  All of us know that the ground is shifting under our feet, that there's an elephant in the room no one mentions.  Because it's too hard.  Because we know how much change will cost.

Is it bad, then, that I can be so gleeful on these tropically hot weeks in Aroostook County?  How I pray every day for the heat to hold?  I stand outside, under the bare inches of eave, and let the rain crash around me.  Listen to the thunder.  Thrill to the light.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Everything in this world


What we think of as magic and what we think of as science are close to the same thing. What once was magic is now science, and what now is magic may soon be science. Take time travel. It's one of the things in the Brian Greene documentary on PBS, which—I repeat—everyone must watch. Time travel, according to most scientists, including Brian Greene, so mainstream as to be disdained by the Big Bang Theory, is something that quiet possibly may come to be. Even Stephen Hawking, in his book, The Grand Design, says that time travel should be possible.


Or synchronicity. It was Carl Jung who named it that, this feeling we have of things ordaining themselves around us as we ordain our actions. That a goodness follows our intention. A divine purpose to our ends.  As Hamlet put it:  Divinity shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.

As Wikipedia explains so professionally, there is a tendency to interpret these data as necessary, once they've already come to be. “Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.” In other words, it's all in our heads. It's a debate, whether the extraordinary chain of necessary coincidences that shapes our now is really something we only see after we've passed it. Whether all we are doing is falling back into the abyss of time, that each breath we take has already been written.

These are things that abstract mathematicians currently study. Does, time, in fact, exist like a bread loaf? With each moment merely a cross-section, a slice of toast? Math and physics answer these questions.

I'm reminded of Orson Scott Card, my favorite contemporary science-fiction novelist (dude, I come out of the closet as sci-fi dork and the floods break loose], who says, in his novel Xenocide, that god is not in the gaps. A girl, Han Qing-Jao, part of a fundamentalist sect, is tasked with discovering where a fleet of spaceships disappeared to. Despairing, she comes to her father and says: “I can think of no other explanation. God must have made them disappear.”

He says: “Of course God did it! Our job is to figure out how.”

Exactly what a scientist must do. There's a mistrust of science in American culture these days, or maybe just a misunderstanding of what science does. It deals in evidence—cold, hard facts. If we measure this statistic, for thirty years, what changes? What does that prove? Why? Matter in motion is all science cares about. Did you know that when Einstein came out with his Theory of Relativity (note: theory. What science does not do is prove things) people claimed that it was “Jewish” science, and that it would bring about mass moral failings? That support of relativity was divided along partisan lines?

The book the Tao of Physics explains much. That theoretical math has repeatedly echoed the beliefs of eastern mysticism—this should come as no surprise. And also as no threat to Christians, since Christ himself was an eastern mystic. There's a chi, a prana, a Spirit in us. Its name is electricity, and it vibrates in astonishing ways, deep below the surface of our atoms, even in the centers of electrons that make up our corpus and blood. We are, in a scientific sense, spiritual beings.

And with that thought I leave you.  If you don't care about science, here's an alternate blog post to read for today: You Are Here.