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


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:'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

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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Seen people cursed

I worry sometimes that I'm becoming too esoteric of a person, too random as a person. I love exploring ideas, but I also just want to be a normal person sometimes, with a normal voice. I want to say things like: it's driving me crazy that the arugula is blooming all of the time instead of producing leaves, but I know I should have planted it earlier, so it's all my own fault. Like how sad I am that I left my windows cracked through the last monsoon and now I have mold growing on the floor of my car. That even though I bought a non-locally produced watermelon for the Fourth of July, I have yet to complete cutting it up. Like we're watching the final episode of Battlestar Galactica tonight, and I'm so excited I could puke. Like I've always been a sci-fi dork, from back one I was a freshman and I read the entire five-book Foundation series, in order, as well as all of the anthologies of pulp sci-fi short stories from the fifties before anyone had landed on the moon.

So. That's what I'm doing today. Above is the sky from my walk with Shadow yesterday, back to the washout. I go to church on Wednesday nights in the summer, and today was the first night I made it in a month (a month of Sundays!) and it feels good to have been there on a night when the reading was David dancing in front of the ark of the covenant.

Beyond Battlestar Galactica, everyone should Google/Netflix/Tivo "The Fabric of Space" on PBS. Theoretical physics as show. A must-see.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seven to eight years old

Arugula, beets, lettuce, peapods, and in the back little patches of chard and spinach.  I feel bad posting these photographs because it is clear how bad my weeding and soil enrichment are.  But the lettuce is pretty.
I'm sitting in my office, at my desk, my mind maps to my right and the orange Burton snowboard that is my wall art in front. To my left is K., on the push lawnmower, decorating the grass with patterns of lawn art in the cloverfield. It's been a good day of work, for both of us—me here and he there.

We're all thieves,” he said today, as we stood out by the garden, talking to our friends, also K., and A. and R. K., the second K.--became a father thirty days ago. A.'s eldest turns two on Thursday. They were talking about the trucks they'd rolled, things they'd stolen in their misspent youth.

Lift and let lift,” Brian Doyle says. 

[And this link also.]

It made me think about theft, about Bob Dylan, and what it mean to steal things. This is one of these topics that I keep dancing around because I want to talk about it seriously some day, like doctoral thesis seriously. Bob Dylan is our greatest songwriter, and what he did was steal.

My central thesis is that Bob Dylan stole every line of “'Love & Theft.'” Every single line. I understand the impulse. It somehow seems a prod to creativity to turn to another piece of art and feed from it. Allow it to nourish us and respond. But is it exactly fair? I can't decide.

Dylan says: “But to live outside the law you must be honest.”

That could have relevance, perhaps, to us trying to live after the law, after the prophets. Under grace.
Living in the land of Nod
Trusting their fate to the hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee
        [also Dylan]
So what things have I stolen today?  Food from the ground.  Light from the sun.  Time from my future.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Everybody held their breath

It's daisy season 

Today I woke up early and came to my desk early, as I do most days. Late for other people, early for me. Sometimes I regret my vampiric ways, that even in the high noon of summer I'm unable to rise and set with the sun. I insist on late nights, staying up till 1:30, 2, 2:30 every day. “Early to bed and early to rise,” etc. Is it true? Should I fight my nature? It's the debate all of us have, perhaps, with our natural tendencies. Even the bodies, the faces we were born with.
A quote, from Richard Hillman:
The Greek idea of fate is moira, which means “portion.” Fate rules a portion of your life. But there is more to life than just fate. There is also genetics, environment, economics, and so on. So it’s not all written in the book before you get here, such that you don’t have to do anything. That’s fatalism.
I've been thinking a lot about failure, as it connects to fate, as my destiny seems to be to consistently fall short at the things I aim to accomplish. For instance, last year the farm/garden, the farden, had an exotic newness to it. By that I mean that the hard work it required had adventure attached to it. This year, it feels more just like hard work. Which means that less has been done, or more has been done in specific areas (perennials), but in other areas I am far behind where I was last year.
That makes me feel bad about myself. The guilt I refer to frequently, as a necessary connector to my faith, almost a phantom limb. This years garden feels like a failure, and the more so as time passes. I experienced this last year, also: the challenge with farming/gardening is always being on the brink of failure. Any malevolent weather could wipe everything out. Any ravenous bug. Any time, here in the arctic north, that you miss the magic week of planting, the magic week of harvest. The awareness of time passing is like a roller coaster plunging.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Independence Day


My faith is situated some place between early-church mystic and holy-roller Pentacostalism on the chart, an odd place to be for an ex-Baptist who attends an Anglican church. Sometimes I flirt with Dostoevsky-style eastern orthodoxy or Cardinal Newman Catholicism, too. So what does it mean to be an early-church mystic? It means that the Spirit infuses all things, present in each moment, more present, immanent, than we can conceive. That God is present all around us, numinous, in the world.

It's funny how the Baptist evangelicalism I was raised with was so uncomfortable with the acts of the Spirit. Hysterical. We believed, yes, that He/It was one of the three parts of the triumvurate Trinity, the triune God, but were were much more comfortable with God the Father, the God of vengeance and the law, or blue-eyed Christ Jesus. The Holy Ghost made us think of the wild-eyed New Agers I was warned against in filmstrips. Really, the Spirit is the one that Christ leaves with us, the God that lives inside.

As I begin to find a place as a farmer, it feels like the Spirit is closer than ever. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas puts it, is not that the Spirit of God? That force which aligns coincidence and our archetypal subconscious, which speaks to us in dream, which uses signs and wonders to keep our attention—is not that the Spirit of God? “God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” those that “since the creation of the world... have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse...” Are those invisible qualities not the Spirit of God? All we can see of God in the world—is not that his Spirit?

Maybe it's just the wildflowers springing out after the rain reminding me of the lilies of the field. Buttercups, daisies, pale purple clover, little off-white bells that remind me of purses. “They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is throw into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

That's me. She of little faith. A friend of mine suggests trusting that the force that drives the green fuse through the flower will drive it through me, too. But he's braver than I am.

And the skunk, our brave miniature skunk, came back too. We're going to try to convince him to become our pet. I may be taking baths in milk and tomato juice any day now.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

I will sing to you of greater things

A baby skunk came to visit
He was about half the size of a kitten, and possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen. My sister's had an obsession with baby animals for a long time, and seeing a miniature skunk waddling around the front lawn, turning on us with the camera and spreading his front legs into an aggressive stance, although he had to have been too small for his stink glands to be active--it made me understand the obsession.