Friday, January 30, 2009

Crow Attack

I saw something incredible Wednesday morning. A group of crows has taken up residence in a stand of trees not too far from the back of my house. I have always been a bit fascinated by crows. I am not sure why, but they are very interesting birds. In our culture they are often associated with death and are considered morbid. I do not understand why this should be so because death is as natural a process as any other –but then, there are many things about our culture which I do not understand. My religion often pictures crows with the Goddess-as-Crone or the Goddess-as-Warrior.

Crows are always up to something. They are almost always doing something worth watching. Until Wednesday I had never seen them defend their nest. I had heard about this before, of course, and read about, but I had never seen it. It is one of those things you read about and think –no, that can’t be true.

Wednesday morning I went outside with the dogs. It was just after dawn. There was plenty of light but the sun had not yet rose over the mountain. The dogs went about their morning routine and I am watching them when suddenly this law “caw!” goes out. I look up and towards the stand of trees where the crows are nesting. I see nothing at first. “CAW!” went the sentry, louder and more demanding this time. Suddenly there was a great disturbance, and then an entire flock of crows starts screaming. Then they take wing and descend en masse to one area, cawing and screaming. I could not make out what the disturbance was, but I could see them through the winter bare trees. The next thing I know, the crows are doing some incredible aerobatics and chasing something through the trees. A few moments later it was over, and the crows had settled back onto their roosts. Occasionally one would caw and another would answer, but the intruder did not come back.

The whole episode only lasted a few minutes. But it was amazing to watch. Maybe there’s a lesson in there about community we humans could emulate? ;-)


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Bone To Pick

(Note: the following is an open letter to our new president. It should be noted that I have no illusions Mr. Obama will actually read it, but I have a bone to pick and I intend to pick it.)

Mr. Obama,
Congratulations on your new job. I hope you are enjoying living in the White House. Has the reality of your new life set in yet? If not it should be soon. I am writing this letter in the vain attempt to help you see the light on the topic below. I know this attempt will be futile, but I have often been described as a ‘rat terrier with a bone’ when I get an idea into my head. So here goes.

First, let me say that I voted for you. Twice, in fact. Once in the primary and then again in the general election. This was not because I am enchanted with you, as so many are, but because I felt you were the best choice among the candidates. I will be the first to admit that I do not have high expectations of politicians. In fact, I have only three. I expect all politicians to breathe, take up far too much space and resources, and lie. I fully expect you will do all three during your tenure in the White House. That comes with the territory. Despite my low expectations I have decided to give you a chance and see what comes of your time in office before judging you. You certainly have gotten off to a better start than the shrub you replaced. I still intend to give you a chance but this does not mean you are going to get a free pass from me. Hardly. I will look at everything you do and scrutinize it. And I must say I have all ready found something that has caused me serious annoyance. More than annoyance; it made me downright angry.

I am not talking about those of your cabinet picks that have terrified so many liberals and progressives. I am not talking about your stance on Israel. Nor your stimulus package. Nor am I speaking of the new head of the Department of the Treasury. I am not happy about a man who could not pay his own taxes being put in charge of the IRS, but it was not my call. I presume you are intelligent enough to know that placing a man like Geithner at Treasury is akin to putting a fox in charge of guarding the chicken coop. I am also assuming you are wise enough in the ways of the world to know that there will be many Americans who are tired of paying taxes who look at this and think if he does not have to pay his taxes, then they should not as well. I also assume these people will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, unlike Geithner. Such is politics and life in the current climate.

No, I am not talking about any of these things. The issue on my mind goes back to your inauguration. You made a speech that day, one that was very good overall, but there was one line in that speech that just does not sit well with me. Even after a week, I still can not swallow it. That one line is the entire reason for this letter. The line was this: We shall not apologize for our way of life, nor waver in its defense.

Mr. Obama, this line irked me for one not-so-simple reason. You see, what you and many others fail to grasp, is that the way of life you were talking about –that prevalent in America today –is the problem. I know that you may not understand why I say this so please bear with me for a few moments.

I will admit that this way of life has produced some incredible things. We put men on the moon, for the sake of the one we both claim to hold most high. (That we call that one by different names hardly matters; I should think whatever is out there is big enough to encompass all of our different viewpoints.) Antibiotics were an incredible invention. Compact discs are amazing. Open heart surgery, organ transplants, all these are great.

But any open accounting must consider both sides of the ledger, and when you apply that to the lifestyle you refuse to apologize for, the picture darkens considerably. Our planet is warming, Mr. Obama, and is becoming increasingly inhospitable to human life. This is a direct consequence of America’s way of life. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising. Check out this video from Antarctica:

That way of life you are so proud of has caused the deforestation of vast regions of the planet and the extinction of countless species. Over 200 hundred species go into that dark night every single day. Entire mountains have been leveled to power our ‘non-negotiable way of life’. The waste from nuclear power plants will be with us for the next 100,000 years. Iraq and Afghanistan are covered with depleted uranium shells. That is a really great gift for the coming generations.

Our oceans are slowly turning to plastic, and marine life is dying in droves. Speaking of which, have you seen the warnings about overfishing? The last ever order of fish and chips will be served during our lifetimes. Pollution has increased to the point where comparisons to the past are no longer valid. Expensive water treatments are now absolutely necessary in many areas of the world, including here in the U.S. That Blackberry you are so proud of? It will last a few years and then spend the rest of eternity leaching heavy metals into the environment and poisoning people who live downstream. The creation of that little device also had a heavy impact on the area where it was created and the parts where mined, and that will go on for the next, oh, umpteen generations.

We are having problems finding places to park our garbage. The entire world is on the verge of a freshwater crisis. In a few short years there are going to be wars over water. Over water, Mr. Obama. There are dead zones in every major ocean. Our topsoils are washing down rivers. Do you know how important topsoil is? Try eating without it.

Every bit of this horror show is a direct result of our way of life. But it gets even worse. The obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer epidemics in this country are also direct results of our lifestyle. Our overconsumption of resources is also keeping resources from other areas of the world, causing much suffering and even death.

This does not paint a pretty picture. But it gets even worse if you stop to think about it. No matter how hard we try or how hard we work, we can not clean this all up. Not in our lifetimes. Not in our children’s children’s children’s lifetimes. Cleaning up this mess will be the work of many, many generations.

And that, in the end, will be the final legacy of this way of life you will not apologize for: we will bequeath a hot, hungry, thirsty, depleted and very dirty world to our descendants for the next hundred thousand years. That’s one hell of a legacy, Mr. Obama, and not a good one.

Maybe there’s a good reason you won’t apologize. If you started, how would you ever be able to stop?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Asking for help

I have mentioned before that my goal is to eventually own a small piece of land and start my own small organic farm. One to two acres is my goal. My resolution for this year is to come up with the money to buy my land by the end of the year. That means I need from 5,000 to 8,000 dollars (maybe less if real estate prices keep crashing, hah). I’m pretty sure that I could come up with a thousand, maybe two. More than that would be out of the question unless I get a very good job soon. That does not look like it is going to happen, and my part time jobs barely make ends meet. Getting a mortgage in the current climate is not going to happen, and with things deteriorating the way they are I doubt I have more than another year, maybe two, to get things set up if I am going to do so. Unfortunately there are no foundations or programs (yet) to help young farmers get set up. This despite the fact that we need many more young small farmers in this country.

So I’ve decided to get over my considerable pride and ask for help. This is not an easy thing for me to do. I have always been fairly self-sufficient. Even as a young child I mostly took care of myself. Granted, I didn’t have much choice as my parents could not in the least be considered the ‘nurturing’ type. My father was never around much and my mother was severely mentally ill and not capable of taking care of herself, much less her children. Asking for help for anything is very hard for me. I sometimes think my task in this life is to learn to live in community more.

I am going to be doing a number of things this year to try and raise extra money. But I am also going to do something now that goes against my very nature. I am asking for donations. I know that times are tough in many areas and are probably going to get worse. But if you are among the lucky few who still have some extra money, and you would like to help a young farmer get set up, please consider donating a few bucks. If for some reason you do wish to donate, you can go to paypal. My account is I am a verified merchant. I promise that any money given will be used only for this purpose. I am not going to become an aggressive panhandler –I promise this will be the only post you’ll ever see where I ask for money –but I will provide updates on my progress towards the goal. I will also give regular updates on what else is going on and how things are moving along. When I get closer to my goal I will try and offer ‘shares’ of future output to some local people. My regular readers know that I am a poet, and if you give $10 I’ll even write you a custom poem (on a subject of your choice, with a few exceptions) as a thank you.

When and if I succeed in getting my land, I am going to do my best to feed not only myself but as many others as possible. I shall also do my best to help others get set up and learn to grow food as well. These are skills we are all going to need in the coming days.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if I have offended anyone (aside from myself and my own sense of propriety, that is), you have my apologies. And Happy Inauguration day.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Cats and their toys

Last night my cat was playing in the kitchen with one of her mice. You know -one of the stuffed cotton ones that are ubiquitous in pet stores. She has, oh, at least a dozen of them. A short time later I come back into the kitchen to see her in front of the stove with her paw underneath and a determined expression on her face. Her tongue was actually sticking out a little bit. It was quite clear what had happened: the mouse had gotten under the stove and she was trying to fish it out. I watch for a moment. After a bit she gives up and saunters off with one of those 'I meant to do that' looks.

I decided to help her out and so pulled the pan drawer out from the stove so I could get the mouse. Um, make that mice. Until last night I had not ever pulled out that drawer. I started pulling out mice, and balls, and fish, and things with feathers on them that I don't even remember buying. I gave up when the count reached a dozen and just tossed them over the kitchen floor. A very happy kitty pounced on the mice and began to play.

Two hours later I walk back in, and most of the mice are gone. A certain kitty is sitting by the stove, looking at me expectantly.
Cats. Lol.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tales from the land of the odd

Here’s some examples of the kind of craziness currently running around where I am:

On Friday I bought toilet paper at the store. This is a regular occurrence, as you might imagine. I have not yet gotten to the point where I can nix the toilet paper. Last year at this time the brand of toilet paper I buy was $0.98 for a package of six rolls. Over the past year the price has gradually climbed to $1.27 for the same package. But now something else has changed. They have thinned the paper itself dramatically –to the point where it now takes a handful to equal one or two sheets of the old stuff. It is now the crappiest toilet paper I have ever seen. (Bad pun intended.)

Second incident. I was fired from one of my odd jobs doing yard work a few weeks back. This work was for an old-school aristocratic woman who was basically the boss from hell. I only kept working for her as long as I did because I needed the money. She only had one real complaint (aside from the fact that sometimes when she called me, the phone went to voicemail because, gasp, I was unable to answer the phone): I did not have all the leaves raked and bagged before Thanksgiving. She wants someone who can work on a tighter schedule than that. Well, that is fine. I understand. Except for one thing: The vast majority of her leaves did not even come down until the week right before Christmas! All the leaves around here were late to fall this year, but apparently nature is supposed to work on her schedule too. ;-)

Final incident. Last week I attended a talk by the head of the local food bank. His talk was on the increasing need for food donations and so on. (By the way, before the economy started tanking they all ready serviced nearly 10% of the area’s population. That number has increased dramatically.) A good portion of his talk was concerned with the intense desire of the food bank to start handing out healthier food because most of what they get is junk food. He put out a call for people to donate healthy food. After the talk, I asked him about the possibility of some of the gardeners in the area (myself included) donating fresh, excess produce next year). He refused point blank because ‘it is too hard to distribute’. They welcome produce, but only of the canned or frozen variety (store bought of course). How is this helping the people? More and more people are going hungry and the industrial food system is breaking down. And yet this madness persists.

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Garden

I realized recently that I have never adequately described my garden on here, so I thought it was about time I did. I live on less than 1/5 of an acre. Part of that includes a house and a bunch of (very) tall shade trees. Much of the remainder is unsuitable for cultivation due to a steep slope. When I moved here I wasn’t exactly thinking about gardening. ;-)

My garden beds are mostly in the back, save for a few herbs in the front. I garden in raised beds. That is pretty much the only option I have to prevent erosion as much of the yard slopes gently. The beds are constructed or untreated timber and are each four feet wide. Most of them are 8 feet long, save for one that is 24 feet. I’ve been intending to extend the others but it has not happened yet. The beds were originally filled with a mixture of topsoil and humus, and that has since been amended with fertilizer, manure, etc. I prepared the beds by two different methods. The first was a variation on the double-dig method first promoted by Ecology Action. In this method, before I ever put the beds themselves down, I dug up the sod and loosened the soil down to a depth of about eight inches with my garden fork and spade. The second method was a much simpler (and less time consuming) method I read about in another book. In this method, I left the originally sod in place, but put down cardboard and newspaper before building and filling the beds. The difference in productivity was obvious from the very first season –the former method outdid the latter by almost 2 to 1 in health of the plants and yield. The original soil was good old Alabama clay. It’s fertile, but thick and hard to work with. And stony. I like to say I dug my weight in rocks out of the beds I double dug and that is probably about accurate. I was lucky enough to have a neutral pH so I did not need to add anything to alter it.

What else do I have? Two fruit trees. One is a Golden Delicious apple tree. It has yet to bear and may not, as it’s infected with cedar apple rust from a cedar tree my neighbors planted. The other is a Belle of Georgia peach tree. I got my first peach from it last year, and that was by far the best peach I have ever eaten. I also have some blackberry bushes and a few flower beds. All told, I have less than one-fifth of my area under cultivation (that is about 4% of an acre) and I am able to dramatically cut my food bill because of it. I am about at the limit of expansion possibilities here because of the slope.

So that’s my garden.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Seed Catalogs

It's that time of the year again. Seed catalogs have been pouring into my mailbox over the past few weeks. I'm a sucker for them. During this time of the year I will spend hours poring over them, a pen in hand, dreaming of growing green things while the landscape outside is cold and dreary. I have all ready gotten nine seed catalogs this year. Of course, I do not order from that many companies but I seem to have a talent for getting on gardening mailing lists. Here are my favorite seed companies:
Bountiful Gardens, out of Willits, Ca -they are part of Ecology Action, which does research into Sustainable Gardening. They are not a big seed house, but their products are affordable and the quality is high. All of their products are open-pollinated.

Territorial Seed out of Cottage Grove, Oregon -They have a huge selection, but some of their things are hybrids. I've had good luck with the things I've tried.

Seeds of Change -all organic, the corporate 'good guy'. They have a lot of nice offerings you can't get elsewhere, especially not organically.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds -all open-pollinated and the owner started it when he was in his teens.

Southern Exposure Seed Catalog -a worker owned collective focusing on producing seeds for the Southeast U.S. I had problems with some of their seeds last year, but that might be a fluke as everyone else I know has had good luck.

This is what I would like to grow this year:
Pole Beans
Dry Beans
Brussel Sprouts
Lettuce/Salad mixes
Peppers -Sweet and hot
Sweet Potatoes
Swiss Chard
Summer Squash -yellow crookneck, zucchini, and scallop at least
Winter Squash -butternet, acron, and vegetable spaghetti
Tomatoes -several kinds, including yellow pear, roma, and cherokee purple (three of my favorites)
More herbs

Is that enough? Lol. But with my situation, I probably will not grow anything.

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Monday, January 12, 2009


I have been looking long and hard at my options for moving forward in the past few months. For some time I have been considering a move to a different region of the country and I have finally concluded that it is not going to happen. I would have a very hard time supporting myself in either the northwest or the northeast, and I would have to give up all hope of ever owning my own land. I could buy an entire farm here for the price of an acre or two in most places. I’m also a child of summer and am not sure I could live someplace where winter temps often dip into the minus scale. And yes, there are bad things here in the south but there are good things too –we have incredible forests and mountains. Some of the prettiest country in the world is within reach of my home. And I do have something of a support system here, as evidenced by all the help I received when my car finally bit the dust last month. So I’ve decided to dig here. I know this land and the people.

But that only covers part of the story. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I want to own my own land. Not much –an acre or two. I want to run an organic intensive farm and grow most of my own food as well. Give me my small piece of land and I can make it bloom. I feel like I am running out of time to make this happen as the economic crisis deepens and the world spins into collapse. I have the feeling that this year and possibly next are going to be the last years anything works ‘normally’. I can buy an acre or two here for between 5 and 8k –not pocket change, but not out of reach either. That’s good land, too. The question is, how can I get that money? My current house isn’t likely to sell anytime soon, given the economy, and I am having trouble maintaining my current state as things are. Any month things could slip. A mortgage for the plot of land isn’t an option, given my income. I could come up with a thousand, but not much more.

So I’m asking for advice and suggestions. All help is appreciated.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Doing what we can

“I can’t save the world. I don’t even want to try. I don’t even care if I save one person. I just want to get my degree and make more money than god.”
“You told them that?” I asked, astonished.
“Yes. Why not?”
“And they admitted you?”
“Yes. They don’t care. They all went into the medicine for the money too. Someday, if I make it all the way to being a cardiac surgeon, I’ll make upwards of a million dollars a year, drive a Porsche, and live in a high-rise luxury condo. How much money are you going to make in whatever rinky-dink little job you have?” (Said as if the difference in our future net worths was all that mattered about us.)

The above is from a conversation with a classmate several years ago. I was a freshmen in college, she was a senior who had just returned from her admissions interview at one of the finest medical colleges in the country. They had admitted her on the spot. This girl came from an upper middle class family and had decided to come to our little school to ‘save money for med school’ rather than take a full scholarship to an ivy league school. Or so she said. Really, she came there so that she could lord it over other students who weren’t as bright and/or as well off. (She never liked me because I was even smarter than she was, and as a freshmen was in some of the same classes, so she deliberately tried to aw me and put me down. It was just like high school all over again.) She made no secret of the fact that she was going into medicine, and hopefully cardiac surgery, so that she could become very wealthy. Now, I picked my major over money as well but I had a different goal –enough money to keep a roof over my head, food on the table, and give to charity. Being wealthy was not even on the list.

Years later, that conversation still haunts me. Why? Because of this part. “I can’t save the world.” She said. And even then, I was thinking. “You could at least try.” I was laboring under no assumptions that any one person could actually save the world. Even then, I knew better. I grew up in hell itself, and clawed my way out by the skin on my teeth. That kind of upbringing tends to strip away many of our cherished illusions. And yet, I was less cynical than someone who had been infinitely more sheltered than myself.

No, I can’t save the world. Neither can she. Or you. Or anyone else. None of us, by ourselves, can save the world. But all of us together? Or a large number of us? If everyone in the world, or even the majority of us, joined together, then yes, we could save the world. I will be the first to admit that that is not likely to happen. Not anytime soon, at any rate. But does that mean that there is nothing we can do? That we are doomed to failure, to watching the world crumble and burn before our eyes? Hardly.

I am reminded of an old, old parable. I first heard it when I was a small child. It will periodically be passed around on email lists. It goes something like this: There has been a great storm at sea. Much damage has been done to the sea, and the creatures that live there. On the morning after the storm passes the beach is littered with jetsam and flotsam. Among the storm debris are many thousands of starfish who have been flung from the water. They lay on the sand, futilely trying to return to the water and slowly dying. A man comes walking along the shore. Every time he sees a starfish, he picks it up and flings it back into the waves. Another man comes walking down the beach. He watches the first man in silence for sometime, as more and more starfish are tossed back into the water. Finally, he approaches the man and asks him “Brother, why do you trouble yourself this way? Why do you do this? You can not possibly save them all.” The other man is silent for a moment. Then he says softly. “No, I can not.” He picks up another starfish and flings it back into the water. “But I saved that one.” He walks on, and continues in his lonely job. The other man stares after him, perplexed.

This story is more than a simple parable. It illustrates two different ways of looking at the world. One man sees the world as so flawed nothing can be done to save it. Why bother to do anything? You can’t save them all. The other man also recognizes the problems inherent in the world. He knows he can not save all the starfish. But instead of despairing, he walks down to the beach and beings throwing starfish back into the water. No, he can not save them all. But by his efforts, some of them will be saved and a tragedy will be lessened.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. Who do we wish to be –the man who saves the starfish, or the one who looks on in confusion, humor, or despair? In these times this is far more than an academic question. Dark times are upon us and a Shadow is spreading through the world. What is happening is not easy to bear and what is coming will be even worse. Even when it is all over, in perhaps our grandchildren’s lifetimes, there will still be much work to do. All the ills of industrial civilization will still need to be cleaned up. There will probably be even more devastation before it is over, as the coal ash spill in Tennessee proves. There is an area up there right now that is doing an adequate impression of Mordor. There will be even more such in the times to come.

How do we respond to this? In despair, or hopelessness? Or, like the first man, by picking up the nearest starfish? We can not do everything. Nor can we save everything. But if we try, perhaps more will be saved than would otherwise be the case. Perhaps we can do something. If enough of us band together, perhaps we can even save the world.

The choice is ours.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Um, hello?

I'll be back with a longer post in a couple of days, but I wanted to post this quickly. NPR did something that was rather funny in a gallows sort of humor way. Their first story in the business news section was the rapid increase in unemployment nationwide and how this has crashed computer systems in some states.
Their second story? A piece about a tech convention and all the new gadget we just have to buy.
Um, hello? Anyone home? And this is from the best member of the mainstream media. We need to wake up.