Saturday, October 27, 2007

At least two

It’s been a fairly serious week or two with the lower back, so I’ve been scarce -- not turning up at a lot of meetings, not doing outside chores -- just struggling in to work and home to bed.

Granddaughter was here, and in lieu of playing together with the toy kitchen or roaming around the "back forty," we lolled around in the big bed watching anime -- something about a girl with super powers in the way of ballet dancing, who turned into a comical duck whenever she lost her necklace. It was a relatively quiet visit, not just because of my limitations; she seemed to have a lot on her mind. The world is much with us, even when we are in the third grade.

Today, a day or two after the harvest moon, was the first frost! I have seen them fifty days earlier than this. Very sobering, along with the fires in dry California and the continuing rapid disappearance of the Arctic ice and sliding away of Greenland's ice cap.

I felt up to working about the yard a bit, and spent a couple of hours in brilliant October sunshine getting the leaves out of the driveway, where they were five inches deep, and onto the garden, shredded. I'm hoping to go back and make a few weeks' worth of kindling as well.

The frost killed the tomatoes in the garden, finally -- they had grown to a great old age -- but has only touched the zucchinis, which might go on a bit longer, as well as the tomatoes around the house, which seem to have derived some protection from heat radiating from the foundations after yesterday's sunshine. The orb-weaving spider that has spent the last couple of weeks eating a nicely trapped and wrapped honeybee is nowhere to be seen; perhaps she's in hiding among the curled, brown-tinged Brandywine leaves.

Beloved has gone to more trouble than we usually do with fall-planted crops. I see the beets she planted for me are doing well, and some turnip greens, and some very large, healthy-looking Romaine-type lettuce practically dominates. She has been chopping corn stalks and sunflower stalks, and uprooting their stumps, which are lying about like root wads of timber after a storm salvage. She has taken all the pumpkins but the Hubbard squash are still hardening off. There are a lot of onions waiting to be pulled. She has trays of seeds in various places around the house and potting shed, and by this I see that she means to raise Roma, Brandywine, Jelly Bean tomatoes, scarlet runners, broad beans, among other things, and a spectacular nameless long-podded green bean, of which a few came to her in the mail from a friend, and all of whose progeny were dedicated to increase.

Thus one articulates hope by the work of one's hands.


Auntie, whom some of you will remember from a few years ago -- my mother's childhood and lifetime friend, who has always been the cheerful one of us all, and a chaser away of clouds from others' horizons -- is beginning to lose ground. She's been on dialysis for her kidneys, which are giving up, and now her liver seems involved -- which means she faces constant bouts of debilitating nausea. I can imagine few things worse. She lives three thousand miles from here; she has family and friends. If I were to go there I'm afraid I would be underfoot; besides which there's a chihuahua in that house who is on my terrorist watch list. But if you are one of those whose prayers are effectual, please put in a word for her.

When I was very small -- I have told these two stories before, but bear with me -- I was prone to disasters involving bullies. The most spectacular instance occurred in my grandmother's back yard. The neighborhood kids were playing there, and I, age about eighteen months, as it is told me, toddled out to them while the grownups argued, as was their wont, over coffee at the kitchen table.

My grandma became aware of a sudden silence out back, and, feeling a prickling at the back of her neck, went out to investigate. She found me lying face down by the privet hedge under the plum tree by the back fence, with red stains on the sparse shade-grass. A chunk of quartz, with a bit of red Georgia clay adhering, lay beside me. I was not moving.

She clumped back into the house and sat down heavily at the table. Something about her expression caused the conversation to trail off.

"Well," she said, "The baby's gone."

"Gone?" asked her daughter, my mom. "Whaddya mean, GONE?"

She got up, ran down the stoop and across the yard, and rolled me over. My forehead was gashed -- the scar was prominent for decades -- and my lips, she tells me, had turned blue.

She breathed into me. I hiccuped, and began crying.

This story, which is, for me, hearsay, is linked in my mind for some reason with another, which, because no one has told it me, and I was too young to retain much of it, is hazy, but is one of my few early recollections.

Auntie's son, several years older than I, was having a birthday party. I was there because I was my mom's only child and there was no way my mom would have missed being there.

The kids in that neighborhood were, though, a bit of a rough crowd. The games tended to be participatory, athletic, ad hoc, and hard-edged. I was out of my element just by being in line of sight.

I do remember being surrounded by people bigger than me, and seem to remember they had some issue with me -- I was, I gathered, a sissy, would never amount to anything, and apparently ought not to have been born.

Something terrible was going to happen -- and I think I do remember a bit of deja vu -- as in "oh, no, not again -- "

-- at which Auntie interposed herself firmly between me and them and said something that scattered them, and as I remember it, I never left her side the rest of that day.

Fifty years later, when I had begun my transition but was not yet out to my mom, Auntie looked at the two of us and said, rather knowingly -- "you two would make a perfect mother and daughter" -- of course, she was right, as always.

Everyone should have at least two moms. I think I'll give her a call right now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

You better get on it, Cookie

A friend of ours, a happy person who was enjoying a visit from her family last week, had a brain hemorrhage and died in, as it were, mid-visit. She was ninety, so it was not a total surprise, but still.

For me she represents Winter. Fall is a little like growing old, growing toward the depth of winter, toward a personal solstice.

And so it is fall, now, around me, and also within me.

The iffy weather has arrived and I have taken to carrying an umbrella to work. As country people we don't think much, at home, about umbrellas, but in town, which is where I work (1,314 days until retirement!), it's preferable to suiting up in rain gear and serves the extra purpose of being a long, sharp object in hand as I walk to and from my parking place in the dark.

One of the things I'm experimenting with is I've given up my parking sticker, which costs about $200 a year and gives me the right to fight twenty-five thousand other people for four thousand parking spaces on campus, and am parking a mile away. The upsides are: I can always find a place; I'm driving about three less actual miles a day (15 each way instead of 18); adding two miles to my daily walking for a total of three; admiring the neighborhood, which is an attractive one with lots of quality architecture and landscaping. Downsides are: rain, darkness, and exposure to potential muggers. As some people (see here and here) are dealing with much more risk, I think this is manageable, to say the least.

This morning, on my commute, I stopped at our local utility's offices, where they were having an open house to celebrate their new solar roof. Beloved and I are part of their 100%-wind-ratepayer program, and we're hoping to swap out the hot water heater soon, but there's not that much more we can do to change our habits -- so it's nice that EPUD is pursuing as many options as they do. They're buying into another wind farm, they buy from high school and college rooftop panel programs, they run an exemplary methane plant out at the area's landfill, and are looking to finally install a turbine at Fall Creek Dam (I suspect about forty years behind schedule). I had thought perhaps their breakfast presentation would be about global warming, but, wouldn't you know, not a word on it!

Everything was about cost stabilization -- that they had learned their lesson from Enron, who had forced them into buying power, briefly, for ten times the rate they pay for hydro from the Columbia. So, wind and solar are suddenly very attractive at only three times that rate (and dropping). This is certainly the way to put across their program to most of the people in my neighborhood, to whom the price of oil is certainly a scandal but many of whom have never heard of peak oil -- and aren't likely to, as they get all their news from one cable channel and a couple of AM radio talk shows.

I indulged in a little self-praise: we had insulated the house, caulked all the small holes and stuffed dryer lint into some of the big ones, changed all the light bulbs, learned to turn off power strips, and use the clothes line when we can and have never had a dishwasher.

But it's not much. I read jewishfarmer's blog and she does the most amazing, dedicated things -- 52 lifestyle changes this year -- even though she admits herself that on the scale where it it matters -- that scale that would require an internationally enforced New Deal -- which would go over so well with the "black helicopters" crowd -- it's really futile. She applies grace and humor to a bleak outlook and doesn't rationalize her efforts, and I find her exemplary.

Beloved has been winding up the garden -- the Jerusalem artichokes, pictured above, are falling over, as are the sunflowers. She's chopping up cornstalks, cabbages, runaway zucchini, fallen apples, and the like, and having the chickens, ducks and geese pick through it all. She has blanched and frozen a lot of stuff, and put away many quarts of blackberries, plum sauce, apple sauce, and rhubarb. There's about 1/2 of one semi-dwarf apple tree still unpicked.

I've cut up the brush, mostly Himalaya berry and Japanese knotweed, along the pasture fence and reduced it to mulch, which I've spread around the poultry's shade trees to scratch over for their last blackberries of the year, and am carrying out my traditional fall projects -- storm windows, trouble-shooting our plumbing, re-routing wiring -- as time and energy allow. I have some time, such as it is, but my energy is very much less -- as I'm now fifty-eight -- and I find that while I may have plans for as soon as I get home, I'm much likelier to go directly to bed, falling asleep sometimes as early as eight o'clock! No reading, no media, just -- boom -- like an anvil had dropped on my head.

Time to begin letting some things go.

Last night, I did think I would go under the house and start ripping apart some pipes. Instead I sat awhile and watched the leaves turning brown outside. Before giving in to the impulse to get horizontal, I did one thing: the day's dishes. Beloved sometimes has trouble doing them, and many other things -- it's arthritis or something, the medical folks can't seem to make up their minds about her -- it affect her hands, her hips and her feet. Sometimes stairs are too much. That's why, as she says, "I'm getting my farming ya-ya's out while I can."

If I get too much impressed by our limitations, though, I can think about friends who have really gone down that road. One friend, more of a sister, really, is dealing with three chronic and rather life threatening conditions simultaneously, and she does it with grace, humor, and enough courage for any roomful of the rest of us. Talk about exemplary!

If you're under fifty, may I suggest that you consider your ambitious projects now? Not later? Later may never come, and if it does, it might not come in as handy as you're maybe thinking.

Beloved announced, when she was a teen-ager, that she thought she might want to be a child star. Her mom looked at her, wonderingly, and said, "Well, you better get on it, cookie."