Thursday, December 30, 2010

Suzy

Reposted from December 2009

We are doing without a tree this year, choosing to make a "tree" of the mantelpiece over the bricked-up fireplace by scattering fir twigs, baubles and such from one end to another, with a string of white lights. This actually has been a bit of a hit, and no one seems to think any the less of us for having decorations that can be completely cleared away in less than three minutes.

The baubles have been with us for decades, and chief among them is Suzy Snowflake, loosely based on the hit 1951 song by Rosemary Clooney -- I know I mentioned her a few weeks ago, but I've finally had a moment, between outside chores and some breadmaking, to go take a picture of her.

My mom originally made Suzy during the great railroad strikes of the early 1950s, when no money was coming into the house, and we ate black-eyed peas for supper every night. Suzy's body is a stiff, relatively heavy thread-spool cone left over from the industrial textile industries that were strong in the American South in those days.It's covered with a layer of golden foil. She has several feet of lace wrapped round her for petticoats and a dress, with a bodice formed by a length of narrow golden ribbon tied round her waist and criss-crossing her breast. She has butterfly-style wings of wire, filled in with lace tied on with more ribbon, and her whole outfit is spangled with tiny gold stars.

Suzy's original head was made by stuffing a ball of cotton in bit of cotton cloth from an old hankie or something, with eyes and a mouth stiched on in embroidery thread. I think Suzy 's current head is a bit of a come-down for her, a repair made in the early 70s I think, using a cheap Barbie knockoff from a dollmaking store. A pipe-cleaner halo sits a bit low between her shoulders in back. Suzy holds a wand in her left hand on which there should be two larger gummed gold stars, but I don't have any for her right now. There may have been something in her right hand, but none of us remember what.

So she's a little the worse for wear, but she's totally the household goddess/angel/totemic thingie, reverently laid away in a labeled shoebox in the first week of January every year, then, found and carefully lifted out for holiday service usually about the second week of December. There have been family trees -- first at my childhood home, then here -- and she has topped each one for fifty-eight years. This year she's making do with the mantel, but she doesn't seem to mind.

May all be well with all of you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lettuce

Reposted; also appears in Collected Poems


herringbone

lettuce in winter


The potting room was a miserable dank
shed, trash-chocked, roofed in plastic, blackberries
ingrown amid bedlam. She dragged it all into

the light, sifting for tools or nails, then
consigning the rest to dump runs. With one son,
the quiet one, she roofed the room with scraps,

tucking, there, or here, oddly-sized old windows.
To the south, a sliding door turned on its side
served for greenhouse glass. A friend's offer

of a chimney to salvage solved the question of how
to floor. With her other son, the tall one, she
rented a long-legged ladder for picking bricks

from the air, frightened at every ragged breath.
They piled them by the plant-room door, and the girl,
last child, brimful of jokes and laughter, brought

bricks to her from the pile, which she set face up
in a herringbone pattern. They swept sand and mortar
into the cracks, and danced in the sunbeams then.

Now for a bench, new-painted green for the color
of wishing, and pots of all sizes, flats too,
with a tall can for watering. She hankered for lettuce

in winter, and sowed the flats in October. After
a month, wild geese and their musical throats gone south,
she noted her seedlings spindly and sad, so taking

her hammer and two-by sixes, built a quick coldframe
with the other half of the always helpful sliding
door. By the sunny south wall in the duck pen she framed it,

and dibbled the seedlings within. They liked that,
but a darkness comes on in December; after a full
day, full week, one comes home exhausted, to eat,

to sleep, not to water gardens. One thing
only has saved the lettuce: the ducks do not like
coming in for the night. She goes into the dark

to disturb them; they rush about complaining;
the madwoman hops and chuckles. She locks them away
from coyotes, and turns, as in afterthought, to visit

her seedlings. By feel she gives them water, her hands
stretching toward summer in the unseen leaves.
 

Friday, December 24, 2010

On peace

PlatoGuest post by Plato (428-438 BCE approx., The Republic, Book II, Jowett tr. Emphases added).

[Socrates] .... let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. Will they not produce corn, and wine, and clothes, and shoes, and build houses for themselves? And when they are housed, they will work, in summer, commonly, stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means ....

[Glaucon] Yes, Socrates, he said, and if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?

But what would you have, Glaucon? I replied.

Why, he said, you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want; such as the whole tribe of hunters and actors, of whom one large class have to do with forms and colours; another will be the votaries of music --poets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, contractors; also makers of divers kinds of articles, including women's dresses. And we shall want more servants. Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.

Certainly.

And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?

Much greater.

And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

Quite true.

Then a slice of our neighbours' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?
.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The grand tree

This post first appeared in December 2008

applesort
When we moved here, there was a row of ten-year-old conifers along the fence, across the narrow "front" yard, facing our living room windows. I say "front" because unlike most houses, ours doesn't face the street, but is turned sideways away from it. Approaching from the driveway, you come only to the garage, and as you come in through the garden gate, the first door you come to, along the walkway, left around the garage, is the "back" door. To get the "front" door, you must continue, around to the left, past the kitchen window and the terracotta sun which is pictured, in winter sunlight, as the logo of this blog, along the north side, then turn right past an ancient lilac, then right again, onto the front porch at last.

The living room has east-facing windows, and we like to hang fuchsias outside these, from the edge of the porch roof. Beyond the fuchsias are the evergreens.

Two of these are Douglas firs, one an Engelmann spruce. Another, until this past weekend, was a grand fir. They have all put on another fifteen years of growth, and around here, that can be substantial. The Douglas firs are now eighteen inches in diameter, that is, at four-and-a-half feet above the ground -- DBH, Diameter At Breast Height -- and are already over fifty feet tall. They interfere with hot sun in high summer, shield the poor neighbors from our strange goings-on, and one of them is Granddaughter's favorite climbing tree. The spruce sweeps the earth with a generous spread of touch-me-not needly branches, and is a great favorite with the ducks and hens, who regard it as hawk-proof.

We've added to this row a bigleaf maple, a blackcherry, and a scraggly Scotch pine that was a rather dubious Living Christmas Tree a couple of years back. The hens regard the Scotch pine as beneath them in the pecking order, and we've had to fence it off for its own protection. The maple is doing well, considering I once accidentally mowed it to the ground. The blackcherry has required too much watering. It's a shade-loving species, and though I put it right at the end of the line, to the north of the grand fir, it has gotten, or seemed to think it was getting, too much sun even there.

It seemed to me that the cherry and the grand fir were reaching height enough to compete with our garden and orchard; also the grand fir was beginning to get that pale, needle-necrosis-y look that I associate with rot.

It's a youngish tree for that, but that's how it looked to me.

"I think the grand fir is hollow." I said this to Beloved to introduce my "grand" design.

"Hollow? It's practically a teen-ager."

"Mm-hmm, but when I was a timber cruiser, a lot of the grand firs had the look it's getting. The Forest Circus taught me to walk around each one, and if I saw any conks I had to deduct half the board feet in the tree. The Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines, cedars, and larches didn't have those. I don't remember them on hemlocks either."

"Does it have conks?"

"No, but I think it's getting ready to. It sounded hollow when I thunked it with the maul this summer."

"So, you're thinking it should come down."

"It, and the cherry, too. If the grand gets any bigger, it will blow down too close to everything and take the cherry with it."

"Oooookay. I'm gone this weekend; do you need me working with you on this?"

"No'm; we've got it all covered." This is a standing joke; "we" in this context means me, the cat, the two geese, and all the chickens and ducks.

I procrastinated, come Saturday, by hauling all the remaining stored apples into the dining room, separating them into Eat Soon, Eat Later, Juice Now, and Feed to Chickens categories. All but Feed to Chickens got washed in a vinegar and salt solution and air dried, then the Eat Laters were individually wrapped in newspaper and stacked stem- up, newspaper-twist-side-up, in boxes and moved back to the cold room.

Then I brought out the electric chain saw, oiled the chain, and brought down the black cherry without any problems. Next I took a lunch break (beets, beet greens, kale, chard, and hard boiled duck eggs) and went after the grand fir.

Here I courted trouble. The base of the tree was indeed hollow, meaning there would be no hinge worth speaking of for dropping it in the right direction. At over forty feet tall, it needed to drop in the right direction -- being as it was decidedly a leaner, favoring the poultry fence and the Italian plum tree.

Eekers.

I made as much of a wedge-cut and back-cut combo as I felt comfortable with, but could see the tree was still betting on the fence.

There is a solution for this sort of thing, not always shown in the how-to books, but known to most loggers. Trusting the hens not to come push the tree over in my absence (the Barred Rocks will try anything once), I went to the garage and found an iron bar and a hydraulic jack.

Fellow lady farmers (and y'all gentlemen farmers too), trust me: you can push over just about anything with a hydraulic jack.

Not that everyone who knows how to do this always guesses right. I've never smashed the cab of our pickup truck, as a man friend did who then had to walk ten sheepish miles home, but I have flattened my own gas can.

I tapped the bar into the downhill side of the backcut with the hammer side of the maul head, set the jack underneath the bar, and started cranking. After a couple of minutes, where there had been a trunk, branches, needles, living, flowing sap, lichens, spiders, mites -- a whole city of who knows what creatures aspiring to the sky, there was nothing but air. The grand fir lay atop the blackcherry, firewood-in-waiting, as the gods of firewooding intended, and right between the fences too. Some things you remember how to do. For awhile longer anyway.

Starting at the big ends, I firewooded the trees and branches -- we take anything down to one inch diameter -- and stacked, setting aside the slash for pea-brush. Behind me, the chickens, sensing it was now okay to investigate, surrounded the intriguing black hole in the new stump, and began picking off bugs from the interior, an activity that was to occupy them for the next two days.

I came to the end of the grand fir, and there, big as life, I found this year's Christmas tree -- just the right size and shape.

When Beloved got home, Sunday night, the tree was already in the corner of the living room, in its stand, watered, lit, baubled -- with Suzie Snowflake, the family heirloom angel made by my mom from scraps during the great railroad strike fifty-six years ago, on the tip of the leader that had been forty-five feet above ground the day before.

So the grand fir is still a grand tree in its way.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Use less oil

A photo on FlickrThis post first appeared in December 2007.

I read that an old lady met a National Guardsman on his way back to yet another tour of duty in Iraq. She told him she appreciated his protection from the terrorists and such, and asked what she could do to thank him.

"Use less oil," the young man replied.


:::

I've spent the day hanging around the woodstove, preparing a relatively simple dinner without going with it to the electric range or any of the other "modern conveniences." It's an entertaining exercise, but I'm not about to pretend that it's meaningful in the wider scheme of things: the wood I'm using was sawed with a chainsaw, the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of which was rife with both oil and coal usage, and brought to us in a truck that is much, much more of the same, over roads that are much, much, much more of the same, and so on.

I anticipate hard times when we all figure out our actual planetary energy income and how far ahead of ourselves we've spent. I was ranting to Beloved about all this, as I tend to do over coffee ("coffee?" says Dear Reader. "Risa -- do you realize --" Yes, I do. Hush! This is my blog.) -- ranting to Beloved, or as she experiences it, at her -- and she posed a question.

"So, what does this mean to us? Not the kids, I get all that, but just thee and me?"

"Well ... " I was brought up short. "Umm, not so much. We're both over 55, now, which is a pretty decent life expectancy given the design. So, we could starve, or have our heads bashed in and our stuff shared out by people who then get their heads bashed in, or pick up the latest epidemic, etc. But these are things that have happened to a lot of people and will happen to a lot more. And we've had a whole heck of a lot of things go our way, just the two of us. So, it's like nobody can really take that away. And if either of us were to lose the other tomorrow, thirty-one years together is the history that we had, more than most."

"Right. So what's the beef?"

She has a point.

As recipients of a portion of that lion's share of the world's resources that privileged people have received in this devastatingly "successful" generation, we've come most of our way already.

Looking back over such opportunities as there have been for finding more equitable, more appropriate, more just, and more sustainable ways of comporting ourselves, we see that we -- as a couple, as a family -- could have chosen some actions more wisely, so far as our own ethical record was concerned, but the whirlwind the world may reap will not be much affected, one way or another, by us. The scale of the problems is just too great.

I could offer to share with you a glass of water, or a meal, because you are thirsty or hungry, and I should -- and sometimes I do -- but it will not change the course of the tsunami coming our way, or the distance from here to higher ground that running will not -- now -- cover.

So, given the distance to higher ground and the speed and height of the tsunami, there's little use in my worrying about the tsunami. I might be a little disturbed by the thought that a better warning system could have been installed, or that the powers that be might have decreed that the city must be built elsewhere, etc -- I know the metaphor is getting strained, but bear with me -- since this is where the jobs were, I did not move, myself, to higher ground, because there was not going to be a way for me to live there, or to offer you food or water there, unless the city came with me, so to speak.

That is, libertarian survivalist behavior is -- it's just irrational. When you fall into the ocean off the stern of the ship, sure, you swim -- it's what you do, we're programmed to keep trying to live -- or you don't. It could be a matter of choice, or of individual temperament. But the outcome is not so much in doubt when you are 500 miles from, say, Anchorage.

So I don't feel much resentment when someone up and builds a blockhouse in the middle of nowhere, stocked with food and ammunition. That's their swim. Doesn't change the size of the ocean, but maybe they know that. So, I don't bug them about it. In fact, I enjoy practicing some of the same skills.

Nor do I think some environmentalist-activist behavior is really rational either. Given the scale of the problem, as outlined by the author of Life After the Oil Crash (whose math looks pretty irrefutable to me), haranguing someone about not having yet changed out their lighbulbs is an exercise in about the same amount of multilevel futility as the survivalist's.

"But, Risa," interjects Dear Reader, "you have in fact changed all your light bulbs and I've heard you recommending it, too."

Mmm-hmm.

Just because I think something's ultimately futile doesn't mean I can't indulge in it. Especially if I think, rightly or wrongly, that it's good for me, or my soul, or my neighbor's well-being, for me to do so.

By hanging around the woodstove, stirring, tasting, putting in another stick, and preparing to feed company, and also sitting by the window stitching a young friend's name into a Christmas stocking, and by sweeping the house, and by looking up fruit trees in the old Organic Gardening Encyclopedia and thinking of setting them out by the south wall, I'm enjoying myself.

And I'm not out frantically shopping, which means a lot to me right now ... on several levels ...

I'm experiencing the quietness of spirit that comes with relatively low-impact living. Somehow I think that will pay small dividends between now and the apocalypse. Big dividends may never come of it. But quality of life is where you find it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dream of green things

winterdiskReposted from 2002; mostly written 1997. Also appears in Viewing Jasper Mountain

There is a small mountain about two miles from here that is covered with a network of trails, and is the centerpiece of an attractive county park. The mountain's south slope is a steep meadowland, interspersed with copses of black oak, and dotted with wild plum trees; the north slope is forested with second growth Douglas fir and carpeted with an understory of sword ferns, viney maples, and filberts gone wild.

We like to hike to the top, though each year we find the going a little harder, and look about us. Below, two rivers come together after dodging round the mountain toward each other. With binoculars we can find, in season, fishermen seeking steelhead and salmon.

To the north there is considerable urbanization; we can see at one glance the second largest metropolitan area in our state, but it is not unattractive as cities go, and we can forgive its noise and bustle for its not being any worse (yet) than it is.

To the south and east is the valley of one of the rivers, opening out of the foothills of a substantial and still very wild mountain range. In winter the eastern peaks are dusted white with snow, and present a dramatic and lovely scene; but our interest is generally drawn to the near view.

At our feet is a succession of habitats: the eastern ridge of the mountain, with Douglas fir forest to the left and oaks to the right, with perhaps a herd of deer placidly browsing in plain view; the meadowland within the park boundary, with a few pear trees left over from some farm venture in the previous century; the wetlands with its dark patches of sedge and the occasional blue heron.

Beyond are pastures, woodlots, filbert orchards, and fields used mostly for corn, hay, and grass seed farming. Threading among these, we see, are narrow roads along which are some two hundred houses, on properties of anywhere from one to two hundred acres, with their barns, outbuildings, and accumulated belongings left to the winter rains and summer sun: trucks, tractors, harrows, drift boats, and an occasional stove or washing machine. Most of us in this valley are not especially poor, but we are a thrifty people, many only two or three generations descended from pioneers, and we make but few trips to the county dump.

Almost no one here can earn a living from farming now.

We are an amalgam of loggers, retirees, and commuters. The commuters are of two classes: the professionals -- doctors, dentists, and the like -- and the rest. These are mostly school teachers, store clerks, and office workers.

Regardless of category, almost every one of us has a garden. We can see the gardens from the mountaintop: at every house, a brown patch within easy access of the kitchen door. Some of us have enough pasture for a horse or two, or a few steers; at Stony Run we have room for a flock of ducks and geese; but if there is nothing else, there is a garden. Gardens here have a priority over lawns. This is a thing we greatly admire in our neighbors.

If, like the people in our valley, you want to grow things, it can be a good idea to try to get an eagle's eye view. If no mountain is handy, try a map. Most gardeners know the dates of frost in their "zone," but there is much more to know. Find out the direction of the prevailing winds, the angle of winter sun, the temperature of June nights. Know the depth of the water table in August.

From the mountaintop we can see that the valley runs east and west, and that the river is nestled against the northern hills; among these is Jasper Mountain, which looks much smaller than from here than from our garden.
Our own little piece of land is in the middle distance, on the long glide of slope from the south hills to the river. There is a seasonal creek through the property, dry in summer and a raging torrent in winter. This means that we're in a low-lying spot, subject to the movement of air. In winter the wind comes from the southwest generally, in the form of Pacific storms laden with incessant rain. These winds chill the soil, and the water that drops from them saturates it and renders it clammy. Pools lie on the surface in winter with no place to drain away to, as the water table is even with the surface. Dig a post-hole anywhere and it fills to overflowing. So gardens tend to be planted late, well after the dates recommended on seed packets.

In summer the water table drops to ten, twenty, or even thirty feet, while the winds are continual, shifting daily from north to south. This is because of our mountain ranges. The sun heats the slopes, and air rises, drawing air away from the river bottom. At night, this air cools and sinks back down along draws and creek valleys toward the river.

Gardens in this drainage must be almost continually watered, as the tender plants are subject to drying out. Watering is more frequent than the books recommend; corn begins wilting within a day of its last soaking. At night the wind stops, but heat radiates away quickly among the glitterings of the stars, and temperatures can drop into the forties (Fahrenheit) by morning, even if it's been close to a hundred degrees during the day.

All this gives tomato lovers fits. But we persist.

The wiser among us build wooden fences, or hedge their gardens about with shrubbery or even hay bales, to combat the winds and the heat loss. A heavy mulch would help, but the main mulching material is straw. The straw available locally contains a lot of weed seeds, and it invites tremendous armies of slugs and snails of all sizes. No one seems to care for black plastic, which takes a lot of fiddling with in the shifting winds, or newspaper, so most of the gardeners keep their soil bare and cultivated. The majority use herbicide to control grass, which is the primary weed; I have reason to believe herbicide is the greater evil in this case, and use the straw mulch, trying to stay just ahead of the weeds by piling on more.

The vetch that we planted last fall for green manure is intact, as are the piles of leaves and the compost bin. The wintered-over red chard is still usable, and our Detroit Red beets are superb. Meanwhile, our first harbingers of spring -- elephant garlic, growing from those tiny cloves that stay in the soil when we pull the crop -- have sprung from the cold, heavy soil, dotting the view from our kitchen window like randomly dibbled irises. And on the rainy nights, between the gusts of Pacific wind, we can hear the first chirruping choruses of the green tree frogs. We found one once in high summer, napping as it were, on the shore of a pond of water in the angle of a sunflower leaf. Their sound is, to us, a promise of sunflowers yet to come. we fall asleep to their frantic cheeping, and dream of green things growing in the sun.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Riding the Pineapple Express


 This post first appeared in December 2007.

There was a storm -- I know that the media went nuts over it, but we were not that impressed with it ourselves here at Stony Run, leastways not till we'd looked about a bit.

Big storms of this kind do happen here.

The one everyone still talks about -- the Columbus Day Storm -- ripped through in the 1960s. I missed it -- I was growing up in Georgia at the time. But some of the big redwoods, red cedars, and spruces on campus are topped out, as though someone had taken a shotgun shell the size of an oil drum to them. They had snapped off like so many matchsticks. Some rows of Douglas fir trees are a bit odd looking, as about half of them are a hundred and fifty years old, and the other half a little over forty, planted to replace big ones that had been plucked from the rows and jackstrawed across the campus. When I began working here, twenty years ago, the differences were striking. Now the younger trees are beginning to blend in.

That storm knocked over millions of trees in the Northwest; there are still places one can go to find them, all lying side by side, all pointing in the same direction, mouldering beneath the canopy of a new forest growing up around them, with the bowls scooped out of the earth where their giant root wads had heaved out into the wet and wuthering air -- afterwards places of shelter for deer and other creatures, and now filling in with new soil and lush growth of blue huckleberry and sword fern.

I was working on a Christmas-tree-harvesting contract in about 1982 when a similar, though smaller, storm had blown in from, seemingly, nowhere, at midnight. I had parked my little trailer under an old oak, right out in the middle of 160 acres of seven-year-old Douglas firs, and gone to bed. I was awakened by moaning winds and rattling branches. The trailer began playing hopscotch. Its tongue jounced off the cinderblock I'd rested it on, and everything seemed to be going down by the bow. I felt a little as though I were on board the Titanic.

Beloved had baked chocolate-chip cookies for me -- enough to last out the week.

I opened the kitchen cabinet, by feel, in the roaring darkness, and took the big bag to bed with me.

If I'm going to die, I thought, it would be a shame to waste all these cookies.

So I ate them.

Every one of them.

Beloved, on the other hand, had missed the whole thing. Our house, built snug against an eastern slope away from the wind, hardly jiggled. She, and the baby, and the chickens, ducks and geese slept through the night, and in the morning she got a call from a neighbor.

"Is your power out? I hear the whole county's electricity went out."

"Umm ... well ... "

"Ohhhh, that's right. You guys don't even use it!"

Which was true -- we were off grid. It was nearly a week before some people got their power turned on again, while our 12-volt lights and propane refrigerator chugged right along.

We have had other such storms, mostly of the kind known as the Pineapple Express. A low forms in the vicinity of Hawaii, picks up an unbelievable amount of water, and brings it and dumps it in our laps. The temperature here can soar, in midwinter, into the sixties, while the barometer drops through the floor. It's not, maybe, a typhoon, but pretty darn near it sometimes. The most rain I have seen from one of these (1996) is eight inches in three hours. That was enough to widen our three-foot-wide creek to more than ninety feet across and put a bow wave on the corner of our house foundation.

This week's storm was noisy, but not as noisy as that one. It was wet, but not that wet -- here. The creek didn't even jump its banks.

Elsewhere, north of us, was another matter.

Seas reached forty feet in height. One gust was clocked at nearly one hundred thirty miles per hour. Rain was measured in several places at more than fifteen inches in a twenty-four hour period. Trees fell across cars, roofs, power lines, and people, killing some. A woman was swept away from her pickup truck and hasn't been seen since. Railroads were flooded, bringing seasonal shipping to a standstill, and brown water, ten feet deep, buried Interstate Five, practically cutting Seattle off from Portland.

At our house, though, all was relatively normal until about six in the morning. We brewed coffee and drank it sitting by the fire, talking about storms and global warming. I went to get dressed and put on my workaday face.

And the lights flickered and went out.

It was still quite dark out, so we felt around for matches and candles. I took a taper, on a chair-back candleholder, to the bathroom and hung it on the towel rack by the vanity mirror.

Whoa!

No way I could "put on my face" in such dim light. I would have to wait until I got to work (assuming I could get there) -- campus has backup options for power that seldom fail. This minuscule incident rather forcibly reminded me of how little stands between the pampered people of the "developed west" and the dark nights and hand-tooled, leg-and-arm-and-animal powered lives most humans have lived and continue to live, across the world. We do not well when we take this civilization thingy for granted. It's a privilege at best, which any Hawaiian low can take away pretty much as it pleases.

Beloved, of course, takes such occasions very much in stride --it seems to make her, if anything, extraordinarily cheerful -- and lit a lantern to go see about letting out the chickens.

Right after daylight, about an hour after we'd been plunged into darkness, there was a click in the circuit breaker panel and everything began shining and humming again. The heroic people of the Emerald People's Utility District, doing what they do best, were out there somewhere. I hope people remember to thank them. We blew out all the candles and I grabbed my purse and coat and headed for the door.

Other than the fact that a strip of our roof, twenty feet long and three feet wide, had blown a hundred feet through the air, smashed through the deer fence and lay draped across the winter garden, it looked like we had come through pretty well.

Lucky us.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Countryside mood

A photo on FlickrThis post appeared December 2007

December thirty-first seems to be as good a day as any to practice living as I once did, and may yet again. The sun rose this morning -- a wonder in itself, after two months of dark rain and fog -- on a world white with hoar-frost, which remained all day in the shade; and I dressed for a bit of farm work. On the porch there were four pots of lavender which were getting root-bound, and I was determined they should not be frozen in their pots another night. Hardy as they are, it seemed heartless not to plant them. I have been making noises about going into lavender farming, as this is a crop that needs little if any irrigation, but Beloved, gazing on the land, does not see rows of lavender in her mind's eye as I do; she sees stock fences and geese and sheep, eating grass.

The pots are hers -- I'm not sure if they are a gift from a friend, or a purchase. I asked about putting them in the second long flower bed by the front walk, but it seems they should go by the house, under the southeast bedroom wall, between the lilacs. This bed, often neglected, has of late been home to a still-growing mass of parsley, some lamb's ears, hollyhocks, volunteer garlic, and money trees (we wish) and, increasingly, grass.

I brought out the spading fork and rooted about in the mess, separating the garlic bulbs from everything else and transplanting them to the border around the truck garden. The rest I dumped into the poultry yard, where it was greeted with joy by the Barred Rocks, who, being the most gregarious of the flock, often accept my offerings while all the others high-tail it to the other end of their yard, missing out on the bounty again, as they so often do, by their mistrust.

Then I got down the heavy tree-planting shovel, one of the few tools I've managed to retain from my tree-planting days. When I was younger, I worked in the woods, and some 325,000 trees' worth of habit reasserts itself when I set out things from pots. The shovel is held with the blade facing toward me, not away, and is chunked into the the earth an inch or two deeper than I mean the roots to go, then wedged away from me and pulled toward me, held by one hand and my shoulder, as the plant is held in my other hand and dandled into the suddenly-formed hole and tamped into place, before and behind, by the blade. It is a movement easily enough taught but not easily described, and is over in seconds.

Feeling too cold, by this time, to stay out, and wary of back trouble, I retired from farming in less than half an hour and took to housewifery.

While moving the garlic, I came across some red chard and beets, and brought in a mess of winter vegetables with which to make a rather Spartan lunch, which I do sometimes, by way of practice.

I cleaned the vegs and diced them up very small and set them in a saucepan on the woodstove to wilt. in very little time the water in the pan turned wine-red from the Detroit Red beets, and a garlicky aroma invaded the house.

While this impromptu stew was making, I brought out some red beans to soak for the morrow, and also set a pan with halves of an acorn squash and a butternut squash on the woodstove to simmer, for a dish with honey, raisins and walnuts for a potluck this evening. When the beet stew was done I had it for lunch, pouring off the red juice for a hot drink later, and peeled the squash and made up the dish, using much the same recipe as as I do for mashed sweet potato dishes of this kind. No one ever asks -- even those who hate squash -- what this is; they eat it all up and ask for more. The secret is to put in enough butter and brown sugar to make it smooth, and bake the dish, with the honey and walnuts on top, until the flavors blend.

Water from simmering the squash went into the bread machine, and formed the base for a five-grain bread for tomorrow that is rising by the stove. The skins and seeds went out to -- again -- the Barred Rocks, though certainly the other birds were invited.

I take pleasure in getting through a day of this kind without using the electric range and the microwave, though I know well what a difficult life I would have if I could not possess them.

It is now about the three in the afternoon of the last day of 2007. I pour myself a hot "toddy" of beet-juice and take up a book I've been reading, It caught my eye while cruising the stacks of the library where I work: Countryside Mood, a hodge-podge but vivid collection of essays aimed at instilling an agrarian patriotic fervor in the British forces in 1942.
Did God give Britons their soil, the finest in all the world, to use and develop or to waste if that suits the pockets of the financiers? Britain's growing arable acreage could provide life-work for hundreds of thousands of families, and a life-work calling for all that the best of work does offer -- craftsmanship, character, and courage." -- Peter Howard
The sun slants across the back of Stony Run. The lavender is already in shade. I wait for Beloved to pull into the garage, home from a day's earning of wages.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Survival

Your blogista reports.

Risa disguised as a Florida retiree. it helps that she has a Georgia accent on tap for whenever she needs it.
View from the marina at Hermit's Cove (our neighborhood). Seven Sisters Islands across the backchannel. The real river is behind them. Risa might have to get a kayak.
Don't ask about the food around here. Risa went to the grocery and got apples, whole-wheat flour, vine-ripened tomatoes, mushrooms, green onions and collards in self-defense. This is a dish of survival food here, tomato/mushroom/collard with a hard-boiled egg and some oregano and parsley. To be combined with long walks, mostly to the marina, whenever possible.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Children in the house

Fir branch done up to look like a tree.

This post first appeared in December 2006.
Oldest granddaughter was here for a week.

I set up my tent, a pop-up model that has been with me to the wilderness many times, in my bedroom and we camped out on a mattress that stuck out of the tent door like a giant's tongue. Camping is what she likes to do when here, but with the torrential rains on most days of the visit, and the cold clammy conditions generally, indoor camping was indicated and it was a roaring success.

Most of the time we did pretty well together, though I think she's being raised in a culture of -- well, not as much respect for adults as we're comfortable with.

I think the purpose of respect, when it hierarchizes age, is safety. You want to be able to tell a small child to stop -- and they stop -- and the truck, or whatever is coming down the street, doesn't run over them. That kind of command-driven safety is lacking sometimes, with the result that we are very tired grandparents after these visits. The kid does try, but she's got years of helter-skelter behind her already. It's not easy for her, or us.

That said, the old lady (me) and the young lady (she) went up to the park by the boat basin and had a pretty good day. At her suggestion, we went fishing, and she hauled in an undersized whitefish, which we carefully released after a bit of a petting session. Then we moved up to the playground, where she practiced on the monkey bars for a while, and then discovered some sprouted acorns.

The acorns were a big hit. She dug holes all over the park, and basically planted a forest. We also collected mistletoe, lichens, and moss, which had come down in the big storm, and brought these home to add to the greenery on the mantel. A few extra critters appear to have been added to the menagerie -- mostly small tree spiders -- but the effect is quite cheering.

A particularly rewarding aspect to this visit is that Granddaughter has become a very good audience since the last time she was here. We went through the Sendak-illustrated Nutcracker that has Hoffman's entire, weird, but worthwhile story, with all the chapters that are missing from the ballet and the board books. Beloved would read a chapter, then later in the day I would, and when Granddaughter knew we had had come to the chapter called "Conclusion," she placed a bookmark on it and saved it for the morning of her departure. The day came, and while Beloved rounded up Granddaughter's things to drive her back to the Big City to the North, we came at last to Marie's wedding to the Prince, and were all three quite emotionally affected.

After they left, I cleaned house, and kept finding stray socks and toy people, and such. I didn't realize I so much missed having children in the house.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Marigold Seeds

This is a post from December 2006. Seems so long ago!


Up and down weather and such. I made it over to the reservoir again in a grey hole and brought back three largish trout, one of which was one of those landlocked jack salmon that are stocked in the upper lake. You only find them in the lower lake if they got through the turbines intact and then grew up. This one had to be at least four years old; towed the boat in a circle before I got the landing net out.

:::

I made a soup on the same day, using leftover water from steamed broccoli, some red chard, beet greens, a garlic clove, a green onion, a leaf of red cabbage, black beans, and tomato sauce, We didn’t grow the black beans. I’m happy about the extent to which we are using our own garden through the winter. Beloved also thawed out some of our diced apples to use with oatmeal and such. I’ll probably put the last of that into a loaf of bread.

In two days the Library will have its holiday potluck and I’m so apathetic; haven’t made anything or even thought of making anything. Sigh ... Should maybe pick up a couple of sweet potatoes and some walnuts ....

:::

Local Granddaughter is coming to stay next week, so I need to find the tree trimmings for her to use; I should also have repaired the creek bridge so that she can safely get to the playhouse but I have put that off due to the cold and my diminished strength and resistance. So instead I have wrapped everyone’s gifts; Beloved will add her contribution to the various heaps and pack and mail them next week.

:::

Spare time, such as has been available, has been divided between napping and revising old poems. The poems were written by a former self. I kept about two thirds of them and have changed the pronouns in more than half; otherwise they are fairly recognizable, I think. So I’ve taken down links to the original books and republished them as the Collected Poems.

Here's one of the earliest of them:
she sells books

She sells books from nine to six. They are
good books, well bound, well written, colorful
to the eye, and children love them, but

the town is poor. She sits waiting for hours
for one grandmother to come in and buy one book
for a favored grandchild. The owner of the store

is her friend; she cannot leave her just now, but the store,
she knows, is not her place in life. All
she has ever wanted is to farm: at evening,

when the dinner things are cleared, and the hot sun
drops behind the cottonwood, she farms.
Food for the ducks, and soapy water for broccoli;

old lettuce gone to seed comes out; the hay
is rearranged, and fall peas go in. She stops
only to hear the geese pass overhead,

then bends among her plants until the stars,
first one and then another, leap and are caught
in the hair of approaching night, so like her hair.

She comes in, soiled to the elbows, leans against
the table, extending an open palm. "Look,"
she says, her eyes afire. "Marigold seeds!"
I’m not writing poems much now; haven’t since I began HRT. It's nearly all prose. I have no idea why; perhaps it might make a good thesis for a budding biochemist sometime.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sample of reality

Dear Stony Run

We rolled through much of Pennsylvania at night, seeing the last of the quite impressive Appalachians at daylight, just touched West Virginia (At Harper's Ferry), and crossed Maryland into DC in the afternoon. One of my companions across the nation stayed with me in the lobby until her train came, and we had a delightful time. She's, in effect, a professional traveler, the kind that has llama for breakfast, rides an elephant at noon, and then climbs the Great Pyramid to see the sunset.

We left D.C. at 7:30 PM, meaning we would not see daylight until Savannah, Georgia. It came with the first real sun we had seen in days; a nice way to begin December. Extra cars, not in the best condition, had been ordered up to meet holiday traffic, and we had eight hundred people on our train, full occupancy, half the usual number of toilets, and a heating system that ran full blast with no way to turn it down. Think cattle car -- Amtrak was doing its best with what it had, but there were frayed nerves in evidence.


I was, for whatever reason, in a good mood myself, and found myself surrounded by elder women whose resilience -- in pain much of their lives, on oxygen, coming home from burying a daughter exactly my age -- I was kept busy changing bottles, listening to amazing stories, being prompted to tell such as I would of my own. I made a particular friend in my seatmate, who was from Jamaica but had lived many years in Connecticut, and en route to Miami to see a daughter. A traveling great-granddaughter was a helper to one of these women, and I rewarded her considerable and modest helpfulness by lending her a headset for her movie, which she solemnly returned to me afterward.


A heart attack in the next car greeted us with the dawn, and a young passenger with EMT training was rounded up to intervene. The train then stopped at a crossing in a remote section of Georgia near the Sea Islands to offload the unlucky couple for a hospital stay. The wife was packed away in the back of the ambulance, the husband shook hands with the conductor and thanked everyone, and they were on their way and we on ours.

This put us a half hour behind, but, though there had been disgruntled people aboard, up to this point, we all seemed rather satisfied with out lot now. We do seem to know how to adjust our expectations when faced with a sample of reality.

Though my stop was in the middle of nowhere, the attendants knew to round me up and deposit me at the right time and the right place, and I walked up to my poor, dear, frighteningly skinny mom -- and her best friend who drove her to the station -- and said "Hi."

Love, Risa

:::

Blogista's note: we may be doing some "best of Stony Re-Run" posts for awhile. I'm around -- but it's not that I'm going to be busy -- I'm just not going to want to make this blog my whineboard. I trust everyone -- especially those who have been through such times -- will understand.

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